UPDATED 3:09 p.m., July 25, 2011: On Friday, July 22, a fisherman on upper Lake Roosevelt caught a northern pike, a species fishery managers worry will spread further down the Columbia River system.
The fish was landed by walleye angler Davey McKern of Kettle Falls.
Jason Bauer of Northwestwalleye.com forwarded the photo to Northwest Sportsman. He reports that he’s heard rumors of the nonnative species being caught of late in the Northport area, just above where the Columbia becomes Lake Roosevelt.
That’s also not far below the mouth of the Pend Oreille River, which has a growing Esox population. Illegally introduced in that river’s Montana namesake, the Clark Fork, years ago, pike have made their way down through Idaho and there are now enough in the Newport to Ione stretch that anglers actively target them — and state and tribal biologists are fretting.
“Our immediate concern is predation on native westslope cutthroat and bull trout,” Bill Baker, a WDFW district fish biologist in Colville, told us earlier this year as he prepared for meetings with local anglers, “but native salmon, steelhead and other species also could be at risk if pike migrate downstream and establish populations in the Columbia River. We’re also concerned about northern pike populations establishing in other Washington waters.”
While bucket biologists are suspected of bringing northerns to a pair of unnamed Spokane County lakes, 2011 has seen spectacularly high snowpack runoff from the Rockies that probably pushed the pike out of the Pend Oreille, into the Columbia and then into Roosevelt.
“That is probably a three-year-old fish that was washed downstream from the Pend Orielle River during the high flows they have been experiencing,” said WDFW warmwater fisheries manager Bruce Bolding. “It is somewhat alarming but not unexpected. The three-year-olds are one of the big year-classes in the Pend Oreille River now.”
He said it appeared like the pike was “well fed.”
It’s not the first caught in the Columbia Basin. Several years ago, one was landed near Moses Lake by a Puyallup angler. It was unclear whether it was transported to the lake in a livewell or came through the basin’s irrigation system by itself.
In a large article in our May issue, Leroy Ledoboer wrote about the potential spread of pike down the Columbia, home to the Lower 48s best salmon and steelhead runs, and why that isn’t exactly a slam-bam deal either:
Already pike have entered Boundary Dam Reservoir, their next stop below (Box Canyon) dam, and Canadian anglers have even caught pike in their free-flowing stretch of the Pend Oreille. From there it’s a straight shot into the Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt.
“At a 2010 Boundary Reservoir bass tournament, they said every boat caught at least a couple pike,” Connor says, “so yes, they’re in there, but I don’t believe we’ll get a fraction of the pike we have in Box Canyon. It’s just a totally different reservoir, with sheer rock walls, over 200 feet deep in places, with only a few potential spawning areas.”
When more pike filter into Lake Roosevelt – as no doubt they will – Connor doesn’t think they’ll turn into a real threat there either. That lake’s tremendous water fluctuations should make spawning nearly impossible.
“Adult pike can live in almost any water, as long as they have forage fish,” he explains, “but they need certain conditions to propagate. That’s why Long Lake pike haven’t exploded. A few always filter in from Lake Coeur d’Alene, find fantastic forage and get huge fast, but they don’t spawn.
“The problems will come when pike get beyond Lake Roosevelt into other Columbia River reservoirs. We’ve identified what looks like excellent pike spawning grounds in a number of these reservoirs, almost all the way to the mouth. If this happens and they gobble up thousands of salmon and steelhead smolt, we’re talking about impacting a several-billion-dollar fishery.”
A blog last summer, Pend Oreille Pike Explosion, is one of the most read pieces on our Web site