Esox lucius (Northern pike)

Animal Fish
Family: Escocidae
Classification: Prohibited

Northern Pike are a non-native, highly invasive predator that has become established in Box Canyon Reservoir on the Pend Oreille River in northeast Washington.  They are considered a serious threat to both native and preferred non-native fish species in Box Canyon Reservoir and downstream into the Columbia River.  Northern Pike in the Pend Oreille River system are a result of illegal introductions in Montana that moved downstream in the Clark Fork River to Lake Pend Oreille, then into the Pend Oreille River and into Washington.

Their voracious appetite for other fish and prolific spawning habits represent a potential for great ecological and economic damage, not just in northeast Washington but throughout the region. The Pend Oreille River is a tributary of the Columbia River, where even salmon and steelhead could be negatively impacted by Northern Pike moving downstream.

Surveys conducted between 2004 and 2014 documented both a rapid increase in the number of Northern Pike in Box Canyon Reservoir and a decline in the abundance of forage species such as native minnows and non-native sunfish, largemouth bass, and yellow perch.

Click on map to enlarge
Current distribution of northern pike in Washington State.
The northern-most red line represents the Pend Oreille River (Box Canyon and Boundary Reservoirs) and the Columbia River from the Canadian border to just north of Kettle Falls. The southern-most red line represents the Spokane River and Lake Spokane (aka Long Lake). The northern and southern red circles represent Newman Lake and Liberty Lake, respectively, in Spokane County. Further movement downstream in the Columbia River and illegal movement by “bucket biologists” is a grave concern of fisheries management agencies throughout the Northwest.

In April 2011, public meetings were conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Kalispel Tribe Natural Resources Department (KNRD) to solicit feedback on the findings to that point and the plan going forward.  Also, as a result of the numbers of Northern Pike captured, plus their spawning and predatory habits, the WDFW Commission voted to reclassify Northern Pike as a Prohibited Species in Washington.  Under this designation: anglers may harvest pike under WDFW sportfishing rules, with no minimum size and no daily or possession limit; pike must be killed before leaving the water in which they are caught; and the release of live Northern Pike into other waters is strictly prohibited.  

In February 2012, public meetings were held to openly communicate a multi-year approach for reducing Northern Pike numbers in Box Canyon Reservoir by 87 percent. That target population reduction level was determined to be the minimum necessary, based on pike abundance measured in the 2010 - 2011 WDFW Spring Pike Index Netting (SPIN) surveys.

The plan to reduce the numbers of Northern Pike has employed three different removal methods: 1) angler harvest, 2) fishing derbies, and 3) gill nets. The design of the nets and how we use them helps to maximize the catch of a variety of Northern Pike sizes and ages while minimizing bycatch.  Over the course of three years (2012, 2013, and 2014), suppression efforts removed over 16,000 Northern Pike by gillnetting and 334 in “PikePalooza” fishing derbies sponsored by KNRD, which offered more than $20,000 in cash and prizes.  The suppression effort reduced the Northern Pike population within Box Canyon Reservoir by an estimated 90% and springtime gillnetting was determined to be the most effective tool to manage the population.  This aligned with project goals, which are monitored by the index surveys (SPIN), which follow the removal netting each spring.  Also, to ensure that Northern Pike numbers remain low within the reservoir and reduce the risk of movement downstream into the Columbia River, WDFW and KNRD will continue to use targeted springtime gillnetting into the future and will work to develop a long-term Northern Pike Suppression and Monitoring Strategy.

Even though suppression netting is lowering numbers of pike and helping to keep them low, WDFW encourages anglers to harvest Northern Pike.  Small or skinny pike, sometimes stunted by overpopulation or lack of adequate forage, will still reproduce and cause problems.  There are still, however, many large pike that are fun on rod and reel and Northern Pike, when filleted properly are outstanding table fare.  As mentioned above though, since Northern Pike are classified as prohibited species, they must be dead before removing them from the water in which they were caught.

The largest proportion of Northern Pike in the Pend Oreille River is in Box Canyon Reservoir, but they also live in Boundary Reservoir, just north of Box Canyon Dam on the Pend Oreille River. Anglers have also reported catching pike in the Columbia River north of the confluence with the Pend Oreille River, in Canada, and downstream near Northport Washington and just upstream and downstream of Kettle Falls.  They also live in the Spokane River from Lake Couer d’Alene in Idaho downstream to Long Lake in Spokane County.  Northern Pike are a prohibited species everywhere they exist in Washington.

Other western states are struggling with non-native populations of Northern Pike as well, and face challenges similar to Washington. Alaska, for example, has a large northern portion of the state where Northern Pike are native, but illegal introductions to the southcentral part of the state, where they are not native, have caused devastating impacts to native salmon and trout populations. Washington is trying to learn from Alaska’s management strategy, and for more information on their situation, see the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Northern Pike webpage.

Northern Pike vs Tiger Muskie:
Know the Difference

Northern Pike
Tiger Muskie
Washington State now has both northern pike and tiger muskies inhabiting public waters. Both fish are “esocids”, which means they are members of the esocidae family. Other members of that family include muskellunge (true muskie) and pickerel. All share a similar, long body shape, oval in cross-section (hence the name “pike”, meaning spear or lance-shaped) and have a large duck-bill mouth with big teeth and a dorsal fin located near the tail fin. Learn more >>


Northern Pike
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  Northern Pike caught in Liberty Lake, WA where they were illegally introduced.
Northern Pike
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  This is an example of the voracious appetite of northern pike. This pike from Box Canyon Reservoir was full of adult pumpkinseed sunfish and yellow perch.
  Supression Reports