The Northern Pike illustration (upper left)is an illustration that was painted about 1962 by Mom (Mary Jane Bezdek) for some of Dad's (Francis H. Bezdek) business literature.
Aquatic Management was started in 1957 by Francis H. Bezdek. He had previously worked with the Soil Conservation Service for both West Virginia and Ohio. At the time, he was one of the few if not the only free-lance (not having a state or university job) field biologist in the state of Ohio. Things were pretty slim for the first few years (believe me, I remember). Raising a family required some additional resources which included: teaching school, licensed Investment Advisor with Investors Diversified Services (now American Express Financial), working at Demming Pump, along with obligations in the Navy Reserve after having served in World War II as Gunnery Officer assigned to the Merchant Marine.
Dad did a lot of independent research in aquatic biology. He was searching for a good viable product with which he could build a future, while avoiding the common practice of moonlighting in a State or University job just to make ends meet. He discovered that State publications, although a good place to start, are not very reliable for practical applications in real life situations, and very little of the information is commercially viable. There is good material there, but the big difficulty in dad's words: When your paycheck doesn't reflect production, it doesn't matter whether you are right or wrong! He was forced to develop his own system for game fish production and pond management. We worked with many varieties: trout, large and snallmouth bass, fathead and golden shiner minnows, white fish, walleye, northern pike, muskullunge, chain pickerel, channel cat, bluegill sunfish, punkinseed sunfish, redear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, and developed varieties of hybrid sunfish. Dad put several strains of these hybrids into commercial production and helped others do so. He was a prime resource for Ken Holiyoke's much advertised Georgia Giant. As a teenager, I was present on Holiyoke's farm in Alapaha, Georgia when Dad showed him how to produce them. This is a link to that site Georgia Giant Hybrid. However, the site makes exaggerated claims about the hybrid.
Byron T. Bezdek
The following article by Paul M. Liikala was
published in the
March, 1982 issue of Fins and Feathers magazine.
A lake doctor? Why not? We have doctors or experts who treat all sorts of human maladies. When our favorite hunting dog becomes sick, off to the veterinarian we go. In fact, we can even get expert advice on sick house plants or tropical fish. Doesn't it make sense that something new such as aquatic management should come along to cure a lake's ills?
Surprisingly the answer is no - if the word "new" is left in the statement. Aquatic management, from a private standpoint, has been in Ohio since 1957, namely in the person of Francis (Frank) H. Bezdek. I first ran across Frank one day when doing a story on Wingfoot Lake. Frank Balint, Wingfoot Lake's park manager, was so impressed with the work Frank Bezdek was doing that he encouraged me to contact him. Three years later, the improved size of Wingfoot's 'gill and crappie, coupled with respectable catches of bass, walleyes and northern pike, caused me to become interested in aquatic management from a private standpoint.
I first met Francis Bezdek at the Wingfoot Park's manager's office. It was October, and Frank let me keep him company-if I didn't mind tagging along as he stocked 700 walleye, checked the fish in two trapnets and inspected 200 feet of gillnet. He did this all in about two hours-the only evidence that said he is 65 years of age is his birth certificate. He had been up since early morning, and at 5:30 in the evening he was putting my younger legs to shame.
Frank inspected each of the fish that were hauled to the boat. The walleye and northern pike seemed to receive special attention. After a careful inspection of each, a look of satisfaction would cross his face. When back in the boat, Frank explained why he was especially interested in these predators.
It seems that about 10 years ago Wingfoot was experiencing too many weeds and tried aerial spraying as a method of destroying them. This one-shot attempt was unsatisfactory, and after a thorough check, Frank Bezdek's credentials brought him to Wingfoot. Frank's experience with thousands of impoundments gave him practical experience that could be gained only from work in the field. First, Frank viewed the entire lake and found that it was 35% weed choked. Large amounts of weeds give panfish protection from predation and don't allow the game fish to keep their numbers under control. Frank pointed out that Wingfoot had loads of bluegills, but due to excess numbers, they were stunted. When questioned as to how a stunted fish can be identified, he pulled a bluegill from a trapnet and pointed to its eye. A stunted fish's eye is too large for its head. Even when an insufficient food supply retards the fish's body growth, the eye continues growing at the normal rate. Hence, stunted fish have oversized eyes. To also determine how the feed has been over the past few years, a scale can be removed and its rings analyzed. A wide space between rings indicates a good year, while a narrow band indicates a poor year, much like the rings of a tree. This scale inspection allows for careful comparative yearly monitoring.
Before any action is taken, Frank takes an inventory of the present fish population-like the examination done by a family physician. The problem must be carefully diagnosed, then its treatment prescribed and carefully watched.
Wingfoot's problem was basically too many weeds, which was not only leading to stunted panfish, but aging the lake at a rapid rate. The thick weeds were falling to the bottom, decaying and making the lake shallower. Many of the bays had extremely thick muck due to the inordinate amount of rotting weeds. The rotting weeds also caused the water to become discolored. All of this increased silting harmed the spawning areas of game fish, which prefer a clean gravel bottom.
The next stop involved the removal of weeds and creating controlled fish holding areas. Since Wingfoot Club is part of the Goodyear Rubber Company, two problems were solved with one idea: Floating tire islands were formed to offer protection and shade for baitfish and game fish. These structures can also be moved from area to area, and the fish will always be found underneath them, even after they are moved.
A lake such as Wingfoot needed more than removal of weeds. Walleye have been stocked every year, along with northern pike. After eight years, Wingfoot is experiencing a solid game fish population. While some oldtimers may bemoan the good old days of catches of 200 and 300 bluegills, the size of today's 'gills is much better and the numbers caught still are very substantial. Test nets also showed an abundant supply of 12 to 13-inch bullheads. These chunky scaleless piscators were a beneficiary of the lake management program. Five years ago the average bullhead size was a great deal smaller. Quantities of small fish were replaced with fish of quality size.The lake level has also been dropped. Why? First, if the shoreline is exposed to air and rain it allows the muck to dry out and compact. This retards the aging process of the lake while allowing rain and snow to wash the spawning gravel clean of sediments. With clean gravel, the game fish spawn will be better the following spring, and the sediment buildup will be greatly slowed. In fact, rye grass at times will be planted on this exposed shore to speed up the breakdown of these organic materials. In the spring when the water level is up again, large amounts of rye grass can darken the water's color, helping to retard a large buildup of weeds. Another reason for dropping the lake's level is that it deters erosion of the banks. On a windy day, the waves will feather against the dry, gently sloping lake bottom, thus preventing erosion. Frank prefers the use of natural controls whenever possible.
Asked why he got started in the private lake business, Frank paused. "If you stay with the government you have two choices. Either make no waves or get out," he said. After four years, he got out. It doesn't take long to understand that he's a man who speaks his piece and lets the chips fall where they may. I can take it: I have a tough skin when I need it, he says-and he sometimes needs it. Frank takes positions that run counter to some popular opinions. For example, he is not opposed to commercial fishing in Lake Erie. In one of his letters he states,
Lake Geneva in Switzerland, for one, has had commercial fishing since Roman times, and whether we like it or not, commercial netting of trash fish must continue in Lake Erie to keep these fish from taking over the lake and also ruining the sportfishing. However, catfish and whitebass are not sufficient, in and of themselves, to keep the Ohio commercial fishermen afloat especially with the investment the fishermen have and the wages (with no investment) many other jobs pay in the private sector. This means, of course, that the commercial fishermen must be allowed to take some game-food fish. But this is not easy to police by game wardens.
If this statement tends to upset the hook and line fishermen, Frank feels that the perch population would increase if sport anglers were allowed to keep more walleye. Walleye feed on perch, and the larger the walleye population the smaller will be the schools of perch. So a larger walleye creel limit is his answer to boosting perch catches.
Another area of conflict is the use of treble hooks on western end tributaries, such as the Maumee River. Since only five percent of Lake Erie's Western Basin walleyes spawn here, he sees no harm in fishing for them in the spring. In fact, he sees the use of game wardens as checkers for foulhooked fish as a waste of time and money. Since many of the fish hooked in the body will die of infection, Frank feels it is much more sensible to keep these fish.
Frank is also very firm in his viewing of fish as a farm product. He sees food-fish farming as an area that the D.O.W. should look at much more closely. On a visit to Israel, Frank noted that fish farmers can grow up to three tons of white amur per acre in about eight months. For this reason, he feels Ohio should be looking at fish as more than a recreational resource. Besides being a protein source, he views the white amur as a natural way to conveniently and safely remove excess weeds. . . . . .
While Frank's main emphasis may be in diagnosing and curing lake problems, his vast experience as a field biologist also enables him to pass on observations that can aid the hook-and-line angler. The first is common knowledge, yet always needs to be reemphasized: Fish, in particular crappies and game fish, prefer dropoffs that give them close proximity to shallows. Frank's theory is proven time and again when he sets test nets on this type of structure and pulls them in, heavy with fish.
Another structure tip is that traveling fish must go around a point of land, but many times will not cruise the shoreline of a bay. For this reason, Frank sets his test nets off points of land. On the day I observed him, the anchor of the end of one of the nets was right on an island shore and the net extended only 100 feet into the lake. Yet this shallow-water net yielded three hefty crappies, one northern pike, three walleye, a 2.5 pound largemouth and 10 bullheads. Why this catch was impressive was that it was taken in less than six feet of water and in less than 24 hours of time.
Why the large amount of fish? They had to round the point. Don't be around my flying lure the next time I see a point. While Frank emphasized fish relating to structure, he says feed and oxygen are of extreme importance to locating fish. Since the shorelines hold a multitude of baitfish and feed, he feels a fisherman's time is best spent at areas of dropoffs and deep structure that are close to shallows.
Another reason the dropoffs near shallows are good is that, in the summer, parts of certain lakes lack sufficient oxygen to hold fish. Frank has found that most fish seek areas containing oxygen levels of 7 parts per million. The warmer the water, the less its ability to hold oxygen. Wave action, especially near the shore, will create sufficient oxygen levels. Frank has found on some lakes that certain sections lack enough oxygen to hold fish 10 feet below the surface. Consequently, fishing below these surface depths would result in empty stringers. The fisherman who has a device for measuring oxygen has a definite advantage. On a windy day, the shore receiving the wind is good not only because of oxygen, but minnow-attracting plankton also will be blown here. Larger fish will be drawn to these concentrations of baitfish on windy shores, so if you can put up with the wind, don't overlook wind-blown shorelines.
While Frank is a free thinker and a rugged individualist, and at times belittles bureaucracies, he does see the need for certain government regulations. His overriding concern is with improvement of our fish resources. His ideas may at times be at odds with popular thought, but his practical and economical advice has withstood rigid testing for 25 years. To Francis H. Bezdek, Aquatic Management is more than a job--it is a way of improving life.
Paul M. Liikala
Aquatic Management continues today under the guidance of Byron T. Bezdek, Frank's only son. Byron was field trained by Frank and continues to give the kind of practical advice from field experience that was passed on to him.