Anglers reel over river’s pike problem 

In the fine print of last week’s herald from American Rivers that the Clark Fork has now been ranked the 13th most endangered river in the nation was the probability of non-native fish gobbling up resident trout at alarming rates. Near Missoula, the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has conducted shock surveys, finding 50 pike per mile in the Clark Fork River, including 20 fish over 20 pounds.

“I don’t know how many trout a pike has to eat to get to weigh 20 pounds, but I’m guessing it’s quite a few,” ventured Four Rivers Fly Shop proprietor Peter Kesel. His shop is hosting the first annual Clark Fork pike derby starting at 8 a.m., on Saturday, April 29, at the Milltown reservoir.

For those unfamiliar with the heartland tradition of a fishing derby, cash prizes are awarded for the biggest and the most of a particular piscine species. An entry fee ($25 in this instance) gives the event a 4-H raffle flavor, only there are monofilament leaders, hooks, and an angler’s luck rather than livestock and curly fries. The bonus is that one-third of the entry fee will go to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to raise awareness of the pike problem in the Clark Fork.

Pike were probably introduced by another sort of invasive creature, the homesick Eastern fisherman, who, according to prevailing theory, tossed a few of the warm-water predators in a reservoir in the Salmon Lakes chain high up in the Clearwater River some 30 years ago. Slowly over time, the pike has proved to be resilient and adaptable, moving throughout the Clark Fork drainage. Milltown Dam provides an ecological Mecca for spawning pike, featuring the kind of habitat that reminds pike more of Brainerd than the Blackfoot or other Clark Fork tributaries.

“This is a serious problem,” observed Kesel. “People from Minnesota are willing to come to Montana to fish for trout, but probably not for pike.”

Kesel and his brother George, who together own and operate Four Rivers, organized the contest to make more area anglers aware that the pike are a threat to the varieties of trout inhabiting the Clark Fork drainage. They also plan on raffling off a $500 Scott fly rod. “None of the proceeds are going to any local shops,” noted Kesel. A third goes to the biggest fish, a third to the most, and the rest goes to Fish, Wildlife and Parks.” The catch will be processed by H and H Meats and donated to the Missoula Food Bank.

Interested anglers can register at Kesel’s Four Rivers Fly Shop, 501 S. Higgins. Leave the treble hooks and cheez-mallows at home; to protect native trout, the event is fly-fishing only.

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