Governor gets a fisherman's close-up
look at Lake Erie
By D'Arcy Egan
The Plain Dealer
Published July 08, 2004
Gov. Bob Taft owes me a favor.
Side-by-side on the stern of Mike Matta's fishing boat,
we were casting small spinner rigs Wednesday tipped with
small hunks of nightcrawler. Matta would position the
boat perfectly to drift over Western Lake Erie rock piles
and reefs where walleyes were known to feed.
The only roadblock would be sheepshead, or freshwater
drum. Big ones.
To clear the way for the governor, I selflessly caught
sheepshead. From Gull Reef to Kelleys Island Shoal and
on to Starve Reef, the sheepshead were waiting for me.
That opened the door for Taft, who responded with his
best day of walleye fishing on Lake Erie. As he plopped
one walleye after another into an ice-filled cooler, my
sheepshead were unhooked and lowered back into the choppy
waters of Lake Erie.
At least until I figured out Taft's low-and-slow retrieve
over the rocks was far better than my rapid reeling technique
that had worked very well just the day before in calmer
"They any good to eat?" asked Taft, looking
at yet another lunker sheepshead that had gobbled my little
gold-bladed mayfly rig.
When you have Lake Erie yellow perch and walleyes for
the dinner table, sheepshead are expendable. But they're
so much fun to fight, Taft hooked a few of his own. And
some round gobies, as well as a fist full of zebra mussels
attached to a hunk of limestone rock.
We were together for the 26th annual Fish Ohio Day, an
annual summer adventure to celebrate the bounty of Lake
Erie. Hosted by the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau, Lake
Erie Charter Boat Association and Ohio Division of Wildlife,
it is a good excuse for the governor, a gaggle of politicians
and wildlife officials to meet the media, try a spot of
fishing and talk a little politics.
For Taft, it was an opportunity for a close look at Lake
He was surprised to see the dead and dying trees on Middle
Island on the Ohio-Ontario border. Cormorant nest there
and their waste has been killing island vegetation all
around Western Lake Erie.
Absent a little more than a decade ago, tens of thousands
of fish-eating cormorant have colonized the islands and
little has been done to prevent them from feasting on
tons of Lake Erie fish and slowly destroying their island
Taft had a first-hand look at a round goby, the invasive
species that feasts on zebra and quagga mussels also foreign
invaders and has been labelled the most destructive of
the many pests to arrive in Lake Erie in the belly of
In his third year as chairman of the Council of Great
Lakes Governors, Taft has focused on the watery woes of
these freshwater seas, spearheading the Great Lakes Charter
Annex to prevent the diversion of water from the Great
Priorities for the Great Lakes states also include controlling
pollution, stopping invasive species, protecting coastal
wetlands and wildlife habitat and protecting the environment,
as well as the recreational and commercial value of the
"Invasive species, especially the Asian carp, are
the most serious and potentially destructive threat to
the Great Lakes," said Taft. He has committed Ohio
funding for a permanent electric fish barrier on Chicago's
Sanitary and Ship Canal to block the big carp that infest
the Illinois River from invading Lake Michigan and the
"If the Asian carp make it into the Great Lakes,
there will be no Fish Ohio Days," said Taft. "It's