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Into the Outdoors - Weird Fish in PA

Well, here is the column to which I referred earlier on weird fish in Pennsylvania. Perhaps I should not call them weird. Unusual might be a better term. It’s just that they look different from most fish, and are seldom encountered by anglers.

Let’s start off with the paddlefish. To call this fish unusual is really quite an understatement. Fossil records show that this species is millions of years old. They are somewhat related to sturgeons. Their most distinguishing feature, of course, is the snout, which looks like, well, a paddle. They feed on tiny organisms in the water. They can get huge. A couple of years ago, an angler caught one in the Allegheny River, below Lock and Dam #9, one of my favorite fishing spots. After taking its photo, he released it, as per state law.

Next up are the gars. In Pennsylvania, there are two types of gar. These are the spotted gar and the longnose gar. The spotted gar is found mostly in Presque Isle Bay. There is also a shortnose gar, which has not been in this state for many years.

The reason behind the longnose gar’s name is very obvious. They have a very long and toothy snout. Other than in aquariums, I have only ever seen two. Old Bub caught one below Lock and Dam #9 a few years ago. I also saw a very small one swimming around a dock on Lake Ontario. It should be noted that the eggs of gars are poisonous.

Here’s an interesting sidenote. Recently, I read an article which said that an alligator gar was found dead in a pond in Pennsylvania. They are not at all native to this state. It is thought that someone released a pet into the pond. These fish get really huge, and are targeted by bowfishermen in the South.

Now, let’s look at the little sculpin. These little guys like clean water, and are sometimes found in trout streams. On two different occasions, I have caught them in Buffalo Creek, on redworms. These fish are kind of ugly and yet kind of cute. Their heads look too large for their body. They spawn in the spring, and the males guard the nests as the eggs develop.

When we think of cod, we naturally think of the ocean. There is, however, a species of freshwater cod found in Pennsylvania. That would be the burbot, also known as ling cod, eelpout and many other names. They occur only in Lake Erie and in the headwaters of the Allegheny River. In Minnesota, where my brother-in-law lives, eelpout festivals are held on a number of frozen lakes each winter. Like their saltwater kin, they are considered delicious. I don’t know of any Pennsylvanian who has ever caught one, although I know there are many out there.

The lake sturgeon was once somewhat common in the state, but now is found more or less only in Lake Erie, and is considered an endangered species in this state. Sturgeon eggs are, of course, used for caviar, and the meat is also supposedly quite tasty.

I hope you enjoyed this little look at these unusual, seldom encountered fish species. When you toss a bait into the water, you never know what you might reel in.

On another front, I spotted my first scarlet tanager of the year at my backyard bird feeder. These beautiful birds don’t seem to come around all that often, so seeing one was a real treat. I have heard of a number of bear sightings here. in Brady’s Bend, so I suppose it won’t be long until the bird feeders have to come down.

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