FEATHERS 'N FINS

Voracious pike alter the balance at Pushaw

Drawing of a pike.
Drawing of a pike.
Posted April 13, 2012, at 5:53 p.m.

On March 31, I had the pleasure of fishing for pike with Chris West and Tyler Grant. Considering they started fishing at Pushaw Stream on March 16 and had since caught 46 pike, you could say I was well-guided. But before you tow your boat and tackle to that marshy waterway, understand that my guides weren’t casting lures. Instead, they were fishing with trap nets. Formerly a park ranger with the Department of Conservation, Chris West is now under contract with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Tyler Grant is a fisheries biologist with six years of employment at DIF&W.

No sooner had we launched and crunched through shell ice to reach open water than the outboard overheated. “Murphy’s Law,” Chris declared on discovering that the waterline had frozen and broken. “Well,” said Tyler, “that’s why they make paddles.” Fortunately, the nets to be checked were close by — paddling a 15-foot aluminum boat is like paddling a bathtub. The first net produced a pregnant female pike that measured 33½ inches and weighed 8 pounds. An 18-incher was taken from the second net. On hearing that a spawning female pike produces, on average, 9,000 eggs per pound, I thought, there goes the neighborhood.

Think about it: that 8-pound female would have produced 72,000 eggs, give or take. Let alone the productivity of a 17-pounder netted last year, and a 15-pounder caught earlier this year. For the record, pike begin spawning immediately after ice-out. Two nets set farther downstream contained perch, shiners, suckers, hornpout and pickerel, but no pike. There was no lack of pleasure though, as we gabbed about hunting, fishing and the way life should be. All things considered, Chris West and Tyler Grant couldn’t have been more accommodating and, as always, the entertainment in the grand theater of the outdoors was well worth the price of admission.

If the aforementioned numbers aren’t an eye-opener as to how prolific pike are, read on: Trap netting records provided by Penobscot Region fisheries biologist Nels Kramer showed that, from 2006 through 2011, a total of 178 pike — 126 were females — had been netted in the Pushaw drainage. Pike were discovered in Pushaw Lake in 2003. Do the math and you’ll have the answer to why the expansion of pike into the main stem of the Penobscot River is of major concern to fisheries biologists, sportsmen and conservationists. Clearly, owing to rapid growth rate and insatiable appetites, pike will decimate the Penobscot’s storied smallmouth bass fishery and devour stocked smolts essential to the Atlantic salmon restoration program. Moreover, the proposed Howland Dam bypass would allow pike to enter the Piscataquis River, thus gaining access to the most robust populations of wild brook trout remaining in this country.

Nevertheless, Nels Kramer makes no false casts regarding the trap-netting project. “We’re not going to eradicate pike,” he said, “or prevent them from entering the Penobscot River. But we’re hoping to slow the expansion of the population. Most of the pike caught are killed, but a few are implanted with radio-telemetry tags that enable us to track their movements and habitats utilized throughout the year.” When asked how long the annual trap-netting project would continue, Kramer said, “That’s a good question.”

At the time this column was written, the total of pike netted this spring had increased to 69, including 32 females.Though there are people who think the illegal stocking of pike and other invasive species provides fishing opportunity, the majority of sportsmen see it as a selfish and thoughtless act that will have dire consequences for many of Maine’s important coldwater fisheries.

Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork can be viewed on the BDN website at www.bangordailynews.com. Tom’s email address is tomhennessey@ymail.com.

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