This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
The "Great Pike" of the Mississippi system of waters, like its great congener of the St. Lawrence waters, is one of the largest of our fresh-water game-fishes. It, the first named, has its equal in regard to size and game qualities in the "Barred Mascalonge" which, so far as the writer knows, has not been classified, and he would respectfully suggest that the cognomen of this fish be "Esox Major." There is still another, locally called "Spotted Mascalonge," which is equal in size to the others above mentioned and as gamy as they are. The three great fishes belonging to the Mississippi waters will, in this article, be treated separately, to a certain extent.
"Esox Nobilior," called also "Esox Estor," will not be considered carefully, but will be referred to occasionally. "Esox Immaculatus" is found in many of the waters of the Mississippi basin but not in all. It is found in the deep holes of some of the tributaries, and especially in the waters flowing into the Wisconsin River, and in the many lakes whose outlets lead into the last named stream. And it is to those fishes that the reader's attention will be especially directed herein. In nearly all of the lakes in northern Wisconsin, which have outlets into the Wisconsin River, the "Esox Immaculatus," the Barred and the Spotted Mascalonge, are found in abundance-the three appearing to be inseparable or nearly so. The "Barred 'Lunge" is a large fish, and the most plentiful, generally speaking.
On the ioth of February, 1890, I measured one which in proportion was a fair specimen of the three kinds. Its length was 46 inches; weight 26 pounds; end of tail to anus, 3 inches; anal fin to root of tail, 4 inches; dorsal fin to root of tail, 5 inches; breadth of tail, 10 inches; end of nose to pectoral fin, 9 inches; between pectoral fins and lower belly fins, 13 inches; end of nose to end of gills, 12 inches; eye to end of upper jaw, 5 inches; depth widest part, 9 inches; back of head to eyes, 3 inches; spread of jaws, 6 inches; width of head, top, 4 inches. This was a fair specimen, fresh from the water. It was a female, full of eggs, which accounts for its great depth.
On the Barred "'Lunge" the bars are transverse, and commence near the back and extend to the edge of the belly, that is to say some of them do, while others go only part way.
being quite irregular all over the sides, without any apparent system; the dorsal fin is marked the same.
In the spotted variety the spois are also irregularly placed and the intervening space partially filled by transverse bars, the dorsal fin marked with distinctive round black spots, exactly the same as in the common Gar.
The "Esox Immaculatus" has no distinctive marks, the back being dark green, which color extends down the sides, fading, as it extends downward, into a greenish yellow where it blends with the white on the belly. These distinctive marks are on the barred and spotted specimens when very small, not over two or three inches long, which shows that they are different in marking, at least, from the moment of leaving the egg or nearly so. These three varieties are found together, and in fishing for them one is as likely to catch one kind as another. In size and proportions there is no perceptible difference in the three, and in the spring while they are spawning, they are found together at the same time and place, which would go to show that they are really of one family, for the spotted male is as likely to be found with a barred female as with a spotted one, or with an "Esox Immaculatus," so called. Nature is not to be disputed, and whatever she does she does correctly.
Admitting then that there are these three varieties of fish in these waters, it would go to show that, while apparently separated species, they are all of the same family. It may be that away back in the past during some very high waters, some of the St. Lawrence variety got over into the Mississippi waters and mating with Esox Immaculatus produced a hybrid in the Spotted and Barred Mascalonge, and that nature, for some inscrutable reason, has kept up these markings in different individuals.
Pisciculture is comparatively (in my humble opinion) in its infancy, and no doubt these facts will eventually be accounted for. We already know that fish can, and have been hybridized, the offspring being fertile and partaking of the characteristics of both parents. There are undoubtedly places where the Lake Superior waters rise in some large marsh, the marsh extending for miles, the north part emptying into Superior, the south part into Mississippi waters. There is now, within a couple of miles of where this is being written, (in Northern Wisconsin) a small marsh, but a few acres in extent, the waters of which pass out of the north end, emptying into Lac Vieux Desert, the south end emptying, by a similar stream, into the Wisconsin River. Now if this happens here, it may elsewhere. While this would not, of course, be proof positive that these fish had gotten together in this way and crossed, yet it furnishes what would appear a plausible explanation of the occurrence of these several varieties of Mascalonge, and the subject is certainly worthy of investigation.
That these three kinds of Mascalonge are here and marked as above stated cannot be denied; on the other hand it can be substantiated by hundreds of good men who have caught them in numbers. I am aware that the above statement is and has been questioned by men who pretend to know, and who claim to be authorities; but facts are stubborn things, and the truth is sure to prevail in the end.
These fine fish are to be found, as soon as the ice goes out, near the shores, among the rushes and grasses, seeking a proper place to deposit their spawn. This spawn is not very glutinous (as in some kinds of fishes, the Pike, Perch or Wall-eyed Pike, for instance), but are just enough so to cause them to fasten to some weed or grass, in shoal water, where the sun's rays can warm the water and thus hatch out the fry. Mascalonge delight to lurk among weeds or in old tree tops that have fallen in the water; there they will lie, for hours, perfectly motionless. I have trolled past one, lying in a tree-top, the spoon passing within a few feet of him repeatedly, he taking no notice of it whatever until, finally, he would slip away.