Bellevue's Jonathan Hay breaks state fish record

As soon as Jonathan Hay felt the redhorse sucker tug his fishing line, he knew he was reeling in a much bigger fish than usual.

Hay, his brother and nephew were fishing on the Huron River at the Milan Wildlife Area, as the trio often does, when Hay made the catch on April 29, 2022. 

“We saw it, so we knew it was a sucker when I started reeling it in a little bit,” says Hay, 38, of Bellevue. “It just fought harder than the smaller ones. Down there (at Milan Wildlife Area), we’re catching 1-to-3-pounders.”

This one was 12.16 pounds, several times larger than past catches of that type of fish Hay has made there. What he didn’t expect was for the fish to break an Ohio state record for the category of sucker – other than buffalo. 

“My brother said: ‘That might be a state record.’ I never thought about it,” Hay says. “If it wasn’t for him saying that, I would never have thought it’d be a state record fish.”

He then went through the confirmation process with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Outdoor Writers of Ohio State Record Fish Committee. Hay’s catch overtook the previous record, a 9.25-pound sucker caught in April 1977 on Leesville Lake, a reservoir in Leesville. 

It also provided some interesting information about the Huron River, says Fred Snyder, who has been chairman of OWO’s State Record Fish Committee since 2011.
Redhorse suckers traditionally have not been reported to have been found in that body of water. But Hay’s catch and his family’s reports of catching them there, as well, indicate the river does have a population, at least during the April spawning run on the river. 

“They are clean water indicators,” Snyder says. “They don’t tolerate pollution well, so that’s a good indicator for the Huron River.”

Snyder, a retired extension specialist at Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant, wasn’t necessarily surprised. Other suckers, including the white sucker, have been recorded in the Huron River, and redhorse suckers are found in other rivers in the region, including the Sandusky River. Still, the information gives a better picture of the Huron River and its species.

“I imagine through the decades people have caught them,” Snyder says. “They just don’t know what it is.”

Greater redhorse suckers are part of a family of suckers that are forage fish that hang around near the bottom of bodies of water. They eat things like mussels and larvae, Snyder says. 

For Hay, having a state record fish was a special surprise for someone who has spent most of his free time since childhood fishing. 

“One of your dreams is that you’d be in the record book,” he says. “I just never thought it’d be that fish.”

Hay’s fish measured 30.75 inches in length and 18.25 inches in girth. He caught it using a spinning rod.

Since then, he continues to fish for suckers, carp, catfish and other species. He enjoys going with his 10-year-old son, his brother, nephew and other family members. 

“My dad was a big fisherman, and he always took us kids fishing and hunting,” Hay says. “So that’s what we do with our kids now. They love it.”

They enjoy fishing for suckers and carp because they are fun to catch. 

“It’s just relaxing,” he says. “The fight of the bigger fish, the adrenaline of it. It's just nice being outdoors. Same way with hunting, in the woods peaceful.”

For those who catch a large fish and think it could be a state record, Outdoor Writers of Ohio has a procedure for certifying the catch and officially joining the record books.

First, the angler needs to get a certified weight on the fish with a witness observing. Next, the angler must have an ODNR, Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist make a positive identification on the fish and its species. This should be done by appointment with the biologist. 

A close-up photo of the fish is also required, as well as adhering to other rules and requirements. Live fish, as well as fish kept on ice, are accepted for examination. 

“Every rule has to be followed,” Snyder says. “Just violation of one rule will disqualify a fish.”

To learn more about Ohio’s State Record Fish Program, and to submit a fish for a state record, find the application here.