Fishing for Dollarsby Chris Shaffer
The Daily News, June 28, 2006
Pikeminnow angling along the Columbia River can be profitable
In the early 1990s, Eli Rico was just beginning his career as a salmon and steelhead fishing guide on the Columbia River along the Washington and Oregon border. To generate income, he'd guide in the morning and spent his evenings getting paid to catch pikeminnows.
"I'd only fish for four hours a day and I'd catch 20 fish. Normally, I'd make about $200 just for fishing a few hours at night. If I got my 20 fish, I was happy," says Rico, now owner of Hot Shot Guide Service, one of the busiest guides in the region.
Rico was taking part in a program that began in 1991. Funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, anglers are encouraged to help save salmon and steelhead stocks by catching the predator pikeminnows and getting paid to do so. The concept was to reduce the number of pikeminnows and save salmon and steelhead populations.
Adult pikeminnows are known to feed heavily on juvenile salmon. As adults, pikeminnows can consume up to 10 salmon a day.
"When it first started, there were so many pikeminnow it was extremely easy," Rico said. "I was guiding during the day, so it was a great way to supplement income and it was a lot of fun. There's not as many big fish now, it's become a little tougher, so we know the management is working."
There's still plenty of fish to be caught. In fact, for a part-time or a summer job, anglers can earn good money. And, you don't have to be hired to do so. Anglers simply catch the pikeminnows and turn them in at one of several check-in stations. All that's necessary is a valid fishing license.
Registration into the program is free.
Pay is determined by the total number of fish you catch. For example, anglers are paid $4 apiece for the first 100 fish and $5 apiece for the next 300 fish. If you catch more than 500 fish, you'll earn $8 per fish. There are also many tagged fish worth $500 each. Except for the fact that they have to be nine inches or larger to qualify, there are no other stipulations.
Anglers can register to earn money catching pikeminnows. The season is open from May 1 through October 1, most notably because that's when the pikeminnows are available to anglers because of river flows and temperature. It's also when they are easiest to catch.
Anglers can catch and get paid for pikeminnows caught from the mouth of the Columbia River to Priest Rapids Dam and from the mouth of the Snake River to Hells Canyon Dam.
"We have a few guys that fish for the pikeminnows for a living," says Russell Porter of the Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission, who spearheads the project. "The most someone ever earned was $44,000 in a season. The normal top people each year get somewhere in the upper 20s or low 30s."
Last year's biggest winner was Portland's Nikolay Zaremskiy, who caught $38,084 worth of pikeminnows. He caught 4,800 fish and two tagged fish. It is possible for Southern California anglers to fund a summer fishing trip to the Columbia River by spending a week catching pikeminnows to pay for gas and other expenses.
Consider this: two buddies drive to the Columbia River and catch 20 fish per day. At $4 apiece, that's $80 per angler. Multiply that by seven days, and you are looking at more than $500 for the week, $1,000 between two anglers. And, that can be done by fishing in the evening and at night, leaving you several hours during the day to tour the area and fish for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, smallmouth bass and walleye.
"There's a whole pikeminnow culture that comes out during the summer, and it generates a ton of money," says Joel Shangle, host of "Northwest Wild Country Outdoor Radio" in Seattle.
"A couple of guys could easily support a Columbia River vacation just by catching pikeminnows. Think about that for a minute: you can spend a week, a month - heck, the whole summer - on a river that's famous around the world for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, walleye and smallmouth, and all because you knocked out $100 a day on pikeminnows."
Since conception, the program has been deemed a success. Last year, anglers were able to catch and remove roughly 27 percent of the predator size pikeminnow in the system. This equates to saving more than three million salmon. In 2005, anglers were able to remove more than 243,000 pikeminnow.
Nearly $1.6 million dollars were dispersed to the anglers who took part in the project last year. Since 1991, nearly 2.8 million pikeminnow have been removed.
After being checked in by officials the pikeminnow aren't wasted. They are used in liquid organic fertilizer for agriculture and fish meal for poultry and dairy cattle feed.
Pikeminnow can be caught using several methods. For the most part, they tend to stay in seven to 25 feet of water and enjoy being in rocky areas with fast current near dams, islands, stream mouths, points, eddies, rows of pilings, and ledges or bars in the river. The best action takes places early and late in the day and during twilight hours.
Pikeminnow can be caught on worms, chicken liver, salmon eggs, crawdad tails, grasshoppers and shrimp, but plugs, crankbaits and plastic worms are also effective.
Rule of thumb: If you don't find action within a half-hour, you should move to another spot.
For more info please visit www.pikeminnow.org. or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's website at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regions/reg5/reg5-5.htm or contact Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Sport
Reward Hot Line at (800) 858-9015.
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