Meetings To Be Held On PO Pike

We’ll have a big article on Pend Oreille River northern pike in our May issue, but if you want to dive into the hot topic now, set aside the evening of April 19 or 20 and head for Newport or Spokane.

Biologists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians’ Natural Resources Department will discuss the non-native predator’s expansion into the Northeast Washington river as well as other Eastside waters.

An early March article in the Newport Miner says they’ve turned up in two Spokane County lakes. A WDFW manager in Olympia would not reveal either waters’ name except to say that the fish could not have arrived without a little help.

“It’s a really, really horrific thing to do,” Warmwater Program manager Bruce Bolding told reporter Janelle Atyeo.

The pike meetings will also be held to take public input on control options — a sport reward fishery is on the table — to minimize their impacts on native fish.

STOMACH CONTENTS OF A PEND OREILLE RIVER PIKE. KALISPEL TRIBAL FISHERIES BIOLOGIST JASON CONNOR TELLS OUR REPORTER LEROY LEDEBOER, “EVEN AN 8-INCH JUVENILE PIKE CAN EAT THE FINGERLINGS OF OTHER FISH, AND THEY GROW FAST. BY 15 INCHES IT CAN EAT ADULT PERCH, AND A 24-INCH PIKE CAN EASILY CONSUME 15-INCH TROUT. PLUS, THEIR APPETITES ARE INCREDIBLE. WE’VE CAUGHT PIKE WITH UP TO 15 FISH IN THEIR BELLIES. (JASON CONNOR, KNRD)

The Miner‘s article sparked a whole lot of talk on WashingtonLakes.com, and its statement that  control methods wouldn’t be up for public comment got the attention of local state Senator Bob Morton, who got the attention of WDFW honchoes, who got the attention of the warmwater program.

While the Pend Oreille River’s fishery does not appear to produce the trophies it once did, it does have an increasing following. One blog we did on it last June is the 16th most requested article on our WordPress site over the past year.

“Asking the tribe, or the state, to ‘manage’ pike would be similar to asking the State of Florida to manage Steelhead. I don’t care how much they were taught in school, they simply don’t have the experience or temperament to do it right,” wrote a poster going as Anglinarcher. “I propose the following signs: Hell no, the pike won’t go! Can you hear us now?”

There are echoes of the supposed illicit release of wolves in the Methow Valley in another person’s post. He talks about rumors that the tribe itself put the pike in the river 10 years ago to control pikeminnows.

KNRD Fisheries and Water Resources Director Joe Maroney has heard all that and more.

“We’ve been getting calls — I won’t say off the hook –about what’s going on,” he says. “There are some people who are pro pike and others are like, ‘How do we get rid of these things?'”

Maroney says that the pike are thought to have come down Montana’s Clark Fork River (which becomes the Pend Oreille River) through Lake Pend Oreille.

Biologists first captured a northern in 2004, although locals have known about them since the 1980s. One of my old roommates at Wazzu went on to be a USFS-Newport and Kalispell bio in the 1990s and early 2000s, and he mentioned them to me on occasion.

The first wandering pike found great feeding and little competition — and then they found love. With the “really good” spawning habitat in Box Canyon Reservoir, the population has increased sharply in recent years, says Maroney.

“It’s just amazing the number we got,” he says of netting within the past week. “The majority were between 20 and 24 inches.”

The big catch at a recent pike tournament was all of 24 inches, Maroney adds.

“It’s somewhat alarming — the shift to smaller fish,” he says.

WDFW and KNRD surveys have also documented a reduction in forage fish such as native minnows, whitefish and suckers, as well as non-native sportfish such as largemouth bass, according to a press release from WDFW.

Left unchecked, pike could severely impact other fish — including native westslope cutthroat and bull trout — and undermine efforts to restore native fish populations in the river system, WDFW says.

Control options that WDFW and KNRD are looking at include netting fish and donating them to local food banks, sport-reward fisheries, and fishing tournaments targeting pike.

“We included it (sport reward fisheries) to tell the locals that we’re not set on one control option,” controlled netting,” says Bill Baker, a WDFW district fish biologist in Colville.

How a reward program would be funded, however, is an open question.

“That we don’t know yet,” says Maroney.

Rather, he says, “It’s one of the tools or options that we want to talk with the public about.”

It could be modeled after programs on the Columbia for pikeminnow and Lake Pend Oreille for lake trout, but questions remain.

“How much do you give the anglers per fish, or is it for every tagged fish?” Maroney wonders.

With WDFW’s cash register empty, he says the tribe may have to explore grants.

If one thing is certain, it’s that managers are determined to prevent the spread and further illegal introduction of pike in Washington.

The fish can now be found “throughout” the Pend Oreille River and in Box Canyon and Boundary Reservoirs.

Beyond Boundary, the river takes a hard left, is plugged by a pair of BC dams, and then dumps into the Columbia just north of the international border.

“Our immediate concern is predation on native westslope cutthroat and bull trout,” said Baker, “but native salmon, steelhead and other species also could be at risk if pike migrate downstream and establish populations in the Columbia River. We’re also concerned about northern pike populations establishing in other Washington waters.”

Biologists will conduct population-assessment surveys in late April through May to determine the abundance of northern pike and other fish species in Box Canyon.

One survey will be a repeat of 2004’s reservoir-wide netting. It could be yield very important data about the direction all of Box Canyon’s fish stocks are headed.

“Once we get that information back, we’ll know a lot more,” says Bolding.

The meetings are slated for:

6-8 p.m., Tuesday, April 19, at Create Arts Center, 900 W. 4th St., in Newport
6-8 p.m., Wednesday, April 20, at Center Place, 2426 N. Discovery Place, in Spokane Valley

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3 Responses to “Meetings To Be Held On PO Pike”

  1. Yankin Jaw Guide Service Says:

    I dont agree with what there saying about the Pike reducing the number of Largemouth Bass on the PO River. I have been told from the biologist that the number of Bass in the Pike stomachs were in very very small numbers along with the number of trout. The main feed in the stomachs were perch,crappie,sunfish,pike minnow,peamouth. So lets not be lead to believe the Bass numbers are dropping because of the Pike. The number of Smallmouth on the river are also at a all time high and i suspect they are taking a tole on the the other fish as well. Why arent we concerned about the number of Smallmouth…We need everyone to attend the meetings they are having…Yankin Jaw Guide Service

  2. Yankin Jaw Guide Service Says:

    Also look at the pic of the Pikes stomach content and thats what you expect to see no bass and no trout. The river is not trout waters like it was before the dams were put in. The part that isnt being told is the plan to install fish ladders in the dams for the small number of trout that are still in the river. Before they can install the ladders they need to remove the Pike or they will end up in waters they dont want them in. I think we all need to to understand that the Eastside of Washington loves it Bass,Pike and Walleye as well as Trout. We want to be able to fish for all these species. Long live Pike and Muskie

  3. Mark K Says:

    I would just like to point out that in the picture of the Pend Oreille River Pike’s stomach content Jason Connor says “By 15 inches, it can eat adult perch and a 24-inch pike can easily consume 15-inch trout. Plus, their appetites are incredible. We’ve caught pike with up to 15 fish in their bellies.”

    In the photo provided there are no trout, it looks like Perch, Pumpkinseed, and possibly a Crappie. None of these fish in the picture are native to the Pend Oreille River system. The fish they are concerned about are the West Slope Cut Throat, and the Bull trout. I think the photo provided to you by the Kallispel Tribe shows the same thing their studies do, the Pike are not eating the trout.

    The biggest problem the trout in the Pend Oreille River are facing is when they put Box Canyon Dam in in the 50’s, it effectively turned the river into a warm water fishery. Summer water temperatures are to warm for the trout. But species like the Large Mouth Bass (Non Native) flourished. Next came the Northern Pike and the Small Mouth Bass, and with the warm water and the multiple back bays and sloughs they seem to have found their “niche”.

    They are now showing a decline in Large Mouth Bass numbers in the river, but just like Long Lake in Spokane I think the finger can be pointed at the Small Mouth Bass. In a June 22nd 2008 Spokesman review article by Rich Landers, Joe Maroney, fisheries manager for the Kalispel Tribe was quoted saying “I’ve told the bass clubs that bass aren’t showing much in the pike diet at this time”, and he looks to be correct still today judging by the photo Mr. Connor graciously shared with everybody.

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