LIVE & LEARN about LAMPREY’S, there are Many Species

  • Lampreys, lampreys everywhere…some are part of nature
  • Native species vs invasive species are always a concern for understanding
  • Lampreys live in the Great Lakes, isolated northern lakes, the Mississippi River, other places

By Mike Schoonveld

A couple of years ago I fished for sturgeon on the Rainy River in Minnesota, just upstream from where it flowed into Lake of the Woods. As luck would have it, I caught one and it came with a surprise.

My Lake of the Woods sturgeon came with an attached Silver Lamprey, see the wound right above the dorsal fin.

Last fall I fished for largemouth bass on the Mississippi River near LaCrosse, WI and one of the bass we caught that morning also came with a surprise. Each of these fish flopped on the deck with a lamprey clinging to their side.

I have not lived a fish-sheltered life. I’ve fished every Great Lake and dozens more not quite so great lakes. I’ve studied, fished for, and caught nearly every game fish available in these waters. When I landed that Minnesota sturgeon, the tag-along lamprey was an unexpected surprise.

As a Great Lakes fisherman, I am very familiar with sea lampreys, an invasive species from the Atlantic Ocean, now present in all five Great Lakes, as well as New York’s finger lakes.

It’s not a surprise when I catch a trout or salmon with lamprey scars, or even with a live lamprey still attached.

Sea lampreys in the Great Lakes are invasive species, and they kill thousands of trout and salmon each year.

My Rainy River surprise was a mystery. How had sea lampreys moved from the Great Lakes to Lake of the Woods and why hadn’t I ever heard about them damaging the fish populations there as they do in the Great Lakes?

Mystery solved; it wasn’t a sea lamprey. The lamprey suctioned to the sturgeon I caught was most likely a silver lamprey, one of four native species of lampreys found in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and the other Great Lakes states. Two of them, like sea lampreys, are parasites. Chestnut lampreys – the other native parasitic lamprey – have been found in Minnesota, but have not been seen in Lake of the Woods.

I identified this silver lamprey after the fact. I was trying to get a grip on it so I could treat it the same way I treat the sea lampreys which come on my boat attached to a salmon or trout. They come aboard in one piece; they go back to the lake in two parts. Lampreys are slick and squiggly, and the sturgeon-sucker squiggled back into the river before I could decapitate it.
Neither silver or chestnut lampreys are protected species in Minnesota so that I wouldn’t have been in trouble had I put it on the chopping block. Since then, I have now learned they don’t deserve to be hacked into pieces as do sea lampreys in the Great Lakes.

By the time the lamprey came on board the boat with me on the mighty Mississippi, I knew better. It could have been either a silver or chestnut lamprey. Both are endemic to the big river. I released it, all in one piece, soon after snapping a photo (shown here).

This native Chestnut Lamprey was released back into the Mississippi after I plucked it off a largemouth bass.


Why was I so soft-hearted about the bass-sucking lamprey encountered on the Mississippi River and why am I so ruthless about the sea lampreys “vampiring” on lake trout in the Great Lakes? Aren’t the silver, chestnut and sea lampreys all doing similar things? Aren’t all of them blood-sucking parasites potentially and probably injuring or killing the fish they attack?

Absolutely! The difference is the silver lampreys in Lake of the Woods and the chestnut lampreys in the Mississippi River have never wiped out entire populations of fish where they have been found. Invasive sea lampreys did that in the Great Lakes and would still be doing it if not for lamprey control programs in the US and Canada. Even with silver and chestnut lampreys there is still plenty of sturgeon in Lake of the Woods – along with walleye, lake trout, pike, crappies and other fish. There is still plenty of fish in the Mississippi River as well.

Native lampreys and native fish all evolved together and co-developed a host/parasite relationship and achieved a natural equilibrium. The long and short of it is through a complex web, which involves many more species than just bass or sturgeon and lampreys, there aren’t ever enough native lampreys in a system to overwhelm the fish on which they feed. Nature is a savage place. Big fish eat little fish, herons and ospreys eat bigger fish. For the most part, nature is always interacting to maintain the balance. Native lampreys parasitizing native fish are as much a part of that balance as an osprey snatching a pike.



The Real Asian Carp Threat

Flying carp are the YouTube stars threatening to invade the Great Lakes.

  • Mussels and other invasive species have had effects
  • Asian Carp could alter much more than is discussed
  • Flying Asian Carp have become “YouTube Stars”
Are Asian Carp more a threat to the Great Lakes or the Milwaukee River, shown here, and all the other Great Lakes tributaries? (USGS photo)

By Mike Schoonveld

None of the 180-plus invasive species found in, or threatening the Great Lakes, have more name recognition among average citizens than the Asian carp. Though people have heard of zebra mussels, only a relative few have heard of Quagga mussels. Many experts point to Quaggas as the most environmentally damaging invasive species to ever infest the Great Lakes.

Still, of all the invasives in the Great Lakes – the mussels, the lampreys, miniature freshwater shrimp and all the rest – none are as well known as the YouTube stars – the “flying carp.” No doubt you’ve seen those big silver carp jumping onto boats in middle America’s big rivers. Too bad zebra and quagga mussels and other invasives weren’t as photogenic and engendered an equal amount of dollars and concern when they first invaded the lakes.

The flying carp are named silver carp – they are the jumpers. They, along with their cousins, the bighead, black and grass carp are often grouped together as Asian carp. All of them are serious problems in middle-America’s rivers.

When I get questioned by someone about invasives in Lake Michigan (or the other Great Lakes) almost always the question is about Asian carp. You’d think the lakes are swarming with them. They aren’t, though the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois and other rivers are, and the potential does exist for the swarms to spread on northward and eventually get into the Great Lakes.

No one wants that to happen and the easiest way to quantify the magnitude of the damage – should they get into Lake Michigan and then spread to the other lakes – is to express it in dollars and cents. Hurricane Sandy caused $62 billion in damage. Western wildfires cost $18 billion last year. Disasters seem to be best understood, comprehended or compared that way. How would you compare a flood with an earthquake with a hurricane? What is the economic damage? The only logical way.

Flying carp are the YouTube stars threatening to invade the Great Lakes.

The dollar figure most often used to warn of the economic damage to the Great Lakes should Asian carp become established is six billion dollars ($6,000,000,000.00). That’s an annual figure to the “fishing industry” which, I assume, is a cumulative figure combining the economic impact of both recreational fishing and commercial fishing.

When a person sees this number, the A follows B reasoning is: A) should the carp proliferate in the Great Lakes, then B) they will somehow displace the salmon, trout, walleye, whitefish, perch and other species people harvest from the lakes.

Not so much. Asian carp feed by filtering algae, plankton and other nearly microscopic “edibles” from the water. This is the same thing baby fish feed on their earliest stages of life and the same things the slightly larger things like freshwater shrimp eat. Once baby fish grow, they switch to feeding on shrimp and other zooplankton before ultimately switching to eating other fish.

If the carp get established in the lakes, the next logical step is they’ll vacuum out enough algae, plankton and the rest of the stuff at the bottom of the food chain to starve the sport and commercially important fish. Eventually, they will eliminate six billion dollars of economic impact each year.

Except for one thing, the invasive mussels have already done that. Lake Michigan’s water is now more clear than Lake Superior’s water. (Lake Michigan has far more zebra and quagga mussels.) Lake Michigan is also ground zero as the location Asian Carp could most readily access the Great Lakes because of its connection via man-made waterways to the mid-American river system.

If the mussel invasion already sucked the life from the bottom of the food chain, would the Asian carp exacerbate it? Hardly. Most Asian carp were they to freely swim upstream from the Illinois River into Lake Michigan, would quickly starve to death. There’s not enough algae and plankton in the lake to keep them healthy for long.

But maybe one in a one hundred (1%) would live in the lake long enough to find, say the Root River in southern Wisconsin, Trail Creek in Indiana or the St. Joseph River in southern Michigan. Maybe only one in one thousand (0.1%) would find a new home in these or other tributary streams. If they did, they could proliferate in them and a new invasion would occur. From the St. Joe River to the Black River. From the Black to the Kalamazoo or the Grand and on up the coast.

Eventually, should this happen, much of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada could be infiltrated by flying carp and the cousins. That’s the real threat of letting Asian carp gain access to the Great Lakes. If that were to happen, the economic damage would make the six billion dollar figure now bandied about seem insignificant.


Waterfront Sunsets are Blazing and Breathtaking

Sunset from “Canalside” on the revitalized Buffalo River, near Erie Basin Marina, can offer vivid colors and exhilarating moments with nature and water-friendly neighbors. Scott Kelly Photo

As our hot summer days of 2016 begin their change toward September, weather front patterns have provided chilling wind directions from the northwest with occasional daytime waterspouts over ports and shorelines along the Great Lakes. Waterspouts are startling and extraordinary to view. Such days are often closely followed by a clearing sky and pivotal sunset that tenders the incredible “orange-glow” of reproductive energy for the next day.

The late summer sunset along the shorelines of Great Lakes ports can be simply breathtaking.

There are pleasure boats, fishing boats, sailing boats and a brand new armada of kayak boats – all a part of the summer waterway flotilla, people enjoying our local waterways and nature. These are things that provide a polite reminder that if we live in America and we live near water, we live in one of the most remarkable places on the planet.

During a recent family trek along the rejuvenated Buffalo River – from the Buffalo Naval Park to Erie Basin Marina, the sun was about to set and there was a hint of rain in the distance. Everyone along the walkway was distinctly overwhelmed by the remarkable beauty of the daytime to nighttime epiphany in progress.

The elusive depth and spectrum of brilliant colors on the horizon was stunning. It was elegant. The moments also seemed to provide a divine link to coincide with the natural world around us and for me, thoughts of the indigenous peoples of our area before us.

I wondered about how earlier populations might have also observed this time of year from this same shore of the Buffalo River, often described in Seneca Indian history as a fertile place where many fish species spawned. Of course, this was hundreds of years prior to modern civilization and thanks to conservation groups such as the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers, the natural river life is returning.

Of course, there have been countless generations over that time, with unfettered understanding about the ways of clean water and maintaining the natural world. The fish, the birds and those tiny, little, life organisms that make all of the larger life forms possible. Glad we know so much more about that today, because as science has allowed us to understand the staple requirements of survival for all forms of life in nature, people everywhere have grown as a community. Indeed, all lives matter.

Today we manage fish and game harvest thanks to science. We manage water pollution, air cleanliness and we seem more intent to return to the outdoors with much greater respect and much greater demand for nurtured home gardens, wild and uncontaminated game harvest, fresh fish dinners from the depths of clean water and better routines for allocating our free time to bond with nature.

As I have traveled around this great country of America for more than 40 years in the engineering world of space and defense – and I loved it, I can share that each time I returned home to the Buffalo area, I could never quite figure out why I absolutely loved coming home to Western New York. There are so many reasons!

Of course, family first, but then the other supporting elements too. The people in this sector of our great country work together to get along, nature is spectacular, there is incomparable opportunity for fishing, hunting, boating, camping, hiking, photography, sight-seeing and whatever direction your love for nature may take you. Then you walk along the boardwalk in downtown Buffalo, New York, at sunset in August and the qualities of our local cosmos and why people love it here become quite clear.

It is much the same in many cleaned-up ports along the chain of our astonishing Great Lakes

Let’s help each other maintain the balance of nature. Share life with others, make new friends in the outdoors, lead by example.


Super-Tantalize Your Fish Connection


Add a Little Wiggle to Your Lure Flash, Vibration or Wobble, or your Swim Jig, You Could DoubleUp Your Hook-Ups!  Old Fashioned Pork Rind and the New Synthetic Trailers Can help get it Done.

Ever wonder what a walleye, black bass, stripe bass or flounder, or any fish – freshwater or saltwater, is thinking when they unequivocally commit to smashing your artificial lure and taking off on a drag-screaming burst across the waterway?  Probably nothing but breakfast, lunch or dinner!  But wait, is there more to consider?  Of course, you know there just might be.


Could it be that your lure doesn’t look anything like what the fish normally feeds on, but the silhouette, the slinky presentation of an easy meal, the tantalizing and graceful allure of a stimulating bait all combined to remove any decision that the fish had to make?  He slammed it because he is a predator!  He might not even have been hungry, but he couldn’t help it.  He (or she) wanted it!  BADDA-BING, BOOM!

As lifelong fishermen and outdoor adventurers, many of us know that the search for that next new bait is an everlasting search.  That next new action that will tantalize fish and charm them into chomping at the mere sight of your presentation is the goal when we attend outdoor shows, seminars and read magazines that direct us to You-Tube websites for a better connection.

We all search to find a lure that can cause a reaction sort of strike where fish will crunch and munch at first glance, no questions asked.  When my better half and I joined some friends at the Florida Sportsman Show in Fort Myers last month, I went through that same everlasting “find-the-new-lure checklist.”  That’s when we met Bruce Millar, a charter captain and inventor from the state of Maine.

His invention from the north was heading south!  His new lure attachment gizmo is patented, nearly indestructible and it seems that fish everywhere find it somewhat irresistible.

The lure is actually quite inexpensive and is an attachment tail that resembles old-fashioned pork rind.  Yet, it is better than port rind as it can hold a scent that you apply, offers an incredible tantalizing action as an addition to any spinner, spoon or jig baits, and it never dries out – left it on my boat in the sun for a week to proof this point.  Best part, rind-like lures are always bringing fish to you.


I tried these things as an angler and outdoor adventurer, I had never met Millar.  Today, I need to give him a call because I need a few more of these tails for my medium to giant-size spinner baits in search of those elusive giant freshwater Florida bass this month.  Thing is they work in saltwater for flounder and stripe bass too, and so many other species that all have this occasional urge to feed.  You get the picture.

Check out his website and see for yourself at or call 860-912-4894.  They come in various sizes and multiple color assortments.  I can’t wait to trail these on the Great Lakes for wary, clear water walleye.  We all know this, the bottom line is “irresistible action”.  It’s that simple.