Mark Mills of Spokane may be the best and possibly the most passionate northern pike fisherman in the Northwest. He admits his interest in catching pike borders on an obsession. When he’s not fishing for them, he spends hours reading online reports about this toothsome fish, watching pike fishing videos and talking to pike fishing friends – anything he can do to fulfill his need to learn more about these fish. His friends have nicknamed him “The Pike Supremacist.”
At a time when the WDFW and the Kalispel Tribe view the appearance of pike in rivers such as the Pend Oreille and Kettle as the second coming of the snakehead or flying silver carp, Mills is of the opinion pike should be managed to provide an exciting fishery for area sportsmen.
“I love everything about pike,” he says. “I love the way they look, the way they attack a lure, the way they’ll blow up on a plastic right at the boat.” And though Mills releases every pike he catches (“I’ve eaten probably one fish in the last 15 years”), he has friends who can fillet a pike to rid it of the Y bones and who think the flavor and texture surpasses that of a walleye.
“Yes,” Mills admits, “the northern pike is a predator. They will eat anything that swims in front of them. But what fish won’t? I admit I’m not a fisheries biologist, but it seems to me the powers that be are so intent on eliminating competition for steelhead, salmon and red band rainbow they are overlooking a dynamic fishery that is close to home and both accessible and affordable to a greater number of sportsmen.
“Pike fishing is very popular with fishermen from all over the world who don’t mind traveling to catch them. A good pike fishery will generate tourism dollars. The Pend Oreille River was well on the way to becoming a world class pike fishery before it was wiped out. They say the pike is not ‘native’. Well, the world changes. Triploid trout are not native either and most Columbia River salmon and steelhead began life in a hatchery. And how many anglers have even seen a red band rainbow?”
Mills, 56, is of the opinion that concerns about how the northern pike will take over the Columbia River are unfounded. “I just don’t think pike will spawn as well in the Columbia as they did in the Pend Oreille,” he says. “There are far fewer desirable spawning grounds for them; they like weed beds and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of that in the Columbia. Also, the water levels fluctuate there in the spring and would likely leave most potential spawning areas high and dry.”
Mills knows a lot of people would like to catch pike, but they don’t know where to go or how to begin. And with the current vendetta against the species, they may never have a chance. He does most of his fishing now in Lake Coeur d’Alene, and almost always he catches several pike, some over 20 pounds. He is afraid that this fishery, too, could be targeted with gill nets in the spring to kill spawning fish. “It just doesn’t make sense,” he says.
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