Esox Lucius, Standing up for the Proverbial Pike

by Rick Lawrence, February 01, 2018
One of my biggest loves in fishing right next to Bass fishing is catching Northern Pike. I don’t think this amazing game fish deserves all the negative publicity it has gotten in the last few years, so I’m here to stand up for the proverbial Pike!

The Pike has many names from Northerns on the East coast, Jacks up in Canada, and also various nicknames like, Snot Rockets, Legless Gators, and Toothy Torpedoes. By any name the Pike has gotten a bad rap. Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (W.D.F.W.) has gone as far as to call them Devil Fish, a highly undeserved name. This is based more in propaganda, than any scientific facts. WDFW has been trying brainwashing the general public into thinking the Pike is some kind of demon that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Pike are an excellent game fish that will stop your heart with bone jarring strikes and there is nothing like seeing a 20+ lb Pike eat a topwater bait. A big Pike puts up a battle like few other fish in the Pacific N.W. can give you. Still many Bass anglers get ticked off when a big Pike bites their bait off. I’ve seen some bass anglers purposely kill big Pike just because they don’t like them. This is illegal, as in the game laws it states it is unlawful to waste any game fish and Pike are listed as a game fish. But the biggest persecutors are Fish & Game themselves in many of the N. W. states and really unjustly so. Most people that are badmouthing the Pike really don’t understand the fish at all. I have been an avid Bass, Pike, and Muskie fisherman for about 30 years now and chased Bass for another 20 years before that. I can still remember my first 5lb bass when I was just 11 years, that really got me hooked (pun intended) on Bass fishing at a young age. I didn’t discover pike till I moved to Idaho in the early 90’s but it quickly became one of my favorite. I have studied Pike and learned their environments, their forage food base, and breeding habits. Washington and Idaho both call this fish an invasive species, but It Is No More So then the Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, or even dare I say the Brown Trout! All of these fish are non-native and are predatory fish looking for their next meal.

Distribution of Pike in the USA

The main reason that the W.D.F.W. are trying to eradicate the Pike is they say they will destroy the Salmon runs in the Columbia, but this simply is not true. Pike are no different than any of these other predatory fish as they will eat anything that get close enough for them to catch without expending a lot of energy. In the case of the Pike 99 times out of 100 what they eat is the fish that shares the same habitat as they do, all be it the humble Yellow Perch. They are the main forage fish for Pike in the N.W. in every lake and river that they are found in as they are a somewhat dumb and slow moving fish making them an easy meal for the pike. A fast and agile Trout or Salmon would require far too much of an effort for a pike to be able to chase down and catch.

In a stomach contents survey conducted by W.D.F.W. on Pike from the box Canyon res. before they started their gill netting program they tested 500 Pike. In that test they proved what the Pike ate was 99% Perch or Sunfish. Out of these 500 Pike they only found 3 trout in the bellies of all those fish yet they continue with the lies they are gill netting them to save the trout and Salmon in the Columbia.

Of all the non-native fish planted in the western states the Smallmouth is by far the most aggressive of them all. They can and do run larger Largemouth Bass off their territory and have drastically reduced their numbers in some lakes and rivers. As far as them being persecuted in Washington it has more to do with the almighty dollar then any real damage from the fish itself. The Bonneville power administration pays a 250 million a year mitigation fee for the dams inhibiting the Salmon runs. This is directed to some 500 projects being carried out by state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and tribes. "The projects are geared to meet restoration goals under a court-ordered biological opinion as well as 10-year agreements known as the Columbia Basin Fish Accords" *. They range from hatchery operations and watershed restoration to fish tagging, and stretch from the Pacific Ocean deep into Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Many of which they have to create projects to spend this money on. That is what the Box Canyon gill netting program was that was started in 2012 and still is going on today. Even though they knew that gill netting the Box Canyon res. would not stop the Pike from traveling downstream as Pike were already established 2 dam pools below Box canyon before they even started gill netting. They give the Native Tribes 10 million dollars on a project they knew would fail. One little known fact is how Pike got into the Box Caynon to start with. Fish & Game will tell you they washed down from Lake Pend Oreille in to the river and over the dam. Yet there is still no pike in the river above the dam and they are only now just getting established in the Clark Fork delta area. I have no proof but I was told by an eye witness that it was the tribe itself that went to Noxon years ago and planted Pike in the river to help control the Perch populations. Then about 15 years later they get paid 10 million dollars to remove them! Pretty nice gig if you can get it.

Another little known fact is W.D.F.W. posted the results of the gill netting program on the internet the first year they started it. It was on a hard to find back page that unless you really searched you would never see it. I only got to read it one time and didn’t get a chance to copy it before they figure out the screw up and it was taken down. They knew they had screwed up and didn’t want that info to get out. The figures as best as I remember them were, 14,000 Pike killed, 17,000 Perch, Crappie, and Sunfish dead, 9,000 Largemouth bass dead as doornails, 850 Smallmouth Bass, around 50 trout including 13 Bull trout, plus 1 Beaver, 1 Osprey, and 1 Eagle, and remember this was only for the first spring they netted!!! This has been going on for 6 years now and still has years to go. How many Bass do you think that total is up to now? They will not tell you what the results of the netting are these days, as I have asked and I get told they don’t have that information. I know that if the Bass anglers knew just how many fish they are killing for no reason they would be up in arms about it.

WDFW and the IDFG are probably the worst agencies at managing anything. Keep in mind that it was the state fisheries biologists what introduced the Mysis shrimp into all the major lakes in N. Idaho dooming the Kokanee, as well as introducing the Brown and Rainbow trout all over the N.W. that have dramatically lowered the Cutthroat populations. Time and time again they have shown that the only fish that they think should be allowed to swim in our waters are Trout. They have killed off many waters that were great Bass or Walleye lakes, just to restock it with dumb little hatchery Rainbows. They are currently gill netting in the spring at Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, and the upper reaches of Roosevelt Lake and in the Box Canyon Res. in Washington, killing 10’s of thousands of fish a year. They also gill netted Long Lake last year, in a so called “test” that was targeting Carp. But it was reported that as many Pike were killed in the nets as Carp. I have not heard if they plan to net Long again this year, but a certainly hope they will not.

To sum it up, let’s cool the pike bashing and have a reality check. Pike are here to stay; illegally or naturally spread they are in many of the E. Washington and N. Idaho watersheds. We can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube. So, let’s take a page from how pike are managed in Saskatchewan where you can only keep one Pike a day over 40” resulting in a world class fishery, Let’s manage this incredible game fish instead of trying to annihilate it. I find it humorous that fisheries biologists fear managing this natural resource because they might create more excitement and enthusiasm (translate; political pressure) for pike fishing. To this, I say, ha! It’s way too late.

*Source - The Oregonian, "Bonneville Power Administration says fish restoration program cuts are a temporary blip", Sept 12, 2012

** Editor's Note: The opinions in this article are the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NWFR.

Leave a comment


2/6/2018 7:18 AM
Pike are invasive and have caused the extinction and destruction of fisheries around the world. The science is clear. I agree there is no stoppin them but there is no doubt they will harm salmonid populations in the Columbia River system.
2/6/2018 8:33 PM
I disagree, there has been Pike in lake CDA in Idaho for many years and the Trout and Salmon populations are as good as ever. If you call a Pike an invasive species you would have to include the Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Brown Trout, Brook Trout, Lake Trout, Walleye, Crappie , Sunfish and Perch in that same boat. Don't believe what F&G has to say as they have repeatedly lied to serve their own agenda. Learn the facts for yourself and don't buy into the bull F&G are serving up.
Geno the Viking
2/7/2018 10:03 PM
Northern Pike are one of the most impressive game fish out there. Catching a big pike in cold waters can be ones greatest thrills as an angler. Its only been a generation since the WDFW was spending millions of dollars trying to eradicate Bass form our local lakes and replacing them with 8 inch trout. I would love to be able to fish for Northern Pike and even better, Muskies in our Washington lakes.
2/7/2018 10:46 PM
Bravo, Rick. We need to continue telling the truth even though its not politically correct. I grew up in Minn. and they manage their lakes for several fish species in each lake. Its worked for about 80 years. They match their management to the specific habitat of each lake. I never heard of them using rotenone. They don't kill fish, they enjoy them!
2/8/2018 1:35 PM
To the author: WDFW is not hiding results from you. Everything that has been done in Box Canyon is available on a website What's more, I'm surprised you think Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass belong together, particularly in small Washington lakes. If you don't think Pike can wipe out quality bass, quality perch, or quality panfish fisheries, you don't understand the species very well. Sometimes, you just can't have "great" everything. Here's an article on the subject:
2/9/2018 11:49 AM
I agree 100% with this author. I frequently fish Hayden Lake in Idaho. The fishing there is great for Kokanee, Crappie, Smallmouth Bass, and other species as well as Northern Pike. Northern Pike are a great game fish as well as good eating!
2/10/2018 9:11 AM
Except management of Hayden Lake isn't complicated the presence of federally listed salmon and steelhead. You are comparing apples to oranges.
AJ's Dad
2/9/2018 3:42 PM
OK, so I read the article at . In my opinion, as viable as this information was in referring to ponds and small lakes, I don't think it applies to the lakes Rick is referring to. I agree, if you drop a hand full of northerns into a 3 acre pond, they are going to feast on the perch and blue gills in that pond, and their populations will dwindle and likely disappear. Even in the 60 acre lake they mentioned in Nebraska, again a small lake, populations of fish overall dropped but the quality of the fish that remained was better, ie larger fish. When you are talking about bodies of water like Lake Roosevelt, and the Pend Oreille River, where the WDFW has decided to play god and wipe out as many pike as they can, these principals don't apply, in my opinion. There is a whale sized "Butt Load" of water in those systems, and several more fish species there that compete for food. I believe that if the pike were allowed to exist in the Columbia system, we would see similar results, but not on a drastic of a scale. In a small lake or pond, it's like shooting fish in a barrel when the pike need to feed and there are only those few species for them to go after. In a larger body of water there are more places for pan fish to hide, and other species for pike to eat, such as small mouth bass, tench, squaw fish. Woops, did I just say that? I mean "Northern Pike Minnows", (Where the heck did that politically correct name ever come from anyway????), white fish, carp, the list goes on and on. Yes they will also eat the precious salmon and trout if one happens to come along, but really. How often do pike hang out in the same water as trout and salmon??? I'm no expert, and certainly no fisheries biologist. I'm just a guy that tries to be level headed, objective, and absolutely loves to fish for Northern Pike.
2/10/2018 9:07 AM
"How often do pike hang out in the same water as trout and salmon???" Juvenile steelhead and salmon spend a lot of their lives feeding in the slower moving weedy water where pike live. Just think about that.
2/18/2018 12:15 PM
I have been fishing for well over 50 years and I have never seen trout in shallow weeds that pike roam in. Show me any hard data that supports that fact. But then I haven't seen Bigfoot either and we all know they exist! :)
Mike Carey
2/12/2018 7:17 AM
The debate about allowing or not allowing pike in the Columbia seems to me missing the bigger issue. They are already in there and in the years ahead it's likely we'll start seeing reports as they make their way over various dams. It's unfortunate but another example of the consequences of man changing his environment. Everything has consequences. We now have wind turbines that kill tens to hundreds of thousands of birds so people can drive around in hybrid cars feeling good about themselves. Trade-offs. The money spent trying to eradicate pike maybe could be better spent on limiting gill netters, dealing with sealions, habitat restoration and proper hatchery methods. These would have much greater effect on salmon steelhead recovery than spending money trying to net every pike in a giant river system. You only have to miss a few to have the problem come right back. (for those that consider it a problem)
Mike Carey
2/12/2018 7:20 AM
BTW, I appreciate the civil dialog and debate on this important topic. It certainly beats name calling and vitriol. Thank you.
2/12/2018 3:37 PM
I agree that the Dept of Fish & Wildlife are usually way off the mark on how they handle wildlife. The Northern Pike is a truly great game fish and I was amazed when I moved here Twenty years ago that they were trying to get rid of them. One thing that stands out in my mind is that Sprague Lake was evidently considered at one time, one of the best Walleye lakes in the State. I was told Fish and Wildlife poisoned the lake to get rid of Catfish and never replaced the Walleye. If that was indeed the case, I would have to put that down as mismanagement.