For comparison sake, I fried a bag full of frozen walleyes I had caught from Lake Erie in July.
I found the Ohio River fish to be better eating — more favorable — than those caught from Erie.
Fish populations in the Ohio River have been found to be in good biological condition, according to a recent report issued by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, an interstate water pollution control agency for the Ohio and its tributaries.
During the summer of 2009, ORSANCO's biologists completed four "pool" surveys on the lower section of the river — Belleville pool near Marietta, Markland pool near Cincinnati, McAlphine pool near Louisville and the "open water" pool, stretching 62 miles from Smithland Locks and Dam to where the Ohio flows into the Mississippi River at Cairo, Ill.
The fish to be tested were collected by night-time electrofishing, a technique that uses a special boat to generate a mild electric current that temporarily stuns and disorients fish which are than netted, examined, and returned unharmed to the water. Electrofishing is done at night because that's when fish move into shallower waters to feed.
Biologists collected 3,107 fish representing 46 species from 15 randomly selected sites. The results overall as to the safety of eating Ohio River fish ranked from good to fair. Tests for pollutants in the fish were done not just on the good fish, like sauger, walleye, bass, crappie and striped bass hybrids, but included paddlefish, silver carp, shortnose gar and blue catfish.
The studies conducted on fish from these last four pools completed ORSANCO's comprehensive five-year biological survey covering the entire Ohio River (19 pools, 981 miles).
Printed copies of the report can be obtained by contacting ORSANCO headquarters in Cincinnati at (513) 231-7719, or by visiting the Web site at http:/www.orsanco.org/watqual/aquatic/biological.asp.
Striped bass hybrids have become a favorite quarry of sport fishermen in the Ohio River. Late this past spring, in the tailwaters of the Greenup Dam, great schools of these silver fish with the black stripes on their sides were active, driving schools of shad to the surface and then ripping into them in a fantastic feeding frenzy.
Fishermen who cast surface lures into the frothy water were often rewarded with savage strikes and a fight to remember from these power-diving battlers.
Most of the fish landed were in the 14- to 17-inch range, though some would go two feet and better. During the past six years, hybrids weighing up to 14 pounds have been hauled from these waters.
Our fathers who fished the Ohio never heard of a fish called the striped bass hybrid. Fisheries’ biologists have no hard evidence that these fish are reproducing, so where did they come from?
They came from – and are still coming from – hatcheries in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. Large numbers of them are stocked into the river by these three states working together as the Ohio River Management Team.
The hybrid is a cross between the striped bass (also called rockfish), which can reach weights of more than 50 pounds, and the white bass, which generally weighs no more than two to three pounds.
Kentucky stocks its laboratory-produced hybrids in the lower half of the Ohio, from the Markland pool, just above Louisville, on down. Ohio’s responsibility starts at the Indiana-Ohio line, also part of the Markland pool, and it and West Virginia take care of producing and stocking hybrids on the upper half of the river.
A “pool” is the long stretch of water between the 19 high-lift dams operating on the Ohio. For instance, the Meldahol pool, the next one up from Markland, reaches to the Greenup pool, which reaches on up to the Robert C. Byrd pool.
The “tailwaters” are those swift areas just downstream from each dam.
Kentucky produces its hybrid fry at the Minor Clark Fish Hatchery, just downstream of Cave Run Lake Dam. They are reared to stocking size (usually about two inches) at the hatchery in Frankfort.
A few years ago, Minor Clark produced 479,000 hybrids, more than three times the number anticipated. Kentucky stocked these excess fish in the Ohio, with some also going in the Kentucky River.
The Kentucky River would have received 20,000 hybrid striped bass, but fisheries biologists and technicians stocked 34,000.
Kentucky planned to stock 30,000 hybrid striped bass in the Markland pool. The surplus allowed them to stock 112,000.
“We notified Ohio that we put nearly four times as many fish in Markland as expected so that they would not have to put fish there this year,” Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky fish and wildlife, said at the time.
He said the Ohio Division of fish and wildlife usually takes care of hybrid stocking at the Markland pool, but that left them free to put those fish into the Meldahl pool.
During the past six years, Ohio has stocked 209,000 hybrids in the Markland pool, 667,000 in the Meldahl pool, and 587,000 in the Greenup pool.
The white bass, also abundant in the Ohio, take care of their own reproduction, swimming up the river’s tributaries each spring to drop their eggs.
“The Ohio River looked fantastic this spring,” said Doug Henley, Ohio River fisheries biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We had such a great year spawning last year on the river for all species, but especially forage fish such as emerald shiners and shad. We should have another year like that this year. We had three feet of visibility earlier this spring, which is phenomenal for the Ohio River.”
“It was a very good year,” Buynak said. “If this river continues to look this good and our survival is good, watch out. The fishing for hybrids should be phenomenal in a few years.”
If you hope to catch a state record hybrid or white from the Ohio, here’s what you have to beat in poundage:
Kentucky, hybrid 20.8 , white 5.0; Ohio, hybrid 17.68, white 4.0; West Virginia, hybrid, 16.75, white 4.56.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.