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Not Everyone Loves Northern Pike

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 8/14/2015

Northern Pike aka the “Water Wolf” is definitely a top end predator.  In their native habit they can reach massive proportions, to 60 inches and 50 plus pounds in North America, larger in Europe.  Equipped with a mouth full of teeth, an elongated body that’s ideal for quick, explosive strikes and a willingness to eat about anything that moves upwards to a third of its body length these wolves are popular with many anglers, including me. 

But not everyone loves northern pike, as evidenced by this article from the Nevada Department of Wildlife.  Essentially, illegal stocking of pike resulted in the loss of a trophy classed trout fishery without producing a viable pike fishery. Lots of hammer handles, little else, they ate themselves out of house and home.  Consequently, Nevada Department of Wilflife felt it necessary to kill the reservoir and start over.

This isn’t a new story, as we’ve seen it unfold in other states.  Northern Pike or other sportfish get into fisheries, often trout fisheries, destroying a quality fishery and the resulting fishery is marginal at best.  Unfortunately, when a newly introduced species takes hold and blossoms, anglers see phenomenal fishing for a short period and mistakenly believe it’s sustainable.  Often it takes a decade or so for the real issues with the illegal introduction of the pike or other fish to show.  Nevada isn’t alone in this fight.  Pike have been an ongoing issue in Colorado and other western states for years, especially the Colorado River drainage waters.

California is downright nasty about their efforts to keep pike out of the state per their regulations:

“No northern pike, dead or alive, may be released into any water at any time. All northern pike taken shall be killed immediately by removing the head and shall be retained by the angler. The angler shall notify CDFW that he/she has taken and possesses a northern pike by calling CDFW’s CalTIP telephone number (1-888-CDFW-CALTIP) as soon as possible, but not more than 24 hours after taking the northern pike. The angler shall maintain the head and body of the fish in a refrigerated or frozen condition, whenever possible, until CDFW collects the northern pike.”

Nevada’s regulations aren’t much better:

“Northern pike are not classified as game fish; they are a prohibited species. Anglers wishing to keep northern pike to eat are required to kill them upon capture. There is no limit for northern pike, and anglers who wish to assist in the removal of northern pike from the waters of the state and who wish to dispose of them may do so without regard for Nevada’s wanton waste laws. The importation, transportation or possession of live northern pike is prohibited.”

Washington State isn’t quite as nasty, but it’s obvious they’d prefer pike don’t exist as their regulations are:

“NORTHERN PIKE Statewide: No min. size. No daily limit. No possession limit. Must be dead before being removed from riparian area (immediate vicinity of water body).” 

Arizona’s regulations are:  “no limit with immediate kill or release.”

In Utah – On some waters, primarily Colorado River drainages, pike are a mandatory kill and may not be release.  Plus, they passed laws allowing anglers to legally dispose of fish without “eating” them as required by Utah’s wasting statute, where mandatory kill regulations are in effects.  Similar regulations exist in Wyoming’s area four (Green River drainage) only. All other areas have a three fish limit.

Yes, I enjoy fishing for and catching pike where quality fisheries exist.  By quality, I mean waters where 30 inch or better fish are common and there’s a good chance of seeing a 40 inch plus pike.  Twenty inch pike are about two years of age, rather like 8-12 inch rainbows.  While a 24 inch fish might seem big compared to a 12 inch rainbow, it’s not much of a fish in my book, and a lake full of hammer handles is the sign of a fishery that has gone awry.   

My view is all species are fun to catch and have a place, but that doesn’t mean they should be placed in all waters.  So while I love pike, I really don’t care to see them show up in waters where their presence will marginalize a quality fishery with their introduction.  That view applies to any other species such as perch, crappie, and black bass that's illegally introduced.

Illegal introductions are a continuing problem.  Fixing the damage is expensive and strains the limited resources of managing wildlife agencies.  Catching the culprits is nearly impossible, yet, I suspect in most cases the culprits are known by someone.  Until we, as anglers, say, “NO MORE” and alert the authorities when we know of illegal activities, bucket biology will continue.  Given many anglers don’t seem to fully appreciate the damage their “beloved” species is causing, illegal stocking will continue to be supported, in part, through angler's silence.   

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
pikeNcolorado, 8/14/2015 11:19:28 AM
I love pike as well. Fact of the matter is, I feel like SOME people hate these fish because Game and Wildlife Organizations around the country make regulations so strict. If you live in California, have no clue what a pike is, and read their regs, you would automatically think this fish is bad. With that said, I completely agree with you Dave ( Doesn't happen all the time ) that there is a place for pike and that is not in all of our waters. I wish there were more waters in our state but I completely understand why CPW hesitates in where they decide to put pike.
pikeNcolorado, 8/14/2015 11:20:45 AM
One more important note: We that love to fish for pike should be very greatful that CPW allows them in some of our waters unlike some of these other states.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 8/14/2015 11:35:21 AM
Solid points. My purpose it to get people to appreciate what they have and understand that not every species is appropriate for every water. Pike are great fish. Which is why I spend the bucks to travel to their native waters. I should also mention that California has the same restriction for White Bass in most of California, another fish I love, but can cause problems in some fisheries.
anglerwannabe, 8/14/2015 12:30:30 PM
I too have come to cherish the Pike! lol But your blog simply reiterates what I feel about CO. It is a great place to fish. I'm sure they're out there but I have yet to see any place with as diverse a fishery as us. Especially given the small bodies of water we have. I get it, I do.. people would love to see the pike\muskie fishing from Wis or MN.. or bass fishing from TX\FL. but we don't live in those states. And Pueblo has been listed as top 100 bass lake in the U.S. for a few years no. Colorado can be tough to fish.. it isn't as easy as TX and some other places and I know as I fish TX frequently. But put in some time and research and the fishing here is spectacular. Back to the pike, I would love to see a gold medal body of water for them. Look how many people fish Spinney and Delaney and for how many years? Those are relatively small bodies of water and yet they produce great fish year after year. Good management IMO.
NoNick, 8/14/2015 5:25:36 PM
Man... Those draconian California "rules" regarding the micromanagement of Northern Pike is a shining example of how ridiculous government creep has become in CA. If that's what they want you to do with Pike, who knows how bad it is for other things. No wonder people are leaving CA in droves. I like Pike, and I can see both sides of this argument. On one hand, it's fun to fish for them, but who really wants them to completely take over a fishery. The hammer handles are really more of a problem than the good sized fish. The DOW should shoulder some blame with the Pike problem because they're the ones who stocked them in many cases. It's not like Carp where they tell you to cook the Carp on a wooden board and eat the board when it's done cooking. Honestly, I think they taste better than Trout.
D-Zilla, 8/15/2015 10:09:38 PM
As a kid, (man it seem like so long ago) I fished for pike a LOT. Mostly in South Dakota. (where the pike is almost as abundant as Rainbow Trout are here) I remember the very first pike I ever saw. I hooked it on a cane pole (how many people remember those) over the side of a 14' flat bottom boat, in a lake in SD. I tried with everything my VERY young body could muster, and I couldn't move it. My dad thought I'd hooked a log, until he took the pole and the pike went NUTS, He tried to bring it aboard, his friend helping, and they couldn't get that fish into the boat. We saw it at one point and I remember thinking to myself, I was NEVER swimming in that lake....EVER. It had to be 4' long, and as big around as my dad's leg! Scared the bejeezus out of me! As I grew older and learned the ways of the rod and reel, and how to fish like a "big boy". I remember sessions with my uncles in Dimock Lake, and below the spillway there where the pike were 3 feet long and ALWAYS hungry.....we never went home without a few. I love pike, for the fight and thrill of it....I wish I could find more here in CO, but until I do, I'll keep trying lakes with them in stock, in the hopes of catching another green torpedo!
Jacob J, 8/16/2015 7:35:54 AM
Norhten Pike historically makes perfect Gefilte Fish.
Dangly, 8/21/2015 7:34:39 AM
Angler, we are diverse in opportunity to be sure, but NE smokes us on Diversity of species and opportunity, wish Colorado would let them do more consultation.