Tag Archives: lake roosevelt

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.

Fight Against Bucket Biologists Going High Tech

Potential good news from the fight against bucket biologists.

Montana fishery biologists using something called “forensic geochemistry” have figured out the source and timeframe that walleye were moved into Swan Lake, in the state’s northwestern corner.

OTOLITHS, A BONE IN THE EAR OF FISH, CONTAINS CHEMICAL SIGNATURES THAT PROVIDES CLUES ABOUT WHERE THE ANIMAL CAME FROM. (OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY, FLICKR)

And genetic material from northern pike in Northeast Washington is pointing to a different source than the widely assumed one.

Whether or not the new tools help lead to arrests is a good question, but they will at least serve as a warning shot across the bow of those who would illicitly move fish around.

IN THE CASE OF THE WALLEYE, managers have concluded that at least two fish were driven over the continental divide on a 200-mile journey that occurred in the spring of 2015, according to a report in the Columbia Basin Bulletin last month.

“Our findings now allow investigators to look at fishing license sales, webcams, and boat registrations around the Lake Helena area for the time period when the walleye were illegally introduced,” Samuel Bourett, an FWP researcher, told the emailed newsletter.

The species is native to the Mississippi River and lower Missouri River basins, but as was common earlier last century walleye were moved westward for fishing opportunities.

Nowadays, the tide has turned against moving nonnative fish — or at least nonsterile ones — into new locations, though decades of population growth provide a ready reservoir for those who want to continue the practice.

But fishery officials are fighting back with increasingly sophisticated means.

In early 2016, several months after two walleye were gillnetted at Swan, Bourett’s agency and conservation groups offered a $30,000 reward for information on the illicit stocking of the lake, which provides critical habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed bull and cutthroat trout.

They also began examining the otoliths of the fish, looking for chemical signatures that could pinpoint where they came from.

In 2017 they built a database with fish from 13 popular Montana walleye waters.

Out of that they determined the origin of the Swan Lake release.

“Core to edge geochemical profiles of [two types of strontium] and (strontium/calcium) ratios in the walleye otoliths revealed that these fish had been introduced to Swan Lake within the past growing season, and their geochemical signature matched that of walleye sampled from Lake Helena, Montana, located 309 road kilometres away,” write Bourett and Niall Clancy in a paper recently published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Illegally stocking fish in Montana is punishable with fines running from $2,000 to $10,000, the loss of all license privileges and cleanup costs.

WDFW BIOLOGIST DANNY GARRETT SCOWLS WHILE HOLDING THE 13.5-POUND GRAVID HEN WALLEYE HE NETTED OUT OF LAKE WASHINGTON IN 2015. (DANNY GARRETT, WDFW)

Well to the west, in 2012 the otoliths of walleye from Lakes Roosevelt and Moses and Potholes and Scooteny Reservoirs were compared with those from Lake Washington fish for a common chemical signature but no match was found, according to state fisheries biologist Danny Garrett, who himself netted half a dozen more in 2015.

“I think there is merit in doing more of this work,” he notes.

THEY’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES TRACING where invasive fish are coming from. Dr. Kellie Carim works for the U.S. Forest Service’s National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation out of Missoula, and she’s looking into pike.

Another Upper Midwest transplant, northerns are also popular with fishermen but present a nightmare threat for Northwest salmon and steelhead managers as the species has crept its way down the Pend Oreille River and into Lake Roosevelt and is now at the mouth of the Spokane River, according to a recent story. Anecdotal reports from anglers put them further down, in Lake Rufus Woods.

With funding from a USDA Tribal College Initiative Grant, Carim has come to a rather interesting conclusion about where many of those pike actually originated.

“The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” she says.

That is, from Noxon Reservoir, down the Clark Fork River into Idaho and through Lake Pend Oreille before arriving in Washington.

“However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage,” Carim says.

Rather than taking an aquatic highway, they most likely took a paved one, in a livewell up US 95 to I-90 to either Idaho 41 or US 2 to Washington 20 and the river.

From there, their population built and the theory has been that in high water years they were entrained out of the Pend Oreille into the Columbia River in British Columbia and then Lake Roosevelt.

DAVEY McKERN HOLDS ONE OF THE FIRST NORTHERN PIKE CAUGHT IN LAKE ROOSEVELT. THE SPECIES HAS BEEN LARGELY CONCENTRATED OFF THE MOUTHS OF THE KETTLE AND COLVILLE RIVERS, BUT SOME HAVE BEEN FOUND DOWNSTREAM AT THE MOUTH OF THE SPOKANE RIVER, ACCORDING TO A NORTHWEST POWER AND CONSERVATION COUNCIL REPORT. (DAVEY MCKERN)

Carim, whose work aims to identify where the pike are coming from to stop the flow into Eastern Washington, adds that DNA from other Upper Columbia and Pend Oreille fish aren’t in the database, meaning there are more potential sources out there too.

“We definitely need to collect more samples. Some fish are aren’t ‘assigning’ very well,” she says.

Next week, she will be presenting before the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on pike.

Meanwhile, state and tribal managers have been teaming up to take a hammer to the species.

According to a recent NWPCC article by John Harrison, 18,000 have been scooped out of the Pend Oreille River by the Kalispel Tribe and another 1,800 have been removed from Lake Roosevelt by the Colville and Spokane Tribes and WDFW. Anglers have also turned in more than 1,000 heads for cash through a Colville Tribes program. And hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to protect the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars put into salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin.

While bucket biologists will likely continue their illegal pike and walleye stockings, the odds are now increasing that someone will get caught.

Far Upper Roosevelt To Open For Sturgeon Aug. 1; Retention Closing Lakewide Sept. 1

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICE BY THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Action: Opens an additional section of Lake Roosevelt for the harvest of white sturgeon.

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

Sets closing date for section of Lake Roosevelt from Grand Coulee Dam to China Bend boat launch, which opened June 15.

Species affected: White sturgeon.

Locations and effective dates:

Lake Roosevelt, from China Bend Boat Ramp upstream to the Canadian Border. Open Aug. 1 through Aug. 31, 2018.

Lake Roosevelt, from Grand Coulee Dam to China Bend Boat Ramp (including the Spokane River from Highway 25 Bridge upstream to 400’ below Little Falls Dam, Colville River upstream to Meyers Falls and the Kettle River upstream to Barstow Bridge) remains open seven days per week through Aug. 31, 2018.

Reason for action: The portion of Lake Roosevelt between China Bend and the Canadian border is managed as a spawning sanctuary for white sturgeon. Sturgeon spawning is completed by Aug. 1, so a one-month harvest fishery will be opened in this area.

Fishery managers have set a closing date of Aug. 31, when they estimate the target harvest of 1,000 fish will be reached.

Additional information: Daily limit 1 sturgeon. Annual limit 2 sturgeon. It is legal to retain sturgeon between 53 inches and 63 inches fork length. Fork length is measured from the tip of the snout to middle of the fork in the caudal fin (tail). All harvested sturgeon must be recorded on a Catch Record Card (Catch Code 549). Two-pole fishing is allowed. Closed to night fishing. All other statewide rules for white sturgeon must be observed.

Anglers are asked to use heavy gear (50-pound test mainline and leader, at a minimum) and use 14/0 hooks or smaller (approximately 2 inches or less from point to shank) to avoid catching or injuring large, wild adult sturgeon. The request to use heavier gear will ensure anglers hook and land sturgeon effectively, while also protecting large, wild adult brood sturgeon that – if hooked – should be played to hand quickly and released without being removed from the water. WDFW recommends that any fish that will not be legally retained should not be removed from the water prior to release.

The 2018 harvest target for Lake Roosevelt is 1,000 fish. The slot limit and other fishery rules will be strictly enforced. Anglers should note that the Lake Roosevelt sturgeon fishery (Grand Coulee Dam to the Canadian border) will be closed beginning Sept. 1, 2018.

Lake Roosevelt fisheries are co-managed between WDFW, Spokane Tribe of Indians and Colville Confederated Tribes. Non-tribal anglers are asked to be respectful of tribal angling and both tribal and non-tribal sturgeon research that is occurring on the reservoir.

Anglers are reminded that fishery dates, times, slot limits, daily limits and annual limits may be adjusted over time to ensure a sustainable population of sturgeon is maintained in Lake Roosevelt and that equitable access to the fishery amongst the three co-managers is achieved.

In 2017, a harvest sturgeon fishery opened in Lake Roosevelt for the first time in more than 20 years. Fishery managers in Washington state and British Columbia began sturgeon hatchery programs in the early 2000s in response to a decades-long decline in the white sturgeon population in Lake Roosevelt. Survival rates for those hatchery-produced juvenile sturgeon were much higher than was anticipated, allowing fishery managers to open the lake for the harvest of white sturgeon.

FDR Sturgeon Opening June 15, With Tighter Size Limit To Extend Fishery Longer

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

Action: Open a harvest fishery for white sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt.

Species affected: White sturgeon.

Location: Lake Roosevelt, from Grand Coulee Dam to China Bend Boat Ramp (including the Spokane River from Highway 25 Bridge upstream to 400′ below Little Falls Dam, Colville River upstream to Meyers Falls and the Kettle River upstream to Barstow Bridge).

RICK ITAMI AND TWO OTHER ANGLERS HOLD UP LAKE ROOSEVELT STURGEON CAUGHT DURING 2017’S FIRST SEASON THERE IN 30-ODD YEARS. THIS YEAR’S WILL FEATURE A SLOT LIMIT THAT IS MORE THAN A FOOT SHORTER, AN EFFORT TO EXTREND THE FISHERY OVER COMING YEARS. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Effective dates: Open seven days per week beginning June 15, 2018, until further notice.

Fishery rules: Daily limit 1 sturgeon. Annual limit 2 sturgeon. It is legal to retain sturgeon between 53 inches and 63 inches fork length. Fork length is measured from the tip of the snout to middle of the fork in the caudal fin (tail). All harvested sturgeon must be recorded on a Catch Record Card (Catch Code 549). Two-pole fishing is allowed. Closed to night fishing. All other statewide rules for white sturgeon must be observed.

Anglers are asked to use heavy gear (50-pound test mainline and leader, at a minimum) and use 14/0 hooks or smaller (approximately 2 inches or less from point to shank) to avoid catching or injuring large, wild adult sturgeon. The request to use heavier gear will ensure anglers hook and land sturgeon effectively, but also is protective of large, wild adult brood sturgeon that, if hooked, should be played to hand quickly and released without being removed from the water. WDFW recommends that any fish that will not be legally retained should not be removed from the water prior to release.

Reason for action: Fishery managers in Washington state and British Columbia began sturgeon hatchery programs in the early 2000s in response to a decades-long decline in the white sturgeon population in Lake Roosevelt. Survival rates for those hatchery-produced juvenile sturgeon is much higher than was anticipated. As a result, there is a surplus of these fish available for harvest from Lake Roosevelt.

Other information: In 2017, a harvest sturgeon fishery opened in Lake Roosevelt for the first time in more than 20 years, and anglers harvested an estimated 3,200 hatchery-origin sturgeon. The 2018 harvest target is 1,000 fish. Anglers should note that the slot limit for 2018 has been tightened significantly since last year in order to focus harvest on fish that are approaching maturity and to slow harvest to a sustainable rate.

Lake Roosevelt fisheries are co-managed between WDFW, Spokane Tribe of Indians and Colville Confederated Tribes. The co-managers negotiated a harvest plan that allows each a portion of the sturgeon harvest. Sport anglers are asked to be respectful both of tribal fishing and of ongoing sturgeon research being conducted by the state and tribes.

Anglers are reminded that fishery dates, times, slot limits, daily limits and annual limits may be adjusted over time to ensure a sustainable population of sturgeon is maintained in Lake Roosevelt and that equitable access to the fishery amongst the three co-managers is achieved.

Anglers Turn In Nearly 1,100 Pike Heads From Roosevelt In 2017

Anglers turned in the heads of nearly 1,100 northern pike caught at Lake Roosevelt for cash this year, part of a multipronged effort to keep the unwanted invasive species from getting further down the Columbia system.

The news was reported in the December quarterly newsletter of the Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department, along with word that the reward program will begin again Jan. 1 and run throughout 2018.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES’ ROBERT THOMAS HOLDS UP A 20-POUND FEMALE NORTHERN PIKE CARRYING A COUPLE POUNDS OF EGGS BEFORE BEING GILLNETTED OUT OF LAKE ROOSEVELT EARLIER THIS YEAR. (BRYAN JONES, COLVILLE TRIBES)

According to the newsletter, Colville officials paid out more than $10,000 for the 1,095 heads dropped off in bags at two drop stations since May 1, mostly since mid-July when the catch stood at 216.

Six anglers received the maximum available per fisherman, $590.

The year’s tally didn’t surprise Bill Baker, the WDFW district fisheries biologist in Colville.

“At $10 a head, there’s some incentive there,” he noted.

WDFW’s position couldn’t be more clear: “Pike are a problem, not an opportunity,” reads a line in an October update on the situation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The state and Colville and Spokane Tribes are working together to try and keep the pike, which came down through the Columbia system from Canada, Idaho and Montana, from getting past Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.

“We are concerned about the impacts pike are having on native fish in Lake Roosevelt, primarily redband trout, kokanee, white sturgeon and burbot,” Holly McLellan, a tribal fisheries bioloigst, stated in the newsletter. “If the northern pike are allowed to expand downstream into the mid and lower Columbia River, they have the potential to compromise recovery efforts for ESA listed salmon species.”

The furthest down Lake Roosevelt they’ve been discovered so far is the Hunters area.

State biologists also told the Fish and Wildlife Commission that suppression netting this year had removed another 1,083 northerns, largely at the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, and around the corner at Singers Bay.

Most were very young, but one weighed 26 pounds and went 44 inches long.

Editor’s note: The $10 reward is open to all licensed anglers, tribally and state-licensed alike. An earlier version of this misspoke by suggesting it was just available to tribal anglers. My apologies.

Angler Looks Back At First-in-a-long-time Roosevelt Sturgeon Fishery

Editor’s notes: The following blog was written and submitted to Northwest Sportsman by Rick Itami.

By Rick Itami

As most of my fishing buddies know, I am mostly a salmon and steelhead angler who has pursued the fish all over the Northwest, British Columbia and Alaska over a 50-plus-year period. But poor spring steelhead and Chinook salmon seasons in 2017 made me start looking for alternatives.

When I received a group e-mail from Toby Wyatt, owner/operator of Reel Time Fishing guide service (208-790-2128), reporting good fishing for sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt out of Kettle Falls, Washington, I had to give it some thought … for about two seconds. I scheduled a trip for the following Monday on July 17, 2017. with assigned guide, Shane Reynolds.  Two other clients joined me — Neal Thompson and his 13-year old grandson Ethan from Spokane.

WITH SPRING CHINOOK FISHING A BUST THIS YEAR, RICK ITAMI (LEFT) TOOK A GUIDED TRIP FOR LAKE ROOSEVELT STURGEON. HIS MAY HAVE BEEN THE SHORTEST AT 51 INCHES FORK LENGTH, BUT THE OPPORTUNITY PROVIDED A GREAT FISHERY CLOSE TO HIS SPOKANE HOME. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the opening of the first-ever catch-and-keep sturgeon season in Lake Roosevelt to run from May 27, 2017 through September 17, 2017 [but since closed after July 31]. The daily limit is one white sturgeon and the annual limit is two. A slot limit of 38 inches to 63 inches was also established for the fishery.

Thanks to successful hatchery programs in the State of Washington and British Columbia, the Lake Roosevelt comanagers, consisting of WDFW, the Spokane Tribe and the Colville Confederated Tribes, developed a harvest plan that allows nontribal anglers the opportunity to harvest up to 10,250 sturgeon over the next 10 years.  What a remarkable success story that has been quietly in the making since the early 2000s!

When we met Shane at the Kettle Falls launch at 6 a.m., our anticipation was high because he had been so successful on previous trips, sometimes limiting out by 8:30 a.m. But our day started off very slowly. Unlike most fishermen pursuing sturgeon in the area, Shane does not spend more than 15 minutes to half an hour at any location. For the first three hours, he moved at least six times to different way points in his GPS that he had had success at previously.  But we didn’t get a single bite at any of the locations.

Fishermen in other boats were having the same lack of success as us and most left the river by 10 a.m. But Shane had confidence that he could get us on fish sooner or later and told us not to lose heart. And sure enough, just before 11 a.m., he cruised over an area where he marked some fish and dropped anchor. Within a couple of minutes after all of the rods were set out, young Ethan’s rod tip bounced up and down and he quickly removed the rod from the holder and set the hook. The fish was obviously a nice one that gave the 13-year-old all he could handle. While Ethan was fighting his fish, I hooked and landed a small “shaker” that was below the slot limit and released. After a tough battle, Ethan finally landed his first-ever sturgeon, measuring 53 inches.

Then it was Neal’s turn. Within 15 minutes of Ethan landing his fish, Neal’s rod buried with a good fish that at first we thought might exceed the 63-inch slot limit. But once landed, it measured out at 59 inches — the biggest of the day. I weighed it for him on my digital scale and it registered just under 44 pounds.

All of us had landed a fish at that point, but I still needed to get a keeper into the boat. I didn’t have to wait long. My rod tip started bouncing and I set the hook into a fish I knew right away wasn’t another shaker. After a good fight, Shane lifted the fish over the gunnel. It measured out at 51 inches. All of us were happy with our catches, and Shane said that we averaged higher overall in size than many of his trips.

So what did we learn on this trip? First and most important is that a knowledgeable and experienced guide is worth every penny you pay him. Shane worked hard to find us some fish and his perseverance paid off. He has learned that sturgeon move around in pods in Lake Roosevelt and you just have to keep moving until you land in the middle of one of them. Once you find a group of fish, the action can be fast and furious, as was our experience towards the end of our trip.

Shane started off using squid on some rods and herring on the others. Once we found out that the fish were hitting the squid and not the herring, he baited all of the rods with squid. We fished depths ranging from 30 feet to 100 feet, but we caught all of the fish between 40 and 50 feet deep that day. This, of course, can vary from day to day. Again, Shane just kept changing locations and depths until he finds fish. And finally, Shane proved to us that we should never lose faith and give up as did other fishermen that day. He had confidence he could get us on fish and he kept changing locations within a huge area until we found success.

Finally, Shane said that if you see sturgeon leaping out of the water, you need to pull up and go quickly to that area, because that’s where biting fish will be. We found this to be true also.

After all of us limited out, we caught and released three more fish before calling it quits for the day. The weather was great with temperatures in the low 80s and winds were light to calm.

As I was finishing up writing this article, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced closure of the sturgeon fishery on July 31, 2017. Anglers were apparently too successful and so the co-managers decided on the early closure so that sports fishermen will have the opportunity to fish for sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt in future years.

So if you want to try this new fishery in coming years, I strongly urge you to go out with a good guide before you try it on your own. The area you fish is huge and quite daunting to a first-timer to that portion of the Lake Roosevelt. And don’t do like many do-it-yourselfers and sit in one spot all day. You have to be willing to move every 15 to 30 minutes if you aren’t getting bites.

Shane Reynolds also has his own guiding business separate from Reel Time Fishing and takes clients on salmon, steelhead, walleye and smallmouth bass trips as well as sturgeon trips.  He can be reached at (208) 880-2994.  I have gone out with dozens of guides in the past and Shane is one of the best.

We have to thank the WDFW, the Spokane Tribe and the Confederated Colville Tribes for making this fishery possible. It gives us salmonid fishermen a great alternative when poor ocean conditions, drought, or whatever results in weak runs of salmon and steelhead.

SMOKED STURGEON

By the way, I smoked my sturgeon fillets and they turned out to be outstanding in flavor and texture. Some members of a local gourmet club asked if I would sell some to them. Of course, I said “no”, but I was flattered that they asked.

Guide Rick Hedding from Clarkston, Washington, gave me the recipe several years ago.  The ingredients are few, the process is a bit long, but the result is the best smoked fish I have ever tasted. Here is the recipe:

– Slice fillets into preferred eating size chunks and place them into large aluminum lasagna pans.

– Mix a 26-ounce carton of iodized salt with 2 pounds of dark brown cane sugar, making sure the mixture is evenly blended without lumps.

–  Liberally spread the mixture over the fillets, making sure to cover every part of the meat.

– Place lasagna pans with fillets into the refrigerator for five hours. The salt/brown sugar mix will turn into a thick syrup that soaks nicely into the fillets.

– Put a clean bath towel over a flat surface and cover it with a layer of paper towels.

– Remove the fillets from the refrigerator after five hours, thoroughly rinse them individually with cold tap water and place them on the paper towels covering the bath towel.

–  Pat fillets dry with other paper towels.

–  Wash the lasagna pans using very hot soap and water and dry thoroughly.

–  Place the fillets back in the lasagna pans and place them back into the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

–  Smoke the fillets at 200 degrees F for five to six hours using hickory chips.

Feds Say Sturgeon Too Tough On Roosevelt Fish-cleaning Stations, But In Doing So Offer Bad Advice

Sturgeon have had to be tough critters to stick around for hundreds of millions of years, and the recent opener on Lake Roosevelt is proving once again how durable these ancient fish are.

Well, sort of.

IT WAS AN “AWESOME DAY” FOR JANICE HARVEY, WHO CAUGHT THIS STURGEON ON LAKE ROOSEVELT FOLLOWING THE RECENT OPENER. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Federal managers on the Upper Columbia reservoir say macerators at their seven fish-cleaning stations aren’t quite up to the task of handling anglers’ diamondsides.

“Our fish-cleaning stations, located at Spring Canyon, Keller Ferry, Fort Spokane, Porcupine Bay, Hunters, Gifford Ferry, and Kettle Falls, are better suited for the softer bones of other fish species such as trout, kokanee, bass, and walleye,” says a June 6 press release from the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

They’re asking fishermen to take their catches home and then clean and dispose of the carcasses.

However, their release can also be read that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is recommending anglers fillet their fish on the lake and dump the rest into deep water.

That set off alarm bells at WDFW’s Spokane office, where the reaction this morning ran along the lines of, “Say what?!?!?!?”

It wasn’t immediately clear where Lake Roosevelt NRA got their information from, but because the fishery is governed by a slot limit designed to protect younger and older sturgeon, if catches are cut up on the water, there would be no way for WDFW officers to confirm fish are legal-sized.

“Anglers need to bring them off the lake intact and take them home at which point they can clean them and dispose of the remains,” WDFW spokesman Madonna Luers told Rich Landers at the Spokesman-Review.

The fishery is a unique opportunity with around 10,250 sturgeon available for harvest this year and over the coming nine.

Lake Roosevelt below the China Bend Boat Ramp was opened in late May, the first time in around 30 years.

It’s the result of state and provincial hatchery programs to reverse the decline of the species here. According to WDFW, survival rates have been higher than expected, leading to a surplus of fish.

Daily limit is one, with an annual limit of two.

As with sturgeon fisheries elsewhere, there’s a slot limit: Only fish with a fork length — the measurement from the tip of the snout to the fork in the tail fin — of 38 to 63 inches can be retained.

While the most of the lower reservoir is currently open, the spawning sanctuary from China Bend to the British Columbia border is closed until Aug. 1.

Both sections close after Sept. 17.

FDR Pike Numbers Up As State-Tribal Removal Efforts Intensify

Ten times more “nightmare fish” — northern pike — than last March were caught earlier this month on Lake Roosevelt, including a 20-pound hen carrying eggs that made up roughly a tenth of its body weight.

The unwanted invasive species is the target of stepped-up gillnetting by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, and removal by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staffers, who say that this year through March 28, 338 have been taken out of the large reservoir at the head of the Columbia River in Washington.

COLVILLE TRIBES MEMBER ROBERT THOMAS HOLDS UP THE 20-POUND FEMALE NORTHERN PIKE GILLNETTED EARLIER THIS MONTH OUT OF LAKE ROOSEVELT. (BRYAN JONES, COLVILLE TRIBES)

The worry is that, just as pike got loose out of the Pend Oreille River system into Roosevelt, they’ll get out of FDR and into the salmonid-rich Columbia below Lake Rufus Woods.

Managers are increasing their efforts to head them off as they inexorably move that way.

“To date, northern pike appear to be distributed primarily in the Kettle Falls area  — near the mouths of the Colville and Kettle Rivers, Singers Bay, Evans — but juveniles were caught further south, near Bradbury launch, for the first time recently,” says Bill Baker, a WDFW fisheries biologist based in Colville.

He says that 2016 saw recruitment of a “measurable year-class,” along with “confirmed successful spawning” in the Kettle and probably Lake Roosevelt too.

A NORTHWEST POWER AND CONSERVATION COUNCIL IMAGE SHOWS MULTIPLE YEAR-CLASSES OF NORTHERN PIKE GILLNETTED OUT OF THE COLVILLE RIVER EARLIER THIS MONTH, “EVIDENCE THE POPULATION IS GROWING,” ACCORDING TO A BLOG POST FROM THE REGIONAL GROUP. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

“Many of the northern pike caught thus far this year are from that year class, around 16 to 17 inches on average. However, there are some large adults present, as well,” Baker says.

According to a mid-March Northwest Power and Conservation Council blog by spokesman John Harrison and headlined simply “Nightmare Fish,” the gonads on that hefty hen weighed 2.2 pounds and were “stuffed” with eggs.

WDFW began looking for concentrations of pike in February for the tribes to net this month. Gillnetting now gets ahead of the May-June spawn.

Baker says that this year’s netting effort is larger than 2016’s, so it’s hard to compare overall removal numbers from year to year, but he feels the catch rate is up, probably because of more pike in the lake but also a better understanding of where they like to hang out.

“Last year’s efforts informed where and when to net this year,” he says.

Bycatch has been “low,” he says, with walleye and redband rainbows comprising 8 and 5 percent of the overall haul.

Those fish are released alive as much as possible, and that’s being helped by cold water temperatures, he says.

If there’s good news, it’s that removal efforts in the Pend Oreille River reservoirs by the Kalispel Tribe appear to have pinched off those waters as a source of pike for FDR through entrainment during high-runoff years, such as 2011, when they first came to widespread attention after an angler caught one near Kettle Falls.

But unfortunately, the Canadian Columbia now has established pike schools, and “in-reservoir recruitment appears to now be the major driver for population expansion within Lake Roosevelt,” says Baker.

Northerns likely originally came down the Pend Oreille from the Clark Fork and Northwest Montana, where they were illegally introduced over the continental divide by bucket biologists.

State, tribal and Columbia system overseers are all on board with getting rid of as many pike as possible.

“We need to stop pike from moving downstream now,” Colville Tribes principal biologist Holly McLellan told Harrison, who also quoted Guy Norman, a former WDFW regional director and now member of the power council, as saying, “This is something that could have significant ecological effects on the lake, and on fisheries both in the lake and downriver. We need to get on top of it.”

Not only will putting a halt to northern’s southerly advance down the Columbia system help prevent damage to FDR’s stellar trout, kokanee, walleye and bass fisheries and ESA-listed salmon and steelhead populations below Rufus (the tribes also want to reintroduce stocks above Grand Coulee) but also provide fewer pike for jackasses to illegally move around, like the one that turned up in Lake Washington earlier this winter.

Baker says that gillnetting and monitoring will continue through spring.

And Harrison reports that crews will target the shallows this fall to remove and assess juvenile populations, while eDNA testing stations downstream will tell tribal and state monitors if pike are closing in on Grand Coulee Dam or getting into the Columbia Basin Reclamation Project.