If you should be lucky enough to visit South Bass Island, you’ll probably begin your trip with an enjoyable ride on a big MIller Ferry boat. After that you’ll quickly find out there’s plenty to see and experience including wineries, parks, caves, bars and restaurants, Perry’s Monument and other great things. But don’t forget one of the best, and the most free: the AVC. Definitely, the Aquatic Visitors Center, operated by Stone Lab and staffed by Ohio State University students, should not be missed. The Saturday afternoon my daughter Maddie and her friend Gillian visited, the heat was unbearable, though inside the old brick building, which used to be home to an ODNR fish hatchery, it was cool and breezy.
“Oh my God, what is this?” squealed Gillian, peering into a large jar filled with nasty monsters. “Sea lampreys,” I explain, going on to elaborate how they latch onto walleye and other fish, sucking the life out until they die. “Do they do that to people?” she asks.
“Only if you hold still in the water long enough.”
Maddie stares into the jar and asks if the gaping hole is its butt.
“No angel, that’s its mouth!”
Ooooooh, they respond in ghastly unison.
Then Maddie decides to perform a series of impromptu dances where she portrays a healthy fish, a dying-from-sea lamprey fish and last, a dead fish.
“Okay, let’s move on,” I say, shaking my head as the pair of dorks giggle.
Of course, not everything at the AVC is gross. There are aquariums with yellow perch, walleye, sauger, largemouth bass, round gobies and various sunfish.
Gillian points up, at a giant lake sturgeon dangling from the ceiling, then asks if that’s in the lake (she and Maddie are avid lake swimmers.) Yes, I tell her, and the next obvious question comes: “Do they eat people?”
She is relieved to find out they do not. Yet.
The AVC offers learning for all ages, including many hands-on exhibits as well as movies and videos. The AVC often hosts school field trips.
One of the exhibits that garners careful attention is a giant glass tube filled with debris pulled from the lake. You name it, it’s in there: soda bottles, cans, soda cups, straws, hygiene products, bags, cigarette butts, unidentifiable pieces of plactic and metal, among other human debris.
For a half-hour the girls are engrossed in all things Lake Erie, including peering into microscopes at tiny creatures – live creatures – and reading information with various displays. Then they get bored. But that didn’t last long after they learn there’s fishing off the dock, with rods and bait provided. Woo hoo!
OSU environmental science student Ella Weaver gives gear to the girls, baiting their first hooks. “If they want to bait their own hooks they can feel free,” she says. “We don’t get too many takers on that.” And no casting off the docks, she adds. After that, the girls make it clear they’re good to go on their own. And, don’t tell anyhone about this, but after glancing over their shoulders to make sure they don’t get busted both the girls, deciding that instruction was for novice anglers, cast. And catch.
Ella comes to the end of the dock when she sees the grils are landing fish, though says it looks like Maddie and Gillian have everything under control, including taking gobies, sunfish and bass of their hooks.
And all with a great view of Perry’s Monument, Gibraltar Island (where Stone Lab is located) and downtown Put-in-Bay. The AVC is a scenic 10-minute walk from downtown, and along the way you r’e likely to see ducks, geese, gulls, rabbits and plenty of fish in the crystal-clear waters of the bay. Kayak and paddleboard rentals are nearby. The AVC is closed on Sundays and Mondays.