Can Fishermen bring back the Blue Pike?
by Robert Rice
The Blue Pike (Stizostedion vitreum glaucum) has achieved an almost urban legend status among those of us who fish or are in the fisheries business. Very few of the people who actually fished for or have seen a Blue Pike are left with us. Thus we who seek the facts about the Blue wisp of smoke that is the Blue Pike rely on second and third hand information and stories about it. Most of us have heard a tidbit similar to this "well grandpa says that the Blue Pike used to come in waves like smelt you could stand on the shore with a peach basket and catch hundreds of them" or the ever popular well "I hear that the Blue Pike were really just mutant colored yellow walleye." Both are of course false. The truth about the Blue Pike and its supposed demise is much more interesting.
The Blue Pike was once the most fished fish in the great lakes however they were caught in the traditional manner. The blue pike was harvested intensely by commercial and sport fishers, who by most accounts landed up to a billion pounds of the fish between 1885 and 1962. At times, the blue pike made up more than 50 percent of the commercial catch in Lake Erie. As a matter of fact one could argue that at one time there were more Blue Pike in the Great lakes than any other fish in the world. There has not been a confirmed Blue Pike seen since the early 70's.
It would appear that we have in our lifetimes been party to passenger pigeon type extinction. However things are not always as they seem. Legitimate photographic and physical evidence continues to trickle in from Fishermen. Fishermen who report catching and sometimes keeping non-typical Walleye. Not just an odd colored one but in some cases ones with large eyes and small size. They report catching a walleye that when cooked has a distinctive sweet flavor and
flaky flesh. All earmarks of the original Blue Pike.
To get us started lets get out a few Blue Pike Facts. First off the Blue Pike was not a pike at all it was /is a walleye. Second off it was by all accounts different in both life habit and looks from its common cousin the yellow pike. Blue Pike were/are smaller fishes residing in very deep cool clear waters. While the typical yellow walleye prefers shallow warmer water. The Blue had larger eyes to see prey in the dark reaches of their Great Lakes home. In proper conditions they were very prolific. A final note the Blues could apparently hybridize with the yellows further adding a bit of confusion in telling them apart.
In my opinion the main reason for the demise of the Blue Pike was a major shift in the Habitat of the great lakes and the introduction of exotics species by our own Fisheries department. During the 1950's-60's the Great Lakes were as dirty and turbid as they have ever been. Those factors more than anything else knocked old Blue for a loop. It was not over fishing as is commonly believed; it was over polluting and over fiddling. No small factor was the introduction of rainbow smelt. It seems smelt are rather fond of eating small Pike Fry. All the while competing with the Blue Pikes traditional food the various deepwater species of Ciscoes. If people had been better stewards of the Lakes I believe the Blue would still be a major commercial species in the Great Lakes. It was however declared gone in 1972.
So you are wondering with all that going on why do I think the Blue is still out there? Here's why. First off the Blue Pike was so loved it was spread outside its range like mustard seeds. I generally disapprove of the practice but in this case it may be our salvation. We have documented stockings in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Ontario and as far South as the Carolinas. We have undocumented Blue Pike stockings who knows where else.
Second off the Great Lakes drainage system is HUGE it is not unreasonable to believe that somewhere within that drainage system amongst the many deepwater obscure lakes the Blue Pike hangs on ? Most every other fish in the great lakes occurs outside the lakes. Why not the Blue Pike ?
My Third hope is you the fishermen. Since we initiated our Blue Pike Hunt in 2000 we have received dozens and dozens of pictures. Many are obviously not a Blue Pike, Some are strange color morphs of the yellow Walleye and a Few are something special. They are morphologically different and appear by the eye to conform to a Blue Pike. The evidence has been intriguing so much so that the US Fish and Wild Life Service has been requesting samples as part of their ongoing DNA research/search on the Blue Pike.
My final hope is a little but powerful one. The deepwater sculpin (Moxocephalus thompsoni) has suddenly returned to Lake Ontario. This little guy was a contemporary of the Blue Pike and had not been documented in Lake Ontario since 1972. A deepwater sculpin is a barometer of the water conditions in the Great Lakes. He needs cool, clean, deep, oxygenated waters. So if he's coming back from out of the Blue (pun intended). Is it not possible that other former Great Lakes fishes may still be out there ready to fill their old ecological niche ?
Here is what I want concerned fishermen to do. Study the Blue Pike Drawing in this article it is from the 1920's Book "Fishes of New York". While not the greatest drawing it is the best one we have found. Blue Pike were so common no one seemed to bother to photograph them from anything closer than 10 feet away. After a little research you the Fisherman should take a role in the Blue Pike hunt. Fisheries personnel have scant resources and they can barely afford the DNA work let alone the field work to sample all historical sites and chase down new leads. So if you catch a suspect looking Fish take its picture and document when where and how it was caught. If you want to release it Ok but clip a piece off the fin before you do and drop it in ziplock in the freezer. If you want to keep the suspect fish please save the head in the freezer. Then send your pictures and collection Data to "NFC BLUE PIKE HUNT -8436 Meadow Lane-Leawood Ks.-66206" or visit the NFC Blue Pike Online at http://www.nativefish.org/BluePike/index.html we have a email list photo's articles and anything Blue Pike related we can find.
We are looking for a needle in a haystack and we need all the eyes we can get to make his happen. So take up your rod and reel and join us in the Great Blue Pike Hunt! Five Hundred Dollars to the winner! It will be a check I will be PROUD to Present.