I recently saw a few photographs of some impressive walleye taken from the Missouri River this spring in the vicinity of Bismarck. Walleye are undoubtedly the most popular fish in North Dakota, in terms of angling interest and table fare.
It might surprise some of you, but the walleye is closely related to the perch. They are in the same Order (Perciformes) and Family (Percidae). Fish in their Order may be characterized by having a dorsal fin (that is the fin on the back of the fish) that is divided into two segments (or with a narrow connection in some species). The front segment consists of spiny rays while the rear segments have soft rays. The family includes walleye, sauger, perch, and darters. It also includes the European zander. Some of you may remember that there was considerable interest in zander as a game fish for North Dakota back in the 1980’s.
As with plants, the common names of fish can sometimes be confusing, and occasionally the walleye is an example of that. Most of us know this fish as the walleye. But it is also known as the yellow pickerel, or just pickerel north of the border. And it is occasionally referred to as walleye pike. One may infer from that, that the walleye is a close relative of the northern pike, which it is not.
Northern pike, or simply “northern,” or “jack” north of the border is in a different Order than the walleye. Members of this Order (Esociformes), which includes the northern pike and muskie, are known for having sharp teeth and a cigar-shaped body which is good for swimming in short, fast bursts straight ahead. They are fast and fierce predators. In addition, they have both their dorsal fin and anal fin set back near the forked tail.
So, if you hear or see a reference to walleye pike, remember that the walleye is not a close relative to northern pike. And it is interesting to note that Garrison, North Dakota is the “Walleye Capital of the World.” And the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery is the largest walleye hatchery in the world.
- Chuck Lura