Fish Tales

October 24, 2006

Indiana Lampreys

Filed under: Fishing,Midwest Fishing — by love2fish @ 12:52 am
Great Lakes Lamprey I’ve caught some weird looking fish, but none as strange as the lamprey. While fishing the St. Joseph River in Elkhart County, Indiana, I hooked a walleye, but pulled in two fish. A lamprey was attached to the side of my catch. I recognized the invasive species and witnessed their damage to Indiana waterways firsthand.

An adult specimen will attach itself to a larger fish and suck the blood and body fluids in a parasitic fashion. The one I saw had a round sucker mouth with circular rings of teeth. It looks somewhat like an eel, but had a dorsal fin, blackish brown body and grayish underbody. Lampreys either kill the host fish by draining it of fluids like a vampire, or leaving a wound that becomes infected.

The adults spend most of their time in the Great Lakes, but return to tributaries to spawn. They are thought by some to invade the lakes via Lake Huron and Erie through man made canals to the sea. Some experts believe the Great Lakes lampreys have been in the area since the Pleistocene Era, and are actually a native species.

Whether native or invasive, there is no argument that they are destructive to the basin. According to the Indiana DNR (Aquatic Invasive Species), U.S. and Canada are spending $8 million per year on control of the sea lamprey and another $12 million per year in the restoration of lake trout populations that were destroyed by lampreys. Most control methods are too costly to be effective in such a large area. These include barriers to keep the lamprey from returning to tributaries to spawn. Sterilization of male lampreys involves collection, sterilization and the return to spawning streams to compete with fertile males. This method reduces fertilized egg counts. Lampricide applied to larvae can be effective. Usually it takes a combination of techniques to control the population.

I hope I never catch another one.

Wound picture copied with permission from:

Lake Trout Lamprey Wounds Lamprey



  1. Is this anything like a leech. I have had these attached to me before and they are really gross. I was not aware of this. So they actually kill the fish then? Do these lampreys also attach to humans? If they were to attach to humans do you know what would happen? I looked but I couldn’t find anything, do they come in contact with humans?

    Comment by lvambrandrw — October 25, 2006 @ 4:39 pm |Reply

  2. Oh wow. I’ve heard of these but I had no Idea that they were local.

    Comment by largemouth — October 25, 2006 @ 7:30 pm |Reply

  3. LV, I am adding pictures for clarification. They can and do kill the fish. Lampreys are the size of a small eel, and fish are their main course. Unlike a leech, you would know immediately if they tried to attach to your leg and it would be doubtful if they would attempt so large a prey.

    Comment by love2fish — October 25, 2006 @ 8:13 pm |Reply

  4. Those things look so bizarre! I also had no idea they were around this area.

    Comment by cinnamonspider — October 26, 2006 @ 9:57 pm |Reply

  5. These things look very scary. I think I would be terrified if I had one attaced to me or my fish. They are so destructive. I have never heard of them. I wonder why there is not more attention paid to them. Is there any positive purpose for these creatures? I hope you never have to catch one of these again also!

    Comment by kjamrozy — October 30, 2006 @ 7:05 pm |Reply

  6. Holy mama! These parasites are nasty gross! And the amount of money that is spent in attempt to control these nasty things is staggering. Your photos are effective…yep..I’m going to have nightmares. Once again your blog is informative and quite the learning experience. I like you links and photos. Can we do rainbow fish next time?

    Comment by Julia Garcia — November 1, 2006 @ 9:24 pm |Reply

  7. my buddy caught a couple in the Eel River.

    Comment by Cody Stearley — March 23, 2009 @ 1:36 pm |Reply

  8. I’m from Pittsburgh but go to Erie all the time. I got a steelhead up there with these guys stuck to him. Ugly little suckers.

    Comment by Jon — August 20, 2009 @ 12:14 am |Reply

  9. Tonight I saw one of these at the local bait shop. The owner caught a sucker in a ditch near Wolcottville, IN that had three small lampreys attached. I’ve lived in Noble County, NE Indiana all my life and never seen one before.

    Comment by JoNel Kurtz — April 6, 2010 @ 8:18 pm |Reply

  10. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.

    I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly.
    I am quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right here!
    Best of luck for the next!

    Comment by Mindy — April 8, 2013 @ 1:11 am |Reply

  11. I know I am very late in seeing this, but the lamprey you caught was very likely a native chestnut lamprey that are very common in the St. Joseph River and its tribs. Sea lamprey do enter the St. Joe River from Lake Michigan, but do not pass the Berrien Springs Dam

    Comment by Steve — February 2, 2016 @ 12:15 pm |Reply

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