Lake Erie anglers who rely on charter guides for fishing will soon have a richer experience out on the water thanks to a new certification program from the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) and Ohio Sea Grant.
The program, Erie PrOH, launched Aug. 1 as a voluntary course that ensures fishing guides and crew members have detailed knowledge of fishery topics and can act as responsible stewards of the lake.
“The idea is to empower guides to promote their industry and sustainable fishing in Lake Erie,” said Tory Gabriel, extension program leader for Ohio Sea Grant.
Each summer, anglers hire charter captains to take them fishing on the lake. According to a recent survey, more than 800 licensed guides and 700 charter businesses operated in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie in 2020, and numbers have increased since then. Erie PrOH can equip these guides with expertise on lake issues that they can then impart to anglers.
“We’re helping guides be confident in the information they provide to their anglers while they’re spending a day with them out on the water,” Gabriel explained. “If you’re a charter angler, you’re going out on a charter boat for six to eight hours with somebody. There’s going to be a lot of questions. As those questions come up, we want to make sure the guides have the resources to answer them.”
To provide these answers, the online, self-paced course includes eight separate lessons on topics such as sportfish ecology, release and harvest, harmful algal blooms, aquatic invasive species, and guiding responsibility and safety. As of August 29, 59 guides had enrolled in the course and 47 had completed it.
“The idea behind this was to develop a body of basic knowledge about Lake Erie packaged in a way so that everybody on the lake can speak the same language, have the same facts, and clear up any misconceptions”
Fishing guides who complete the course are recognized as “Erie PrOH Certified” for five years and listed for anglers to find in a registry on Ohio Sea Grant’s website. They will receive a digital and print certificate, an onboard resource guide, and a vessel sticker. Through this certification, anglers can find guides that are environmental stewards, while guides can distinguish their business and enhance market visibility.
“Guiding safely is also really important,” said Angela Greene, education specialist for Ohio Sea Grant who helped develop the course. “You know that you have a guide who takes safety to heart and knows what to do in an emergency, all the way down to ‘Hey, I caught this fish and it looks weird, is it ok to eat?’ That’s all addressed in the course.”
The program, modeled after a successful Florida Sea Grant program, was developed through a partnership between the Ohio Division of Wildlife and Ohio Sea Grant. A working team of experts from both institutions compiled information on lake issues that Greene then translated into modules for the course.
“The idea behind this was to develop a body of basic knowledge about Lake Erie packaged in a way so that everybody on the lake can speak the same language, have the same facts, and clear up any misconceptions,” Greene said. “We wanted this course to be accessible to everyone, so I translated it in a way that was engaging, interesting, and user-friendly.”
An advisory committee that guided the process consisted of Larry Fletcher of Shores and Islands Ohio, Neil Stein of Remarkable Lake County, Ohio, Paul Pacholski of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, Tom Banyas of the North Coast Charter Boat Association, and Sarah Orlando of the Ohio Clean Marinas Program.
Ohio Sea Grant authors include Gabriel, Greene, Dr. Christopher Winslow, director, and Jill Bartolotta, extension educator. Division of Wildlife authors include Scott Hale, executive administrator of fish; Matt Leibengood, law enforcement supervisor for Lake Erie; Travis Hartman, Lake Erie Fisheries program administrator; Eric Weimer, Sandusky Fisheries Research Unit supervisor; and Abigail Rhodebeck, marketing coordinator. Melinda Huntley, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association, also served as an author.
The course is not a substitute for the annual Lake Erie Fishing Guide license required by the ODOW to guide fishing trips on Lake Erie.