Blue Pike: Part Two, The Present

Local, former, Niagara River Commercial Fisherman Art King showing a part of his Blue Pike catch in 1948. "Blues" never got much bigger than shown in the picture here. The picture was taken at the Youngstown NY docks. Notice the net on the drying rack in the background. There were many commercial fishermen in those days until the Blue Pike became scarce in the 1950's. The fish were sold to wholesalers and restaurants in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Nearly every area restaurant and small neighborhood bar featured "Blue Pike Specials" on Friday nights and was a popular event with hundreds of families.

Look close in this picture and you will see Mr. King's Brother Bill on the far right and his Father George in the middle, both sorting fish from the nets. A fishing family. 
Click on Picture for an expanded view.     Go Here for another photo. [A 1943 photo]
NOTE: Outdoors Niagara has the only copies available of these photos!



Over the past few years, I've been hearing occasional stories from fishermen of catching a blue pike while walleye fishing on Lakes 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 Minnesota still.  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, destroy 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 Niagara River Anglers member, Gerry Condren of Youngstown, NY. Outdoor columnist, Ken Sprenger also wrote about this in his column in the Tonawanda News in March, 1993. 1 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 Gerry Condren up and he said that he would be happy to donate his fish for such an important purpose. Thanks for your generous donation, Gerry! Gerry told me that he caught the fish in Georgian Bay, about a mile west of the French River. Gerry, 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.

Continue to Part Three

Back to Part One

Back to Part Two

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