My husband, Mark, and I were on our way to attend the Governor’s Fish Ohio Day. We had spent the night at Five Bells Inn, a bed & breakfast on the shore of Lake Erie, where rustic charm and waterfowl abounded. Mark would be fishing and taking photographs aboard one of the fifteen boats, and I would be joining First Lady Frances Strickland, Port Clinton Mayor Debbie Tester, Ohio Department of Wildlife Administrator Vicki Mountz, and “Ohio Magazine” writer Jessica Esemplare aboard Captain Peggy Van Vleet’s vessel, The Blue Diamond. As thrilled as I was with my boat assignment, I was also looking forward to the opportunity to catch a walleye. I had caught well over a dozen different species of fish in my fishing career, including saugeye, which are plentiful in nearby Buckeye Lake, but never a walleye.
When Vicki and I drove up to the dock, a television crew was on board The Blue Diamond interviewing Mrs. Strickland. The rest of us stood around, looking very much like a group of women who wanted to get out on the water and fish. The TV crew finally took the hint and wrapped it up. We climbed aboard, and Captain Peg’s boat roared off across the lake with the first lady’s security boat tailing us at a polite distance.
Once in position, our handsome first mate, also named Mark, rigged up our rods. I had brought my favorite, fuschia-colored, St. Croix rod. Mark even baited our hooks, and I thought to myself that being on the ladies’ boat definitely had its perks.
Mayor Debbie got the first fish, and I learned that she is a woman of great enthusiasm. Every time she, or any one of us, caught a fish, she went into a kind of gleeful jig of joy. With her brown ponytail and blue shorts and top, she resembled a petite, fishing cheerleader more than a politician. In fact, as the fish began to bite, there was quite a bit of cheering and squealing from our whole party. Mark and Captain Peg were quick with the nets and worms. Soon after, Debbie reeled in a Fish Ohio sized sheephead, which required more dancing.
We got a call from the governor’s boat. He and the first lady had a friendly competition underway, and according to the phone message, Governor Strickland had already landed a 20-inch walleye. “No, he didn’t, not Ted!” Frances exclaimed. “If he caught a 20-incher, then I’m catching a 25-incher!” It wasn’t long before her rod bowed, and she brought in her first walleye of the day. It wasn’t a 20-inch fish, but it was a keeper. We all cheered. Debbie did her little dance of celebration. We fished on.
I caught a perch, which was fun, but I wanted a walleye. At last, I felt the strong tug of a big fish, set the hook, and called, “Fish on!” Everyone cheered. Frances called, “Brenda’s going to get her first walleye!” Captain Peg leaned out and I brought the fish to her net. It was a beautiful, shining, walleye. As Peg lifted the net, the fish made a spectacular jump and threw the hook. Peg caught the walleye in the air, inspiring more cheers and dancing. We measured my fish at 18 inches. Into the cooler it went. All the keepers that day were destined for a food bank.
Meanwhile, Vicki was quietly pulling in a walleye every little while. Our catch was adding up. Captain Peg hooked one and asked Debbie if she wanted to reel it in. “Of course I do,” exclaimed the mayor as she took the rod and brought in another keeper. We cheered and exchanged high fives all around.
Jessica was new to fishing, but I’ve never seen anyone learn faster. She brought in four keepers that day. It would have been five, but one of them got off just as she brought it up to the net. “It must have been a Republican,” joked Frances, and we all laughed heartily at the thought of the poor Republican fish when it saw who was aboard our boat.
Vicki moved to the bow of the boat, and in a little while she had another fish on the line. Mark scooted up beside her with a net. The first lady handed her rod to the mayor and moved over to get a look at the fish as it was brought in. Suddenly, Debbie squealed, “Another one! Another one!” and we saw the rod in her right hand bend under the weight of a fish as she still held onto Frances’ rod with her left hand. Captain Peg swooped in with another net as Frances grabbed her rod back. Almost immediately, I felt a powerful tug on my line. “Fish on!” I yelled, as I began reeling in the third walleye. Amazingly, we soon had all three fish on board, followed by the now familiar ritual of cheers and dancing. We were having a blast. I caught five walleye that day, three of them keepers. In all, we had 21 walleye and a few yellow perch in the cooler.
At last, it was time to head back to the dock. We took off, security boat trailing along behind, and I reminded myself that the reason I was on board was to gather material for writing about the event. I started going over possible paragraphs in my head, and Frances asked, “Are you writing your article?” She is a charming and unassuming, but very astute woman.
Back at the dock, we gathered around our catch for a photograph, six extremely happy lady anglers with 21 walleye. The governor’s boat did not catch as many. In fact, our boat was in second place for most fish caught. When we heard that news, you guessed it, we indulged in a final round of cheers, dancing, and high fives.
After the fishing we returned to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Center for lunch and comments. State officials, including Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sean Logan and Governor Strickland, spoke briefly, emphasizing the importance of Lake Erie as a natural wonder and a highly valuable resource for the state of Ohio. They mentioned the imperative need for action to protect Lake Erie from invasive “Asian” carps, and I remembered that, as much fun as we had catching those walleye, the real point of the event was to bring attention to the value of Lake Erie and the need to protect it as one of Ohio’s most valuable treasures. As vitally important as this is, though, I confess that my memories of the day will always be of six dancing, cheering ladies and 21 beautiful walleye.
Fishing aboard The Blue Diamond during the Governor's Fish Ohio Day was: (left to right) Debbie Tester, Mayor of Port Clinton, OH; Capt. Peg Van Vleet; Ohio Department of Wildlife Administrator Vicki Mountz; Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland; Ohio Valley Outdoors writer, Brenda Layman; and Ohio Magazine writer Jessica Esemplare.
Fact BoxOhio Department of Natural Resources Director Sean Logan and Governor Ted Strickland, spoke briefly, emphasizing the importance of Lake Erie as a natural wonder and a highly valuable resource for the state of Ohio.