PERRY TWP., Ohio - A 7-year-old girl caught her first fish last weekend and it may be older than all other species currently in the lakes and streams of Ohio.
Tip Pullin considers his jaunts to Sippo Lake in Ohio an opportunity; not just to relax at his favorite pastime - fishing - but also as the perfect chance to teach younger generations that angling for native Ohio fish is every bit more fun than a video game.
Pullin's goddaughter Hajile Danzy is his latest protégé.
"Today, see, I'm trying to teach her how to use an open-face reel," said Pullin.
But it was a closed-reel Saturday that Hajile cast after just a click of the button that her newly found skill produced something special on her hook. One that only a 7-year-old's luck could.
"I told her to watch it, the bobber went down. She reeled it in. She had a monster," said Pullin.
The fish that Hajile Danzy pulled onto the dock was a fighter, so Pullin had to give her a hand.
"I had to take the reel. It was big, like a catfish fighting. But it wasn't a catfish, we weren't sure what it was. Nobody knew for sure around the lake, not even the ranger," said Pullin.
The fish, about 14 inches long, had a head shaped like a snake, its eyes set close. And the teeth ...plenty of little biters.
"I thought it was a snakefish," said Pullin.
Matt Wolfe, a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Department of Wildlife, says the fish is a Bowfin, a native fish species to Ohio that prefers leafy areas of fresh water rivers and streams. In fact, it may be one of the oldest species now thriving in Ohio.
"This fish dates back before bass, bluegill, walleye were even around. Definitely an ancient species," said Wolfe. "For being a first catch, it's very unique. You don't see many Bowfin caught unless you're bass fishing. Being her first fish, I'm sure she was quite shocked with all the teeth that came up associated with it."
It's rarity to find its way to a hook often catches anglers by surprise, partly because it prefers small fish as its regular diet. Hajile and her "poppy" Tip Pullin just happened to be using a minnow as bait Saturday.
Wolfe said it's important for people fishing to not confuse the invasive Snakehead with the native Bowfin.
"Bowfins are unique. If you catch them, definitely let them go. Give them a chance to survive. If you do see something that looks like a Bowfin, but it's not quite a Bowfin, and does have some different colorations on it, it might actually be a Snakehead, and Northern Snakehead in Ohio are a problem species," said Wolfe.
Wolfe asks that if anglers catch Northern Snakehead fish to discard them and report where they've found them.
"Northern Snakeheads have a tendency to invade small ponds and overpopulate them and actually eat all the fish in it," added Wolfe. "The distinguishing feature of the Bowfin from the Snakehead is a black spot on the Bowfin's tail."
Hajile's fish had that very spot on its tail. Wanting to keep the fish she left it in a bait bucket her godfather bought for her. It lasted until Wednesday morning. It's bright green color then lost.
Wolfe says there is help for those unsure of what they have hooked.
"If you are not sure if it's a native Bowfin or a non-native Northern Snakehead, go to our website at www.wildohio.gov and there's a good picture diagram on whether there is a native Bowfin, or something else," said Wolfe. "They're very similar in the head and body shape, though their fins are a little bit different, the key characteristic is that dot on the tail. We definitely want to know where those Snakeheads are. Do not put them back in the water. Report those at 1-800-WILDLIFE, or call your local district office here in Akron. It's 330-644-3293."