The 2019 pikeminnow sport reward season wrapped up early last week and it featured a pair of surprises.
Not only did Cathlamet retain its title of top station, but for the first time in a decade there’s a new top-earning angler, according to program manager Eric Winther.
He called it perhaps a “‘changing of the guard’ in the pikeminnow world,’ in which anglers are paid to remove these native fish that prey on young salmon and smolt in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Until last year, Cathlamet had never had highest haul since the program’s inception in 1991, according to Winther, but it followed up 2018’s 25,135 with an even larger tally, 27,317 qualifying pikeminnow.
That equates to just over 18.5 percent of all the fish brought in during the May 1-Sept. 30 season for rewards from $5 to $8, with specially tagged ones worth $500.
“The Dalles station didn’t really happen for the second straight year and the Mid-Columbia stations around the Tri-Cities had down years as well,” noted Winther.
Second best location was Boyer Park on the Snake with 20,989, followed by Washougal with 11,785.
Catch per angler was strongest at Ridgefield, Kalama and Beacon Rock, with an average of 10.3, 10.2 and 10.0 pikeminnow apiece through the season for participating fishermen.
“We have a new top angler for the first time since 2009,” Winther added.
That fisherman earned $50,647 for bringing in 6,187 pikeminnow, including three with tags.
The second-place angler took in $38,365 for their 4,490 and five tags.
Names of participants aren’t divulged.
This year’s catch of 146,082 was the lowest back to 2009, and well below the longterm average of roughly 172,000.
“On a positive side, we did once again hit our exploitation target, 10 to 20 percent, for the 22nd consecutive year, which is the truest gauge of program success,” Winther noted.
Meeting that goal is believed to reduce predation on young Chinook, coho, steelhead and other salmonids by up to 40 percent.
Funding comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates a number of dams on the Columbia system, and which made pikeminnow much more effective at snacking on outmigrating smolts.
Walleye, Caspian terns and other piscovores also prey on the little fish, while California and Steller sea lions chow down on returning adults.
Federal overseers are now taking public comment on a proposal by state and tribal managers to expand the area where pinnipeds can be removed and could lead to as many as 416 being taken out a year to help ESA-listed fish populations. It would allow lethal removals from around Washougal upstream to McNary Dam as well as salmon-bearing tribs below there.
Anglers participating in the pikeminnow program are reminded they have to submit their vouchers by Nov. 15 to receive payment.