The Fish Ohio! Program: How to Qualify

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What is the Fish Ohio Program?

With over 50,000 lakes spread across the state, Ohio has no shortage of great fishing spots. With nearly one million anglers obtaining their Ohio fishing license each year, that’s also a lot of folks on the water!

The Fish Ohio program was created in 1976 to recognize anglers who legally caught trophy-sized fish on the state’s waters. In 1980, the Ohio Division of Wildlife took over management of the program. Since that time, the Fish Ohio program has recognized over 400,000 anglers for their qualifying catches.

That doesn’t mean making the list is going to be easy, though…

For a program over 40 years old, that’s an average of fewer than 10,000 anglers per year. At current estimates of approximately 900,000 registered fishing licenses are sold annually (with anglers under 16 years of age being given an exemption), that’s around 1% per year!

Today, 25 different species are eligible for qualification.

How to Qualify

Unlike the Ohio’s state record program, which accounts only for weight, the Fish Ohio program qualifies fish based on length.

An angler with a valid fishing license (or with a listed exemption) must catch the qualifying fish via legal angling and not on a pay lake. Applications for any particular year must be submitted by December 31st.

The Fish Ohio program also works on an honor system, meaning that you won’t needs to provide photos or any other form of documentation to qualify. Simply measure the fish for length and visit the official Fish Ohio Award page. There, you will be prompted to create an account.

Qualifying Species and Lengths

As we mentioned above, there are 25 species that currently qualify for the Fish Ohio program.

Five species (white bass, walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, and freshwater drum) carry different qualifying requirements depending on where they are caught. Lengths are slightly higher for fish caught on Lake Erie and its tributaries.

The other twenty species maintain the same qualifying lengths anywhere in the state.

The following lengths apply to all Ohio waters (excluding paid lakes):

Blue Catfish35 inches
Brown Trout20 inches
Bowfin23 inches
Bullhead14 inches
Carp28 inches
Channel Catfish26 inches
Crappie13 inches
Flathead Catfish35 inches
Hybrid-Striped Bass21 inches
Largemouth Bass20 inches
Longnose Gar34 inches
Muskellunge40 inches
Northern Pike32 inches
Rainbow Trout28 inches
Rock Bass9 inches
Sauger16 inches
Saugeye21 inches
Sucker20 inches
Spotted Bass15 inches
Sunfish9 inches

The following lengths apply to all reservoirs and inland lakes, private ponds, the Ohio River, and inland rivers or streams:

Freshwater Drum20 inches
Smallmouth Bass18 inches
Walleye25 inches
White Bass14 inches
Yellow Perch12 inches

The following lengths apply to Lake Erie and its tributaries

Freshwater Drum24 inches
Smallmouth Bass20 inches
Walleye28 inches
White Bass15 inches
Yellow Perch13 inches
2016 Fish Ohio and Master Angler Pins
2016’s Fish Ohio and Master Angler pins (photo via Your Wild Ohio – Angler/Facebook)

Fish Ohio Recognition Pins

In addition to simple bragging rights, the Fish Ohio program recognizes qualifying anglers with a commemorative pin. Each year, a different species adorns a colored pin.

The fish selected for any specific year does not necessarily have to match the qualifying fish caught to earn the pin.

Ohio Master Angler Program

So, let’s say you’re talented (or lucky) enough to land a Fish Ohio qualifier. Pretty neat, right?

Well, what happens when you land four different qualifying species in a single year?

While the Colorado Master Angler program runs very similarly to the Fish Ohio program, Ohio’s Master Angler program is a rare achievement even among the most dedicated anglers in the state.

For the few who will ever achieve this feat, they will receive the same annual commemorative recognition pin, except in gold.

Have any great stories from your own experience with the Fish Ohio program? Let us know in the comments below.

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