Friday, February 10th, 2012
By Nancy Allen
State trying to lure fishing tournaments
Events generate tourism revenue for the two county area
  GRAND LAKE - The state is using accurate information as bait to lure fishing tournaments back to Ohio's largest inland lake.
Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Brian Miller sent letters asking tournaments to return to the lake and he's soliciting new ones as well.
Miller wants to set the record straight on the lake's algae issues.
"We wanted to clear up misinformation by putting out correct information such as the lake was never closed, the fish are safe for consumption and that the algae cannot be transported from one lake to another like zebra mussels can," he said.
The lake hosted 81 bass, catfish and crappie tournaments in 2006; last year there were just 26, park records show. Tournaments can draw between 10 to 200 or more boats a weekend. In the 1990s the lake hosted nearly 100 tournaments annually, Miller said.
The lake has had state-issued water quality advisories the last three summers due to blue-green algae toxins. Lake visitation has decreased and millions in tourism revenue have been lost.
The letters note that the bass catch was not down last year at the lake, though it started slowly at most Ohio lakes. Last spring through late fall produced some very nice, healthy catches, Miller said, and fishing this fall and winter has been some of the best on Grand Lake in years.
Projects planned this year are noted in the letters, including renovating the East Bank launch ramp and parking lot, shoreline protection work, a planned whole lake alum treatment if state funding comes through, increased dredging and continued rough fish removal.
Dave Faller, assistant director of Fishers of Men bass tournament, said organizers decided to hold its kids tournament on the lake this year after canceling it in 2011. The event, a mainstay at the lake for years, was scrapped after the state issued a water advisory May 19 due to algae toxins. The state advised against swimming, wading in or swallowing the water and avoiding surface scum.
"We decided to (hold the tournament this year) because scientists are telling us it's OK as long as we don't drink the water in large quantities," Faller said.
The tournaments are important because the people they bring to the Mercer and Auglaize county area increase tourism dollars.
"When they come, they're not only coming to bait stores, they're buying gas, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants and buying stuff," said Dan Manning, owner of The Outdoorsmen store in St. Marys. "People ... come weeks and months earlier to check out the lake and do their homework and they spend money then, too."
Manning said the biggest misperception he hears when anglers call his store is that the fish are unsafe to eat.
"I still spend 20 to 30 minutes a day on the phone telling people the state has tested them and they're safe," he said.
Manning said he's happy to inform anglers the recent fall fishing was the best he's seen on the lake in 15 years. Fishing for bluegill, a popular pan fish, really increased and those catches remain good.
"They've just gotten bigger the last three years," he said. "Now on a regular basis we're seeing nine-inch bluegills; an eight-inch bluegill is considered a pretty good size."
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