Category Archives: Finger Lakes Articles

Fish Species Present in 1909 (According to Reed and Wright)

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Fish Species Present in 1909
(According to Reed and Wright)

Petromyzontidae (the lampreys)
Sea lamprey
Brook lamprey (non parasitic)

Acipenseridae (sturgeons)
Lake sturgeon

Lepisosteidae (gars)
Long-nosed gar

Amiidae (bowfins)

Ictaluridae (North American catfishes)
Spotted catfish (channel cat)
Yellow bullhead
Long-jawed catfish
Common (brown) bullhead
Tadpole cat
Brindled madtom (recent)

Catostomidae (suckers)
White sucker
Hog sucker
Chub sucker
Red horse sucker

Cyprinidae (minnows)
Red-bellied dace
Blunt-nosed minnow
Fall fish
Creek chub
Black-chinned minnow
Cayuga minnow
Varying-toothed minnow
Straw-colored minnow
Swallow-tailed minnow
Spot-tailed minnow
Silverfin minnow
Red-fin minnow
Blood tailed minnow
Black-nosed dace
Horney head chub
Cutlip minnow
Common carp

Anguillidae (freshwater eels)
American eel

Clupeidae (Herring family)
Alewife (sawbelly)
Gizzard Shad (recently reported)

Salmonidae (trouts and salmons)
Common whitefish (cisco?)
Brown trout
Rainbow trout
Brook trout
Lake trout
Atlantic Salmon

Osmeridae (smelt)
Rainbow smelt

Umbridae (mudminnows)

Esocidae (pikes)
Chain pickerel
Northern pike

Fundulidae (killifishes)
Banded killifish

Gasterosteidae (sticklebacks)
Brook stickleback

Percopsidae (troutperches)
Trout perch Over

Atherinopsidae (silversides)
Brook silversides

Centrarchidae (sunfishes)
Black crappie
Rock bass
Green sunfish
Pumpkin seed
Smallmouth bass
Largemouth bass

Percidae (perches)
Yellow perch
Manitou darter
Johnny darter
Tessellated darter
Fan-tailed darter

Moronidae (basses)
White bass

Cottidae (sculpins)
Eastern slimy sculpin
Miller’s thumb

Gadidae (cods)

New to Basin

Sciaenidae (drums)
Freshwater drum (sheepshead, mid 20th century)

Gobidae (gobies)
round goby (21st century)?
TOTALS: 71 species representing 24 families

The Lake Sturgeon (Acepenser fulvescens)

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo
This year, two different friends of mine have seen two different specimens of sturgeon in Cayuga Lake. Unfortunately, both fish were dead. Although  indigenous and once abundant in Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, and the canals, the species is now rare. The Acepenser are large, scary looking lunkers that may reach seven feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds. Both specimens reported were about five feet – one floating and one at the bottom. Even though a stocking program has recently been underway in New York State both specimens should have been well over several decades old and were probably not of stocked origin.

Because of their formidable appearance, the species is often used as an attempted explanation for sightings of “Old Greenie” in Cayuga, as well as the legendary “Seneca Lake Monster.” However, both “monsters” were reported to have had teeth. Sturgeons only have mouths with some big lips. Indeed, even though the mouth area is quite serious looking, it is a harmless but useful tool for the fish. The mouth and lips, located on the ventral side of the gentle beast, are protrusable. They are preceded by four sensory barbels (fleshy whiskers) that can detect food in the bottom material along with the electroreceptive snout of the fish. This well adapted ingestive structure and its accessories are able discover, suck up, and strain out the food organisms from bottom material. This enables the sturgeon to produce some of the most prized flesh among all fresh water species. In addition its eggs are highly revered as caviar. These delectable attributes are undoubtedly responsible for the decline of sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes Basin.

Sturgeons are slow growing but may attain ages of more than 200 years. They reach sexual maturity after about 20 years. It is no wounder that after such a long wait for sex, that they may release some 3 million eggs in one season.

Acepenser fulvescens is of biological interest because, like the gars (previous watershed edition), it represents a very primitive group of fishes that has been present throughout most of the earth’s biogeologic history. Because if its large size, the lake sturgeon has been wrapped with many undeserving titles such as the “jaws,” “wretched beastie” and “monster.” Because of its harmless, non-aggressive nature, however, it might more appropriately be referred to as “lips.”

Edited by Susan Backlund
Source: Hubbs and Lagler; Fishes of the Great Lakes Region 2004
© copyright Mel Russo 2016

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo
A unique feature of Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake is the splendid canal which connects the two largest Finger Lakes. This amazing engineering feat of its time not only links the lakes to each other, but also allows access to the rest of the world’s waterways. A boat on Seneca Lake needs to descend approximately a mere 25 feet through the locks in Waterloo, then another 50 feet through two consecutive lock systems in Seneca Falls. The canal leads to the north end of Cayuga Lake where one may enter the rest of the Barge Canal system by descending about 11 feet at “Mud Lock”and pass by Montezuma Refuge into the Oswego River system to Lake Ontario and points beyond.
Prior to the building of this original part of the Barge (Erie) Canal system circa 1820, there was a natural waterway between the two lakes described by early explorers as a “babbling brook.” Settlers as late as the 18th century, record that the babbling brook was overflowing with Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), originally a native of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes and their tributary streams, as well as Oneida Lake. Writings of early inhabitants of the Finger Lakes area report that the salmon were so plentiful that they were able to fill a boat in a short time by simply clubbing the fish with their paddles. The original stock population of this species was able to ascend the Oswego River from Lake Ontario and go as far west as Seneca Lake. Because of the rather severely vertical waterfalls of the Keuka Outlet, the species was unable to penetrate into Keuka Lake. The canal and the many mills constructed along the old waterways put an abrupt end to the to the copious and natural reproduction of salmon in our area.
According to early writings, the common eel (non-parasitic, Anguilla rostrata) was also exceedingly plentiful in the Finger Lakes prior to the construction of the canal. Waterloo was referred to by our “native” Cayuga Indians as “the place of the eel taking” as they sited the village in their land claim against New York State initiated in the early 1980’s. This, we assume, was a traditional location along the brook that the eels could be more easily captured by hand, as they ascended the face of the rock formation that created the falls.
The Cayuga-Seneca Canal was restructured around 1915*, leaving the remnants of the original canal bed still observable in the proximity of the banks of the existing canal banks. From an ecological standpoint, the canal systems spelled disaster for much of the existing, 10,000 year old ecosystems which had developed in the Finger Lakes Region. The fast flowing, highly oxygenated, clear waters of the rivers and brooks were transformed into more sluggish, cloudier, and less aerated water characteristic of our canals. Scores of more quiet water fishes including parasitic sea lampreys, the common carp, and other “invasive species” were able to access our waterways, disrupting an ancient ecosystem that was initiated and originated since the recession of the last glacier.
Nevertheless, much natural life continues to thrive in our Finger Lakes area; and it’s a great place to live.
• Where are the “Falls” in Seneca Falls? Answer: between the locks. Van Cleef Lake, a small man-made lake to the west of the locks in Seneca Falls, was created around 1915, prior to the restructuring and completion of the “piggyback” locks in Seneca Falls. The flooding of this area of the canal previously known as “the flats” is celebrated each year in August in Seneca Falls.
© Mel Russo All rights Reserved.

Land, A Most Valuable Resource

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo
The Malthusian Theory, originating in the late 18th century, appears to be on hold, temporarily in time, because of some circumstances unforeseen by the English economist. The popular theory predicted that by the new millennium, population (growing exponentially) would outstrip food supply (growing arithmetically). In the 20th century, prices of farmland as well as grain and food prices remained essentially constant for nearly fifty years. At the turn of the century, prices of both farmland and grain commodities doubled and even tripled in some cases after scores of years of price stagnation; this was because cultural practices of fertilization, herbicide and pesticide application, and improved drainage along with genetics have magnified the production of the land more than twofold.

As a result, prices of grains remained low because the supply exceeded the demand causing land prices to remain stable. For example, during the 1970’s, an above average yield of soybeans in Seneca County might be 35 bushels per acre. Today yields have reached 75 bushels per acre on the same land. Accordingly, farmland in the 1970’s was approximately $250- 400 per acre whereas today, plain, good farm land for grains in Seneca County has approached and, in a few instances, far exceeded $5000 per acre for highly productive cropland. For years, however, the price of large quantities of farmland remained relatively low, selling at about $1200 per acre in the early1990’s until most recently selling in the $3500-$4000 per acre for good, well-drained cropland.

  1. Other factors can affect the value of the farmland:
    The size of the field for accessibility to large equipment is a plus, a principle known as “the economies of scale.”
  2. The number of acres in a purchase; the greater the number of acres, the less purchase price per acre. Fewer acres command higher purchase price per acre, another example of the above law of economics.
  3. Proximity to existing large farms, farming families or expanding enterprises: the greater the closeness, the higher the price per acre.
  4. Soil types and their respective drainage and production capabilities. Good drainage and production 
 capabilities bring higher prices.
  5. Proximity and view to a larger Finger Lake. Proper, uninterrupted slope to the lake can provide extraordinary air drainage to soften extreme cold in fall and winter thereby protecting the sensitive vinifera varieties of grapes. Conversely, air circulation in spring from the cool lakes delays early budding of our precious fruits to protect them from early freeze. If the land slopes to a Finger Lake, it can sell for as much as $10,000 per acre, depending on the above other factors and if it is cleared.
  6. Road frontage and lake frontage: the more frontage, the higher the price per acre.
  7. Current commodity prices as well as futures outlook: higher commodity prices with a stable outlook, raise the price of farm land.
  8. Interest rates: lower interest rates may stimulate higher sale prices.

Who could have thought, that the price of land would rise from less than a penny per acre in 1789 to up to $10,000 per acre today.* Even scrub and woodlands have become more valuable at up to $2000 per acre again, depending on the number of acres and the degree of maturity of forest land. Some are even purchasing non-tillable land at top prices and clearing it.

Meanwhile, the Malthusian theory has yet to materialize for the economist did not foresee the improved agricultural practices and developments, especially genetic modifications to both plant and animal food sources that dramatically increased food productivity. In addition, he did not interpolate the vast amounts of rain forests, deciduous forest and coniferous forests that were to be cleared in the years to come for the production of food for humans. Swamps, deserts, and hedgerows have also been brought into production, all at the cost, unfortunately, of millions of interrelated species that inhabit these specialized ecosystems. Furthermore, Malthus did not take into account the practice of birth control, both that imposed by governments and societies, as well as that resulting from voluntary implementation, especially in more affluent cultures. Nevertheless, various peoples around the world are starving, mostly for political reasons, even though after all this time, there is a surplus of food.

If you would like your farm and/or home evaluated by the most experienced Realtor in the business, call Mel Russo at 315- 568-9404, 315-246-3997 or any Senecayuga Properties agent.

* New York State paid the Cayuga Indian Nation the premium price for the times of $500 for 64,000 acres (= $.078 per acre) in 1789.

© 2016  Mel Russo  All Rights Reserved.

The Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo

The gar is an infrequently encountered scary looking fish found commonly in many of the Finger Lakes. Originally colonizing the Great Lakes Basin approximately 10,000 years ago via ancient connections with the Mississippi River, the species represents a very primitive group of fishes covered with a thick, tough armor of ganoid (rhomboid) scales. Its scientific name, Lepisosteus osseus, is Latin for spotted, hard, bony skin. It is thought that PaleoAmericans used the hard skin as a shield in battle. (Perhaps the odor, alone, repelled their attackers!)

The long, narrow bill of the gar is well endowed with a multitude of sharp, conical teeth which are used to initially grasp and pierce its prey of mostly smaller fish, which, when limp, are then turned head first to be swallowed. The beak is also equipped with electroreceptors to aid in locating its edible subjects, which it attacks with a lightning-swift motion. Since the eyes of the beast are located laterally, this extra sensory ability of the beak is a very useful, well adapted sense, especially in detecting any live, tasty meals anterior to the fish. The feeding ambush is quite a big surprise to the carefree victim, thinking that it was swimming by a seemingly inert, big stick.

Accordingly, the Lepisostidae can be easily mistaken for a floating small log or stick, if young. This unwittingly but masterful misconception occurs because gars commonly bask in the sun enjoying the warmth at the surface of the shallows in summer, while awaiting feeding opportunities in a perfect state of motionlessness. During this time, the head, beak and nostrils of the fish are exposed directly to the air which, uniquely, it can breathe through to its air bladder specifically for respiration, quite unlike any other fish. This process is performed while sunning at the surface, in tepid waters that are low in dissolved oxygen. The internal anatomy of the gar is unusually well adapted to air breathing in that the swim bladder, normally a thin balloon-like sack used by most fish for buoyancy, is specially equipped with a vascular system. This allows diffusion of oxygen straight from the air into the blood, thereby supplementing the gills. This is thought to be an embryological, rudimentary origin of the lungs that are used by higher vertebrates for respiration.

longnose garAlthough in the Finger Lakes gars may obtain lengths of up to five feet and over 25 pounds, they are seldom caught by anglers because of their narrow, tough beak. They are harmless to humans, however, unless you eat their green eggs (with no relation to “Green Eggs and Ham”of Dr. Seuss) which are poisonous. Any organism that chooses to eat the roe is promptly removed from the gene pool and further allows this exceedingly and magnificently well adapted, ancient fish to persist further into modern times as yet another unappreciated anomaly of the Finger Lakes. To view one of these primordial piscavores you should buy some lake property or some real estate near a public park from Senecayuga Properties:  315-568-9404

Sources:  Hubbs and Lagler: Fishes of the Great lakes Region, 2004
Peterson: Field Guide to North American Fishes, 1991
© 2016   Mel Russo   All rights Reserved.

The Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus)

MelRusso(Percopsis omiscomaycus)

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

The eastern slimy sculpin (family Cottidae) is a little known tiny, thumb-shaped fish, not exceeding
four inches in length, that commonly inhabits the shallows of our Finger Lakes. It has large, fan-like pectoral fins as well as over-sized, prominent dorsal and anal fins. The creature is mostly a benthic organism, briefly darting only short distances, a few inches above the bottom, capturing aquatic insects, small fish, and crustaceans as food.

The sculpin is so highly adapted to living in the rocky shoals that the swim bladder (a balloon-like internal organ in fish used for buoyancy) is nonexistent. In addition, because of its masterful camouflage, this little, slippery organism is essentially invisible except during its quick, food gathering swim-spurts or when spooked inadvertently by an aquatic passer-by. Furthermore, the relatively large, bulging eyes of the fish are located superolaterally (on top/side) and give the sculpin a multidirectional, 180 degree view of the world above, while ingeniously mimicking the lake bottom. This allows Cottus cognatus to swiftly and effectively ambush its unsuspecting prey from below.

Another interesting habit of the fish is that the female spawns its orange colored eggs by sticking them to the underside of any rock, which the male prepares as a nest to which the female is attracted. After fertilizing the eggs, the male bravely guards the nest until the eggs hatch, while the female goes off and has a big time feeding in its traditional, crafty way.

The sculpin is an important native food fish for lake trout, especially in springtime, when both creatures are in the cool rocky shoals of the lakes. The plentiful presence of the eastern slimy sculpin in a lake is an indicator of good quality water. Because of its color, broad shaped, flattened mouth, and mostly scaleless skin, it is called the “stonecat.” However, it is not a member of the catfish family.

The “blob,” as it is also known, has been recently threatened by the round goby, an invasive competitor. In addition, success of its spawning habits are at the mercy of manipulated lake levels as well as any heavy siltation of the lakes.

To become closer to this magnificently adapted, wonderful Finger Lakes anomaly, you should buy some lake property or some other real estate near a public park from Senecayuga Properties, LLC, the Finger Lakes specialists. 315-568-9404

References: Hubbs; Fishes of the Great lakes Region, 2004
Palmer; Field Book of Natural History, 1975
Image: http;//www.wikipedia/images/slimysculpin
© Mel Russo 2016 All Rights Reserved

The Troutperch

MelRusso(Percopsis omiscomaycus)

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

The troutperch is a small, spotted fish rarely exceeding 5 inches in length. It frequents the shoals and mouths of streams in the Finger Lakes area. The creature is so named because it has a spiny- rayed dorsal fin like a perch, and a soft adipose fin between the dorsal and the tail fin, similar to a trout. In addition, the scales of this fish are somewhat soft and fine, like those of a trout, but ctenoid such as those of a perch. It is NOT a hybrid but truly an intermediate form of its own, between the salmon family and the perch family.

During the day, the troutperch is unseen as it inhabits the deeper, darker parts of our lakes. At night, however, it makes its diurnal migration to the shallows where it discretely forages for small crustaceans and larvae. It is valuable as an indigenous food fish for trouts, salmon, pike, and bass as well as a great evolutionary specimen for taxonomists.

This is why you should buy a lantern along with a Senecayuga lake property: Then you can see this wonderful Finger Lakes anomaly! Senecayuga Properties 315-568-9404

The Magic of Water

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo


Water is a polar molecule. It has a partially negative pole at the oxygen end, and two partially positive poles at each of the hydrogen ends. This polarity of the water molecule is caused by the unequal sharing of electrons between the atoms, oxygen getting the best of it. It is for this reason that ionic substances such as table salt, phosphates, and nitrates as well slightly polarized materials like sugar and alcohol will dissolve in water.

The resulting attraction between the oppositely charged ends of the water molecules allows this substance to exist as a liquid at temperate atmospheric conditions even though this molecule is much lighter (H2O,18 amu’s) than temparate gases like carbon dioxide (CO2, 44 amu’s)* and sulfur dioxide (SO2, 64 amu’s). The extra, inter-molecular attraction of water molecules is also responsible for the extra energy required to change the phase of the water from solid to liquid (40 cal/g) and from liquid to gas (240 cal/g). In the first instance, ice to liquid, the crystal lattice mus be broken. In the second, liquid to steam, the molecules must be separated to a greater distance, using more energy to break the intermolecular attraction.

There is, however, a more interesting quality of this unusual, earthly substance. Nearness to trickling streams, rivers, lakes, and especially waterfalls is naturally magical to humans and probably other animals. This is because H2O, particularly when moving, creates a type of harmless electromagnetic radiation known as “negative ions” or an “ionization” of the air in the immediate vicinity of this liquid. The presence of these infinitely tiny, charged particles in the air around water invokes an uplifting sensation lending to a sense of well-being.. An additional benefit and most significant benefit is that these ions cleanse the air of positively charged particles including harmful bacteria, viruses, allergens, and spores.

So, besides covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface, being essential for life, constituting 70% of your body mass, and being a unique material in itself, water is a magical substance that makes you feel good, by just hanging out with it.

*Amu = atomic mass unit


Some Idyllic Falls from Around the Finger Lakes:

Photos courtesy of

The Finger Lakes in Perspective

MelRussoby Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Some of us would like to think that we live around the best, or maybe the biggest, or perhaps the deepest, or possibly the longest Finger Lake. Sometimes when we think we’re in the superlative, it’s good to review the statistics and put everything into perspective.

There are eleven Finger Lakes in all. These are listed from east to west in the table below. Seneca is the deepest at 650′, while Cayuga is the longest at 40 miles. As we review the data on these two “giant” bodies of water as  compared to the rest of the Finger Lakes, we can sense a feeling of pride since we do live near the deepest, the longest and the largest of Finger Lakes.

One should wonder why the most expensive lake properties are not located on the deepest, largest, and least crowded of the Finger Lakes. In contrast, Keuka, Canandaigua, and Skaneateles seem to carry the highest priced properties by a factor of 2x even though these lakes are relatively pint sized compared to Seneca and Cayuga. Moreover Seneca and Cayuga offer navigable access to the Barge Canal system.

On the other hand, when compared to the Great Lakes, even the largest of the Finger Lakes is dwarfed. The Great Lakes, which contain 20% of the planet’s liquid fresh water, are the largest contiguous mass of fresh water in the world.

Finger Lakes
Lake Max depth in feet Length in miles Width in miles Surface area in square miles Suface elevation in feet above sea level
Conesius 59′ 7.8 mi. 0.8 mi. 5.6 sq. mi. 818′
Hemlock 96′ 7.3 mi. 0.5 mi. 3.2 sq. mi. 905′
Canadice 91′ 3.2 mi. 0.5 mi. 1.3 sq. mi 1099′
Honeoye 35′ 4.1 mi 0.8 mi 3.5 sq. mi. 818′
Canandaigua 273′ 17.6 mi. 1.5 mi. 17.6 sq.mi. 687′
Keuka 186′ 19.6 mi. 2.2 mi. 22.3 sq.mi 709′
Seneca 650′ 34.5 mi. 3.2 mi. 73.9 sq.mi 444′
Cayuga 435′ 40 mi. 3.5 mi. 76.4 sq.mi 384′
Owasco 177′ 11.1 mi. 1.3 mi. 10.0 sq. mi. 710′
Skaneatles 287′ 15.1 mi. 1.4 mi. 14 sq. mi. 867′
Otisco 66′ 5.4 mi. 0.8 mi. 3.8 sq. Mi 784′
Great Lakes
Lake Max depth in feet Length in miles Width in miles Surface area in square miles Suface elevation in feet above sea level
Ontario 778′ 7,540 sq. mi. 246′
Erie 210′ 9,930 sq. mi. 572′
Michigan 924′ 22,400 sq. mi. 580′
Huron 750′ 23,010 sq. mi. 580′
Superior 1,333′ 31,820 sq. mi. 602′

• some of the Finger Lakes are calculated from scale
Sources: VonEngel 1961
Hubbs and Lagler 2004

© copyright Mel Russo 2015