As a wildlife officer, I was often seen walking around local lakes and streams. It could be about any time of the day or night, and many anglers thought my only job was to check for fishing licenses or to watch for slobs who would leave trash along the shorelines.

While those were certainly part of my work, I was also called upon to assist in gathering information about the health status of the fishery. Carrying a clipboard, scale sample envelopes and measuring board, I’d ask anglers about their fishing habits and check their catch.

I wasn’t alone in this work as most wildlife officers serving in areas that included large areas of public waters had the same job. For Lake Erie and other areas of special concern, creel clerks continue to be hired annually to gather that information.

Even though most anglers ditched their old wire creel baskets for coolers years ago, the term sticks and creel clerks and creel surveys have proven to be essential in determining the effects anglers have on fisheries. The creel clerks record anglers’ answers to a series of predetermined questions relating to their fishing experience and results for the day. While this may take about five minutes of your time, the information shared plays a vital role in helping biologists improve fishing.

The species and sizes of fish that are harvested are still some of the most important pieces of information a creel clerk will gather. However, other important questions, such as how long you’ve been fishing, what you’re targeting, and what you’ve caught and released provide further insights into the health and success of a fishery.

Typically, surveys are performed annually on Lake Erie and inland reservoirs and less often on the Ohio River and inland streams. Two pieces of information are required to help analyze the fishery in question.

The first task is to count the number of people fishing; an important piece of information for biologists. When combined with the average length of a fishing trip, it provides an estimate of total angler effort. “Effort” is recorded as the total number of hours anglers spend fishing on a body of water. This can be per day, week or year. Effort can also be divided by the acreage of a reservoir or mileage of a stream to estimate the degree of fishing pressure.

When examining the effort per acre it becomes evident what areas are heavily fished. Understanding the fishing pressure a reservoir or stream receives is important when considering where regulations may be needed, as well as where they may be most effective. This provides a fair and equitable opportunity for anglers and helps safeguard the resource.

The creel clerk’s second task is to interview those counted anglers to learn some of the finer details of their fishing trip. The first information gathered will concern when an angler began fishing and how many people are in the party. These details help fine tune the angling effort information.

The next questions will involve what species of fish were being targeted, what’s been caught and what’s been kept. This information is the real meat (or should I say fillet) of the survey and provides biologists with estimates of angler catch and harvest rates for specific kinds of fish.

The length of time it takes an angler to catch a targeted species can be a good indicator of the health of that fishery and whether or not management strategies need to be altered to try and improve catch rates. Biologists also use this information to rank fisheries and direct the public to the best fishing spots.

Harvested fish will also be measured. Lengths provide information about which species are being harvested, what sizes are most susceptible to harvest and times of the year most harvest takes place.

Lastly, most creel surveys contain supplemental questions that vary from year to year and are aimed at collecting anglers’ input on a wide variety of topics. Fisheries managers use this opportunity to gauge interest in potential regulations or to rate the satisfaction of established regulations.

The next time you’re approached on the water by a friendly face with a clipboard and measuring board, take the time to answer a few questions, share your catch, and provide your honest opinions. Take pride in knowing that you’ve made a small but invaluable contribution to Ohio’s sport fish management.

“Do not tell fish stories where the people know you. Particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.” — Mark Twain

Along the way:

There are three things you should know when bringing home a new puppy:

1. Regardless of the number of expensive toys you furnish, you’ll be replacing favorite shoes.

2. Regardless of what life throws at you, at least one friend will be there to excitedly welcome your homecoming, to soak up your tears or to offer the wisdom of silent council.

3. Regardless of prayer or oath, one day an empty collar will be hung in a sacred place and a void of great sadness will find your heart.

Dean Koontz, one of my favorite authors, makes his living writing thrillers. He’s also written about his beloved golden retrievers and has included this gained wisdom in his novels.

“Dogs’ lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion.

“There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.” — Dean Koontz, “The Darkest Evening of the Year.”

This week, a scarlet and gray collar with “Brutus” stitched on its face will be added to others on a nearby peg. While the sadness will be there, it will be accompanied by the memories of a life of service and unconditional love. If only we could all arrive at our own destination having achieved such lofty goals.

Step outside:

• Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz recently joined members of Ohio’s conservation community to celebrate the second Fall Fish Ohio Day on Lake Erie’s central basin in Ashtabula County. “Lake Erie fishing is like nothing else in the world,” said DeWine. “Protecting this lake is a top priority for my administration.”

• A series of online modules by Orvis covers the basics of fly fishing so you can explore the opportunities of discovering a new outdoor pastime or brush up on your knowledge and skills:

• Today and Sunday: Tri-State Gun Collectors show, Allen County Fairgrounds, 2750 Harding Highway, Lima.

• Sunday: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186. The club is holding a fundraiser raffle for several great prizes. Tickets are available from club officers or at TNT Firearms, 1301 Lima Ave.

• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.

• Oct. 19: Hunter safety training, UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243. Registration information is available at

• Oct. 23: Due to a scheduling conflict, the Full Draw Film Tour had to be rescheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 23. Doors open 6 p.m., films begin at 7 p.m., Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St., Columbus. Enjoy the spectacular scenery found during elk, whitetail, moose and pronghorn hunts from around the nation.

• Oct. 26: Youth pheasant hunt, Seneca County Pheasants Forever. Applications taken until Oct. 19. For information, contact Don at 567-278-1551 or visit

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at