Story and photos by Richard Hocker
ach year, usually in mid-April to early May, an event takes place in Eastman that is a true indicator of spring’s arrival. Around the same time as the forsythia begin to bloom, hundreds of fish come from all over Eastman Lake to the mouth of Mill Pond Brook at Cove Drive to await the biological signal that sends them frantically swimming up the brook. It is the annual mating of the “Eastman Lake Salmon,” actually two species of the common sucker. The legendary name “Eastman Lake Salmon” had its birth in an exchange between a fisherman and a passerby standing on Cove Drive. When asked what he was fishing for, the fisherman’s answer was “salmon,” since the fish were running upstream to spawn. The unsuspecting questioner then spread the word that salmon were running in Mill Pond Brook. From that time on, the annual migration has become known as the run of the Eastman Lake Salmon.
These fish consist of two species. The larger of the two, but fewer in number, is the common white sucker, averaging 15 to 24 inches in length and weighting up to five pounds. This species is dark brown along the back and upper sides, tending to a yellow-white on the lower sides and belly. For most of the year they feed along the bottom of Eastman Lake on a variety of insect larva, crustaceans and occasional fish eggs. When small, the suckers are food for bass, pickerel and other large fish such as the northern pike, which do not exist in the lake at Eastman but do live in Anderson Pond. (See related Anderson Pond article.) Note the curve of the white sucker’s head in the accompanying photo.
Although seldom caught in Eastman Lake, the suckers are relatively easy to catch on a hook and line connected to a hooked worm and fished on the lake bottom during their migration. Once hooked, these fish have a muscular but unspectacular fight that can best be described as similar to being connected by fish line to a motorized log. The sucker may not look as appealing as the bass, perch or trout but, when caught in cold water during the annual migration, these big-boned fish have a sweet flavor and can be prepared several ways. Some people refer to them as “mullet.” My grandfather enjoyed his filleted, then covered in cornmeal and fried. The meat is flakey. Also, if inclined, the row (fish eggs) can be removed from the fish and cooked. However, once the water temperatures begin to climb, the flesh of the sucker begins to soften and the sweet taste changes to something only a hungry bear might like.
The second species of sucker entering Mill Pond Brook is the longnose sucker. These are the most numerous of the migrating fish, running from 12-20 inches in length and weighing up to three pounds. When seen in the water, they appear to have a gold stripe running along the length of their body. Once out of water, the color is less pronounced but still vivid enough to identify the fish as a longnose sucker. The fish does have an elongated nose when compared to the white sucker whose nose is flat like a wall. Both fish have the mouth on the underside of their head, which gives the fish its name: sucker. All other fish have a mouth that is aligned with their bodies.
When the spawning is complete, the suckers return to Eastman Lake for another year of bottom feeding. Because of the nature of Mill Pond Brook, some of the fish will die during the migration. Once the eggs hatch into young fish, the youngsters will make their way down stream to the lake to begin their growth to adulthood. With that, the cycle continues.
This year’s run of the “salmon” was heralded by a few adults, who regularly await their arrival, but also by some younger and, perhaps, future fishermen, who just happened to be on spring break on April 18, when the suckers started to arrive in droves. Among them were Shaun Kronenwetter, Alex Weinman and Nathan Chickering, who were happy to observe this spring ritual, the run of the Catostomus commmersonii (white sucker) and Catostomus catostomus (longnose sucker)!!