By John Kruse
Looking for a unique summer job this year? Do you like to go fishing? If so, cast a line this summer in the Columbia and Snake Rivers for cash!
You’ll be fishing for the northern pike minnow, formerly known as the squawfish. There is a size-able population of these fish in both the Snake River from its outlet near Pasco to Clarkston. They are also found throughout the Columbia River system. One of their main sources of food are steelhead and salmon smolt migrating to the ocean. They are efficient predators of these important cold-water fish, so much so the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery was created to blunt the impacts of this predation.
The program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and run by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission in partnership with the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife. Eric Winther, the Project Lead for this program with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, says the goal is not to eradicate all pikeminnow (which are a native fish) but to manage their numbers to lessen predation to salmon and steelhead.
Here’s how the program works: From May through September you can turn in any pikeminnow over 9-inches long to one of the 18 catch stations located in the lower and mid-Columbia or the Snake River to Clarkston.
Each pikeminnow you turn in is worth a cash voucher. You’ll receive $5 per pikeminnow for the first 25 fish you turn in. After that, you’ll receive $6 for each pikeminnow you turn in until you get to 200 pikeminnow for the season. Then, every pikeminnow is worth $8 for the rest of the annual season. In addition to this, if you catch a tagged pikeminnow you have a reason to be excited because these fish are worth $500 each!
Last year was relatively slow as far as pikeminnow seasons go but 2018 was more representative of an average year. In 2018 nearly 200 tagged fish were turned in (That’s $10,000 right there) and a total of 180, 273 pikeminnow were turned in for cash. There are anglers who make this their life’s work as the season runs from May through September and for some anglers it really pays off. In 2016 the top angler earned over $119,000 fishing for pikeminnow in five months and even the lower end of the top 20 anglers routinely make $15,000 to $20,000. That’s pretty good for a summer of fishing fun.
All of the fish have to be caught using a rod and reel. You also have to check in (or self-register) at the nearest station to where you will be fishing and then turn in the fish either later that day or the next day when the check station is manned. You’ll then receive your vouchers which you can mail in for cash. One important note is you have to fish in the area where you have checked in. Also, pikeminnow caught above Priest Rapids Dam or above Hells Canyon Dam cannot be turned in for money through this program.
Currently, the hot spots on the Lower Columbia are near the check stations of Cathlamet and Washougal. In Eastern Washington, the Snake River near Boyer Park in Whitman County is the place to fish.
Whether you are fishing from a boat or from the bank using bait is a good call. Winther says chicken gizzards are the traditional “go-to” bait for pikeminnow and night crawlers work fine too. However, the best bait for pikeminnow are Mormon crickets. If you aren’t fishing bait, spinners, spoons and plastic tube baits fished close to the bottom along current seams where the fish hang out to ambush salmon and steelhead smolt work well.
As for the daily limit? That would be as many pikeminnow as you can catch. The tag line for the pikeminnow sport reward fishery program is “Catch Cash! Save Salmon!” You can do both this summer. Find out more and get started by going to www.pikeminnow.org
John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
A northern pikeminnow caught out of the Columbia River – J. Kruse