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NFC: Fw: [bluepike] blue pike


Robert Rice
NFC president

--------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "mwallice" <Mwallice at aol_com>
To: bluepike at yahoogroups_com
Date: Sat, 16 Feb 2002 18:08:35 -0000
Subject: [bluepike] blue pike
Message-ID: <a4m773+fi9l at egroups_com>

The Blue Pike
Mike Gillis
Blue Pike were once, during the first half of this century, probably 
the best tasting, and definitely most commercially harvested fish in 
the lower great lakes system. Chances were almost certain, that if 
you went to a local restaurant for a Friday fish fry, you would be 
served blue pike, not haddock.

I had the opportunity to sit down and have an interesting discussion 
with former Lake Ontario commercial fisherman Elton Jeffords of 
Youngstown, NY, and former game warden Kimpton Vosburg was the head 
game warden in this area from 1948 until 1979, and returned during 
the hunting seasons from '83 to '89. We talked a lot about blue pike, 
some of which I'll mention in this article, and several other 
subjects of interest in Niagara River fishing history, which I'll 
write about in a future article.

According to Elton, it wasn't uncommon to buy a thousand pounds of 
fish from hook and line fishermen in a day. With his gill nets, it 
was also not uncommon to catch this many fish. This size of the holes 
in the gill nets were carefully regulated and frequently checked by 
men, such as Vosburg, so that only a certain size range of fish could 
be kept, thus insuring the survival of a good spawning population of 
fish for future harvest, and giving the smaller fish a chance to grow 

The last blue pike that Vosburg can recall being caught out of the 
Niagara was in 1955 on the day that Marilyn Bell swam from Niagara-on-
the-Lake to Toronto for the Toronto Exposition. Of course, no one 
blames Marilyn Bell for the disappearance of the blue pike. However, 
several other reasons to blame do come up. Elton Jeffords believes 
that over-fishing by the hook and line fishermen and the use of 
illegal sized gill nets played a large role in finishing off the blue 

In the December issue of the Niagara Anglers News and Views, I 
discussed some of the history of the blue pike in our area, and some 
of the possible reasons for its demise from the lower Great Lakes. I 
mentioned that in recent years, there have been stories popping up 
about fishermen claiming to catch authentic blue pike in recent time. 
In the article I wrote about the follow-up of these stories being 
done by Dieter N. Busch of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and some 
substantial information which he has come up with. The following is a 
continuation of this story and some information about the "blue pike 
suspect" contributed to the USF&WS by NRAA member, Jerry Condren. 

Over the past few years, I've been hearing occasional stories from 
fishermen of catching a blue pike while walleye fishing on Lake 
Ontario and Lake Erie. Knowing that the blue pike is considered to be 
extinct, these fishermen have let their catch go, believing that they 
may have caught something extremely rare, and it would be right to 
give it a chance to possibly spawn. Maybe one, or some of these were 
the real thing. I've always had a slight glimmer of hope that maybe, 
out there in the depths, there may still survive some blue pike. 
Whenever I mention this around any more-experienced local fishermen, 
my hopes are quickly lessened by doubt, or is it reality.

According to former commercial fisherman Elton Jeffords and former 
game warden Kimpton Vosburg, both men of vast experience in handling 
blue pike, walleye can easily be mistaken for blue pike. Habitat and 
water conditions, as well as scale shedding can make a walleye look 
almost just a blue pike. The main way that they used to use to 
differentiate between the two types of fish was they would lift up 
the second dorsal fin, and if there were any yellow spots there, it 
was a yellow pike (walleye), not a blue.

Recently, I read an article in THE BUFFALO NEWS about Dieter N. 
Busch, Chief Biologist at the Lower Great Lakes Fishery Resources 
Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Amherst. Dieter has 
been investigating reports of alleged blue pike being caught in 
several places in Ontario, Canada and some reports of blue pike in 

In the article, it was mentioned that they are having a difficult 
time getting DNA samples for the testing and using for identification 
purposes from actual blue pike. It seems that the formaldehyde used 
in preserving the original actual blue pike, which he has access to, 
destroys the DNA in those specimens. The only source of actual blue 
pike DNA which they have, according to the article, is attained by 
scraping the dried mucous from the backs of the scales of old dried 
out specimens.

Upon reading this, I immediately recalled hearing about an actual 
frozen blue pike caught and kept for the past twenty years by NRAA 
member, Jerry Condren of Youngstown, NY. Outdoor columnist, Ken 
Sprenger also wrote about this in his column in the Tonawanda News in 
March, 1993. I called Dieter Busch up, and told him about this fish. 
He said that he would just love to have that fish in his possession. 
I called Jerry Condren up and he said that he would be happy to 
donate his fish for such an important purpose. Thanks for your 
generous donation, Jerry! Jerry told me that he caught the fish in 
Georgian Bay, about a mile west of the French River. Jerry, who had 
extensive experience catching blue pike years ago, immediately 
recognized the 15 inch fish as a blue pike and decided to keep it. On 
the way back to the states from his fishing trip, Jerry ran into an 
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Officer who wanted to check his 
catch. Upon seeing the fish, he commented that it was the first blue 
pike that he had seen in a long time. That was back in 1976.

I took the fish back to my house where I took pictures of it, being 
careful to keep it out of the reach of my Labrador Retriever. After 
all, I didn't want to follow him around with a baggie for two days 
collecting DNA samples.

I took the fish up the USFWS in Amherst where I was greeted by Dieter 
Busch and outdoor columnist Ken Sprenger. We took the fish back into 
the lab to examine it. Of course, being frozen for twenty years can 
take a toll on the condition of a fish specimen. The eyes of the blue 
pike are proportionately larger than those of the walleye. The eyes 
of this fish looked proportionately larger. Dieter Busch said that 
the specimen looked "very interesting", of course, drawing from his 
scientific objectivity, and said that presently, we mush refer to it 
as a "blue-pike suspect". Further testing will be required.

So that's where the situation with "the fish" presently stands. I'll 
most certainly keep you readers informed about any new developments.

The present situation with "the fish" (that is, the blue pike suspect 
donated by Jerry) as of this printing, is that it has been determined 
to be a viable specimen. What this means is that the DNA of the fish 
has not been damaged during its many years of being frozen, and thus 
the further analysis may now continue in order to determine if the 
fish is the real thing. So far, the evidence looks encouraging, but a 
you can imagine, since this isn't the OJ trial, this takes time 
because of the nature of this particular DNA determination, and cost 
restraints. In recent years, there have been severe funding cuts to 
the US Fish and Wildlife Service, so worthy programs such as this 
must suffer. DNA analysis is expensive. I asked Dieter if the Niagara 
River Anglers Association could be of any help. He said that the best 
thing that our members could do would be to write to their federal 
government officials and urge them to restore some of these funds.

There have been reports of blue pike suspects being caught coming 
from many places. Recently, Dieter gave a talk about this subject at 
the meeting of the Southtowns Walleye Association. There were several 
fishermen there who told of having caught blue pike out of Lake Erie. 
Of course, as I wrote in our last issue, walleye can easily be 
mistaken for blue pike. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we 
will be able to get Dieter to come up to one of our membership 
meetings to give a similar talk about this subject. He did express an 
interest in doing so. Dieter reports of many blue pike suspects being 
caught in several other places such as up in Ontario, the Spanish 
River, some lakes in Minnesota, and even in Belgium. Possibly, some 
of the immigrants of the last century sent some of these fish back to 
their homelands.

What will the US Fish and Wildlife Service do if some authentic blue 
pike are found?

The reason for all this DNA testing is to eventually set up a DNA 
profile of authentic blue pike in order to insure that fish caught 
are really the authentic thing. As you can imagine, all of this will 
have to be done under some very tight controls. So, if a real 
breeding pair of blue pike are found, I'm sure that they will 
probably be handled something like plutonium, or maybe the Ebola 
virus, in order to avoid any injury to our contamination of the 

Could we of the NRAA raise and stock them? There are many bridges to 
cross and along road to travel before that question can be seriously 
answered. For one thing, there is no documentation of blue pike being 
bred, raised and stocked, such as we do with the walleye, under 
controlled conditions. At least none that I'm aware of. Blue pike 
were known to spawn in deeper water than the walleye do. This fact 
helped commercial fishermen, such as Elton Jeffords, know where to 
get the better catches.

We are now only in the middle of this story. It is somewhat of a 
suspense story. The future could be either extremely rewarding, or 
disappointing. I am optimistic, some are pessimistic. Scientists, 
such as those of USF&W are objective and realistic, that's where the 
true substance of this story will come from. But still, I am 
optimistic that someday the NRAA will have a big wooden sign 
constructed that says, "NRAABLUE PIKE REARING PONDS".

I'll let you know what's going on with this story in future issues.

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