I have a meaningful connection to two Great Lakes waterbodies, Lake Erie in my earlier career and presently Lake Superior.
It start as a kid. What got me interested in water and especially in fish was this fascination with living things, keeping butterflies, frogs, turtles, whatever, including fish. I wanted to keep some fish alive, so I got siamese fighting fish and kept them in mayonnaise jars in the basement to hide them from my mother who did not want me to have pets but eventually it was discovered. I must say it was because my father sided with me, “Let the boy have a dog!” Then I finally got a dog out of the deal but I also kept the fish and that grew into aquariums. I kept aquariums continuously until well into my 30s.
In early graduate school I got into a project that was looking, in the early 70s, at the Lake Erie drainage. Lake Maumee, the Black Creek Project. Which was one of the first EPA projects that came into existence to solve the problems of the Lake Erie. I studied fish on that watershed, I was young and strong and had some undergraduates helping me, it was a blast to work on that system. My career kept me connected with various bodies of water, streams around the Chicago area. Ultimately found myself out west looking at fish in the lower Colorado River, the humpback chub, the razorback sucker and so on.
Later on about 20 years ago I came back to the Great Lakes, to Ashland and I’ve been studying the fishes in Lake Superior. I’ve fallen in love with this amazing body of water. I think some of the more memorable experiences I had in the early part of my Lake Superior career was conducting a survey of all the embayments of Isle Royale. This was done by basically circumnavigating this island in a little 12 foot zodiac. I had graduate student, we had a kayak strapped to this 12 foot boat, making our way around and going into each of the embayments and mapping habitat with the kayak in all kinds of weather. I can remember doing some of this in October in snow squalls, being able to adapt and understand what was in there was a very very interesting project, to understand the diversity of habitats and the species that are there and trying to understand the relationship between the habitat that’s there occurrence of coaster brook trout.
I always look back to those years, I can always remember one of the coves we would go into, the water could be very deep and I could be standing right where I am now and take one step off and there was 50 ft of water. This is just stepping from the water edge. It was a very amazing place where you’re always facing the danger of cold water and being out of radio connection but being pretty smart about it. That’s been very rewarding and it continues to this day, where I’ve done many different projects.
The most rewarding is to work with students, undergraduates at Northland College and graduate students at the University of Minnesota Duluth. To continue to investigate the interesting things about the world of Lake Superior.
I’ll close with the last sort of phase of some of my research has been to try to understand the deep waters of Lake Superior, siskowet lake trout. People ask me this question all the time, “What do you find out in the deepest part of the lake?” I’ll say siskowets and berbot and deepwater sculpin in 1200 feet of water. So we’ve learned to capture those fish alive and develop apparatus and so on to bring them up to decompress them so they don’t undergo the extremes of the barotrauma and can survive to do research to see how siskowets see their prey in this almost entirely dark habitat. So that’s added to the wanderlust of how Lake Superior works and how lake trout are able to find their prey in what appears to us to be total darkness.