By John Kruse
The Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program is designed to manage the numbers of native pikeminnow in the Northwest. The fish feed heavily on migrating salmon and steelhead smolt. Removing a certain percentage of these fish from the Columbia and Snake Rivers means more smolt survive their journey downstream to the ocean.
Anglers are paid for each pikeminnow, nine-inches or longer, that is turned into a manned registration station. This year anglers are getting a significant raise. The first 25 fish turned in are worth $6 each. After that pikeminnow are worth $8 each (previously the top rate) until you catch 200. Any fish caught after that during the pikeminnow season, which runs from May 1st through September 30th, are worth $10 each. In addition to this, tagged pikeminnow are worth $500 each.
I spent the morning of May 20th fishing for pikeminnow below the Dalles Dam near Dallesport and came across Steven Bennett. Steven is a retiree from Longview who has fished for pikeminnow the last few years for both fun and money. He told me in 2019 he made $10,000 and last year, which was a slow year for everyone, he only made $8,000. Bennett told me things had been going well for him near the Dalles this year though.
Bennett arrived in the area on May 1st and had been fishing for pikeminnow a few hours each day since then. I asked him how many pikeminnow he had turned in so far. Bennett replied that he had turned in 700 fish, and that morning while I was fishing with him, he caught another ten. Doing the math, I realized Bennett had made over $6500 in 20 days of fishing. This is all the more remarkable because Bennett does all of his fishing from shore. Most serious pikeminnow anglers who fish for money do so from a boat, but Bennett showed me you can do quite well fishing from the bank.
As for how he caught them? Bennett was kind enough to show me his set up: a sliding two-ounce sinker and corky placed above a swivel. He then had about three feet of leader tied from the swivel to the hook. His bait of choice was Mormon crickets, but when they are not available, he uses nightcrawlers. Bennett casts far, lets the rig sink to the bottom, and waits until he gets a bite from a pikeminnow which, on average, measure 10 to 12 inches long. If you want to find out more about catching pikeminnow and making money in the process, go to www.pikeminnow.org
FISHING FOR FUN:
My pikeminnow fishing didn’t go as well as Steve’s, simply because I didn’t have the same set-up he did. However, I sure did have fun catching multiple smallmouth bass weighing up to two pounds from shore- something several anglers were also doing along the shore in the Dalles Marina across the river. On top of this, I was lucky enough to spend a morning in a boat with Wild West Bass Trail angler Bo Fletcher. The fishing wasn’t fast and furious, but we did catch about 15 to 20 bass in three hours, many of them weighing between one and two pounds. Whether you take them home to eat (there are no limits for smallmouth bass) or release them to grow bigger like Bo and I did, the prolific numbers of smallmouth bass in the Columbia make for a fun day of fishing! If you are looking for more information about fishing or places to stay in the Columbia River Gorge, check out www.explorethedalles.com
Editor’s Note: Here is more information from WDFW on the pikeminnow program:
You can help save salmon and get paid to do it by going fishing! The Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Fishery Program, funded by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and implemented by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is in effect annually on the Columbia and Snake rivers from approximately May through September. Specific dates, times and station locations will be announced and regularly updated on the Pikeminnow website. Anglers are paid for each Northern Pikeminnow that they catch (from within program boundaries) that is 9 inches or larger in total length, and the more you catch, the higher the reward. In 2022, rewards begin at $6 each for the first 25 Northern Pikeminnow caught during the season. Anglers are paid $8 for each fish they catch from 26-200, and $10 for every fish caught over 200 cumulatively. Anglers are also paid $500 for each specially tagged Northern Pikeminnow!
The Pikeminnow Program is in effect on the mainstem Columbia River from the mouth to Priest Rapids Dam (upstream of the Washington's Tri-Cities) and on the Snake River from the mouth to Hell’s Canyon Dam.
Northern Pikeminnow are a native species that eats millions of juvenile salmon and steelhead each year in the Columbia and Snake River systems. The goal of the Pikeminnow Program is not to eradicate Northern Pikeminnow, but rather to reduce their average size by removing 10 to 20 percent of the larger fish from their population. Reducing the number of larger Northern Pikeminnow and thus shrinking the average-sized fish in the population can greatly help juvenile salmon and steelhead make it to sea, since smaller sized Northern Pikeminnow eat fewer smolts than larger fish.
Over the past ten years (2011-20), the top 20 anglers caught an average of 3,353 fish per angler and averaged reward payments of $27,836 each for the five-month season. The highest-paid angler in 2020 caught 5,579 fish and earned $48,501, while the all-time record harvest is 14,109 Northern Pikeminnow worth $119,341! BPA funds the Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Fishery to partially mitigate for the impact of the Federal Columbia River Hydroelectric System on salmon and steelhead. Results indicate that the Pikeminnow Program has been successful, with over 5.2 million predatory Northern Pikeminnow removed to date by anglers participating in the Sport-Reward Fishery, and a decrease of predation on juvenile salmonids of up to 40 percent from pre-program levels. For full information on the Pikeminnow Program, including Rules and Regulation, season dates, station times and how-to catch them information, please see our website at www.pikeminnow.org