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The Quest

By Mark Blauvelt 

The greatest achievement of the human spirit is to live up to one's opportunities and make the most of one's resources.

                                                               ─  Vauvenargues

It has been a goal of mine for many years.  It will undoubtedly take me many more years to fulfill.   Many have tried, and failed, in a full lifetime of angling.  It is a uniquely Ohio achievement, truly counting coupe only within the boundaries of the state.  Many anglers have spent massive amounts of motel, gasoline and bribe monies to reach this goal.  In the end, for the few who have reached the plateau, the question became “Was it worth it?”  That question can only be answered by the few who have risked sanity to hear this siren’s call, to reach this obsessive goal. This goal - my goal - is to catch all of Ohio’s officially recognized gamefish!

 

It's an impressive achievement to catch all forty-one species of fish that the Ohio Division of Wildlife lists on the State Record List.  All forty-one species, including a few hybrids such at the saugeye, hybrid striped bass, hybrid sunfish and the tiger musky, must be caught within Ohio’s boundaries to officially lay claim to the title of Ohio Master Angler.  The whole thing is all about bragging rights, you see.  All fishermen like to do a little bragging.  Right?

 

The rules of this challenge are simple.  All fish must be caught by legal means, from public waterways or private ponds.  Any form of pay lake, hatchery or fish farm doesn’t count.  In a perfect world a picture would be taken of each fish and a witness would attest to the achievement.  The world isn’t perfect, of course.  A few species I’ve caught, but I have no proof.  My word as an honorable brother of the angle must be taken.  I can list the general dates, the fly or lure, and the water body the fish was taken from though!  

 

There is a list of Ohio's game species published.  To see the list all you need to do is to search the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ website.  To make it easy, here's the link: ODNR Record Fish

 

There are different levels of this list at which I look.  First I have a Life List  A life list is my personal record of all the species I've caught anywhere.  So far I have taken thirty-eight of the ODNR's forty-one.  I'm only missing the Burbot, Muskellunge, and Chain Pickerel.

 

The second personal list is my Ohio Life List.  As you might guess, this is the list of all the species I've caught in the state.  I've got thirty-four species on that list.  In addition to the species missing from my life list  I must now add Bowfin, Chinook salmon, Pink salmon and Lake Trout.

 

Finally, I have an Ohio Fly Fishing Life List.  Included in the missing on this list are all the missing species noted above plus the Buffalo Sucker, Coho Salmon, Tiger Musky, White Perch and the Bullhead.  As of this writing I have captured twenty-nine of the forty-one Ohio recognized sporting species on a fly. I might add that I have been playing this game for more than thirty years, and I figure if I get another thirty out of it I should be able to make it to all the way through the list! A word of caution.  If your plans don't include long term commitment you may want to duck out now, before you get crazy addicted to the goal.  I am so afflicted, and so are a few of the... ahem... committed anglers with whom I fish!

 

Some of you may think you have taken all of the listed species, but a few of these are truly rare.  For example, in the last year or so the Ohio brook trout was removed from the list.  There are at present only two viable watersheds, each a couple river miles or less, where these wild fish can even be found.  While I've managed to catch a few Ohio native brookies over the years, I'm thankful that additional angling pressure got scratched.  Another tough customer is the lake trout, which is only found in the deepest waters of the eastern basin of Lake Erie.  Catching a laker on a fly in Ohio is something only a small handful of lucky anglers have managed.  And how about the Chain Pickerel?  There are, perhaps, a handful of lakes in the Akron area with a fishable population.  And the bowfin is also only found in a small sections of the state.  When you consider the tiger musky, which is no longer stocked in Ohio’s waters, you'll see the list getting tougher by the minute.

 

Many species are taken and routinely misidentified.  For example, how many folks can tell the difference between a northern pike, a redfin pickerel and a chain pickerel?  Can you differentiate a coho from a chinook? How about a warmouth sunfish versus a rock bass.  Or a pumpkinseed versus the longear sunfish?  I'm sure you get my point!   Any true life-list addict will own a copy of “The Fishes Of Ohio” by Milton Trautman.  Consider it mandatory reading.  This book will take you many steps past your present level of fish ID skills, and also give you a few hints where to best find your quarry.

 

There are a few species that I would like to see added to this list that are not presently included.  Among these are the shortnose gar, white amur, blue catfish,  and the redfin pickerel (also known as the grass pike).  And I would love to see the sucker family expanded to include the quillback carp sucker, the various redhorse suckers, the white sucker and the northern hog sucker. A real masochist might even include  the sculpins, stickleback and hundreds of other varieties of chubs, minnows and shiners on the list!

 

Ok, so you've made you own list... now what? Start crossing off species!  Be honest!  If there are a few you're not sure of, don't count them.  Perhaps you'll decide to start chasing a few of the missing members.  Try first for the ones that should be easy to do.  When you get tired of trying for one, move off to another!  I've chased several on my list over the last three years, with specific trips all over Ohio trying for elusive species.  I have had some great trips and many times the only downfall of the entire trip was not getting the species I'd come for!. During just this last month I tried for chain pickerel and ended up with a stellar day of largemouth bass fishing.  One chunky bruiser pushed three and half pounds!  I also managed a three pound walleye.  Not a pickerel in the lot of them, though.  I can take failure like that!  During another trip, one specifically for bowfin, I managed a beauty of a northern pike. Chasing these fish is a grand game that requires a lot of patience and skill and demands you do loads of homework.  In exchange, even the failed trips can often be wonderful!

 

I have plenty of tips to improve you chances for a bunch of these species, but I'm saving that for another story. And if you get caught up in The Quest there's always the chance we'll meet on one of those rare streams - one that is the only in the state that offers a chance at one of these species - and we'll each note the twinkle in the other's eyes. If you're there then you'll truly understand why we do it…..

 

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