As we look out of our collective Copper Country windows at the mountains of snow and dancing drifts, it is hard to believe spring is only a week away. How did that wily woodchuck, Punxsutawney Phil, know the Polar Vortex would return? Perhaps he has a hotline to Mother Nature.
Enough of that, let us think forward to spring and open water fishing. Many local anglers, especially the Walleye Whisperer, are looking forward to the walleye/pike season opener on Saturday, April 26 and chances are some of them will reel in fish with parasites or a disease. Most diseases are not readily apparent or recognized by anglers, however one is highly visible.
One frequently observed disease of northern pike and muskellunge is "Red Sore." It is specific to northern pike and muskellunge populations in North America and Europe, where it has been observed for over 100 years. Strangely enough, it does not affect chain pickerel, another family member. This is probably due to pickerel being a more southern species and found in warmer water, while red sore is found in cooler waters. This adult Esocid (pike/musky family) disease can reach an infection level of one of every six pike, but is normally much lower. It has reached epidemic proportions in some lakes and caused significant mortality.
Red Sore is a tumorous condition which generally appears on the head, flanks, or fins and varies from red spots to pink/red open tumors (sores).The cauliflower-like tumor may appear as a cluster of blisters, which may erupt, resulting in an open sore. These tumors are more properly referred to as lymphosarcoma. It is most commonly observed in the spring of the year at and after the pike or muskellunge spawn. Scientific studies indicate the disease is a contact-transmitted virus spread from fish to fish during the spawning act. In advanced stages the tumors can be three to four inches in diameter and can cause mortality. If one desires to look at examples of these tumors, go to a search engine and look up Red Sore.
These tumors are caused by a naturally occurring type-C virus specific to cold blooded organisms, therefore cannot be transmitted to humans. Red sore has been reported from all Michigan pike/muskellunge waters, at one time or another. In fact, the disease is found all through the northern hemisphere and widely distributed in the United States and Canada. There is no known method of prevention.
The disease is not known to be infectious to other animals or man, however infected fish are not aesthetically pleasant to the eye and consumption is not advised. If one chooses to consume the fish, cut away the infected portions. Recommended disposal is burying. Never put an infected pats back into the water. Removing infected fish would not likely have any measurable impact on the incidence or prevalence of the disease in a water body.