Anglers, at least those that attended a public meeting, say they’re OK with putting new rules for crappies in effect at Pymatuning Lake in Crawford County.
Maybe they were all out fishing for smallish crappies while they could.
Maybe they stayed away in protect.
Or maybe they don’t exist.
Whatever, anglers opposed to the idea of placing size and creel limits on Pymatuning Lake crappies were anywhere but at a public meeting to debate the proposal.
Roughly two dozen fishermen and women turned out at Conneaut Area Senior High School this week to hear commission biologists outline their idea, which is to restrict anglers to keeping 20 crappies per day, all of them at least 9 inches long, starting in 2017.
At the meeting’s end, when biologist Tim Wilson asked how many of the roughly two dozen anglers in attendance supported the proposed change, all but one raised their hand. And that last person said he was OK with a 9-inch minimum, but would prefer a daily limit of 30 fish rather than 20.
The rules change – supported by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which co-manages the lake that straddles the border – is meant to protect the fishery, said Wilson.
The lake’s crappie population is good, though not as good as it was at its peak in 2012, he said. Yet fishing pressure for those fish is high and getting higher. It quadrupled between 2004 and 2011, he said.
What’s more, it’s continued to grow, even as the number of crappies – and big crappies in particular – has declined, he said.
“You’ve got more anglers fishing for crappies more often but catching fewer fish and harvesting even fewer fish. Which is a recipe for a lot of dissatisfied anglers,” Wilson said.
Overharvest is thought to be the reason for the decline, he added.
Crappies are, as a species, prone to boom and bust cycles, he said. In boom years, anglers are more particular, and likely to keep only fish longer than 9 inches, the commission’s standard for a “quality” crappie. In leaner years, though, he added, they’ve proven more than willing to take smaller fish.
That’s less than ideal, he said.
“If you want fairly stable fishing, you’ve got to protect those weak year classes when they’re still young so they can grow to reach quality sizes,” he said.
Protecting younger crappies could conceivably pay big dividends at Pymatuning, especially relative to other waters statewide, said Jason Detar, chief of the commission’s division of fisheries management.
Across most of the state, it takes a crappie four years to reach 9 inches, he said. At Pymatuning, it only takes three.
“That’s a huge factor when it comes to the number of fish that make it to quality size because there’s always natural mortality going on behind the scenes,” he said.
Anglers had questions. Some wondered why the 20 fish limit. Wilson said that’s because the commission’s already-existing panfish enhancement program sets that as the standard, and putting Pymatuning under that banner eliminates the time-consuming need to create an entirely separate regulation.
Others asked if the commission shouldn’t put creel limits in place for other panfish on the lake, as some fishermen might look to harvest them in place of crappies.
Wilson said Pymatuning’s bluegill and yellow perch populations are steady if not improving, and could handle some increased pressure.
Another asked if there was a concern crappie anglers would instead target walleye, to that species detriment.
Wilson downplayed that, too. The commission monitors fish populations on the lake annually, and will continue that. If any problems arise, biologists can recommend adjustments, he said.
But right now, he added, Pymatuning’s walleye population is as “robust” as it’s ever been. Since the commission went to stocking walleye fingerlings rather than walleye fry, survival has increased, meaning more fish overall, and more big fish.
“If they harvest some, there’s more right behind them to take their place,” Wilson said.
Fish and Boat Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposed regulation change at their July meeting. If it gets preliminary approval there, final approval could come in September.
The hope is to put the regulation in place by Jan. 1, Wilson said. It might not start to be enforced on the water until March, however. That’s thought to be the soonest Ohio could change its regulations to match.
That would still be OK, said Ed Mascharka, the commission’s president from Erie County. That would put protections in place before the 2017 crappie spawn.
The important thing is to get the idea moving, he added.
“The sooner we make a change, and agree to a change, the faster this can get done,” Mascharka said.