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NFC: Fw: blue pike

Staff Writer
Half a century later, the image is still vivid in Leo Scepura's

On countless nights in the 1940s and early '50s, he recalls gazing across
Lake Erie and thinking the same thought.

"It was a like a city out on the lake," he said, "with all those lights."

The lights were attached to fishing boats ... hundreds of fishing boats.
Crafts of all sizes were packed together on the water's surface like rush
hour on a Los Angeles expressway.

Day after day, night after night, week after week, for years, all of
fishermen gathered in pursuit of the same prize the blue pike.

The blue pike was not just a fish to Erie residents during the first half
the 20th Century. The pike was both a dietary staple and a delicacy. For
some the fish was a hobby. For some it was an obsession. For others the
pike was a way of life.

The Lake Erie blue pike is long gone, and its tremendous impact on the
of Erie is a faint memory. Nearly 25 years haved passed since the species
was declared extinct.

Some Erieites, however, cannot forget. Or give up.

In an unlikely development, the fish has been back in the news for the
two years. In an effort nicknamed the "blue pike initiative", biologists,
government officials and citizen activists have teamed to try to help the
blue pike do the impossible make a comeback.

Like a plot out of "Jurassic Park", the members of the initiative hope to
resurrect a seemingly dead species with the help of DNA. No, biologists
not try to clone a well preserved pike. Instead, they will take the DNA
a blue pike that was frozen for 37 years and use the DNA as a kind of
fingerprint. They will use that print as a guideline and compare it to
from other pike.

Some biologists believe that several decades ago blue pike from Lake Erie
may have been transferred to lakes in Canada. Descendants of those blue
still may be flourishing in the Canadian habitats. If and when Canadian
pike can be located, they may be tested with the existing DNA
If any of the pike candidates is a match, the species could be bred and
re-introduced to Lake Erie.

The process is made more confusing by the blue pike's cousin, the yellow
pike or walleye which still thrives in Lake Erie. The average blue pike
measured a little less than a foot and was considerably smaller than the
walleye. But occasionally mutant walleyes will have a blueish color that
makes them appear to be a blue pike. That's why the DNA is so critical in
distinguishing the two species.

While the whole comeback scenario seems like a pipe dream or pike dream
believe that a blue pike comeback is possible.

The members of the S.O.N.S. (Save Our Native Species) of Lake Erie
made a $5,000 pledge to the initiative.

"The should convince anybody, who had any doubt," fishery biologist
Busch told the Times-News recently, "that there's real interest in
understanding the problem and hopefully restoring this lost species."

What's so special about the Lake Erie blue pike? What would cause people
spend hard-earned money in an attempt to revive the extinct fish?

The taste.

"That was the best eating fish in the lake. You couldn't beat it," said
Scepura, who often went to Steel's Bar on State Street and paid 10 cents
a blue pike sandwich on Friday nights. "It was the most delicious fish

When he wasn't eating pike at a restaurant, Scepura was preparing the
himself. "We would dip it in some flower and throw it in some grease.
all you had to do," he said.

Scepura moved to Erie in 1937 and soon learned about the virtues of the
pike. He used a 14-foot boat to fish "about every two or three days." He
estimated that he alone caught about 1,000 blue pike in his lifetime.

Scepura's brother and sister-in-law once paid a visit from their home in
California. Although she was not particularly a fish lover, "she loved
blue pike. That's why she came up here." Each time the couple would
Scepura made sure he hand some pike on hand.

"It was a very tasty fish," agreed Dan Wilson, who once operated Wilson
Son Fisheries with his father, the late W. Howard Wilson. "The blue pike
prolific, tasty and there was a good market for them."

Many Erie residents who are over 50 can recall a time when the blue pike
a large part of the city's economy. Hundreds of fishermen set out daily
their boats in an attempt to catch the plentiful fish. Erie restaurants
a killing on blue pike entrees.

The Wilson family, meanwhile, was one of numerous commercial fishing
businesses that made a comfortable living. Wilson and Son Fisheries was
founded by Dan's grandfather, Arthur, at the turn of the century. Dan's
father later took over the reins. Dan Wilson, 56, began learning the
industry at the age of 8. He was receiving deck wages by the time he was
working weekends with his father.

The Wilsons fished on an 81-foot steam tug named "Cormorant" until 1938.
They then used a 60-foot tug named "Dellie W." the nickname of Dan's
Edith from 1939 until 1966 when their business was "legislated out of

However, the business was booming when the blue pike was at its peak from
the 1920s through the early "50s. Massive schools of the species roamed
deep waters of the lake. By one estimate, about 50 million blue pike
in Lake Erie in 1936. During that year commercial fishermen caught a
26 million pounds of blue pike. Pennsylvania fishermen accounted for
three million of that total.

On an average day, Dan Wilson recalled, the Wilsons would catch anywhere
from 1,000 pounds to a ton of blue pike. On good days they would net two
tons. Wilson and Son also caught herring, whitefish and, later, smelt and

The Wilsons worked closely with Robert Kolbe, who owned the Union Fish
Company at the foot of Peach Street. When the Wilsons would return to the
dock with their daily catch, Kolbe's workers would pack the fish in ice
100-pound boxes. Kolbe would then market the fish throughout the region,
including cities such as Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York.

"My family did very well fishing for those years," Dan Wilson said.

But the prosperous days didn't last forever. In the mid-1950s, fishermen
began to notice a disturbing trend. In the past, the Wilsons had always
caught young blue pike known as snipes.

"We no longer saw those small snipes coming on," said Wilson. "All we got
were those big older blues in their last years of life."

That meant that the pike were no longer reproducing in Lake Erie. A
of biological factors contributed to their demise, including the increase
the smelt population and lake pollution. Some biologists also feel that
overfishing played a part.

Nearly 19 million pounds of blue pike were caught in 1956. Three years
that number had dropped to just 79,000 pounds. Clearly the blue pike's
was done.

"We were in dire straits at the time with the whitefish declining and the
blue pike virtually gone," Wilson said. "There were perch but they were
never a high-priced fish. They were never that much in demand."

The Wilsons fished for perch and smelt for several years before their
business folded because of "political pressure" in 1966. Kolbe closed the
doors of the Union Fish Company in 1964.

Commercial fishermen weren't the only ones who prospered during the blue
pike boom. Owners of party boats also known as charters were making a
profit as well.

"At one time there were probably 40 to 50 fishing party boats at the
docks," said Joe Hansen, 57, the owner of Hansen's bait stand. Hansen
that the boats would take trips daily at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m. "They'd
three times a day, seven days a week."

"They'd fish all night long," said Scepura.

Like Scepura, Hansen remembers the many fishing boats that would
in one spot over a school of blue pike.

"There would be a couple hundred boats off the point (now called Seagull
Point) of Presque Isle. It was called "the blue pike grounds" at the
Hansen said. "You could go off shore in about 20 or 30 feet of water and
catch all of the blue pike you wanted."

Minnows were the bait of choice, but some people even successfully used
foil on a hook.

While walleye fishing is popular on Lake Erie, the fish is no match for
extinct cousin.

That's why so many people are working to find the blue pike and return it
its glory days in Lake Erie.

Others are warning the blue pike activists to be careful. As in "Jurassic
Park", reintroducing an extinct creature can backfire.

Roger Kenyon, fishery biologist at Fairview Fish Culture Station, said
biologists should be cautious and make sure they have the Lake Erie blue
pike before they breed and stock the species.

"Anything that's brought in that doesn't belong is a threat anything that
disturbs the system.

They're going to have to convince a lot of people before they raise (blue
pike) in a hatchery."

Still, many feel that the return of the blue pike would be worth the

Who knows? Lake Erie might return to the days when fishing boats light up
the night sky.  May 01, 1999

Songwriters can vie for dough with song about pike   Back to Top

Staff Writer

Carl Hultman is looking for some interesting lyrics, a catchy tune, a
hook no pun intended. He is looking for "The Blue Pike Blues."

Hultman is a chemistry professor at Gannon University. But it's his many
years as a musician that lends credence to Hultman being one of three
in a local songwriting contest.

The contest with a submission deadline of May 25 is to help raise public
awareness regarding possible survivors of the officially extinct blue
species that might still exist in other lakes.

Winning composers will receive a $500 cash prize along with the
to premiere the winning song on the main stage during the Erie Summer
Festival of the Arts in June.

"We're hoping to get at least 10 songs. Maybe more," Hultman said. "I
hope people have enough time. We were a little late getting this out, but
people still have almost a month to come up with something."

Blue pike, native only to Lake Erie, once spurred a booming commercial
fishing industry up to and through the 1950s. At one time, it was the
sought-after fish in the lake.

But in 1975, blue pike were declared extinct a casualty of pollution and

Since then, fisherman have occassionally reported seeing what looked like
blue pike in smaller lakes in Canada and elsewhere. Still, fish
generally assumed that those blue fish were really a type of walleye a
common fish in Lake Erie and not the true blue pike.

"To do the research, all the testing, it costs money," Hultman said.
hoping that we can use a clever song to raise awareness, and awareness is
the only way we'll get contributions to the (blue pike) initiative."

Hultman was a trumpet player in college before switching to guitar,
in several different bands over the years. The other judges in "The Blue
Pike Blues" contest are Al Glinsky, who teaches composition at Mercyhurst
College, and Al Lubiejewski, a local attorney and jazz enthusiast who has
weekly radio show on WQLN.

"I think, between the three of us, that we cover a lot of bases regarding
the composing and performing of music," Hultman said. "We will judge each
song independently before meeting and examining the songs again."

Those who wish to submit an entry in the contest need to send a cassette
tape recording of the song and a musical score, which includes the
the melody line and chords. Submissions can be sent to Carl Hultman at
Gannon University, Erie, PA 16541.

"There are quite a few good songwriters in the area," Hultman said. "But
worried that they might feel pressed when it comes to writing the score.
Some of these writers can write and play songs, but they're not trained
music. I still think it's a great challenge for a great cause, so
they can put together some good songs in the next few weeks."  April 28,

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