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Great Lakes Article:

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 waters.

"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 Erie.

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 homes.

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 ocean freighters.

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 Lakes.

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 Great Lakes.

"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 Great Lakes.

"If the Asian carp make it into the Great Lakes, there will be no Fish Ohio Days," said Taft. "It's that serious."

degan@plaind.com, 216-999-4378

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