Fishing, Boating Industries Reel in Big Bucks in Ohio

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On a pleasant spring afternoon, a steady stream of boaters, kayakers and anglers stopped in at the new $1 million marina building at Mosquito Lake State Park.

Some inquired about renting a boat. Others bought bait and tackle. All contributed to the recreational fishing industry in Ohio that grosses $2.2 billion each year.

“Fishermen buy a lot of stuff,” says longtime local fishing columnist Jack Wollitz. “Boats, rods and reels, electronics …”

In terms of spending, it can put golf to shame as an expensive hobby, he says.

Bass fishing boats with an elevated platform and 150- to 250-horsepower motors lie within the $100,000 range, according to Wollitz, and boats used to ply Lake Erie are even pricier.

“You can load them with sonar, GPS and other electronics,” he says. “It’s like loading up a fancy car.”

The bottom line? You get what you pay for.

“A fishing pole can cost $10 or more than $100,” Wollitz says. “They all catch fish but a better-quality one will just feel right to an angler. The same goes for reels, lures, boats and accessories.”

The veteran angler says one big reason for the popularity of the sport in northeastern Ohio is the many stocked lakes. In addition to Mosquito, the list includes Lake Milton, Berlin, Guilford, West Branch and Pymatuning.

John Vogel of Mineral Ridge is a frequent visitor to the Mosquito Lake marina.

He and his brother, Brian, have a history in the marina business. They were managers of the Geneva State Park marina back in the 1990s. Under their stewardship, revenues for the Geneva marina quadrupled.

But even back in those days, Vogel docked his own boat at Mosquito.

At that time, there were no facilities at all for boaters at the lake. Vogel wanted to see the state build a fuel dock and a store, with the goal of then getting the contract to manage it.

He submitted a plan to the state department of natural resources but no immediate action was taken. “They must have thought it was a great idea, though, because five years later they built the shack and portable dock,” Vogel said, referring to the primitive facilities at the marina that existed up until this year.

He’s impressed with the new marina building and docks, which opened this month – three decades after he proposed the idea.

“This is fantastic,” he says, looking around the new marina. “Finally.”

The project involved installing an underground fuel tank and dock, septic system and the refurbishing of existing docks.

Reeling in Dollars

It’s worth it, says Mary Mertz, director of the state DNR, because the financial benefit seeps into the surrounding community.

“When people come out and spend the day, it’s not just at the state park,” she says. “They’re going to stop and have lunch and buy supplies. They’ll spend the night if it’s a weekend. And if they’re not in our campground, then they’re at a local hotel.”

The chief of the ODNR parks and watercraft division, Glen Cobb, points out Mosquito state park attracts some three million visitors per year and many of them are boating or fishing.

“I’ve been up here a number of times on weekends,” he says, “and I’ve seen how crazy it gets as far as the number of boats.”

The state received over 600,000 boat registrations this year, which Cobb calls “a record number.”

The financial numbers for Ohio sportfishing tell a similar tale.

According to the most recent figures compiled by the American Sportfishing Association, 2,610,700 anglers spent $2.2 billion while fishing in Ohio.

Those dollars were spent mainly on fishing on the 73 state park lakes and rivers, with another large chunk spent on Lake Erie.

All told, anglers spent $2.24 billion in the state in 2021, supporting 16,272 jobs, according to figures Scott Hale provided. Hale is executive administrator for fish management and research, part of the ODNR wildlife division.

Freshwater spending had an economic impact of $1.659 billion, supporting 12,385 jobs.

Lake Erie spending had an economic impact of $581.7 million, supporting 4,342 jobs.

As far as fishing licenses go, the numbers are similarly staggering.

In 2022, the state issued 677,589 fishing licenses, Hale says. Of those, 9,523 were issued to Mahoning County residents, 12,757 to Trumbull County residents and 6,969 to Columbiana County residents.

These anglers dropped lines in the 124,000 acres of inland water in the state, 7,000 miles of streams, 2.25 million acres of Lake Erie water, and 481 miles of the Ohio River.

A fishing license costs $25 but all Ohioans can fish without buying a license during Free Fishing Days, June 17 and 18.

Boat Rentals

At the Mosquito Lake marina, the big attraction so far this year has been boat rentals, says Bobbi Jo Moore, its assistant manager.

She’s an employee of Charles Mills Marina of Mansfield, which won the contract to manage the Mosquito Lake Marina.

“They’re all about the boats,” Moore says. “Because they’re brand-new. My oldest ones are 2022s.”

The marina has at least 10 boats available to rent,  split between cruisers and pontoons.

Boating is big business statewide, producing an economic impact of $6.4 billion in 2022 and accounting for 45,866 jobs, according to a study produced by the ODNR parks and watercraft division.

The study was conducted through a survey of nearly 10,000 boating households and over 200 marine trade businesses.

Contributions from both recreational boating and the marine trades were calculated in the study. Recreational boating contributed $3.66 billion and 25,476 jobs, while the marine trades contributed $2.75 billion and 20,380 jobs.


Bait and tackle is another big seller at the Mosquito Lake Marina, Moore says.

“We sell lots of fresh bait,” she says. “Live minnows, nightcrawlers, green worms, maggots, wax worms, meal worms, red worms …”

The marina is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Currently, anglers are going for crappie and walleye. “We also have some catfish guys come out here. And we had one guy catch a big pike last week,” Moore says.

The lake is also stocked with perch and bass. Each year, it also hosts a small number of bass tournaments.

The marina closes for the season in mid-October. It reopens in the spring.

All of the lakes in Ohio teem with bass, crappie, saugeye, catfish and other fish, and the ODNR wildlife division this month released some recommendations on where to catch them this summer in northeastern Ohio. Four of them are an easy drive from the Mahoning Valley. Here’s what the division recommends:

Bass: Berlin Lake has consistently seen an increase in largemouth bass and smallmouth bass over the past five years, according to the wildlife division. And while the numbers have increased, the overall size of the fish hasn’t diminished. The most recent electrofishing survey of the division showed a high-quality size distribution of bass longer than 15 inches.

Crappie: Lake Milton often yields large crappie. The wildlife division assessed the population of both black and white crappie in 2022 and found growth rates were high, with many crappie reaching 8 inches in length by two years of age – a number that represents the established benchmark for quality crappie growth. Nearly a quarter of the sampled crappie population was longer than 10 inches. “Plentiful and large crappie make Lake Milton a sure bet for spring action,” the division wrote.

Channel catfish: The division sampled channel cats in the Summit County East Reservoir, part of the Portage Lakes chain, and the findings did not disappoint. Some reached 32 inches in length. The reservoir’s channel catfish in the reservoir are exhibiting exceptional growth rates and a large proportion exceeded 20 inches in length.

Muskellunge: Pymatuning Lake’s muskellunge fishery is currently in peak condition. Twice in the last five years, spring muskellunge surveys broke the record for the number of fish longer than 30 inches. The lake’s muskellunge fishery is characterized by a high abundance of fish with plenty reaching trophy sizes.

Pictured at top: Boaters head out to the open waters of Mosquito Lake from the park’s new marina.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.