Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Euclid Creek is pretty in pink (salmon)

It was a red-letter day September 12 for Cleveland Metroparks’ aquatic biologist Mike Durkalec.

That’s when he and a Cleveland Metroparks assistant were conducting a routine fish species census of the lower Euclid Creek. Not counting tiny feeder arteries, Euclid Creek is a 12-mile-long Lake Erie tributary located in the eastern fringe of Cleveland.

What Durkalec and his assistant found amongst some suckers, minnows and sunfish was a rare catch indeed; a pink salmon that possibly would be a potential new Ohio state record fish for the species.

Pinks are the smallest species of the Pacific salmon family and are only an occasional visitor to Lake Erie streams. Make that an exceptionally uncommon visitor.

Aware of the significance of the large, humped-back, hook- jawed male pink that the electrical jolt shocked to the water’s surface, Durkalec saw to it that the fish was quickly photographed and just as quickly returned alive and unharmed to Euclid Creek.

Durkalec did not want to risk weighing or even measuring the pink salmon, estimating the fish at around 3 ½ pounds and almost certainly in excess of 20 inches.

Ohio’s current state record pink salmon was a fish caught from Conneaut Creek on September 24, 2004 by Andy Janoski. This fish weighed 3.06 pounds and measured 20 1/8 inches.

Not only has Durkalec been with Cleveland Metroparks for nine years he’s been a steelheader for 30 years; and even has caught pinks while fly-fishing the Upper Great Lakes, particularly Michigan’s Gardner River where pinks are far more abundant than in Euclid Creek.

“I even caught one from Arcola Creek, but that was about 20 years ago,” Durkalec said. “But when we recovered this fish during our electro-shocking we gave each other high-fives. It certainly was the most exciting fish in the bunch; a heck of a fish.”

Durkalec and his assistant were combing the waters of lower Euclid Creek as the parks system’s assessment component to a wetlands project within the adjacent Wildwood marina that was completed by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

The marina and the narrow slit of stream are contained within the Wildwood unit of Cleveland Metroparks’ Euclid Creek Reservation. Management of this component - as well as all of the former Cleveland Lakefront State Park - was transferred in June 2013 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to Cleveland Metroparks.

And from the mouth of the stream on up to what is locally referred to as the “Fruitland Dam,” located just north of the Ohio Route 2/Interstate 90 bridge, is a popular location for migrating steelhead and accompanying steelhead anglers.

Even so, while steelhead and an odd brown trout or two are hooked here regularly from autumn through spring, no previous reports of a pink salmon being found on any angler’s stringer has been documented.

That detail is not surprising given the rarity of pink salmon being found and caught in the waters of Lake Erie or any of its tributaries, says Kevin Kayle, supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Fairport Harbor Fisheries Research Station.

Kayle likewise supervises the state’s steelhead program.

“In all likelihood this fish came from a stream in the Upper Great Lakes since whenever a pink salmon is encountered in Ohio it is always an adult,” Kayle said. 

“And more than likely where there is one there could be more; that’s a very real possibility.”

Details of the pink salmon’s acquaintance with the Great Lakes began in the 1950s with two small introductions; one believed to be accidental and the other intentional, says the U.S. Geological Survey.

The first is said to have occurred in 1956 when about 100 young pinks were accidentally released into Lake Superior during a transfer between a Thunder Bay, Ontario fish hatchery and a sea plane.

A second release – and this one being intentional, says the U.S. Geological Survey – happened in 1959. That is when approximately 21,000 surplus pink salmon fingerlings that were raised at a Port Arthur, Ontario fish hatchery were subsequently released into the Current River, a Lake Superior tributary.

From these two small fledgling releases a new Great Lakes fisheries was slowly created; a detail that can be tracked via a Geological Survey animated map at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=906.

Noting that anglers have flocked to Cleveland Metroparks’ Facebook page to gaze on the two photos, Durkalec understates by saying it’s “an interesting fish.”

That, and then some, as the park district has observed a good deal of angling interest from where it empties into Lake Erie up to the over-powering Fruitland Dam which is insurmountable for any fish.

“It’s nice to see a pink salmon again,” also said Phil Hillman, fish management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) office in Akron. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen one here in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.

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