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Minnesota 112-year-old bigmouth buffalo oldest age-validated freshwater fish

By Outdoors News Staff

A 112-year old bigmouth buffalo from Minnesota blew maximum age estimates for the species out of the water, so much so that the bigmouth buffalo became the oldest age-validated freshwater fish.

The supercentenarian fish was collected as part of a North Dakota State University study, and more than quadrupled a previous maximum age estimate of 26 years. That estimate was based on an Oklahoma State University analysis of six bigmouth buffalo collected in the Keystone Reservoir near Sand Springs in 1998. The OSU team shared its findings in a paper titled “New Maximum Age of Bigmouth Buffalo,” but the authors also included their belief that many bigmouth buffalo populations may have fish older than 20 years, the maximum age estimate prior to their study.

In this more recent study, the North Dakota State University team collected and aged 386 bigmouth buffalo from Minnesota waters from 2016 – 2018. Ages of those fish, including the 112-year old individual, were determined by a count of the annual growth bands on one of the fish’s three pairs of otoliths, or earstones. In addition, 28 otolith samples were used to test whether the otolith annulus counts were accurate. This was done via bomb radiocarbon dating, a particular type of carbon-14 dating. The presumed otolith annulus counts were indeed thoroughly accurate, as they were validated not only cross-sectionally among individuals, but also longitudinally within individuals. The five oldest fish in the study were all more than 100 years old, and many of the populations studied are dominated by fish more than 80 years old.

The study’s authors also had a hunch that bigmouth buffalo develop black and orange markings as they age. So, in addition to examining the fish’s earstones, the North Dakota State University team also looked at individual fish’s body markings to see if pigmentation could give clues about the fish’s age. Of the study’s fish, the markings were almost never found on fish younger than 32, yet were almost always present on fish older than 45. Black markings are thought to be obtained from sun exposure over time, and orange spots are thought to result from the fish’s diet, both environmental factors that can be influenced by water quality.

Finally, the North Dakota State University team estimated the reproductive maturity of bigmouth buffalo. Forty-four of the study’s fish were examined for this objective; 14 were male while 30 were female. The onset of sexual maturity was estimated at 5 – 6 years for males and 8 – 9 years for females, but may have been underestimated for females. This finding contradicts previous studies of the species that indicated bigmouth buffalo may reach maturity as early as the first year of growth.

Not only does this study shatter our perceptions of bigmouth buffalo longevity, it also shows that the fish mature at a later age than previously thought, and suggests that age classes may not reproduce each year. Another study in North Dakota confirmed that bigmouth buffalo exhibit what is called “episodic” or irregular recruitment, and that it is related to environmental conditions. The fish have occasional years of spawning success separated by periods of poor reproduction for a decade or more. They also found that in North Dakota, the onset of sexual maturity is 6 years for males and 10 years for females. As a large-bodied and long-lived species with few natural predators, this slow-paced life history strategy is considered a suitable one. The new life history information on bigmouth buffalo, and similar data specific to Oklahoma, can help biologists better understand and collect further data to manage this species, and other species like it, in Oklahoma.

2019 was a big year for buffalo news. Three weeks before the North Dakota State University study was published in late May 2019, an Oklahoma angler caught his own record-breaking buffalo. Hugh M. Newman caught a 66-pound female smallmouth buffalo from Broken Bow Reservoir. This new Oklahoma record was estimated to be 62 years old, and is thought to be the oldest reported smallmouth buffalo.

— The Fishing Wire

On the south end...  Walleyes were active this week.  Some warm weather hit the north country and the fish responded nicely.  Jigging with a live fathead minnow or frozen shiner vertically jigged or drifting spinners with a minnow or crawler in 15-29 feet of water has been the ticket for most walleye anglers. 

Snelled spinners or harnesses work well all summer into the fall and also is a really good way to cover water.  They are also versatile as they can be fished shallow to deep.  1.0 - 1.25 mph is a good speed, as long as the spinner is spinning.

Colors to start out with... hammered gold by itself or with another color, pink, glow red, orange and chartreuse.  All good colors in the stained waters.

Trolling crankbaits is gaining steam with very good results.  A great way to cover water.  Get the lure where walleyes are living and hang on!

On the Rainy River...   Some good walleye fishing on the river.  Most anglers fishing the river are locals or folks with smaller boats or on windy days.  Although many walleyes head back to the lake after the spawn, not all do!   There is 42 miles of navigable Rainy River from the mouth at Wheeler's Point to Birchdale which is 26 miles east of Baudette.

Most anglers jigging with a minnow with spinners and crankbaits starting to perform well. 

Multispecies in the river.  Smallmouth bass in rocky or slack water areas.  Pike in bays.  Sturgeon season opens again July 1st. 

Up at the NW Angle...  Great walleye fishing continues around the Angle.  Fish coming from 14-25 feet of water.  A lot of fish being caught in the mud, but plenty around structure as well.

Jigging with a minnow and drifting with spinners the go to methods.  Not as many anglers pulling crankbaits but they are working.  Much like the south end, Gold or gold mixed with another color has been effective this week.

With the Canada border still closed, there are many ways to get up to the Angle. 

1.  The LOW Passenger Service, charter boat shuttle service from the south end, is open and running.  2.  If you have the right boat and expertise, boating across is an option.  3.  And finally, Lake Country Air flying service, a float plane service out of Baudette and other locations. 

A complete list of lodging and fishing packages available in Baudette, on the Rainy River, south shore of Lake of the Woods and up at the NW Angle at

Just great fishing going on around Pierre with most boats (a lot) catching plenty of limits of fish. I finished guiding the Roses with Scott and Ann bringing along his brother Gene and wife Janet to full limits of walleye plus one day of catfishing/northern fishing. They had their full limits of walleye in the first to days hence the catfish trip. Then went on to guide Terry Nelson and son from Ida Grove Iowa to full possession limits of walleye. We caught all the walleye on nightcrawler/spinner rigs or pulling plugs in around 8 fow. We caught the northern /catfish in around 4 fow on smelt rigs. Lots of fish and lots of fun for both of these groups . The fish this year have a real nice average size on both Sharpe and Oahe and I look forward to a very good year here. Some hot weather a head this next week so remember sun screen and water. Bug spry in the boat can help. I use horse stable spray and if you spray it periodically it does help. I know Bermuda shorts are comfortable to wear in the summer months but if you are going out in them bring along some sweat pants or long pants to slip on if flies get biting. Spending a day slapping flies isn't that much fun.


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