Bigmouth Buffalo Fish

According to Wikipedia, the bigmouth buffalo fish is the largest North American species in the Catostomidae or “sucker” family, and is one of the longest-lived and latest-maturing freshwater fishes, capable of living beyond 110 years and reproduces infrequently.

It was a sight to behold, and one that hasn’t been seen in McLeod County since the infant years of settlement. On a warm spring morning, with mist rising from the slow rolling waters of the Crow River, schools of bigmouth buffalo fish, numbering in the thousands, would make their way up the river and blacken the water like a thunder cloud. They had dominion over the stream, and literally stacked themselves atop one another from bank to bank, so thickly that their fins crested the water’s surface. They came to spawn, to rejuvenate their finned community with young. Awaiting them were early McLeod County fishermen, eager to bag as many fish as possible.

The buffalo fish is one that is most often passed over today. It’s a scaly fish, the largest of the sucker family, and one that can grow up to four feet in length and is capable of living longer than a human. It’s often gray, or even yellow/gold in color and is frequently mistaken for the common carp. On its back and head are lightly colored black and orange markings that intensify with age. They are bottom dwellers, residing in lakes, rivers and streams, and survive well in areas with low oxygen and warm temperatures. The fish is overlooked as a rough fish by most Minnesota fisherman today, yet in other parts of the United States, as well as the world, the buffalo fish is highly sought after for table fare.

— Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. Admission is free. For more information, call the museum at 320-587-2109.