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Northern Pike.

      Courtesy photo Northern pike, pictured above, have recently been found in the Jefferson River. Biologists aren't exactly sure how the fish got there.

Pike found in Jefferson
By Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard, 04/18/2009

Northern pike have found their way to the Jefferson River, causing concerns that the voracious predators could damage the trout population.

A large pike was discovered in the Jefferson last year during regular fish surveys on a section near Waterloo, said Ron Spoon, a biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Spoon showed a picture of the healthy looking pike during a presentation on the state of the Jefferson River's trout population this week to the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

"Now for the bad news," Spoon said, after showing with graphs how rainbow trout numbers have gradually rebounded after years of decline in the river. "They (pike) are taking off." Biologists have known for years that pike have been living in upper Canyon Ferry Reservoir just below Toston Dam. But the fish have not been found in the Jefferson before last year, Spoon said. He said biologists don't know conclusively where the fish came from, but added some private ponds in the Manhattan area could be the source of the pike.

"Now that they're above (Toston) dam and there's this pretty prime spawning area, we are starting to monitor them," Spoon said.

Bruce Rich, FWP regional fisheries manager, said in a telephone interview Friday the pike was longer than 30 inches.

He said the surprise of the pike found while shocking fish on the river followed an angler's report of catching a pike. Rich said pike definitely eat trout. But the fact that a couple pike have been found in the Jefferson doesn't mean they are taking over the river. He said it's unlikely the fish was a lone specimen in the river, yet there's no indication the population is large either.

"One by electro-fishing and one by an angler report doesn't suggest to me that we're overrun with them," he said. "How much of a problem they're going to be for trout in our system remains to be seen, because they're not really well suited to that higher gradient stream system that we have in that upper Missouri River." Spoon informed the group that FWP is working to better understand the pike population in the river. He caught several near Toston and although anglers might want them killed, he tagged the fish to help in the research to understand how far and where they travel.

Paul Vang, a TU member, said like many invasive fish species once the pike are in the river system they'll be difficult to remove. And they certainly will prey on other fish.

"They're opportunistic," he said.

Rich said anglers who catch a pike on the Jefferson can keep and eat them as they're tasty. That includes pike caught with a tag on top.

However, FWP would like to know about incidents of pike found in the Jefferson to help add to the knowledge base.

"We're going to learn a lot by tagging these fish," Rich said. Anglers who catch a northern pike in the Jefferson should contact Spoon at 266-4237.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

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