Rich Landers covers the surprising growth of northern pike populations in Northeast Washington’s Pend Oreille River in a big article yesterday.
“Where we caught three or four fish in a net last year, we were catching six to nine or more,” WDFW biologist Marc Divens told the Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoor reporter.
WDFW and the Kalispell Tribe netted the river on two occasions this spring, catching nearly 800 of the fish, which are believed to have come downriver from Montana and Idaho and are now breeding.
About 10 years ago a friend who worked for the tribe told me about pike in the Pend Oreille. It was kind of a local secret at that point, but the fishery has become more and more known with Landers’ coverage as well as articles in the old Washington Fishing & Hunting News.
The PO used to be known for its largemouth bass angling — it plays host to the fourth of five tourneys this weekend — but more and more anglers are targeting northerns.
“The majority of the anglers coming to the river are fishing for pike,” Kalispell bio Jason Connors tells Landers. “That’s a big change in just the past few years, when most anglers were after bass or other fish.”
And this fall, NW Tiger Pac will hold a northern pike derby on the river.
Leroy Ledeboer covered the spring fishing in the May issue of Northwest Sportsman:
THE PIKE DIDN’T STOP at the state line. In Washington they’ve established at least footholds, Long Lake (also known as Lake Spokane) and the Pend Oreille River.
But unless they’re keeping mighty quiet about it, very few anglers are specifically targeting Long’s northerns despite the fact that it’s held our state record, a 34-pounder since 2004. The monsters that get nailed on that reservoir usually fall to bass guys flipping the right cranks or spinnerbaits.
Long’s pike, which most likely came down the Spokane River from CDA, have a fantastic prey base but apparently haven’t found any real spawning grounds, so what you have is a fairly small number of large fish.
On the other hand, the pike in the Pend Oreille are definitely propagating, creating a fishery where the bulk of your catch will be in the 3- to 7-pound class, with a fair percentage of low to midteeners. And you’ve always got a shot at a real trophy, a mid-20’s or even 30-pound monster.
“Yes, it’s becoming better known all the time, primarily as a place you might nail that trophy pike,” notes John Norisada, manager of the fishing department at Spokane’s Wholesale Sports (509-891-1900). “Once we get into late April and May, when the river is at full pool and the turbid water disappears, you can sight fish all those back bays where the pike will be sunning themselves and lying in wait for their next meal.”
ALTHOUGH SOME BACK BAYS have local names, Norisada says they’re not really important. The key is to motor up the main channel until you spot what looks like a good back bay then switch over to your electric and motor quietly in and get ready to cast to your target.
“You’ll want a good pair of polarized glasses to do your spotting,” he adds. “They’ll just be lying up in the 3- to 4-foot shallows, where the water is warmest and baitfish are the most plentiful.”
Originally it was bassers who came back with tales of pike hook-ups, and the spinnerbaits, cranks and spoons designed for big largemouth will still work, though tossing somewhat larger sizes for these toothy predators is now the rule.
“We’ve also had good luck with bigger swimbaits in perch, white, gold, any minnow imitation,” Norisada says. “But a lot of big spoons work well too, ones that imitate minnows, or Dardevles in a variety of colors.
“Sometimes, though, especially early on, it seems as if they won’t hit anything, but usually by May it’s ‘game on.’ Pike are ambush hunters and get pretty active when conditions are right.
Suspending jerkbaits, like the Rapala Husky Jerk or Lucky Craft Point, can be particularly effective. But we’ve gone to 80-pound fluorescent carbon leader instead of steel because when the pike are finicky, that helps.”
If you want more latitude, purchase a Kalispel tribal permit to fish the bays on the reservation at Usk and northwards, but Norisada says he’s always found plenty of opportunity without that.
Those shallow back bays should be good through May and possibly right through early June, but as summer comes on and the water recedes, it’s time to move out farther and fish the weed lines, anywhere from 7 to 10 feet.
NOW THAT THE Pend Oreille is gaining popularity as a trophy pike fishery, we can only maintain that through catch and release. Even that real prize pike, that 30 lb. behemoth you want for your wall, can be carefully measured, photographed and then released because today’s replicas are every bit as good as any dead fish mount. –Leroy Ledeboer