Tag Archives: lake roosevelt

Chinook Released Into Lake Roosevelt

Another week, another 30 Chinook swimming where ocean-returning salmon haven’t been in the Upper Columbia for decades and decades.

A tribal newspaper based in North-central Washington reports that the Colville Tribes’ latest release occurred near Keller, above Grand Coulee Dam, which blocked anadromous fish runs 80 years ago.

GRAND COULEE DAM AND LAKE ROOSEVELT. (BUREAU OF RECLAMATION)

It’s a ceremonial move, one that’s “very sacred to us, very important,” Business Chairman Rodney Cawston said, according to the Tribal Tribune.

“We have strong prayers today, because our ancestors, our elders at the Ceremony of Tears, they had strong prayers that one day we would see these fish return back to the river, back to our people,” he said.

The summer kings were surplus to spawning needs at Wells Hatchery. Just as the 30 the tribes put into Lake Rufus Woods recently, they were screened beforehand by WDFW for an infectious fish virus before the release.

The paper reports that 30 more acoustically tagged Chinook were also let go in Rufus as an experiment, with another batch slated to go into dam-blocked Upper Columbia waters next week.

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Colvilles Aim To Release Returning Chinook Into Rufus Woods, Lake Roosevelt

The Colville Tribes hope to move surplus Chinook above two upper Columbia dams where the ocean-returning salmon haven’t been for as much as three-quarters of a century.

GRAND COULEE DAM AND LAKE ROOSEVELT. (BUREAU OF RECLAMATION)

Construction of Grand Coulee Dam and then Chief Joseph Dam without fish ladders ended passage past Bridgeport, but the tribes want to release adults that returned to Wells Hatchery into the reservoirs behind each this summer.

They’ve got a state permit to do so in Lake Rufus Woods, according to an article in the Tribal Tribune earlier this week, and plan to get another for Lake Roosevelt.

The news outlet describes the bid as “part of a ‘cultural release'” and report it is dependent on whether the salmon first pass testing for IHN, an infectious virus that affects fish.

The salmon are otherwise distributed to tribal members.

Ahead of any possible action, tribal fish and wildlife managers put out a call to elders and other Colvilles for comment.

“We’re to the point that we could have fish ready to move by the end of this month or the first part of August,” CTFW Director Randy Friedlander told the Tribune.

There have been increasing talk about bringing salmon back to Washington’s Upper Columbia and the British Columbia side of the international river.

It does seem a bit of a long shot as a way to jumpstart a run, as for any salmon that are released in the reservoirs, the next challenge would be for the fish to find gravel, for the eggs to hatch, for the smolts to make it over or through the first two dams without any kind of surface collectors, survive the rest of their downstream and ocean migration, and then return to some point below the dams and be collected to spawn the next generation.

But you gotta start somewhere and it’s clearly very important to do so to the tribes.

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Geezers (And Others) Will Now Have To Walk Down To Grand Coulee Fishing Beach

Despite a reported 33 of 34 commenters being opposed to banning parking at Geezer Beach, parking will no longer be allowed at the popular lower Lake Roosevelt bank fishery.

A FISHERMAN TENDS THEIR LINE AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

Local anglers and the town of Coulee Dam had fought the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal this past winter, but citing “safety concerns” the federal agency will now block off vehicle entry to the fishy spot on the reservoir’s north bank just above Grand Coulee Dam.

Trouters and others will still be able to fish there, but will now have to walk in from a parking area at roughly the 1,300-foot-elevation mark down to the water, the level of which can fluctuate as low as the 1,220-foot mark over the course of a year. This year it went as low as 1,258 feet.

“It’s just bullsh*t,” reacted Northwest Sportsman reader Hank Weibe, who earlier this year said that due to his disabilities, the beach was “one of the few places I can access.”

For fellow angler Bob Minato, who reported that he suffers from heart disease, diabetes and poor circulation, Geezer is perfect for fishing out of his vehicle.

“Before I became disabled, I used to spend all six weeks of my vacation in Grand Coulee. Now I spend even more time in Grand Coulee and Eastern Washington,” he wrote to BOR.

With the lake near full pool now, the change won’t realistically go into effect until some time in early 2020 when water levels will drop to make room for spring runoff, per BOR spokeswoman Lynne Brougher.

REMINGTON WIEBE SHOWS OFF A NICE RAINBOW CAUGHT OFF GEEZER BEACH WHILE FISHING WITH HER GRANDPA, HANK, WHO HOPED TO KEEP THE ACCESS SITE OPEN TO DRIVE-DOWN ANGLING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The feds essentially went along with a request from the Colville Tribes.

“We support the use of suitable areas for fishing or other appropriate recreational activities. However, driving on the drawdown is not an acceptable practice,” stated Chairman Rodney Cawston in comments citing public safety, protecting archeological resources and a ban on driving on the lakebed everywhere else on the reservoir.

However, in comments to BOR, Coulee Dam officials said that over the past four decades they’d never heard of any vehicle ever going into the water at Geezer Beach.

A former worker at the dam told The Star of Grand Coulee, which followed the story closely since last December, that the area had been “reworked and completely modified through the construction of the Dam’s history” while being used for staging, though a BOR assessment says that three places at or near there do have tribal names.

Banning parking on the beach but continuing to allow fishing was one of three alternatives federal managers evaluated.

Another was completely barring access, while the third was no change.

“… Cars, trucks, all-terrain vehicles and recreational vehicles will be required to park in designated parking areas and will not be allowed to drive or park on the shoreline or drawdown,” BOR said in a press release announcing the change.

The new rules for what’s known as BOR’s Reclamation Zone will be enforced by the Colville Tribes, the feds say.

Lake Roosevelt Catch-and-keep Sturgeon Season Opens June 15

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will open a harvest fishery for white sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt starting June 15.

SCOTT HENSLEY SHOWS OFF A LAKE ROOSEVELT STURGEON CAUGHT LAST SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

White Sturgeon, a species native to the Columbia River, are known for their large size, with adults growing in excess of 10 feet and weighing hundreds of pounds.

“This is the third year in a row that anglers have the opportunity to fish for white sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt,” said Chris Donley, Region 1 Fish Program manager. “This is a great opportunity for anglers to get out and pursue one of the greatest native sportfish in Washington.”

White sturgeon hatchery programs started in the early 2000s in British Columbia (B.C.) and Washington State. Between both jurisdictions, stocking ranged from 2,000 to 12,000 juvenile sturgeon per year from 2001 to 2010.

“Survival of hatchery-produced juvenile sturgeon was higher than anticipated,” Donley said. “As a result there is a surplus of hatchery-origin sturgeon available for harvest from Lake Roosevelt.”

Anglers will be able to fish for them from Grand Coulee Dam to the China Bend Boat Ramp (including the Spokane River from the Highway 25 Bridge upstream to 400 feet below Little Falls Dam, Colville River upstream to Meyers Falls, and the Kettle River upstream to Barstow Bridge). The daily limit is one sturgeon and the annual limit is two, although anglers may continue to catch and release fish after reaching daily and annual limits.

Legal size to keep a white sturgeon is between 53 and 63 inches from the tip of the snout to the middle of the fork in the tail. All harvested sturgeon must be recorded on a Catch Record Card (catch code 549).

Anglers are asked to use heavy gear (50-pound test mainline and leader at a minimum) and use 14/0 hooks or smaller to avoid catching or injuring large wild adult sturgeon. Two-pole fishing is allowed but night fishing is not.

The white sturgeon season will be open until further notice.  Season dates, times, slot limits, daily limits and annual limits may be adjusted to ensure that a sustainable population of sturgeon is maintained in Lake Roosevelt.

28.2-pound Pike Caught In Roosevelt’s Sanpoil Arm

The largest pike yet was caught this month on Lake Roosevelt, a 28.2-pound egg-laden female, and it was a lot further down the 150-mile-long reservoir than nearly all other northerns captured so far.

The 43.3-inch nonnative invasive fish was netted in the Sanpoil River arm, the mouth of which is just 17 miles from Grand Coulee Dam.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES CAPTURED THIS 28.2-POUND NORTHERN PIKE IN LAKE ROOSEVELT’S SANPOIL ARM. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

Even as state and tribal fishery managers are working more and more intensively to keep pike from getting below that dam and Chief Joseph into the salmon and steelhead zone, that a huge one turned up in the arm worries the Colville Tribes too.

“The Sanpoil River hosts the largest wild redband trout run in Lake Roosevelt. We are very concerned about northern pike increasing in abundance in the part of the reservoir,” said Holly McClellan, the tribes’ principal fisheries biologist.

Last year a 6.2-pound pike was caught just 10 miles from the dam, but the fish have mostly been found in the impoundment’s upper arm, up around the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, though they have been moving downlake towards Hunters and beyond.

An intensive joint state-tribal-utility effort to suppress pike numbers ahead of the spring spawn just wrapped up in those waters.

The previous largest northerns were a 27.7-pounder caught at Signers Bay, at Kettle Falls, and a 27.5 in the Spokane Arm.

The implication of a 28.2-pounder showing up so relatively far downlake takes awhile to sink in.

A fish that large will have been capable of breeding for quite some time, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which first reported the catch, said the big female had gonads, where the eggs are stored, that weighed 4 pounds.

Various sources suggest that a near-30-pound pike could carry up to 300,000 eggs.

BEFORE BEING CAUGHT IN A NET, THIS 31-INCH-LONG, 10-POUND LAKE ROOSEVELT PIKE SWALLOWED A TROUT HALF ITS BODY LENGTH. THAT’S NOT MUCH BIGGER THAN THE ADULT SOCKEYE RETURNING TO THE BREWSTER POOL. (WDFW)

That the fish was found so relatively close to the dam underlines grim warnings in a recent presentation from a larger report on predator issues in Roosevelt and the Columbia that the council was given. On northerns it stated:

It is likely that pike will eventually invade the anadromous zone — even with the best efforts in public education, early detection, and control or eradication.

Suppression in Lake Roosevelt could reduce risks of downstream establishment by reducing the number and average body size of downstream dispersers.

Even though the invasion is almost assured to occur in time, there is value in delaying it.

It advises managers that early detection and rapid responses are essential for nipping new outbreaks, that they must come up with those plans now before those occur, and they should monitor areas where it’s likely illegal introductions by bucket biologists would occur.

And it suggests it’s likely that young Chinook would be the most vulnerable to pike, followed by chum salmon.

Subsequent to our posting this story, the Colvilles’ McClellan told the Spokesman Review that at the current pace down the upper Columbia, ” … we think they are maybe three years away from being down below Chief Joseph Dam.”

Major Northern Pike Gillnetting Effort Set To Begin On Lake Roosevelt

State and tribal fishery managers will begin one of their largest, most intensive efforts yet to suppress invasive northern pike in Lake Roosevelt by setting as many as 500 gillnets in early May during the species’ spawn.

“We need to put a dent in them,” says WDFW’s Chuck Lee. “They’ll be easier to control if we get a handle on this earlier. The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets.”

THIS NORTHERN PIKE CAUGHT IN A GILLNET SET IN LAKE ROOSEVELT MAY HAVE BEEN ATTRACTED BY THE RAINBOW TROUT ALSO SNARED IN THE MESH. MANAGERS WANT FEWER OF THE NONNATIVE FISH AND MORE OF THE NATIVE ONES. (WDFW)

His agency along with the Colville, Kalispel and Spokane Tribes, Chelan and Grant Counties PUD, National Park Service and the Northwest Power Planning Council are all participating in the intensive four-day, May 6-9 effort that follows on several years of netting since the fish first turned up in the reservoir in 2011.

Ten crews will set nets on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and pull them on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The effort is being timed to water temperatures that spur northerns to get more active and start looking for habitat to broadcast their eggs and milt and thus become more susceptible to netting.

“We’re trying to catch mature adults before the spawn,” Lee says.

According to a notice from the Colville Tribes, nets will be set in waters 20 feet deep or less that attract staging pike and which “should also help reduce bycatch of non-target species.”

A COLVILLE TRIBES MAP BREAKS DOWN THE ZONES EACH AGENCY WILL WORK DURING THE MAY 6-9 EFFORT. (CCT F&W)

The generally cool water temps also means better survival rates for walleye and trout caught in the nets.

The latter species appears to be a favorite of the nonnative species that was flushed out of the Pend Oreille River system after being illegally introduced there, probably from Idaho’s Couer d’Alene watershed.

“We see a lot of hatchery trout in their guts, a lot of unknown trout too — wild redbands? hatchery trout?” says Lee.

BEFORE BEING CAUGHT IN A NET, THIS 31-INCH-LONG, 10-POUND PIKE SWALLOWED A TROUT HALF ITS BODY LENGTH. (WDFW)

Past years’ suppression efforts do appear to be paying off.

He says that where 5- and 6-year-old pike had been turning up in nets, they’re now primarily pulling in 1-, 2- and 3-year-old fish.

“If we can continue to keep on top of these females before they mature and spawn,” that will help keep the population under control, he says.

The Colvilles have also been paying anglers a bounty for pike heads.

The ultimate worry is that if northerns escape Roosevelt and get through Lake Rufus Woods below it, they’ll have a feast in the form of hatchery and wild ESA-listed salmon and steelhead smolts awaiting at the mouth of the Okanogan River — perhaps even returning adult sockeye.

Lee says that pike are slowly moving down Roosevelt. Where populations were focused around the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, fish are turning up at Hunters and outside the Spokane Arm where the impoundment swings west.

Along with the tribes whose reservations border Roosevelt, the Upper Columbia United Tribes will be on hand to observe the effort, Lee says.

“I’m kind of excited to see us get this group together to suppress pike,” he says of all the participants.

Tourney Catch Data Shows Central Washington Waters Shine Bright For Bass

Updated 9:10 a.m., March 27, 2019 at bottom with additional details on the impact of bass retention liberalizations on the Columbia.

Draw a straight north-south line from Oroville to Plymouth in Central Washington and it will touch the four waters producing the fattest tournament bass in the Evergreen State.

WDFW reports that the average weight of largemouth and smallmouth caught in contests at Lake Osoyoos, Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir and the John Day Pool was 3.34, 2.74, 2.57 and 2.45 pounds.

TOURNAMENT BASS ANGLERS FISH A LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL BAY DURING AN EVENT LAST MAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The agency posted the rundown on its Facebook page today, and it also might help noncompetitive anglers figure out where to go catch bucketmouths and bronzebacks.

In listing the top 18 waters, WDFW said that it had crunched the weights of 146,124 bass caught during events held across the state over the past decade.

Four other Central Washington waters are also on the list:

5 Bonneville Pool, 2.36 pounds
7 McNary Pool, 2.24 pounds
10 Lake Chelan, 2.15 pounds
15 Banks Lake, 1.84 pounds

Further east, far Eastern Washington posted four:

11 Long Lake (Spokane), 2.13 pounds
13 Box Canyon Reservoir, 2.05 pounds
16 Lake Roosevelt, 1.81 pounds
18 Little Goose Pool, 1.33 pounds

But the Westside has its share of lunker lakes too:

5 Bonneville Pool, 2.36 pounds (we’re calling it a liner for two regions)
6 Lake Sammamish, 2.31 pounds
8 Lake Washington, 2.22 pounds
9 Lake Whatcom, 2.21 pounds
12 Silver Lake (Cowlitz), 2.11 pounds
14 Riffe Lake, 1.86 pounds
17 Lake Tapps, 1.67 pounds

As part of receiving a permit to hold a tournament, organizers must report how many fish were caught during the event and how much they weighed.

That Osoyoos stands so far above the other waters may (or may not) be due to the relatively few are held there, if WDFW’s 2019 fishing contest calendar is any indication. It lists just two this year on the Okanogan River reservoir that stretches from Oroville into British Columbia, so a couple events with relatively hefty catches might have pushed its average up. Or not.

A pair of Grant County lakes are particularly popular with bassers; Potholes and Moses will host dozens of events this year.

WDFW’s rundown comes as a bill in the state legislature would require the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to liberalize bag limits on bass, as well as walleye and channel catfish, in all anadromous waters of Washington to reduce predation on salmonid smolts.

That would essentially extend the current no size/bag limit regulations on the Columbia and Snake systems to places like Lakes Washington and Sammamish, where the Muckleshoot Tribe has been conducting warmwater test fisheries in recent years.

There have been no restrictions on how many or what size bass you can retain on the Columbia above Tri-Cities, the Snake and their tribs since 2013, and the Columbia below Tri-Cities since 2016.

A month or so ago I asked WDFW biologists if they’d seen any effect of that in terms of bass as well as similarly affected walleye and channel catfish, but they couldn’t say as they don’t conduct creel or population samples specifically for those species, though walleye and bass are monitored by ODFW through the northern pikeminnow program.

However, the tourney bass data does offer an unexpected window.

In responding to feedback on its Facebook post yesterday, WDFW said, “Average weights of bass weighed in tournaments have not changed significantly in the Columbia River Pools. The average since 2016 is slightly higher than the 10-year average.”

Mobility-impaired Angler Trying To Save Access To Popular Lake Roosevelt Beach

A disabled Lake Roosevelt angler and local officials are concerned that access to a good fishing hole just above Grand Coulee Dam might be reduced, or even lost entirely.

That’s because the Bureau of Reclamation is mulling the future management of Geezer Beach, a top spot to plunk for chunky rainbow trout during the winter and early spring.

A FISHERMAN TENDS THEIR LINE AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

Hank Wiebe, a Northwest Sportsman reader who fishes there more days than not from January through June, is leading the charge to keep the area open to all.

He’s been working hard to get the word out, circulating a petition at area businesses, writing letters to the local paper and his federal lawmakers, and more.

“Due to my disabilities, this beach provides one of the few places I can access … fish,” Wiebe explained in comments sent to BOR last month during a “pre-scoping period” identifying issues to address ahead of an environmental assessment that is expected later this winter. “There is a strong group of fishermen, with varying degrees of limited mobility, who often fish alongside me.”

The Town of Grand Coulee resident describes himself as a heart attack survivor who has suffered an aortic aneurysm, and has COPD and other medical issues that combine to make walking very far “tough.”

“Not to mention a fall on the rocks would exacerbate all of the above issues, so being able to drive to this location is about my only choice for fishing from shore,” Wiebe says.

Over the years he and his family have sent us numerous pictures of themselves, including Wiebe’s granddaughter Remington, enjoying success at Geezer Beach during Lake Roosevelt’s annual winter drawdown, when anglers drive down the lakebed from a parking area and cast their lines out.

REMINGTON WIEBE SHOWS OFF A NICE RAINBOW CAUGHT OFF GEEZER BEACH IN WINTER 2015 WHILE FISHING WITH HER GRANDPA, HANK, WHO HOPES TO KEEP THE DRIVE-DOWN ACCESS SITE OPEN. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Indeed, it’s an opportunity that draws anglers from “as far away as Seattle,” Robert Poch, Coulee Dam’s mayor pro tem, wrote in his city’s official comments to BOR.

And those people “stay in our local motels, eat at our restaurants and patron our stores. The Town of Coulee Dam already struggles to maintain with the limited revenue sources it receives today.”

While the municipality fancies itself as the “green oasis at the foot of Grand Coulee Dam,” Poch worries that fewer visitors will lead to reduced sales and hotel tax revenues.

His letter stated that the city council “expressed very strong feelings against” BOR’s proposed changes.

The Star, a weekly newspaper, covered the story in a series of front-page pieces last month, and it reported that the federal agency is responding to the Colville Tribes’ issues with vehicles driving on the beach.

A PAIR OF RIGS PARKED AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

“This is a concern for both protection of cultural resources, and protection of water quality,” a tribal official stated in an email quoted for a Dec. 26 Star story, adding that driving on the lakebed is otherwise prohibited on Roosevelt but not enforced at Geezer Beach, which sets a bad example and creates an enforcement headache.

In its press release announcing a call for public comment, BOR said that entering the drawdown area in a vehicle represents a public safety risk “because these vehicles can become stuck, roll into the reservoir, or become abandoned.”

REMINGTON WIEBE TAKES A NAP AT GEEZER BEACH FOLLOWING A SUPER-EARLY WAKE UP TO GO FISHING THERE IN 2015 WITH HER GRANDFATHER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s not something Coulee Dam officials have seen, however.

“For more than 40 years, we cannot recall ever hearing of an incident where a vehicle has been stuck, driven or rolled into the reservoir or been an accident at Geezer Beach. The access roads, which have been in existence since the 1960’s, are well established and have been packed down, providing a firm surface for vehicles to travel on,” Mayor Poch wrote.

Photographs Wiebe took of different parts of the beach on Jan. 8 showed it to be remarkably clean of the type of trash one usually finds, unfortunately, at fishing accesses.

“All my fishing buddies and I strive to keep this area litter free,” he notes.

LOOKING TOWARD GRAND COULEE DAM FROM A PORTION OF GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

This is not to say that locations significant to the Colville Tribes haven’t been impacted by settlement, development, dam building and other activities or shouldn’t be protected, but in that Dec. 26 story, Greg Behrens told The Star that during a three-decade-long career working at Grand Coulee he did geological and geographic studies of the area, and that Geezer Beach was “reworked and completely modified through the construction of the Dam’s history” while being used for staging.

“If the concern for the allowed vehicle access is based on ‘cultural resource preservation’ then the prior construction activities have made this a non-issue. This includes the nearshore environment well below the accessible areas today,” Behrens told reporter Jacob Wagner.

There have been state-tribal tensions this decade over fishing at Geezer Beach and management of Lake Roosevelt.

PLUNKING POWER BAIT IS A GOOD WAY TO LOAD UP A STRINGER WITH LOWER LAKE ROOSEVELT TROUT. THIS NICE BUNCH WAS CAUGHT DURING A LATE JANUARY 2014 OUTING BY TIM AND JO WIEBE. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Closing off access to Geezer entirely was one of three alternatives that BOR was gathering public comment on last month for the upcoming environmental assessment, or EA.

Another focuses on restricting parking to designated areas just off an access road from Coulee Dam and that sit at roughly the 1300-foot elevation mark. That would still allow angling but make it much more difficult for mobility-impaired anglers like Wiebe to reach the water when Roosevelt dips to as low as 1,220 feet in midspring.

The third is for maintaining the status quo.

ANGLERS FISH FROM GEEZER BEACH EARLY LAST MONTH. WATER LEVELS VARY FROM 1280 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL DOWN TO 1220 FEET AS LAKE ROOSEVELT IS DRAWN DOWN IN WINTER AND EARLY SPRING TO CONTAIN SNOWPACK RUNOFF FROM THE UPPER COLUMBIA RIVER WATERSHED AND GENERATE ELECTRICITY. (JACOB WAGNER, THE STAR)

“With the information gathered from the input we received, Reclamation will now write a draft EA and it will be available for public comment,” says Lynne Brougher, a BOR spokeswoman at the agency’s Grand Coulee office. “At this time, we anticipate that the draft EA will be available for comment in February and a final decision will be made this spring.”

Lake Roosevelt is so huge that it is part of two different Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regions, and the managers of both — Steve Pozzanghera and Jim Brown in Spokane and Ephrata, respectively — say they will be watching for the EA to come out so the agency can submit comments.

“We would hope they wouldn’t do an outright closure,” says Brown of BOR’s alternatives. “Their problem statement makes that seem a bit extreme, on its face. If it is about vehicles, that is seemingly an excessive step, when nothing in the scoping description goes beyond the stated problem being with vehicles.”

“We should be advocating for continued public access — the issue will be foot traffic versus vehicle entry,” adds Pozzanghera.

For Hank Wiebe, the latter is preferred.

“There’s many of us fishermen who have medical issues and need areas like this to enjoy/teach grandkids all about fishing,” he says.

State, Tribal Fall FDR Pike Survey Turns Up More Bad News, But Slivers Of Good

More details are coming out about last week’s large-scale joint state-tribal survey on Lake Roosevelt, one that alarmingly turned up a 6-pound pike just 10 miles from Grand Coulee Dam and a 27.5-pound northern in the upper Spokane Arm, but may have also reduced bycatch over last fall’s effort.

Fishery managers say that it’s all about figuring out the best way to suppress pike populations to keep them from chewing up the reservoir’s more popular game fish species.

Asked about angler concerns over nontarget species also being netted, WDFW’s Chuck Lee defends, “If it doesn’t get done, those (hatchery trout) aren’t going to be around either.”

A WDFW NET SET ON UPPER LAKE ROOSEVELT CAPTURED A 31-INCH, 10-POUND NORTHERN PIKE THAT HAD EATEN A 16-INCH RAINBOW TROUT. (WDFW)

A 31-inch, 10-pound pike caught in one of the agency’s 50 net sets had a 16-inch rainbow in its stomach.

The other primary worry with pike is that the invasive nonnative species will get into the anadromous zone below Chief Joseph, the next dam below Grand Coulee, with its ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

“Adult sockeye aren’t too much bigger than that rainbow trout,” Lee points out.

Roosevelt also hosts white sturgeon, kokanee, burbot, lake whitefish — one that was 2 pounds heavier than the state record was sampled last week — walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch.

This is the second fall survey in a row and WDFW took the upper portion of Roosevelt while the Spokane Tribe worked the Spokane Arm and midsection with 50 net sets and the Colville Tribes hit from the dam to Hawk Creek with yet another 50.

If there’s good news, it’s that the Colvilles caught only that one pike in their 37-mile lower reservoir stretch.

“As alarming as it was, we’re glad it was only one fish,” Lee says.

But more and more are turning up midlake, he adds.

Overall, 152 were caught, with 112 by WDFW in their area of responsibility.

Lee notes that for this survey adjustments were made in where the agency set its nets.

“We figured we could eliminate 40 percent of the bycatch by moving them shallower,” he says.

Some deeper sets last year also came up empty.

Figures were still being crunched but Lee says less than 20 fish were caught per state soak.

The comanagers’ overall goal is to figure out how they can get the best bang for their buck with the effort.

“What we’re really trying to find out is, What’s the best way to monitor northern pike and measure suppression efforts — which is the best season for doing suppression?” Lee says.

While spring and the spawn is a good time, the weather is often poor and the reservoir is drawn down. But fall’s stable conditions may be more ideal.

Either season is good if you’re a species that managers and anglers want to save, thanks to cold to cooling water temperatures that make it more likely released fish will survive.

Lake whitefish and nets, however, aren’t a good combination, which most being killed.

A spring 2017 survey saw survival rates of 45 percent for walleye, 37 percent for hatchery rainbows, and greater than 50 percent overall for other species.

“We want to learn from suppression efforts to do it better,” Lee says, adding that funding is a bit of a problem.

Money has been coming from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

As for other results from this fall’s survey, that ginormous 27.5-pound pike caught by the Spokane Tribe was a relatively rare specimen as tribal suppression efforts — both netting and $10 rewards for fish heads — appear to be resulting in younger and younger pike, the number one goal, according to Lee.

SPOKANE TRIBE BIOLOGISTS, WHO CAUGHT THIS NEARLY 4-FOOT-LONG PIKE IN THE SPOKANE ARM LAST WEEK, PLANNED TO DISSECT THE FISH AND SEE WHAT IT’S BEEN EATING. (SPOKANE TRIBE)

Smaller pike have fewer eggs, but the species is one you can’t let your guard down on either.

Befitting their reputation as “nightmare fish,” Lee says northerns can hold off spawning till later in the year, when water temps are otherwise well above their optimal range of 40 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

“All they need is a little vegetation,” Lee says.

Correction, 11:15 a.m., Nov. 14, 2018: The initial version of this blog stated that WDFW had caught 152 pike in this fall’s survey, but that was actually the overall catch by the state and tribes. WDFW’s nets caught 112 pike.

Female Pike Caught 10 Miles Of Grand Coulee Dam

A 6.2-pound female northern pike that could have spawned next spring was instead fortuitously netted about 10 miles of Grand Coulee Dam in what’s believed to be the furthest downreservoir capture of the invasive nonnative predator fish so far on Lake Roosevelt.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES CAUGHT THIS 6.2-POUND, 30-INCH FEMALE NORTHERN PIKE NEAR GRAND COULEE DAM EARLIER THIS MONTH. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

It and a 27.5-pounder caught near the head of Roosevelt’s Spokane Arm mark temporary victories in the fight to keep the species out of the Columbia River’s anadromous zone.

The two pike were captured by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, respectively, during recent surveys throughout the reservoir and were first reported by KING 5 in a segment that aired last night.

The worry is that the fish will eventually get below Lake Rufus Woods and Chief Joseph Dam, which marks as far upstream as salmon and steelhead can travel on the Columbia, and wreak havoc on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead at the mouth of the Okanogan River and below.

Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in recovering those stocks and others in the Inland Northwest.

Unfortunately, pike are moving that way as inexorably as water flows downhill.

They were likely moved illicitly by bucket biologists from Idaho’s Lake Couer d’Alene drainage into Washington’s Pend Oreille River, and from there were flushed downstream into the Columbia during high spring runoff.

The species established itself near the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers on Roosevelt, but has been dropping further and further downlake,

They may even already be in Rufus Woods, if anecdotal angler reports are any indication. State fishery biologists are worried about that possibility.

WDFW and the tribes have been working hard for several years to reduce pike numbers, eradicating as many as possible through gillnetting.

The Colvilles are also in the second year of a program that offers anglers $10 a head for any northerns they turn in.

While meant to help protect Lake Roosevelt’s rainbow trout, kokanee and other fish populations, a poster says that any pike caught downstream in Rufus Woods and even the Wells Pool can also be submitted for cash.

The program was the inspiration behind Northwest Sportsman‘s offer of $50 for any caught in Lake Washington, where two have shown up since January 2017.