Fishing the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River usually conjures up images of landing the mighty salmon or massive sturgeon. But many anglers in Washington and Oregon have set their sights on one lesser-known fish — the northern pikeminnow. While not an otherwise desirable species, angling for the northern pikeminnow has exploded in the last twenty years for one simple reason — this greenish-silvery predator has been lining the pockets of fishermen with cash since 1990.
The northern pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus oregonensis) is a predatory species with a ravenous appetite for salmon spawn. This giant freshwater minnow is also quite prolific, with the female laying up to 30,000 eggs per year. This combination of fertility and predatory success came to the attention of scientists trying to account for declining salmon populations within the Columbia and Snake River systems in the mid-1980s. As a product of the series of studies done during this time, The Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Program was born.
The Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Program is a cooperative effort between Bonneville Power Administration, which funds the payouts, and local wildlife services in Oregon and Washington. The program aims to cull a percentage of the pikeminnow population by offering a per-head bounty on fish landed from most portions of the Columbia River and sections of the Snake River between May 1st and September 30th each year.
Anglers must check in the day they fish at one of seven registration stations in Oregon or fourteen such stations in Washington. The successful pikeminnow fisherman then returns that day with his or her live or fresh-condition fish (of nine inches or larger) to receive a voucher from the station’s technician. These vouchers are then mailed to Bonneville Power Authority who verifies them and sends out a timely check.
The per-fish incentive is based on the number of northern pikeminnow caught by an angler each season. The first one hundred fish earns the sportsman $4 per head. From 101 to 400 pikeminnow, the payout is $5. As an extra incentive for ambitious anglers, every fish over 400 caught earns $8 each. And the cash cow doesn’t stop with the regular payment. There are specially tagged specimens released each year which will earn the angler $500 if caught and returned to a registration station.
How much can be made from catching the northern pikeminnow? In 2010, the top angler received a record $81,000 for his haul of thousands of river predators. Past years’ top amounts have included rewards of $47,000 for landing this unusually large minnow within bounty season. While most who participate won’t earn nearly that much, it shows a skilled and dedicated angler can bring home significant amounts of cash from this predator control program.
If you’re looking for a fish that will bite on scores of different baits and lures, is relatively easy to find and can earn you cold, hard cash, the northern pikeminnow might be worth putting on your radar. Even if you get skunked, the beauty and mild weather of the Columbia River Basin will always be there to console you.
This article on the northern pikeminnow was supplied by Todd Langwell from Constant Content.