If you've hear the question once, you've heard it a million times:"Ya catchin' any?"Whether you're knee deep in a trout stream, sitting in a lawn chair at a pay pond or pulling up to the dock in your bass boat, someone always seems to want to know.Ohio River anglers will get that experience a lot this year. From now through Oct. 20, they'll be answering that question and a few more. Fish and wildlife agencies in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky have launched a three-state effort to find out what anglers fish for, how many they catch, where they live, how much they fish and how much they enjoy the experience.The agencies have hired "creel clerks" to hang around popular fishing spots and ask anglers to answer about a dozen questions.Chris O'Bara, the Division of Natural Resources research biologist who heads up West Virginia's segment of the survey effort, said the survey should only take a couple of minutes to complete."It will be single-answer questions," he explained. "For example, 'How many fish did you catch today?' 'How long were you fishing?' 'What were you fishing for?' and 'Where do you live?' We realize that when people come off the river, they want to go home - so we're keeping the survey short and sweet."The survey will be nothing new. Fish and game agencies along the Ohio conduct similar surveys every 10 years or so. The last time it was done, West Virginia hired the clerks. Ohio will do the honors this time.
The clerks will wear uniforms, but not West Virginia or Ohio DNR uniforms. "The uniforms will be pretty low-key, and they'll identify the clerks as part of the Ohio River angler survey," O'Bara said.Most of the surveys will take place at places where anglers on the Ohio tend to congregate - at fishing piers just downstream from navigation dams, and at boat ramps."We want to concentrate the effort where the heaviest fishing pressure is, and that's at the tailwater fisheries below the locks," O'Bara said. "The clerks probably will be there more than they are at the boat ramps. We definitely plan to hit all the boat ramps at least once, but we'll be hitting the tailwater fisheries several times apiece."After anglers answer the field survey, they will be put on a list and will be mailed a more detailed two-page survey. O'Bara said participation in either portion of the survey is voluntary.DNR officials plan to incorporate the information into future Ohio River fish-management plans."For example, if anglers tell us they have a lot of interest in fishing for a species we haven't intensively managed in the past, we might want to start managing that species a little more," O'Bara said."Or, if we find that harvest rates on a certain species are too high for the resource to bear, we might want to change the creel limits a little."
Agency planners will keep in mind, however, that the survey is - as O'Bara puts it - "a one-time picture.""We have to take into account all kinds of things, such as weather patterns and river conditions," he explained. "If it rains for three straight months and nobody's out fishing, that's going to affect the survey. We'll need to take those things into account when we're deciding what to do with the survey data."