A world of walleye

A world of walleye
... and steelhead and others. A CFAES alumnus has spent his career growing ever better fishing in Ohio. The proof is in the net.

If you fish for steelhead trout in a Lake Erie tributary, or walleye in Lake Erie, think of Kevin Kayle (MS ’86 Natural Resources, BS ’83 Fisheries and Wildlife Management), an alumnus of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Kayle has worked for the Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW), part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), for 35 years. From 1986 to 1993, he was a fish biologist based in Akron. From 1993 to 2015, he was the fish biology supervisor at the Fairport Harbor Research Station. And from 2015 to today, he has served as fish hatchery program administrator in Columbus. 

Kayle’s biggest achievements, he says, include directing and managing Lake Erie’s steelhead program, and leading a collaborative effort to write a walleye management plan for Lake Erie. Both of those fisheries are booming. He boasts too of Ohio’s great fish hatchery system, which raises and stocks more than 40 million fish a year.

How did CFAES, and the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) in particular, help Kayle get to where he is today? How else has he helped Ohio’s anglers? He answers those questions and more below.


A day in the life

Q: You’ve been DOW’s fish hatchery program administrator for seven years. What’s your typical work day like?

A: There is no “typical” work day! There are many different layers to (1) working for a state agency, and (2) to working in a position that deals with science, nature and technical aspects, and people too. No two days are alike.

There are seasonal annual rotations of fish production that fisheries managers go through, but there are many moving parts. We have six state fish hatcheries that I oversee, and they raise over 40 million fish to stock in over 200 lakes and streams across Ohio. We raise 11 different fish species to provide fishing opportunities to Ohio anglers. We stock fish to assist natural production or to fill a niche to provide a fishery where one wouldn’t exist. Some fish are stocked as fry—barely 10 days old—while others are grown out to fingerlings, yearlings, or larger harvestable-sized fish.

Kayle releases yearling steelhead trout into the Vermilion River, a Lake Erie tributary, with the help of Vermilion elementary school students, April 2015. (Photo: Shelley Kayle.)

We interact with a very broad range of the public and stakeholders, from the very avid to those just learning about natural resources and what we do. In my programmatic administrative position, I spend a lot of time interacting with DOW and other ODNR personnel and the public about people, fish and other biota, and habitat. There are many administrative tasks that must be completed to keep the whole process running smoothly. I communicate with all my hatchery managers and our fisheries administrators to provide fish to meet tactical planning and program objectives. 

While the pandemic has thrown a bit of a wrinkle into all ODNR operations and functions, we have safely raised and stocked fish to meet program needs. I interact with the public about our stocking programs, and as a person that oversees aquaculture and other aquatic specialty permits—bait dealers, fish transportation/fish wholesale, triploid white amur—there is a level of administration and communications that goes along with that responsibility.

Q: Boiled down, what do you like best about what you do?

A: Providing quality fishing opportunities. Maintaining technical excellence and staying up on technological advances. Keeping the public informed and keeping the lines of communication open. Providing quick and quality service. Seeing healthy, quality fish and happy anglers!


Among his finest, finniest achievements

Q: What are you proudest of having done?

A: I’m proud of the Lake Erie steelhead program that I’ve directed/managed for over 35 years. Through a long-term evaluation process, we have improved the steelhead fishery and have made the Lake Erie central basin coast and tributaries a renowned destination for quality steelhead fishing opportunities.

Kayle holds a muskellunge he captured and released in central Ohio’s Alum Creek Lake in 2015.

I’m proud of collaborative efforts that have led to better stocking programs; chairing a Lake Erie Committee collaborative effort in writing a walleye management plan and revising a lake trout management plan; being at the front of efforts to model (estimate) fish populations and set safe harvest levels in Lake Erie; designing one of DOW’s first websites; and continuing to provide more, better information to the public via all communication formats.

I’m proud of proposing and shepherding through changes and additions to the Ohio Administrative Code for fishing, aquatic specialty permits, and nuisance aquatic species regulations.  

I was proud to march in the first March for Science in Washington, D.C. [in April 2017].  

I served a stint as Ohio Chapter president of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) and worked as committee co-chair at the North Central Division and national AFS organizations.   

I enjoy helping organize Trout in the Classroom for DOW with members of Trout Unlimited and elementary to high school classrooms across the state.


Challenges? Yes, but ongoing progress

Q: In your work, what are some of the biggest challenges?

A: The biggest challenges include dealing with bureaucratic and administrative red tape; slow, lean, or non-existent capital improvement budgets and projects for the state fish hatcheries (most original buildings and infrastructure are over 80 years old); and the erosion of operating budgets and the loss of skilled personnel workforce through retirements, attrition, and cost-cutting measures. We can’t do more with less, but we do what we can and can be quite creative in getting things done!

Kayle holds a yellow perch caught off Fairport Harbor in Lake Erie in 2017. (Photo: Shelley Kayle.)

Q: What do you find most encouraging about your work?

A: Many of our fish populations are naturally in good shape—we need to manage these populations and their habitats so that they can perpetuate and provide a balanced natural food web that involves humans at the top. Some systems just need a boost, kick start, or concentrated efforts, and we as managers need to identify and address these needs. 

We’re making great strides in recovering fish populations and habitats in places where impairments have been lingering for decades. We must continue those efforts and work toward not backsliding and/or further impairing others. 

We have plans and programs in place to provide a suite of opportunities to our anglers, and to protect and enhance the resource, habitats, and threatened species. We continue to make progress on many fronts in spite of the challenges. We’ve laid the groundwork for better days ahead!

Q: What, on the other hand, do you find concerning?

A: See the “biggest challenges” above. Also frustrating to me is the current political milieu, the toxic hate-filled climate, and the ideology of rumor-mongering and dumbing-down; the lack of trust in and support for science; and the overcommercialization, privatization, and abuse of public natural resources and the environment.


On being a Buckeye

Q: How did being a CFAES student influence your career?

A: It defined my career path. I met my wife at Ohio State’s main campus. I developed great relationships with colleagues with whom I still work alongside today.

Kayle holds a pair of Fish Ohio walleye caught in Lake Erie’s western basin in 2019. Fish Ohio is Ohio’s recognition program for noteworthy catches. (Photo: R. Scott Hale.)

Q: Who were your biggest mentors?

A: In SENR specifically, Dr. David Johnson and Dr. Thomas Stockdale. At Ohio State in general, Dr. Roy Stein and Dr. Milton Trautman. They all provided guidance and instruction in natural resources and fisheries management and the necessary underpinnings of a great career in this field.

Q: What’s your favorite memory from your time as a Buckeye? 

A: In our Natural Resources 626 class [Methods in Aquatic Ecology], students were given a private pond to sample, assess, and develop a management plan. Then, we completed a detailed report with our diagnosis and recommendations, and gave a presentation to the pond owner. My pond owner was John Havens, a member of the Ohio State Board of Trustees at the time. No room for error there, but it worked out great!

I also have great memories of the times spent in the field completing graduate research at Ohio State and being a TA for the ENR 626 class.


Last casts …

Q: If you would, tell us some of your favorite places.

A: Alaska, Glacier National Park in Montana, and so many other national parks! Sanibel and Captiva islands in Florida. The Canadian Shield lakes. Closer to home—Lake Erie; Grand River; Mentor Headlands, Marsh, and Lagoons; and anywhere the fish are biting!

Q: And, what about some of your favorite fish?

A: Like a good parent, I can’t play favorites!

Kayle looks forward to visiting those favorite places and more, and spending more time chasing fish, on his retirement in September. Connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/kevin-kayle-a4730178.  

Interview by Kurt Knebusch, CFAES Advancement. Top photo: Walleye, Getty Images.