Lamprey Caught in Delayed Harvest
Inside the Outdoors, June 28
, 2013

Try to pronounce the Latin name of these creatures and I will bet any money it won’t be that easy, unless you are a biologist or someone who has a degree in similar studies. Anyway, Petromyzontidae is the correct classification for the freshwater lamprey.

According to wwwlucmp.berkeley.edu, it is “An eel-like fish that drinks the blood of fish. One of fifty species, this jawless fish is found in temperate rivers and coastal seas. Some species live in freshwater for their entire lives.”

When an angler approached me in Legion Keener Park, Latrobe, to show me a picture on his cell phone of what he suspected was a lamprey that he had caught at the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lure Only Project in Ligonier, he could hardly believe his eyes. This led me to contact Rick Lorson, biologist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and get his explanation of why this organism would be in our local waters. This is what he had to say:

“We have collected lampreys before at Loyalhanna (Creek). They were immature specimens and could not be identified to species. They require a specific sampling approach to collect reasonable numbers. We normally do not see a lot of them. There are parasitic species in PA. There are five lamprey species in PA that are on our Endangered, Threatened, or Candidate species list.”

According to the PFBC’s website, “Lampreys may not look like fish, but they are. Their round, sucking mouth, lack of pectoral and pelvic fins, and eel-like body make lampreys appear very different from “typical” fish. They also have a unique life history, going through a transformation, or metamorphosis, from larva to adult.”

As Rick pointed out, there are three different kinds of lamprey – Candidate, Endangered and Threatened. The website details each.

“The native Ohio lamprey (Candidate) is found in the Allegheny River and Ohio River watersheds. In Pennsylvania, Ohio lampreys can sometimes be seen attached to and feeding on stream fish like smallmouth bass, walleyes, redhorse suckers and trout. Native parasitic lampreys, like the Ohio, are smaller than sea lampreys.”

Also in this category is the non-parasitic American brook lamprey. It is found throughout the Midwest. “In Pennsylvania, it lives in streams in the northern section of the Allegheny River watershed and in the Genesee River and Lake Erie watersheds.

The picture that was shown to me by the fisherman displayed a sizeable creature at best. I would have not imagined that something that big would be an inhabitant of local waters. Let me continue.

“The northern brook lamprey is non-parasitic,” the website said. “This little lamprey is rare throughout its limited Great Lakes and Midwest range, and is found in Pennsylvania only in a small portion of the northwest part of the state.” It is on the Endangered Species List.

The Mountain Brook lamprey represents the third classification, the Threatened Species. Non-parasitic, is found in the Ohio River watershed.

“The least brook lamprey is found in headwater streams. It has been documented in western Pennsylvania’s Ohio River’s watershed and in the southeast’s lower Susquehanna River watershed. The non-parasitic lamprey is widespread from Pennsylvania south to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Some facts as to identification of the freshwater lamprey include “Larval lampreys have a sort of oral hood. In parasitic lampreys, after metamorphosis the adult’s concave, circular, and sucker-disk mouth, with horny teeth replace the hood. In non-parasitic lampreys, the hood does not change. The patterns of the teeth help biologists differentiate among lamprey species. Lampreys also do not have pectoral or pelvic fins, which are found on most other fishes. The lamprey’s thin, cylindrical body is eel-like or snake-like. It has a single, low dorsal fin. It may be notched, but never divided in two in lampreys, and it connects to the curved tail fin.

Female lampreys grow larger than males. The Ohio and American brook grow to about 12-inches. The Mountain Brook and least brook lampreys may grow to be 7-inches long.

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Had a wonderful conversation with a husband and wife from Norvelt recently while shopping at one of the large department stores in the area. They told me bass fishing at the Yough was superb. They were using shiners as bait. They are a great bait if one is fishing for all kinds of bass.

Remember, you can email me your fishing reports.


- Paul J. Volkmann
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To buy my book, Off the Wall Favorites, call me at 724-539-8850.