It’s a perfect Idaho day and you’re fishing your favorite spot when BAM! Fish on!
This one is a real fighter, and your mind races with possibilities. A football-shaped smallmouth? A big rainbow trout? A catfish to take home for the fryer? The anticipation grows as you wrestle the fish toward shore.
Finally, the battle is won. You reach with the net to scoop up your prize ... only to discover an uninvited guest on the end of your line.
Yep, we’ve all experienced the disappointment of catching a northern pikeminnow.
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Pikeminnows are common throughout the Snake, Payette, Salmon and Boise river drainages. They are a relatively nondiscript fish, with olive backs and sides, white bellies, yellowish fins, large mouths and a deep-forked tail. They usually are 12-16 inches long, but they can get big — I once caught a 25-incher that I thought was going to be the bass of a lifetime.
There are two main reasons anglers dislike pikeminnows. The first is their tendency to take spinners, jigs and baits intended for game species, which is annoying, but harmless enough.
The second reason is pikeminnows’ notorious reputation for chowing down on the fry of salmon, trout, bass and other game fish. In Washington and Oregon, bounty programs have been established that pay anglers to catch and kill pikeminnows. According to a recent report in the Spokesman Review, one angler made nearly $100,000 in bounties this season.
Pikeminnows are native to the Columbia and Snake rivers, but dams give them an unnatural advantage in preying upon juvenile salmon and steelhead — hence the bounties. There are no pikeminnow bounties in Idaho, but there are no regulations on them, either. So what should you do when you catch one?
Many anglers kill pikeminnows, but an Idaho Fish and Game source I spoke to said Idaho populations aren’t big enough to cause problems and killing them won’t make a real difference. They really aren’t edible and it’s littering to leave them rotting on the bank.
In my opinion, the best thing to do with pikeminnows is to use them as cut bait. They work particularly well for channel catfish. Just cut off a square-inch chunk, sink it to the bottom, and who knows? Your undesirable catch could lead to a delicious catfish fry.