Fishery biologists from the Kalispel Tribe of Northeast Washington will today brief members of the Northwest Power & Conservation Council on the “exponential” growth of northern pike in the Pend Oreille River.
They estimate that there are now from 8,000 to 10,000 in Box Canyon Reservoir between Ione and Newport alone, up from 300 or so in 2004.
Citing data that shows the average length of sampled fish has declined from 33 inches in 2006 to 19 inches this year, tribal biologists also say “the ‘glory days’ of trophy pike are behind us.”
Now, the worry is that the voracious and easy to catch predators will “undermine” massive investments in the restoration of native species in the basin, affect the tribe’s largemouth bass program, and move further down the Columbia system.
Indeed, a roughly 3-year-old pike was landed in Lake Roosevelt last month and the tribe’s Jason Connor doesn’t think it was the only one in the massive reservoir.
According to a PowerPoint presentation to be given to the NPCC at the Northern Quest Resort in Airway Heights, Wash., this morning, the Kalispels hope to secure long-term funding for pike suppression and population monitoring, get northerns designated as an invasive species, promote and reward harvest, and make retention mandatory.
Some of that would require cooperation with the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, which is watching developments closely.
At the same time, interest in the rare fishery has skyrocketed. Angler use of the reservoir has grown from an estimated 4,000 hours a year in 1990 to 76,000 hours in 2010, according to tribal stats. And variations of “Pend Oreille pike” are among the search terms bringing the most viewers to our WordPress site’s archived articles.
In summer, fishing’s good from boat or bank whether you’re dangling dead baitfish under a float or throwing anything from high-dollar stickbaits to broomsticks with hooks.
And it is drawing fishermen from as far away as Puyallup.
That’s where Kevin Bye is from. He made a mid-July run over, catching a couple in Tacoma Slough on spoons, and plans on making a return trip in the next month.
But at the same time that he’s hoping to hang a 20-plus-pounder, he’s also concerned about overpopulation and other issues.
“On one hand, it’s a great fishery and certainly offers up something unique that the rest of the state doesn’t have,” Bye said via email yesterday. “On the other hand, I’m concerned about what impact they could have if and when they make it into the Columbia. I figure it could take some time for them to get through (Lake) Roosevelt and I agree with the article in Northwest Sportsman about the northerns having a difficult time reproducing in there. There certainly are some big northerns hanging out in the river, but there needs to be some serious thinning of the herd with the juveniles.”