Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I caught a ton of northern pikeminnow (aka northern squawfish.) They aren’t really seen as a trophy fish, but they are fairly easy to catch and a great species to get kids started on. And being that they are a nuisance fish, some states will even pay you good money to turn in your catch. So here I want to tell you all I know about how to catch northern pikeminnow.
The best way to catch northern pikeminnow is by bottom fishing. Although you can catch a few on lures, you’ll catch more on live baits such as worms, and crickets. Once you locate a school of pikeminnow, cast out with a sliding sinker rig and wait for the bite.
What Bait For Pikeminnow?
Pikeminnow are opportunistic eaters. They’ll eat fish eggs, fish fry, worms, insects, and whatever else they can find that’s edible.
The most common baits used for pikeminnow are worms, crickets, cheese, shrimp, bacon, chicken liver, and even hotdogs.
Some of these baits are obviously easier to use than others. Some like shrimp, bacon, livers, and hotdogs are difficult to keep on a hook. But you can use an egg loop knot or a row bag to help keep them together.
Catching Pikeminnow on Worms
Worms are a popular bait for pikeminnow because they are easy to dig up or buy at the store. They stay on the hook well and pikeminnow love them. However with worms, you’ll also catch a lot of other species like suckers, and catfish.
You can hook the worm right through the middle and use a baitholder hook with the barbs on the shank. This leaves a nice lively worm to attract the pikeminnow. However, pikeminnow like to peck at the bait a few times before swallowing it. This means that they are pretty good at stealing bait off the hook. Here is another way to hook a worm so that nothing can steal it…
A good way to hook a worm so that the pikeminnow don’t steal it is to thread it onto your line. You can buy a cheap tool designed for this. Start by cutting the tip of the worm off then thread it onto the worm needle. Next, stick the point of your hook into the end of the needle and push the worm off the needle, over the hook and onto the leader. Thread the worm on just far enough that the point of the hook is sticking out of the end.
Secret Pikeminnow Bait
Crickets are not used as often for pikeminnow, but they can be incredibly effective. Mormon crickets are supposed to be the most effective, but they are difficult to catch, and tricky to handle when putting them on the hook. If you don’t want to spend time running around trying to catch mormon crickets, you can just buy regular crickets at most pet stores for cheap. Since crickets float, they will stay off the bottom and you’ll catch fewer suckers and catfish, but still catch the attention of the pikeminnow.
I was surprised to learn that cheese is a favorite of many anglers targeting pikeminnow. I haven’t tried it myself, but all you do is cut a block of cheese into small cubes which you then mash onto your hook. Sharp flavored cheeses are supposed to work better.
Where Can You Catch Pikeminnow?
Northern pikeminnow are abundant in the northwestern US and Canada. They are native to this area and an important part of the natural ecosystem. This being said, many anglers don’t like the pikeminnow.
In the Pacific Northwest, biologists are working hard to help preserve the native salmon and steelhead. The pikeminnow are the number one predators of baby salmon and steelhead. A single pikeminnow can eat around a half dozen baby salmon per day.
This is why you have programs like the Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Program who will pay you to catch and turn in pikeminnow over 9 inches. But more on that later.
Being that there is an abundant food source in the Northwest, this is where the majority of pikeminnow can be found. If the river has a salmon or steelhead run, then there are probably also pikeminnow present.
Pikeminnow like to school up around structure. They will usually be in water that’s 6 to 20 feet deep in areas with rocks, sunken logs, dock pilings, or changes in the river bottom such as drop offs.
The bigger rivers like the Columbia and Willamette hold huge populations of pikeminnow. If you are fishing one of these bigger rivers, pay attention to where you catch one. Because, where you catch one, you’ll likely catch dozens.
Pikeminnow prefer faster currents, so avoid areas where the water isn’t really flowing or may even be going slightly backwards in an eddy.
Pikeminnow Fishing From a Boat
The easiest way to fish for pikeminnow is from a boat. Since they like to be in faster currents, it is easier to reach them by casting directly downstream from a boat. You’ll get fewer snaggs this way and you’ll also be able to use less weight and better detect bites.
You can use the current to help walk your sinker and bait downstream bouncing along the bottom.
Simply cast out a short distance directly downstream from your boat. Wait for the sinker to hit the bottom then lift your rod tip to pick the sinker up off the bottom and let out a little line. The river current will push your sinker and bait a few feet downstream each time you do this. This method is known as back-bouncing. It allows you to cover ground while still bottom fishing.
Back-bouncing for pikeminnow is also a good way to get your bait into cover with less likelihood of getting snagged. If you do get snagged, you can often let out some more line to let the current pull it out.
Although fishing from a boat can make things easier, I never had a boat growing up and I caught plenty of pikeminnow from the shore. So don’t feel like you need a boat.
Pikeminnow Fishing From Shore
Many people don’t have the time, money, or place to keep a fishing boat. I never have anyways. Don’t worry if you don’t have a boat, you can still catch plenty of pikeminnow from shore.
When fishing pikeminnow from shore, you’ll need to focus on areas closer to the bank. Don’t try to cast far out into the current, because you won’t be able to anchor your bait to the bottom. Cast near structure like rocks and sunken trees where fish will be holding.
Cast downstream rather than upstream. If you try to cast upstream, the current can push your bait towards you and you’ll end up with slack in your line. This is bad because you won’t be able to feel the bite of the pikeminnow. Casting downstream or at least 45 degrees out will keep everything tight and increase your sensitivity.
If you can find a dock or spot where the land sticks out into the river, this can make a good place to fish from. Fishing for pikeminnow from a dock can be similar to fishing from a boat, so be sure to go back and read that section if you skipped over it.
Docks and wingdams also make great shelter for pikeminnow so fishing around these can be hot.
Make Money Catching Northern Pikeminnow
I talked a little about the Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Program above. This can be a fun way to add some more excitement to fishing, or it can be a way to make some serious cash.
Every year there are anglers who make over $20,000 just from catching pikeminnow on the Columbia River.
Some anglers have even reached the $100,000 mark. Now to do so, you’ll probably have to get really good at catching pikeminnow, as well as fish all day every day of the 5 month season.
The rules are laid out at www.pikeminnow.org. Be sure to visit the site for updated information on the rules, regulations, and how to cash out.
How it Works
You show up to one of their stations on the same day you plan to fish and get a voucher. Then when you are done fishing for the day, you return to that station to turn in your catch. The workers will then sign off on your voucher with how many qualifying fish you caught that day. The voucher can then be mailed in and you will be sent your reward.
The pikeminnow must be over 9 inches and fairly fresh if not still alive. You should bring a cooler with ice to keep them on. These fish will be used for research, so they need the samples to be fresh.
The reward increases the more fish you catch.
1-25 pikeminnow = $5 per fish
26-200 pikeminnow = $6 per fish
201+ pikeminnow = $8 per fish
Not bad right? Even if you go out for a day and catch 20 pikeminnow over 9 inches that’s $100.
Not only that, but some of the fish are tagged. If you turn in a tagged pikeminnow, you get a $500 reward for that one fish!
Before you go, just make sure you know exactly how everything works so you can get paid. If you haven’t already, check out www.pikeminnow.org.
Northern pikeminnow may not be a very desirable fish to catch, but if you consider the cash rewards, it can make things a little more exciting.
Fish for pikeminnow using live or stink bait on a bottom rig like the sliding sinker rig. Since pikeminnow like current, it is easiest to cast downstream if possible. They can be caught from the shore or from a boat.
If you aren’t catching any after 10 to 15 minutes, try another spot. Keep moving around until you find a school of them.
I hope that helps you out. Have fun out there!