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Environment | Water

Reeling in the Northern Pike Population

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – Throw your line out in Box Canyon Reservoir, and you’ll likely find a northern pike on the other end. Over the past several years, the northern pike population has increased so rapidly that it’s hard to catch anything else. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimates these non-native fish have gone from a few hundred to around 10,000 over the past five years.

To control the population, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Kalispel Tribe Natural Resources Department plan to use a three-pronged approach to reduce the northern pike population by 87 percent. The plan includes:

  • Encouraging all anglers to fish for northern pike.

  • Gillnetting will begin in March by biologists with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. They expect to net a lot of fish and plan to use most of them as fertilizer in nurseries.

  • Holding cash-prize northern pike tournaments and derbies this summer.

Controlling the non-native northern pike is important because they can harm protected salmon and steelhead populations that traditionally call these waters home. If left to multiply, northern pike will eat the native fish in the area, until there are only northern pike left. At that point, they will begin to cannibalize themselves. Biologists hope the Box Canyon Reservoir population will not reach that point.

Newman Lake resident May Propst goes fishing two or three times a day. She’s fished for 30 years now, but it was only last year that she learned to hook northern pike. And since then, that’s about all she’s brought home.

“Last year I caught a big pike, and when I cut it open and gutted it, it had three small perch in its stomach,” she said.

“I used to be able to catch a lot of perch and trout, and now it’s not hardly there at all anymore. I think I caught one brown trout last year, period. Rest was all pike,” she said.

Northern pike are classified as an invasive species in Washington. A little more than 20 years ago, anglers illegally stocked some lakes in Montana with the fish, says John Whalen, regional fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

From Montana, the pike spread through the rest of the state, across to Idaho, and now they’re in northeastern Washington.

Courtesy of WDFW
Courtesy of WDFW
Flickr Creative Commons: moneycoach

Propst doesn’t need a tournament to catch pike – she’s caught up to five northern pike in a day. But she says she’d like to participate in one of the sporting events.

So far, the largest northern pike Propst has caught was 48 inches long and weighed 24 pounds. There’s a picture to prove it.

Fishing for northern pike has its challenges. Their weight and their sharp teeth change the game.

Propst shares some of her tips:

“You have to use a different rigor for catching pike versus trout,” she says. “You need a heavier pole because of the weight. And of course they’ve got teeth, so you’ve gotta stay away from the teeth. You need a steel leader – with the trout you don’t need that. … You don’t just fish with regular fishing line with the pike because they’ll take everything you got. I know I learned that really fast.”

Once you’ve reeled in your northern pike – it took Propst 30 to 45 minutes to bring in her big catch – you have to fillet the boney fish.

There are tons of videos that explain how to fillet a northern pike. The fish have lots of “y bones” that can be difficult to remove if the fish is cut incorrectly. Here is one video:

Here are some recipes: