Blue Pike Sprenger Part III

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PART THREE   Ken Sprenger's Blue Pike History & Research

Here is the third and final part of the blue pike history story.  

This 1943 photo is Art King, a Commercial Netter 
Holding a catch of Blue Pike.
All U.S. commercial fishing is banned today in 
Lake Ontario, Niagara River and Lake Erie

Mr. Sprenger Interviewed Mr. King as part of his story. [Below]

Go Here for another [1948] photo of Art King. 
The 1948 photo shows the nets used at that time.
NOTE: Outdoors Niagara has the only copies of these photos!  

Click the Photo
 for an enlargement

When the Endangered Species law was enacted in 1973, a blue pike recovery team was organized. Two years later, a report, which I have, was released. The recovery team included the top biologist in the Great Lakes region, the only home of the blues. They found none. Some blue colored walleyes show up now and then, but the true species is history.

But, did I find a blue pike frozen? We will have to wait for it to be identified. During an interview with commercial netter Elton Jeffords, a frozen blue pike was mentioned. Jerry Condren of Youngstown confirmed he had a fish frozen since 1970, taken from Lake Huron where there had been a resident population.

This past Monday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed me that they are very much interested in examining the fish. The interview with Jerry included Art King. Art was once a commercial netter, as were his father and grandfather.                               

Art and Jerry covered much of what Jeffords said. It reaffirmed what I have already written. Jerry did handle a lot of blue pike, both catching them with hook and line and helping remove them from nets. He also ran a fishing party boat at times. He is well acquainted with the species. Now it is up to the lab to provide positive identification.

When Art recalled about the party boats, I said that when I was counselor to the Tonawanda’s Sportsmen Junior Club, I had taken five boys out on a party boat. We caught a few blues and one of the boys spent some time leaning over the side.

In talking with the commercial fishermen, one realizes that it was a tough way to make money. Rolling seas were combined with cold, raw winds and heavy nets. Cleaning fish, mending nets and delivering the fish to Buffalo and other places was not an easy job. Family tradition did play a part in passing the livelihood down, as long as there were fish.

Of those I talked to over the past several weeks, one was Mel Drake. Not only did he recall fishing for the blue pike, but he also gave me three flies for a display I'll be putting together. The most familiar was the Yellow Sally, red tail and yellow body with a large yellow feather. The Erie fly was the same except it had no large feather.

Mel's preference for the blues was a small fly. Originally it had a white body, tail, and feather. He dyed it pink. This was fished off a leader from a three-way swivel and behind a No. 2 silver Hildabrant spinner. A piece of worm was added for scent.

An angler one day was skunked nearby and offered $1.50 for one of his special rigs. Mel was asked by the owner of the Burt Hotel to bring over some blue pike. Finally, he sold some for 25 cents per pound and made $13.50.

Charlie Beahn, age 81, recalled his ventures out on Lake Erie's ice. He used a spreader rig and that was a top producer. It was just a semi circle of wire with loops on the end. In the middle of the wire was a swivel. A lot of action by the minnows turned the jig around. Taking two at a time was not unusual. But the day of 50 blue pike in an hour was followed by eight for the next day.

Charlie said those were the good old days out on the ice heating up some soup and fishing with Bill Schmidt, his brother-in-law.

Gerry Sprenger, my 82-year-old uncle, recalled the day that he, Norm Luther, Al Holland and Alfred Lawrence fished for blues. England declared war on Germany that day. Later, the United States joined World War II and Gerry, with so many others, would walk many miles across Europe. The span from the end of the war to the end of the blue pike was about 10 years.

Wilma Fischer was good enough to lend me some of her late husband's articles. Howard "Buck" Fischer used to write an Outdoors Column for the Tonawanda NEWS.

In his column dated June 2, 1952, Buck writes, "A week ago we mentioned that there were excellent prospects for improved pike fishing in the lower Niagara River, due to the heavy net catches now being brought in by commercial fishermen.”

“This should indicate that the run in the lower river will be one of the best in years, and while a few blues are being taken now, the best fishing is always later in the summer.”

This ends the blue pike series. What I have tried to do is give an eyewitness account of a species that became extinct.

One last story. The year was 1935 or thereabouts. A young boy walked down Devil’s Hole steps to the waters edge. His Father whirled a chalk line with a sinker and two hooks around and around and let loose. One blue pike was caught that day, my first.

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