Wildlife officers head to Maumee, Sandusky rivers for the annual walleye run.
MAUMEE, Ohio (AP) -- In waist-high water 30 yards from the south shore of the Maumee River recently, an angler was quickly reeling in what turned out to be a nice-sized walleye.
When the fish broke water, it became obvious the fish was "snagged," hooked in the body and not in the mouth. The man looked to see if anyone nearby saw him land the snagged fish and slipped it on a stringer.
What he did not know was that Marty Baer was watching from half a mile away, on the north bank of the Maumee River. Baer, a 15-year wildlife officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, was crouched along the river's bank dressed in camouflage, watching anglers on the opposite bank through a high-powered spotting scope.
Baer radioed to a wildlife officer working in plain clothes on the far bank near the angler, who was cited with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Only walleye hooked in the mouth may be kept.
Walleye making run
The annual walleye spawning run in northwest Ohio brings millions of the tasty game fish and thousands of eager anglers to the waters of the two main tributaries of Lake Erie, the Maumee and Sandusky rivers, leaving about two dozen wildlife officers to make sure all laws are followed.
The runs, causing the fish to move up the rivers to spawn on the gravel-strewn bottoms, are triggered by a combination of warming water, rising water levels, and the fish's reaction to light. They usually occur mid-March and last for two or three weeks.
This year's severe winter has caused the run to be late and it is predicted to last through the third week of April.
Special fishing regulations exist for the two rivers from March 1-May 1.
Fishing is legal only from sunrise to sunset, anglers may not fish with more than a single hook not larger than half an inch from shank to point, or a lure having more than a single hook larger than half an inch from shank to point, and treble hooks are prohibited.
Any snagged or foul-hooked fish must be released immediately and the daily bag limits are a total of four walleye, saugeye and sauger from the mouth of the rivers upstream to the first dam.
During the runs, the department's Division of Wildlife steps up enforcement.
"We usually move all 20 of our county wildlife officers and four investigators to the area during the run," said Terry Sunderhaus, law enforcement supervisor for the division in Findlay.
Tactics more attuned to undercover investigative police work are used.
"I'd say 99 percent of our officers are in plain clothes during this time," Sunderhaus said.
The use of high-powered spotting scopes like the one Baer used are common.
Officers sometimes grab rod and reel and fish alongside the anglers.
"This is not easy to do since so many of the anglers recognize us and know our faces," Baer said.
Snagging brings citation
Last year, nearly 520 citations were issued, with the majority for possessing snagged fish. Possessing fish over the daily limit, fishing without license and littering usually make up the rest of the citations.
The angler Baer cited for illegally snagging wanted to argue and kept asking to be shown where the fish was hooked.
"We don't argue cases streamside, that is for the judge to decide, and I told him he was not guilty at this point, but simply being issued a citation," Baer said.
Sunderhaus said the officers do not initiate contact with an angler unless they have viewed a violation.
"Our officers collect all the evidence and allow the system to decide guilt or innocence," he said.