Fish winterkills may be seen as weather becomes more spring-like

March 25, 2014

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is reminding people that fish kills may be common in ponds and small lakes as the ice and snow of the past few months gives way to spring.

Winter fish die-offs caused by long periods of heavy ice and snow cover on small waters are referred to as winterkills. Winterkill is caused when persistent ice forms a surface barrier between the water and air that prevents circulation of oxygen and blocks sunlight. If these conditions continue long enough, the oxygen fish need to survive may be depleted and result in some or all of the fish suffocating. Lacking sunlight, plants stop making oxygen and eventually start to use it as they die and decompose.

The worse winterkill I ever witnessed was in my grandfather’s five acre lake after the winter of 1978. I was very young then but I can still remember seeing all those largemouth bass and catfish that didn’t make it through that winter. It was a very tough year on the fish.

Winterkill is most common in shallow ponds and typically results in dead fish being seen along the shore. Ohio’s northern counties are usually most susceptible to winterkill because of colder temperatures and more frequent snows, but this year winterkill of ponds is possible throughout Ohio.

Some fish die-offs are expected in Ohio’s larger lakes as well this year, but for different reasons. Fish such as gizzard shad, which are less tolerant of long, cold winters, are commonly seen along the shorelines of reservoirs and even Lake Erie during moderate winters. However, in larger waters, the species that commonly die off following winter are resilient and return in great numbers following a single spawning season.

Unusual water coloration, strong odors or other unusual conditions may be indicative of non-natural causes and can be reported to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Call 800-WILDLIFE to report a suspicious fish winterkill. Go to to learn more about fish and preventing winterkills.

• I know I have mentioned this before, but a trip down to Fredericktown last week reminded me again to remind you, if you like bird watching, this is a wonderful time to get out and see the migration. If you like waterfowl, both Knox and Richland counties have a lot of gravel quarries and they are covered right now with all kinds of ducks. The gravel quarries attract the ducks and geese right now because they are much deeper than the area ponds and lakes and they won’t freeze back up on these cold chilly nights.

The spring migration is the time to bird watch as the males are in full plumage right now for breeding season. The area quarries and flooded areas are holding both divers and puddle ducks. Other birds are in their major migration right now, so you just don’t know what you might find in your binoculars.

• The ODNR Division of Wildlife will host a free workshop where attendees will become certified Passport to Fishing instructors. The workshop is scheduled for Saturday, April 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Wildlife District Three, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron.

The workshop is free but pre-registration is required; call Ken Fry, Division of Wildlife at 330-245-3030 or email Attendees will be required to participate in a background check.

By becoming certified instructors, attendees will help connect students with the outdoors. Resources available to instructors include grants, equipment, brochures, and training. Passport to Fishing was developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and adopted by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. Workshops teach volunteers the basics of fishing and how to run a four-station fishing program with a fishing event. These instructors then go back to their communities, with a written curriculum and training aids, to teach youngsters and beginning anglers the basics of fishing.

• The artwork of wildlife artist Gunner Hilliard won first place in the 2014 Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp Design Competition, sponsored by the ODNR. Hilliard’s painting of northern shovelers will appear on the Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp issued in the fall of 2015. The winning entry was selected from a field of 17 original paintings submitted by artists from nine states, including eight entries from Ohio. The competition was held on Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Ohio Ducks Unlimited annual banquet in Licking County.

Last year’s winner, Adam Grimm, will see his painting of a northern pintail appear on the 2014 Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp. Grimm is an Ohio native who now resides in South Dakota.

Gunner Hilliard of New Jersey has previously placed second in this competition. This year, second place honors went to Sam Timm of Wisconsin for his painting of an American widgeon. The third place entry was by Guy Crittenden of Virginia for his painting of a black duck.

Approximately 25,000 Ohio Wetland Habitat Stamps were purchased last year, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Proceeds from stamp sales help fund vital wetland habitat restoration projects in Ohio. Such habitats are important to many resident wildlife species including several that are state-endangered.

Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!