Despite being native to the Columbia River, pikeminnows have become problematic for the river's salmon population. The solution? The Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program, which just paid one angler who removed 10,127 pikeminnows more than $100,000. The program's 2023 data shows the second-highest earner brought in 9,786 fish and was paid $98,510.
The program—which runs yearly from May 1 to September 30 and gets its funding from the Bonneville Power Administration in partnership with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission—gives out quite a bit of cash. Stats can be seen on the site from 2000 to the current year. Thanks to Sport Reward Fishery, more than 5.3 million Northern Pikeminnow have been removed since 1990.
According to the challenge's site, "northern pikeminnow eat millions of salmon and steelhead juveniles each year in Columbia and Snake River systems." The aim isn't to eliminate the species, though. The goal of the program is to reduce the size of the fish while eliminating the older, larger adult fish. Overall, predation has been reduced by 40% when compared to pre-program levels.
This year's harvest (156,505) marked a five-year high, which comes after a disappointing 2021 haul of 89,542. After the dismal year, the program increased rewards for the 2022 season, a tactic that clearly worked—and made a few anglers rich.
Eric Winther, program manager, told NW Sportsman, "The harvest was very close to the 32-year average of 160,000, and effort increased by more than 10 percent [from 2022]. All in all, [it was] a really solid year punctuated by some exceptionally good fishing during several windows of opportunity in multiple areas."
How Much Can I Make Catching Pikeminnows?
Rewards are $6 to $10 per fish for the first 25. The reward increases the more fish you catch. From 25-200, anglers receive $8 a fish, and from 200 up, $10. Specially tagged fish net anglers $200-$500. In 2022, the highest-paid angler raked in $69,230, and the top 20 caught an average of 3,600 fish per angler. The top five anglers received an average of $36, 725 each month throughout the five-month season.
The top pikeminnow money-maker, however, came from the 2016 season. An unidentified angler raked in almost $120,000 in reward money after capturing 14,019 pikeminnows. Not a bad haul for spending your days fishing.
Participation is pretty straightforward. Anglers just have to follow the rules and regulations. They must have a valid fishing license, adhere to the fishing rules of the state and area they are in, either Washington, Oregon, or Idaho, and register with a designated station or in the new app every day they fish.
Anglers also have to follow the program's transportation and size rules as well. Fish need to be 9 inches or longer to qualify, and anglers have to catch the fish themselves.
Fish must be caught on the mainstem of the Columbia River "from the mouth up to the restricted zone below Priest Rapids Dam, or in the Snake River from the mouth up to the restricted zone below Hells Canyon Dam." At the end of the day, fish must be turned in to the station anglers registered with and must be alive or in fresh condition. Frozen fish will be denied payment.
Anglers have until November 15 each year to cash in their vouchers for payment. That leaves you a little bit of time to go make some dough.
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