The “godfather of saugeye” in Oklahoma is leaving the science lab for good.
After more than 43 years with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation — 31 as the director for the Oklahoma Fishery Research Laboratory in Norman — Greg Summers is retiring from the only job he ever wanted.
“The job I have today was the job I wanted in 1970,” Summers said.
During his tenure as the Wildlife Department's fish scientist, Summers conducted research on almost every sport fish in the state and was responsible for much of the analysis that led to the current fishing regulations in the state.
The Wildlife Department is losing more than 70 years of experience on Dec. 31 as Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries, also is leaving to take the position as national conservation director for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS).
Gilliland worked at ODWC for more than 31 years.
Their departure from the agency leaves a big void to fill, said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department.
“There are no better fishery biologists in the department than Greg and Gene,” he said.
Summers, 62, introduced saugeye to Oklahoma waters after hearing about the successes of the new hybrid — a cross between sauger and walleye — in Ohio and Tennessee.
Saugeye were first stocked in Lake Thunderbird in Norman in 1986 to control the crappie population.
The lake was abundant with crappie — the most sought-after fish by Oklahoma anglers — but so crowded that the fish were not growing very big.
“We had 4-inch crappie that were 5 years old,” Summers said. “We needed to thin them down so the rest of them would have less competition for food.”
Saugeye proved to be the perfect predator.
“By 1989, crappie were on their way to improving big time,” he said.
As a result, Lake Thunderbird turned into a top-notch crappie lake and saugeye became another sport fish for Oklahoma anglers to pursue.
Saugeye have now been added to at least two dozen lakes in Oklahoma.
Summers was still a student at the University of Oklahoma when he first joined the Wildlife Department.
His first job was drawing maps of the lakes in the state, tracing the boundaries from old U.S. Army Corps of Engineer maps and “anyplace I could get data,” he said. “Back in the '70s, it was hard to get information.”