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Blane Klemek column: Minnesota waters abound in fish species

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outdoors Bemidji, 56619
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Within a majority of Minnesota's bountiful lakes, rivers and streams are many different species of fish. Including some recent introductions of non-native species, Minnesota has probably more than 150 different species of fishes swimming in its waters now.

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Of the 26 or so families of fishes inhabiting the state's waters, the minnow family, Cyprinidae, is the largest, with 44 species. Our state fish, the walleye, along with saugers and yellow perch, make up the second largest family, Percidae, with 18 native species. Several species of darters, small minnow-like fishes, also belong to this family.

Some species are ubiquitous, like the toothy and predatory northern pike. And some are less abundant, such as the primitive looking paddlefish. Some are exceedingly popular with anglers, like walleye, sunfish and bass, while other species, such as eel pout (or burbot), which is actually a freshwater species of codfish, not nearly as so.

And some can get big. The lake sturgeon, for example, which is the largest fish in the state, has the capacity to grow to more than 200 pounds. Found primarily in Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior, but also found in larger rivers, the lake sturgeon is the focus of special regulations to help the population become healthier and more abundant. Additionally, lake sturgeons have been reintroduced where the species historically lived.

Lake sturgeons need a long time to get large. They can reach more than 100 years of age and don't become sexually mature until they are 15-20 years old. Other Minnesota fishes that can grow big are muskellunge (muskie), northern pike, channel catfish, paddlefish, lake trout, Chinook (king) salmon and carp. All of these fishes can exceed 30 or more pounds.

Other fishes are just plain weird. Minnesota is home to the American eel and the sea lamprey. Lampreys are eel-like, parasitic fishes that have no jaws. These fishes and their relatives are the most primitive fishes in the world. There are four species of lamprey known to exist in Minnesota, and all of them use their unusual open, disc-like mouths to attach themselves to the bodies of other fishes. Once attached, lampreys suck fluids through the skin of their prey for their own nourishment.

American eels apparently find their way to Minnesota from the Atlantic Ocean as adults. These fishes have the body design of lampreys, but have jaws. Their diet is typical of other predatory fishes, capturing small fishes and other organisms to eat. Female eels can reach up to four feet in length.

Another unique species of fish that many people rarely observe, is the dogfish, or bowfin as they are also called. Like sturgeon and gar, dogfish are considered a primitive species. A large-headed fish with a very solid skull, one of the most distinguishing features of dogfish is the nearly continuous dorsal fin from about mid-body to the base of its tail.

Dogfish are survivors in every sense of the word. This unusual fish also possesses a swim bladder that quite literally can function as a lung. Inhabiting weedy areas of backwater bays that frequently have low amounts of dissolved oxygen, the predatory dogfish can obtain much-needed oxygen during these times by surfacing and "gulping" air.

Minnesota's state fish, the walleye, is highly sought by anglers. The Minnesota record walleye was caught in the Seagull River and weighed 17 pounds, 8 ounces. Its scientific Latin name is Sander vitreus, whereby vitreus means "made of glass." This refers to the walleye's eyes. Indeed, they reflect light at nighttime just as deer and other nocturnal animals' eyes do.

The yellow perch, a close relative of walleye and sauger, are attractive, smallish fish that are found in similar habitats as their larger cousins. While indeed a prey species for many predatory species of fishes, including walleye and northern pike, the yellow perch, along with their six-eight black vertical bars on both sides of their bodies, blend in to their surroundings, thereby making them less visible to those fishes that hunt them for food.

Another abundant Minnesota fish, and popular too, especially among children, are fishes belonging to the sunfish family; most notably the several species of "panfish" such as bluegills, pumpkinseeds and crappies. Two species of the ever-popular crappie - the black crappie and white crappie - are prized by many anglers throughout the year for both sport and frying pan.

Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, fishes full of fight and excitement for anglers, are also very popular. It has often been said that pound-for-pound, no other fish in Minnesota fights harder than the smallmouth bass. Largemouth bass, so named for their "bucket-sized" mouths, will often readily attack floating artificial lures tossed by anglers fishing amongst lily pads and bulrushes during certain times of the year.

Without a shred of doubt, Minnesota's fishes form a fascinating and diverse group. From dogfish to catfish, mooneye to mudminnow, shad to shiner, and from pike to perch, Minnesotans have many reasons to appreciate the state's plentiful waters as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

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Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.

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