A newly published survey of anglers on Lake Coeur d’Alene shows support for how biologists are managing northern pike and cutthroat trout populations.
“I saw a lot of positive feedback in general about the ongoing initiatives,” said Angelo Vitale, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s fisheries program manager.
Controlling northern pike has been a contentious issue over the years with many anglers prizing the fish and resisting any effort to reduce the population. Meanwhile, the tribe hopes to control the pikes in the hopes of recovering the lake’s native cutthroat trout population.
Northern pike, a nonnative predatory fish, pose the greatest threat to the cutthroat fishery.
According to the survey one-third of the 404 anglers surveyed called northern pike an “undesirable” species. Of those who consider northern pike to be undesirable, 74 percent of them believe so because the pike “eat other fish,” while 13 percent of all those surveyed said pikeminnows were undesirable in the lake.
Of those surveyed, 50 percent said they placed “high value” on recovering the cutthroat trout population.
In 2015, the Coeur d’Alene tribe started gillnetting Northern Pike in an effort to protect spawning cutthroat trout. The surviving pike are transported from Windy Bay north to Cougar Bay, where pike are less likely to prey on native cutthroats. Sixty-eight percent of anglers surveyed approved of the program, if it proved effective.
“It’s really informative,” Vitale said of the survey. “And it helps us understand what the angling public thinks about the balancing of the sometimes competing resources in the lake.”
The relocation project seeks to reduce the number of pike in the south portion of the lake while cutthroat trout are migrating to spawn in Lake Creek, which enters the lake in Windy Bay.
Prior to the start of the project in 2015, researchers found that only about 2 percent of juvenile cutthroat that migrate from Lake Creek to the lake were surviving to return as adults.
Still, northern pike remain a popular fish for many anglers. Of the 404 surveyed, 41 percent said they fished for northern pikes within the last three years. That was second only to bass, which 48 percent of surveyed anglers said they’d fished in the last three years.
Brock Morrow, of the North Idaho Pike Association, said the survey’s findings about angler opinions on northern pike didn’t surprise him.
“One-third (of) fisherman love them, one-third hate them and one-third don’t care,” Morrow said via email.
The North Idaho Pike Association supports the the Windy Bay relocation project, Morrow said. But, he thinks pike have an unfair reputation.
“Almost all fish eat other fish, pike just get blamed more because they look the part,” he said.
He continued: “For now Coeur d’Alene Lake has some incredible pike fishing and we hope that more people get out and experience this incredible fish.”
Pike anglers’ support of the Windy Bay project is hopeful, said Andy Dux, Idaho Fish and Game’s regional fisheries manager.
“It just means that we have support from anglers to address pike issues where we can make a difference,” Dux said. “But there is a balance we need to find.”
Plus, Dux pointed out that anglers are a vital tool in suppressing the northern pike population.
“Anglers are actually arguably the best tool we have to keep pike density in check,” he said.
On average anglers harvest between 30 and 40 percent of the pike population each year.
The survey was commissioned by the tribe and Idaho Fish and Game and was conducted by Robinson Research. The tribe paid roughly $12,000 for the random survey of fishing license holders.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe manages the southern third of the lake, while Idaho Fish and Game manages the northern two-thirds.
Vitale said it was the first time that either the tribe or IDFG had conducted such a survey.
“Anglers, by and large, think that the Coeur d’Alene Lake fishery as a whole is really good and they really value the diversity of the fishery,” Dux said.