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The Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program has started, and here are the first week’s catches along the Columbia River.

The harvest total between May 1-7 was 8,201 pikeminnow for 1,829 anglers with a catch average of 4.5 fish per angler and seven tags recovered. There was one tagged fish for every 1,770.6 pikeminnow caught.

The best catches occurred at The Dalles with 8.8 fish per rod for 486 anglers with 4,282 fish; Beacon Rock with 6.6 for 20 with 131; Bingen with 6.1 for 35 with 215; Columbia Point with 5.3 for 334 with 1,767; and Rainier with 4.0 for 36 with 144.

The reward program helps get rid, but not eliminate these juvenile salmon- and steelhead-devouring native predators better known as “squawfish.” The goal of the program is to reduce the average size and curtail the number of larger, older fish.

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Since its conception, more than 4.6-million northern pikeminnow have been removed by the program reducing them by up to 40 percent compared to levels of predation before the program began.

In 2016, the top twenty anglers caught an average of about 4,250 fish per angler, and averaged reward payments of $36,000 each for the five-month season.

The highest paid angler earned $119,341 with 14,019 fish caught and 12 tags; second was paid $55,245 with 6,625 and five tags; third was paid $53,165 with 6,389 and four tags; fourth was paid $47,817 with 5,561 and seven tags; and fifth was $39,057 with 4,688 and four tags.

The total catch in 2016 was 225,350 fish for 27,775 anglers with 288 tags turned in for an average of 8.1 fish per rod.

The best catches occurred during the week ending on May 8, 2016 when 14,772 anglers caught 15,029 fish on June 12; 1,745 had 14,345 on June 5; and 1,706 had 14,054 on May 22. The highest catch ratio occurred at the end of September with a 10.5 to 12.5 fish per rod average.

In 2015, the catch total was 200,213 reward-size northern pikeminnow during a 23-week field season. Catches were 36,155 fish higher than 2014, and up from the 1991 to 2014 annual harvest average of 173,317 fish.

Northern pikeminnow, a large member of the minnow family, are known to eat millions of young salmon and steelhead, and other fish like bass, walleye and shad in the Columbia and Snake rivers each year.

There is a reward program s held annually from May 1 through Sept. 30 or could end sooner if the reward fund is exhausted prior to that.

The more northern pikeminnow measuring 9 inches or longer an angler catches, the more the fish are worth. The first 25 are worth $5 each; after 25 they are worth $6 each, and after 200 fish they are worth $8 each. As an added incentive, specially tagged fish are worth $500.

Only fish caught from the Columbia mouth to Priest Rapids Dam, and from the Snake mouth to Hells Canyon Dam are eligible.

The fish prefer rocky areas with fast currents near dams, islands, river mouths, points, eddies, rows of pilings and ledges or bars in the river. They prefer depths of 7 to 25 feet.

Early morning hours, around sunset or night-time are prime time to catch them. Baits of choice include worms, salmon eggs, fish entrails, chicken livers, crayfish tails, shrimp and grasshoppers. Artificial plastic lures like grubs, worms or shads work well. Squawfish are attracted to light-colored lures in the day and darker ones at night.

There are 19 check stations along both rivers. Anglers must register each day before fishing.

Catches must be checked in at the station each day, and reward vouchers will be given. For details, call 800-858-9015 or visit www.pikeminnow.org.

2016 Reward Program Catch Data

On the Lower Columbia River in the Cathlamet area, 2,791 anglers caught 12,738 for 4.6 fish per rod with 11 tags; at Willow Grove Park, 2,524 anglers caught 13,380 for 5.3 fish per rod with 22 tags; at Rainier Marina, 1,159 anglers caught 8,649 for 7.5 fish per rod with nine tags; at Kalama Marina, 1,147 anglers caught 7,330 for 6.4 fish per rod with 14 tags; at Ridgefield Marina, 628 anglers caught 6,711 for 10.7 fish per rod with six tags; at M. James Gleason boat ramp, 1,200 anglers caught 6,982 for 5.8 fish per rod with 16 tags; at Chinook Landing, 1,161 anglers caught 9,489 for 8.2 fish per rod with 10 tags; at Washougal boat ramp, 1,447 anglers caught 14,042 for 9.7 fish per rod with 29 tags; and  at Beacon Rock, 233 anglers caught 1,538 for 6.6 fish per rod with two tags.

On the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam in the Cascade Locks boat ramp, 1,231 anglers caught 13,516 for 11.0 fish per rod with 15 tags; and at Bingen Marina, 675 anglers caught 8,690 for 12.9 fish per rod with six tags.

On the Columbia River above The Dalles Dam in The Dalles Boat Basin, 3,520 anglers caught 41,479 for 11.8 fish per rod with 26 tags; at Giles French, 837 anglers caught 7,661 for 9.2 fish per rod with six tags; at Umatilla boat ramp, 844 anglers caught 2,505 for 3.0 fish per rod with five tags; and at Columbia Point Park near Richland, 2,298 anglers caught 15,818 for 6.9 fish per rod with seven tags.

On the Columbia River near the Vernita Dam at the Vernita Bridge Rest Area, 347 anglers caught 1,274 for 3.7 fish per rod with five tags; at Lyons Ferry, 236 anglers caught 2,005 for 8.5 fish per rod with no tags; at Boyer Park, 3,221 anglers caught 37,337 for 11.6 fish per rod with 14 tags; and at Greenbelt on Washington-Idaho border, 2,276 anglers caught 14,206 for 6.2 fish per rod with 25 tags.