The Great Outdoors by James Murray

Column: Lowly northern pikeminnow a fun fishery for kids

Great Outdoors by James Murray

The other day I received a phone call from Salmon Arm Recreation Services general manager Donna Flatman informing that this year’s Kids’ Fishing Derby, which has taken place for 23 years down at the end of the wharf at Marine Park, has once again been cancelled due to COVID-19. I had been expecting the call.

On a more positive note, however, we did agree that if conditions permit, we will hold the derby again in 2022.

Later that day I found myself driving along Lakeshore Drive. I decided to head down to the wharf to take a look at the water levels. The lake is down quite a bit. As I walked along the wharf towards the far end I could feel the sun on my face. I could not help but feel grateful that I live in Salmon Arm – while so much of the world lives in turmoil.

Looking down over the rail at the lake I noticed two young kids fishing of the docks. They were about 15 feet apart. Maybe they were social distancing. Maybe they just didn’t want to snag each other’s lines. I shouted down to them and asked if they had caught anything.

“Just a couple of pikeminnows” they said. “But we haven’t been here very long.”

I gave them a thumbs up.

Few coarse fish are respected less and reviled more than the lowly northern pikeminnow. They are, after all, looked at as scavengers.

The pikeminnow’s diet varies. The young feed on plankton, insects and small fish such as salmonoid fries and shiners. Larger pikeminnows that live in deeper waters feed primarily on baitfish and other small fish such as immature trout and salmon. On light tackle they can provide excellent fishing for young anglers who are more interested in quantity over quality. A light spinning setup with six pound line is all that’s needed.

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Northern pikeminnows usually inhabit shallow portions of rivers, lakes and streams and can be found pretty well anywhere throughout the province. Look for pikeminnows close to shore near structures such as rocks, logs, reeds, pylons and piers. They usually choose slower water where little or no current exists – areas where trout and salmon fry and fingerlings swim about during their growth stage, thus providing ampler food supply for the pikeminnow.

The Northern pikeminnow can be easily caught pretty well anytime from ice-off through to September and even October using a variety of tackle and techniques. The easiest way, especially for kids, is definitely float fishing. All they need is a bobber or light float with properly balanced weights, rigged up with a small hook and some bait such as bread, worms or roe. Cast the float out and strikes will usually occur within seconds if fish are present. This method is best used in calm waters or waters with very little current. Bottom fishing or bottom bouncing with roe can be used in waters where there is more current, but you do risk the chance of losing your tackle from snags on the bottom. Casting and reeling in with a spinning setup not only avoids snags but also has the advantage of generally hooking larger fish. Even aggressive feeders such as smaller pikeminnows will not attack a lure half their size. Popular lures include spoons and inline spinners. Choose your lures based on the colour of the water and the light intensity. If it’s cloudy and the water is dirty, I would go for a darker lure. If it’s sunny and the water is fairly clear, then a silver or bright lure is best. If baitfish are present, make sure the size of the lure matches the size of the baitfish. When retrieving your lure, try to keep it as close to the bottom as possible without snagging. Be prepared for pikeminnows to strike the moment your lure hits the water but also anytime during the retrieve. Jigging with small jig heads and rubbertails is also an effective method, but again you risk snagging on the bottom.

The very fact that the lowly northern pikeminnow can be caught so easily on a variety of tackle and techniques only goes to show that they really are the perfect fishery for young anglers just wanting to have some fun casting a line at the end of a dock.

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