Warmer water conditions are likely contributing to the bumper crop of pikeminnow that has been caught so far this year in the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program in the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.
The 2010 season pikeminnow catch so far is more than 40,000 fish ahead of last year's pace.
The program provides cash for catching pikeminnow, a large member of the minnow family. The voracious predators chow down on millions of young salmon and steelhead every year.
The goal of the program is not to eliminate northern pikeminnow, but rather to reduce the average size of the pikeminnow population and the number of larger, older, and more voracious fish.
Achieving that goal improves the survival of juvenile salmon and steelhead swimming down through the Columbia-Snake mainstem hydro system. Many of those stocks are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Bonneville Power Administration has funded the program since 1990 to partially mitigate for the impact of the Columbia River dams on salmon.
Research completed prior to the start of the program suggested predation by northern pikeminnow on juvenile salmonids might account for much of the mortality juvenile salmonids experienced at the time in each of eight Columbia River and Snake River reservoirs, according to program reports.
Modeling simulations based on work in John Day Reservoir from 1982 through 1988 indicated that, if predator-size northern pikeminnow were exploited at a 10-20 percent rate, "the resulting restructuring of their population could reduce their predation on juvenile salmonids by 50 percent," the 2009 annual report says.
So, a 10-20 percent exploitation rate has been the goal, and the 2009 rate of 12.8 percent represented the 12th consecutive year in which the goal had been achieved.
And expertise developed by a relatively small cadre of anglers has helped accomplish that goal. Last year 2.1 percent of the participating anglers were responsible for 73 percent of the pikeminnow harvested in the program.
One lucky angler this year has already has broken the individual record for catching specially tagged fish that are worth up to $500. He has hooked 12 tagged fish and earned $6,000 in the process. Thousands of tagged fish are still available. That angler is also in second place among 2010 particpants with $30,302 earned so far.
With nearly two months to go in the season, another angler has earned more than $54,000, nudging nearer the record of nearly $58,000 in individual earnings that he set in 2008. The same fisherman also earned $45,351 in 2006, $46,400 in 2007 and $45,567 in 2009. This year's total includes five tagged fish worth $500 each.
"He's been pretty successful for the past several years actually," said Craig Miller of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission staff.
"People are making serious money with this program," said Russell Porter, senior program manager for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. "And they're having fun fishing while helping save young salmon. I encourage folks to come out with their families and give it a try. Even beginners can earn cash catching pikeminnow."
Anglers get paid $4 to $8 for northern pikeminnow nine inches and larger caught in the lower Columbia (mouth to Priest Rapids Dam) and Snake (mouth to Hells Canyon Dam) rivers. The more pikeminnow an angler catches, the more the fish are worth. The first 100 are worth $4 each; the next 300 are worth $5 each; and, after 400 fish are caught and turned in, they are worth $8 each.
As an added incentive, specially tagged fish are worth $500.
Through Aug. 22, 128,552 pikeminnow – the number credited via vouchers handed out at streamside check stations -- have been caught this year. And $759,017 has been paid out, though that total only covers the 112,463 vouchers that have been submitted by anglers for payment through Monday, Miller said.
Last year, anglers caught approximately 142,000 pikeminnow and just over $1 million was paid out to anglers. The season ran from April 27 through Oct. 11. The high catch (267,000) and payout ($1.8 million) over the course of the program was in 2004, according to project reports.
This year the annual program started May 1 and was originally scheduled to close Sept. 30. Program managers have extended the season by 10 days this year, allowing rewards through Oct. 10. Some program stations will close and hours will change for others, so be sure to check out www.pikeminnow.org or call 800-858-9015.
Some of the best fishing is still ahead – September is typically one of the best months for catching pikeminnow in the Snake River. The highest catches overall have most often been in the late June through early July period, but the success rate typically begins to rise again in September, Miller said.
Since 1991, more than three million pikeminnow have been removed from the Snake and Columbia rivers through the sport reward program. As a result of these efforts, pikeminnow predation on juvenile salmon is estimated to have been cut by 40 percent.
To watch a video with fishing tips and program details, go online to:
The program is administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration.