Woods, Waters & Wildlife

Brycen Burkhart with fish

The big one

If you’re an angler, how would you like to catch one walleye worth over $100,000? James Atkinson Jr. of Streetsboro did exactly that last fall, his whopper walleye weighing 12.395 pounds and measuring 31.5 inches.

The Fall Brawl is coordinated by Frank Murphy of North Royalton, who volunteers his time — lots of it. A fisherman all his life, Murphy says, “I just want to give something back to the fishing community for what fishing has done for me through the years. That’s why there is 100% payback of all the entry fees to the top five derby winners.”
Nearly 8,000 anglers participated last year, and Murphy anticipates as many as 10,000 will this year, each plunking down $30 for the privilege. Do the math, and that’s $300,000 in prize money that gets split five ways.

Man with large lake sturgeon

Monster rebirth

Is there really a Lake Erie monster, as some claim? Well, yes, at least potentially. In fact, thousands of small ones are swimming in the big lake right now. Let me explain.

By mid-century, however, market conditions were rapidly changing, and from 1850 to 1870, products derived from sturgeon transformed this once-worthless fish into a valuable commodity. Caviar, fish oil, and a substance known as isinglass — a gelatin used in adhesives made from the air bladder of various fish, especially sturgeon — became extremely valuable. The fish became so sought after, in fact, that one of the largest sturgeon fisheries in America developed on Lake Erie. In 1885 alone, commercial fishermen on Erie netted more than half a million pounds of lake sturgeon.  

Mt. Denali National Park

Learning to "see"

One of America’s leading naturalists of the 19th century was the prolific Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), who, while teaching at Harvard, taught his students the skill of in-depth observation of natural objects. He did it by what his students termed “the incident of the fish.”

The same approach can be used to learn outdoor photography. Not that you have to stare at the same photo subject for hours on end, but developing the ability to “see” the details of photos before you attempt to take them is a crucial skill — yet one that anyone can learn.

One of Ohio’s best outdoor photographers is Art Weber, founding director of the Nature Photography Center for Metroparks Toledo. He says there’s a difference between looking at the natural world as an artist and as a photographer.  

River otters

Nature's clown prince

No one wrings more fun out of life than a river otter. Unless, of course, it’s a family of river otters.

Over a period of seven years, 123 otters were live-trapped in Louisiana and Arkansas, then released in the Grand River, Killbuck Creek, Little Muskingum River, and Stillwater Creek watersheds. From those four modest stockings, the population expanded rapidly, and today, river otters have been confirmed in 75 watersheds in 83 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Bison herd

Where the bison roam

The year 1803 was pivotal in Ohio history. It was a year when what had always been — the frontier — was rapidly passing away, and what would be was now arriving.

Other large wild animals living in the state, what present-day wildlife biologists refer to as “charismatic megafauna,” were soon to follow the bison into extirpation. Elk were gone by 1838, wolves by 1848. Some reports claim that mountain lions may have survived until as late as 1850.

Doug Wynn

Species on the edge

Unlike many people, Doug Wynn likes snakes. He likes them so much that he began studying them decades ago, and has since become Ohio’s leading expert on the state-endangered timber rattlesnake.

Wynn has never been bitten, yet is still extremely cautious around the snakes, always handling them with a metal catch-stick. “A rattlesnake can strike the entire length of its body,” he says. “Meaning that a 3-foot snake — which is about the typical length in Ohio — can strike a distance of at least 3 feet. So, if you ever happen across one in the woods, give it a wide berth.”

American Bittern

One weird bird

I don’t consider myself an avid birder, but I understand enough about Ohio birds to know when something unusual shows up.

American bitterns are not easy to spot, for two reasons. First, there aren’t very many of them — they’re state-endangered. Second, they are masters of camouflage. The bird kept its heavily streaked breast turned toward me at all times, rotating slowly as I moved back and forth for a better camera angle.

Stillwater River

To the source

Our state’s very name, translated from the language of its original inhabitants, means “Good River.” While Ohio is named specifically for the mighty waterway that forms its eastern and southern borders, that name serves as an apt description of the entire place.

Rivers, to me, are analogies of our humanity: They begin as spindly streams, unglamorous trickles, and, like people, they find their way — carving their character as they go, widening and deepening with distance. If a river can have such an ignominious beginning yet end with a glorious, glowing connection to something larger, then couldn’t that be a template for a life well-lived?

Cooper’s hawk (Photo by Chip Gross.)

Look who’s coming to dinner

Just about every winter, I receive a frantic email from an Ohio Cooperative Living reader that goes something like this:

“Help! A hawk is attacking the songbirds at my birdfeeder! What should I do?”

It’s not the answer most want to hear, but the only alternative is to not feed birds. By choosing to feed, you congregate songbirds in numbers not normally found in the wild — and that, in turn, makes easy pickings for predators.

The most common hawk seen in the Buckeye State at winter feeders is the Cooper’s hawk. Sleek, fast, and deadly, this member of the accipiter grouping of hawks is one of the stealth fighter jets of Ohio’s bird world.

Fishermen with large catfish

Ohio River monsters

Stories of huge catfish — channel cats, flatheads, and blues — lurking in the deep, murky, mysterious pools of the Ohio River have been whispered from angler to angler for hundreds of years. For instance, David Zeisberger, a missionary to the Delaware Indians in what would one day become Ohio, recorded in his 1780 book, History of the Northern American Indians, the following fish story: