John N. Lowe — a fisheries pioneer/Tom Rozich

John Nicholas Lowe could logically be called the Douglas Houghton of fish exploration in the Upper Peninsula. The most extensive early collection of Michigan fish, primarily in the Upper Peninsula, was made by Mr. Lowe.

It was obtained by him from 1920 through 1938 and is historically significant. Fisheries biologists today still utilize his data in writing watershed assessments and implementing management strategies. Kudos to Professor Lowe.

John N. Lowe was born in Princeton, Wis., on Oct. 14, 1885. He received a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1912 and after teaching stints in Wisconsin, California, and Texas, accepted a position to teach biology at Northern State Teachers College (now Northern Michigan University) in 1919.

Soon after arriving in Marquette, he began random fish collections, but then began a quest to determine the fish fauna of the Upper Peninsula. Much of the collecting was done by Professor Lowe through seining, with local help, some done by his students, and some with the assistance of commercial fishermen on Lake Superior. Due to his activities, many areas of the U.P. were well sampled, with most of the region’s species of fish obtained.

His body of work is astounding when one looks at the actual sampling sites, realizing that travel in those days was difficult at best.

Many of the samples collected were sent to the Institute for Fisheries Research, in Ann Arbor, where they still reside as historical data. Lowe was an advisor to the Michigan Department of Conservation. He died on July 27, 1938.

Lowe’s collections were made in all of the U.P. counties except Gogebic. He made 382 collections in total and identified 70 species and 8 hybrids. Menominee County had the most collections with 146, followed by Marquette (64), Keweenaw (41), and Houghton (33), which is more than 74 percent of the collections. He also did some sampling in the northern Lower Peninsula, mainly on the Boardman River in Grand Traverse County.

Species collected by family were as follows: Lamprey-4, Lake sturgeon-1, whitefish-2, trout/salmon-5, mudminnow-1, pike-1, sucker-7, minnow-22 and 5 hybrids, catfish-4, killifish-1, burbot-1, troutperch-1, bass/panfish-7 and 2 hybrids, perch-10 and 1 hybrid, sculpin-3, and stickleback-2.

Most of the Menominee County collections were made in conjunction with the Michigan Land Economic Survey. He sampled 106 lakes and streams in the county, finding 48 of the 153 species of fish found in Michigan. One noteworthy species found is the tadpole madtom, which my last column indicated was not found in the U.P. Correction made. This county has the most species because many typically southern species were found.

Marquette County had the second-most collections, probably due to the fact he taught there and had student help. He sampled 54 individual water bodies (37 total species), including Uncle Tom’s Pond, which John Voelker a.k.a. Robert Traver made famous.

However, he did not collect any brook trout there, only sculpins and brook sticklebacks, due to the type of sampling, which was seining.

Keweenaw County is third on the list with 41 collections from 37 different water bodies and included 37 species. Almost all of the lakes were sampled, including Manitou Lake on Manitou Island. He found six species there golden shiners, rock bass, yellow perch, Iowa darters, slimy sculpin, and brook sticklebacks.

Houghton County had 33 individual collections, many of which targeted the Otter River’s grayling population at the request of the Conservation Department. The data he recorded will be part of future columns on the Michigan grayling. He collected 39 individual species from 22 water bodies. A noteworthy collection was a young sturgeon from Otter Lake, which may indicate good nursery habitat.

A collection of personal interest was that in Lake Perrault, where much of my youth was spent. He found only mud minnows and finescale dace.

My fishing experiences there found pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, and largemouth. Very large bass, as my mother’s brother Charlie caught a 5-pounder and had it in our bathtub. Mother was less than pleased, but not me!

For the curious, a summary of Lowe’s collections can be found online.

Go Fish!