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The current blizzard conditions are not my fault.

I do not like driving around with the snowplow on the Jeep. Because the plow is a little tricky to put on, I do not take it off between storms but, as soon as the harbingers of spring begin to appear, I get twitchy to remove it. For the past few years, this action has been immediately followed by a snowstorm of epic proportion. This correlation has not gone unnoticed and I find myself under great pressure from friends, co-workers and even people I do not know to not hurry the plow removal.

I made mention last week that I had seen the first red-wing blackbird so I thought I would take the plow off. I was immediately attacked and informed in no uncertain terms that people were sick of winter and I had better do nothing that would bring any more snow. Apparently the plow prognostication is pervasive for, although I only mentioned this once, I was reminded in a number of venues over the course of the next week that people were watching my Jeep.

In younger years, this might have encouraged me to immediately remove the plow and begin wearing short-sleeved shirts, but I have apparently mellowed. I capitulated, left the plow on — and now, just over a week from the confrontation, we are in the throes of a genuine nor’easter. Last time I checked, we had 11 inches of heavy wet snow with more still coming.

To those who would suggest I should be happy not to have to fight the plow back on, I should point out there is not one speck of pavement on any of the area I have to plow. This means, since the ground was wet and muddy before the snow started, it would be landscaping, not plowing. We will just drive through the snow until it melts in a day or so.

When I pointed out to one of my critics that the weather apparently had nothing to do with my plow, she said it was still my fault. Apparently I jinxed things by even thinking about taking the plow off. I think I should have just paid attention to the red-wing blackbird in the first place.

We all have things we think of as indicators of season change. One of the best is unfortunately seldom seen. It is a great movement of one of our more common fish but, since it generally occurs under the ice and during the time when the ice is becoming dangerous to be on, most are unaware of it.

Northern pike are one of our most recognized and dramatic freshwater predatory fish. Found throughout North America and Europe, they are a large, long fish averaging over 20 inches long as adults. Females are larger than males and commonly reach sizes of 10 pounds or more. In some areas they are called jacks or luce, but it is all the same fish.

Beginning in March, in this area, the northern pike begin moving to their breeding areas. Although not thought of as a shallow-water fish, pike spawn in shallow, reedy waters, sometimes only inches deep. Males move to the shallows well before the females. The primary factor indicating it is time to spawn seems to be water temperature. Forty-eight degrees F is ideal, but the movement of male fish seems to be as much based on amount of daylight. They are often found in the shallows vying with each other as much as two weeks before the water temperatures even approach 49 degrees.

Female pike are a bit more reserved, moving gradually from the deeper waters and feeding heavily as they travel. The extra nutrition is needed because they are producing large amounts of eggs. A female pike may reach sexual maturity in her second or third year. A small female may lay up to 50,000 eggs but a female pike of 15 pounds or more can easily lay five times that amount. Pike eggs and fry have a huge number of predators from insects to sunfish and only a small percentage ever hatch.

Males may have been in the spawning grounds for up to three weeks before the first females begin arriving. Females move throughout the area, laying eggs in several locations, fertilized by several different males each time, to increase the chances of having good conditions for hatching. A large female may remain in the spawning area for up to 10 days, depositing eggs continuously throughout that time. When the pike leave the spawning grounds, they feed voraciously for a week or more to replenish the energy stores lost during breeding.

Pike eggs are sticky and cling to stalks and bottom debris. Under ideal conditions, with water temperatures in the 50 degree range, they hatch within about 12 days. However, they will die if water temperatures drop below 44 degrees and many are lost when water levels drop before hatching. The newly hatched pike are interesting for they are “sticky” too. There is a patch on the top of their head that has an adhesive quality. When they first hatch, this patch anchors them to underwater vegetation as they digest the remaining yolk sac and develop sufficient mouth parts to feed.

As they grow (as much as a half inch every 10 days in early life), they use this patch to anchor themselves to weeds while they rest in-between feeding sessions. When they get to be about 2 inches long, this patch disappears, the familiar duck-bill mouth shape develops and the fry move into deeper water where they will remain for the rest of their lives. If not eaten by a predator (including their parents), young pike grow rapidly. It takes a pike about seven years to reach 20 inches in length.

It seems I have rapidly reached the limit of my space here too, so I think I will go out and take the plow off. ...

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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