By Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish and Game public information specialist
The Panhandle offers a unique fishing opportunity for northern pike not found elsewhere in Idaho, which anglers can enjoy while at the same time keeping the fish’s population in check which is a good thing for other species.
There are about 23 bodies of water in northern Idaho that have pike. The fish are commonly found in Coeur d’Alene Lake and the “chain” lakes along the Coeur d’Alene River. Coeur d’Alene Lake has opportunities for shore and boat fishing, and the chain lakes range from about 200 to 700 acres, which makes them suitable for smaller motor boats and craft like canoes, kayaks and float tubes. They also offer a variety of game fish and easy access, along with boating, picnicking and campsites.
For other waters that have northern pike, check Idaho Fish and Game’s Fishing Planner at fishandgame.idaho.gov. Scroll to the bottom the home page to the Fishing Planner logo.
Northern pike are a large predatory fish (the state record is 40 pounds), that can be taken on a variety of tackle. Many anglers target them, but pike are also taken incidentally when angers are pursuing other types of fish.
Spring is the best time to fish for pike because the fish are often found in shallow water, and weeds have not grown that can make fishing for them more challenging.
Lots of choices for anglers
Pike fishing can be a simple or as complicated as you want to make it. For anglers who prefer the basics, dangling a hook baited with smelt or other bait beneath a bobber will catch these fish. But considering their aggressive nature, many anglers prefer to tempt them out of their lairs to chase and strike a fleeing lure.
Like all fishing, some lures work better than others for pike, and it can change from day to day, but you might use bigger-than-usual lures for these fish, and white, yellow and chartreuse are popular colors.
Plastics that imitate a minnow or other small fish are also good baits for pike. Field and Stream magazine offers a good “how to” guide for northern pike on its website at http://www.fieldandstream.com. Do a search for “basic guide to catching northern pike” (direct link: http://www.fieldandstream.com/articles/fishing/more-freshwater/where-fis....)
Although illegally introduced into Idaho in the 1970s, Fish and Game manages pike as a game fish, but there are no minimum size or bag limits on them.
“Our policy has always been to encourage high harvest which keeps numbers down and minimizes impacts to other species,” said Fish and Game Fisheries Bureau Chief Jim Fredericks.
Studies have shown anglers in Idaho harvest about a third of the pike population annually, which keeps the population in check and minimizes spreading to other areas. High harvest also keeps the voracious fish from depleting other fish.
“In general, northern pike haven’t had destructive impacts on other game fish or native fish species,” Fredericks said. “That said, there are limited areas in Coeur d’Alene Lake where predation appears to be an issue for cutthroat trout, and we’ve been working in cooperation with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe on localized removal efforts.”
Fish and Game biologists are currently surveying pike in northern Idaho to monitor their abundance, distribution and population trends, as well as the amount of harvest that’s occurring.
“We think they’ve reached a stable state,” said Carson Watkins, Fish and Game’s regional fish biologist in the Panhandle Region.
But monitoring pike is a work in progress, and Fish and Game crews are netting the Chain Lakes and tagging pike so they can learn not only about their population, but also growth rates, ages, reproduction and more.
Anglers who catch a tagged pike, or any other tagged fish, can report them to help with those efforts. Tagging fish and anglers reporting them is an efficient and cost-effective way of monitoring harvest, survival, growth and movement of the fish.
Tagged fish don’t have to be harvested, but it’s encouraged for pike. If you plan to release it, write down the tag number and release the fish with the tag intact. You can call (866) 258-0338 to report the tag.
Tags labeled with “reward” are worth cash, and the tag must be clipped from the fish and returned to Fish and Game for the reward to be paid. If two tags are with the fish, both numbers are needed.
To learn more about the tagging program and how to redeem reward tags, go to fishandgame.idaho.gov and see the link on the Fishing page (direct link https://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/fish/tagged.pdf).