Gary “K-Dawg” Kessler of Reynoldsburg, OH was fishing approximately 5-6 miles southeast of Kelleys Island in 42 feet of water when he got a bite on his perch rig and brought up something that he’s never seen before, a blue perch. “I almost threw it back”, he said. “I didn’t know what I had, or if something was wrong with it. It looked just like the other perch, but it was really blue. My friends told me to keep it”.
Gary said he has been fishing Lake Erie since he was 16 years old, which makes it approximately 50 years. He’s never seen or heard of a blue perch or the now extinct blue walleye that were caught here many years ago.
Fred Snyder, an Extension Agent of the Ohio Sea Grant, explains it this way, “Color variants within a species are not uncommon, but color alone is never used to divide a species into two subspecies. Skin color will disappear within a few weeks when a fish is placed into a preservative, so more permanent characteristics are needed.
Many of the walleye in the Ohio River have a bluish coloration, but they are not blue pike. Neither is the bluish walleye occasionally caught in some Canadian lakes. Skin color also is influenced by spawning condition and light levels. Most fish caught in clear, shallow water in bright light will be vividly colored while those pulled from areas with low light levels will appear almost milky.
Fish have bodies in their skins called chromatophores which carry pigments of different colors. These chromatophores expand and contract, much like the pupil in an eye, as the fish encounters backgrounds of different colors. This allows many species to change color in just 20-30 minutes.
The real difference historically noted between yellow walleye and blue pike was a skeletal difference. Blue pike had larger eyes that were closer together (across the top of the head) than walleye. In adult blue pike, when you measured the width between the eyes and divided it into the eye width, you got a ratio ranging from 1.4-2.0. The same measurements on walleye give ratios ranging from 0.8-1.2. It may seem a small difference, but it was reliable and could be maintained in preservation.
Nowadays, genetic analysis by Dr. Carol Stepien has shown that blue pike and yellow walleye also differed genetically. It would take measurable differences, either in body parts or genetics rather than skin color, to constitute a different subspecies of yellow perch.
So, with that said, the mystery remains as to whether this was truly a blue perch or just a skin color variant due to it’s living conditions, because the fish in question has been cleaned and eaten.
“I didn’t know what I caught until I got home from the fish cleaners and looked it up on Google. I would have kept it alive and given it to the ODNR if I had known what it was”, said Gary.
So, let this be the lesson: the next time you’re perch fishing and find a rare blue perch on the end of your line let the experts examine it before you eat it. They are one in a million, if it truly is a rare blue perch, and that’s worth putting on the wall instead of the dinner table to remember that day you had the lucky bite!