3 Foot Leeches?!?!?!

Discussion in 'Saltwater' started by livetofish, Mar 18, 2006.

  1. livetofish Fish to Live

    Posts: 55
    Northwest WA
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    Heard tell recently of the night-time migration of what the teller said were leeches through the salt within a few miles of the mouth of a north sound river. This nice fellow - a local who had no reason to tell me a tall tale - claimed that you could see "thousands" of these "leeches" in the top couple feet of the water column at night from his bulkhead and that they could be "as long as your arm". :eek: :eek: :eek:

    His impression was that they were coming from the river, perhaps post spawn. He says they are black, up to 3-4 inches in diameter with "three teeth in their mouths" and that at some times of the year (he wasn't clear on how often this phenomenon happens) they were firm-fleshed, but that at others they would "disintegrate" in your hand, as though they were dying.

    After many, many years of fishing the salt and always talking to the local beachfront property owners, this is the first time I've heard this "tale". Can anyone fill in the details? Could these be leeches? Eels? Lamprey?

    C'mon fisheries folks... should I tie up some 3 ft string leeches for the salt?;)
  2. Scott Behn Active Member

    Posts: 1,201
    Lk Stevens, Wa.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Very interesting...hell I'd just like to see the rod that flings those 3 footers...

    :cool:
  3. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,795
    Marysville, Washington
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    Sounds like spawning sandworms.

    Tight lines
    Curt
  4. Zen Piscator Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.

    Posts: 3,076
    Missoula, MT
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    Curt,
    I am not well informed on the subject of lamprey but what would make you think these are not lamprey but sandworms? Abundance, migration time..? Fill me in please.

    Peace,
    Andy
  5. cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    Posts: 1,713
    Olympia, WA
    Ratings: +237 / 0
    It sounds like a spawning polychaete, Nereis brandti. Lampreys are semelparous, like salmon; once they spawn in freshwater, they're dead. The only part that confuses me is that errant polychaetes, like Nereis brandti, have two pincerlike jaws, not three.

    Nereis brandti can reach 2-2 1/2' in length and 1 - 2" in diameter. Normally, they live in burrows in muddy bottoms, feeding apparently on algae and small crustaceans. Like many other polychaetes, they swim up into the water column at night to spawn. I'm not positive of the specifics for this species, but in similar polychaetes, the end segments which are full of sperm or eggs are so flimsy that they do disintegrate. The anterior section can then return to the bottom and later regenerate the missing segments. Like other polychaetes, males and females appear to be attracted to each other by chemical signals to ensure fertilization; this may be responsible for the aggregations that were described to you. I've watched them swim around the nightlight at the Friday Harbor Labs for hours. They must be edible as they are eagerly captured and munched by the dock shrimp if they swim in too close to the dock.

    In other polychaetes, the reproductive section (epitoke) detaches from the anterior part of the worm, swims by itself to the surface, and breaks apart when it detects the presence a worm of the opposite sex, releasing its gametes. These epitokes can be found in large numbers on the right part of the lunar cycle and are harvested in the South Pacific for food (called palolo worms).

    If we had striped bass up here, they would love Nereis brandti. In the Atlantic, a favorite fly for stripers at night mimics a spawning polychaete, the cinder worm, although that polychaete is only a few inches long.

    Steve
  6. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,795
    Marysville, Washington
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    Andy -
    Here in the PNW we have 3 species of lampreys. As Cabezon said two of those species (Pacific and River) are anadromous fish. The young lampreys - called ammocoetes live in the muck of slow water pools of streams for several years feeding on microscopic plant material and animals. After the river and Pacific ammocoetes reach 5 or 6 inches (usually takes 4 to 6 years)they become smolt like minature forms of the adults and migrate to the ocean. Like most of our salmonids this occurs in the spring of the year. At this time they are a silvery grey. Most people don't every see this stage though if one watches closely in the spring the migrating "smolts" can be occassionally observed early or late in the day but never in the kinds of numbers mentioned in the starting post.- something that might interest you is at that time they are on the dining menu of our local bull trout and I always have a couple of my favorite "lamprey" pattern stuck in the the corner of one of my "Dolly" fly boxes.

    Once the adult forms reach the salt they do their lamprey thing by being essentially parasites on various host species. They return back to their natal rivers to spawn. They return in during the late spring through summer and spawn the following spring. The larger and most common lamprey is the Pacific which as an adult can reach up to 30 inches though they are usually smaller (say 18 or 20 inches). Usually don't see them in any sort of concentrations except at migration barriers (dams, waterfalls etc) where they use to be fairly abundant with hundreds seen attempting to get around the barrier - they can use their "sucker" mouths to inch their way up the concrete face of a dam. I have also ocassionally seen dozens spawning together where they create a "redd" similar to a steelhead redd (spawn at much the same time). Like many species they were once much more abundant and actually were an important seasonal food source for some of the interior native America tribes. Numbers crashed significantly since the 1960s and likely to end up listed under ESA.

    As you can see they aren't likely to have been the "3 foot leeches" at the start of the this topic. My above discussion of this interesting critters just touches the surface.

    Cabezon -
    I suspect the reason the report of three jaws rather than two may be due to the parties confusing the "hooks" on the pinchers as another jaw. An easy enough mistake as one is getting "nipped" - really can't blame them for not taking a closer look.

    Tight lines
    Curt
  7. sixfinger Ryan Haseman

    Posts: 185
    Olympia, WA
    Ratings: +4 / 0
    While I am decifering what the above has mentioned ;)

    About 3 foot string leeches. A guy came into the shop about a month ago and was talking about how he sometimes targets ling cod out at neah bay. He ties up 2-3ft leechs and says they work great. Its basically a big furry dubbing brush made with rabbit and wire.
  8. cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    Posts: 1,713
    Olympia, WA
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    Hi Smalma,

    Thanks for the info on the local lampreys. I've seen small lampreys (8-12") in McCallister Creek in the spring. I too have heard some rumblings that some populations / species may be up for consideration under the ESA. It must be a real challenge as so little is known about these three species. It shouldn't be too surprising that their numbers may have crashed as their major prey (salmon) are in substantial decline and access to their spawning habitat has been cut-off by dams, culverts, etc. Imagine the public outcry if 1) salmon fishing were curtailed to make more prey available for lampreys or 2) dams, transportation projects, water releases had to be managed to support spawning habitat / access for lampreys. Public support for the ESA has been pretty strong for "charismatic megafauna" (eagles, spotted owls, red wolf, etc.), but I wonder if such an unlovely species like a lamprey would be a turning point in public support for the ESA. Imagine what an anti-environmentalist like Representative Pombo (R-California) would do if NOAA put lampreys on the ESA.

    Steve
  9. Zen Piscator Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.

    Posts: 3,076
    Missoula, MT
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    Thanks Cabezon and Curt,
    I have seen juvinille lamprey in local creeks. They spend most of their time in the mud and we only seen them once in a blue moon.

    No as for ling cod, 3 ft string leeches are pretty dope.
  10. speyfisher Active Member

    Posts: 1,055
    State of Jefferson U.S.A.
    Ratings: +135 / 3
    How far inland do these leeches exist?
  11. JRSly Oncorhynchus clarki clarki

    Posts: 260
    Bellingham, Washington, USA.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Smalma-

    I was just wondering, have you actually seen lamprey "use their "sucker" mouths to inch their way up the concrete face of a dam" because this is currently an issue being studied by fish and wildlife. As you mentioned currently with the decline in lamprey, and other non-game fish there has been a large push to understand them better. Molly (can't think of her last name at the time) with Washington Fish and Wildlife is actually trying to understand and define what a barrier to lamprey is, so I was just wondering where you saw, read or heard this. I am not questioning you, I am just wondering my self because it is a topic I am interested it. Last summer I worked on a project to try to define migration barriers to prickly sculpin and coastrange sculpin. It was a great project, and we found some interesting results. Lets just put it this way, currently a barrier is defined by using salmonids (I think it is actually a 6" rainbow), and I think this really needs to be re-defined.


    Sly
  12. JRSly Oncorhynchus clarki clarki

    Posts: 260
    Bellingham, Washington, USA.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    cabezon-

    You are right, there is a lot of talk about lamprey being consideration under the ESA. This has been being mentioned for a while now, but nothing is really happening because like you said, little is known about them. Also, it is kind of sad to say this but not many people care. I have found that people are starting to realize the impacts non-game fish populations can have. One of my friends who worked for Fish and Wildlife for 8 years often refers to them as Washington department of salmon. It isn’t that he didn’t like working for them, he actually has plans on working for them again, it is just that is where almost all of the focus is, but they are getting better.


    Sly

    Edit to add:
    cabezon, I like your name, but I prefer prickly sculpin Cottus asper and coastrange sculpin C. aleuticus.
  13. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,795
    Marysville, Washington
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    JRSly -
    I think the name you were searching for at WDFW was Molly Hallock.

    While I have not seen lampreys inching their ways up over dams I have seen it referred to in the literature. For example in the latest edition of "Inland Fishes of Washington" Wydoski in his discussion about habitats for Pacific lamprey he states - "Adult Pacific lamprey can pass barriers such as rocks forming waterfalls or the walls of dams by clinging to and slowly ascending them using their suckerlike mouths."

    Tight lines
    Curt
  14. vicb New Member

    Posts: 17
    Issaquah, WA, USA.
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    Sly,
    You are probably already aware, but lots of lamprey research has been done in the Great Lakes. Long time effort to control them as they had significant impact on Lake trout there. Guy below is considered an expert, might be able to help you with your research
    Vic

    Roger Bergstedt
    USGS Great Lakes Science Center
    Hammond Bay Biological Station
    Millersburg, MI 49759
  15. Teeg Stouffer Fish Recycler

    Posts: 683
    Omaha, NE / Council Bluffs, IA
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    Per the question about lampreys inching along with their sucker mouths - I have seen this inside fish ladders along the Columbia. At first, thought they were just hanging on, but noticed that they were progressing across the fish viewing windows. One would think they could do the same thing on dam faces.
  16. Rich Schager You should have been here yesterday...

    Posts: 147
    Harstine Island
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    I too have seen hundreds of lampreys inching along with their sucker mouths inside fish ladders along the Columbia. While some swam up the fish ladders, many others were attaching to the wet cement walls and actually crawling over each other's bodies to inch their way up over each set of rapids rather than swim. They looked a writhering mass of snakes going above & around the rapids. I've seen them locally in Bear Creak, Sammamish River, and several tiny un-named creeks. Also caught one by hand in the Yakima River just below Cle Elum.

    -Rich.
  17. JRSly Oncorhynchus clarki clarki

    Posts: 260
    Bellingham, Washington, USA.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Curt, Vic, Teeg Stouffer, and Rich -

    Wow, thanks for the info. After I read what Curt wrote about them passing barriers with their suckers it got me a little more interested, so I asked a couple people. Yes Curt, I was thinking of Molly Hallock, it was on tip of my tongue so thanks. I never even thought to look in “Inland Fishes of Washington” I have read that book cover to cover a couple times, but some sections I focus on more (salmonids). I didn’t remember seeing it in there, but what do you know, there it is. What a great book, I keep it on my coffee table at all times, right under Quinn’s “The Behavior and Ecology of Pacific Salmon and Trout.”


    Sly