The annual Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program runs from May 1 to Sept. 30 this year on the Columbia River. The program, funded by Bonneville Power Administration, pays anglers for catching, keeping and turning in pikeminnow (also known as “northern squawfish”), which are known to have significant negative impact on juvenile salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake river systems.
Rewards for turning in fish (9 inches or longer) can vary from $4 to $8 each, depending on how many are turned in.
“Northern pikeminnow eat millions of salmon and steelhead juveniles each year in the Columbia and Snake River systems,” the program’s website noted. “The goal of the program is not to eliminate the fish, but rather to reduce the average size and curtail the number of larger older fish. Reducing the number of these predators can greatly help the salmon and steelhead juveniles making it out to sea.”
BPA funds the program to partially mitigate the impact of the Columbia River hydroelectric system on salmon.
The program reports that results indicate efforts are successful. Since 1990, over 3.9 million northern pikeminnow have been removed by the Sport Reward Fishery. Predation on juvenile salmonids has been cut by an estimated 40 percent.
The program stretches from the mouth of the Columbia River to Priest Rapids Dam near Yakima and the Snake River. To get paid, anglers must register each day prior to fishing at one of several sites along the river. Locally, sites are located at Beacon Rock, Cascade Locks Boat Ramp, Bingen Marina and The Dalles Boat Basin. Fish must then be turned over to program assistants, who issue payment vouchers for each qualifying fish.
For skilled or diligent anglers, the program is more than fun on the water; it can yield significant payouts. Data for 2011 at Cascade Locks, for example, shows a total of 17,715 fish turned in, with an average of 9.1 per angler per day. At the lowest disbursement of $4 per fish, that’s more than $70,000 in payouts. In addition, anglers at thes same location brought in 15 specially tagged fish worth $500 each.
For the following information, a map of registration stations, rules and regulations and more, see the program’s website at www.pikeminnow.org.
Where to fish
You can catch northern pikeminnow almost anywhere on the Columbia River. Northern pikeminnow congregate in rocky areas with fast current near dams, islands, stream mouths, points, eddies, rows of pilings and ledges or bars in the river. Most fish are caught between 7-25 feet of water.
Northern pikeminnow feed heavily on smolts, freshwater clams and crayfish. They move to find concentrations of prey. Finding northern pikeminnow may not be easy. After fishing an area for up to an hour without good results, try somewhere else.
How to fish
Worms are the most common northern pikeminnow bait. Chicken liver is the next most popular bait. Make sure it is fresh and keep it cold to prevent it from getting too soft to stay on the hook. Cut-bait (strips cut from fish), fish entrails, skin from fried chicken, salmon eggs, grasshoppers, crayfish tails and shrimp are also popular.
There are three primary methods of fishing with bait for northern pikeminnow. Plunking is the most popular method. Use just enough weight to hold the bait in position against the current. A variation of plunking is to use a little less weight so the bait slowly “walks” with the current.
For the back-bouncing method, lift the bait off the bottom by raising the rod tip about a foot. Free spool or back reel to allow the bait to move with the current. Repeat these steps when the bait settles back to the bottom. Back-bouncing is especially effective from a boat and can be used in deep water.
Lastly, drift-fishing uses the same technique and rigging used for steelhead drift-fishing