Northern pike are native to Nebraska — primitive, aggressive brutes that are among the state’s largest game fish. They’re known for attacking just about anything that swims, including mice and baby ducks.
They’re also slimy, smelly and bony. While they taste good (they’re a staple of the fabled Candian shore lunch), they require a deft hand with a fillet knife to clean properly. As a result, some anglers despise them, as Nebraska Game and Parks Commission officials learned Monday. They had invited local anglers to a discussion of the future of Lake Minatare, Scotts Bluff County’s biggest lake and a popular walleye fishery. About 50 people showed up for the meeting, and many of them expressed their displeasure with the pike’s recent appearance.
While the tone of the meeting was civil, the crowd had some pointed questions and comments, many aimed at Al Hanson, fisheries division supervisor for the commission’s Northwest District. Hanson said pike were last stocked in the lake in 2010, when a 354-fish shipment of 13- to 22-inchers destined for Winters Creek Lake was turned down by a biologist for the National Wildlife Service, which, along with the commission, has jurisdiction over the system. The voracious predators were intended to eat up carp minnows in the smaller lake. Hanson decided to put them into Lake Minatare instead.
“It probably was a poor decision on my part,” he said.
Hanson said pike don’t reproduce well in the lake and predicted their numbers will eventually decline. No further pike stockings are planned, he added. But he said pike have been in the lake for decades and were even stocked occasionally years ago. Big pike help to suppress carp, which are abundant in the lake, he said, and are easier than some other fish to catch from shore for anglers who don’t own boats.
In the right circumstances, there’s nothing wrong with pike. I’ve traveled to the Valentine area and even to Canada in search of big ones. The fishermen I know who like them are generally catch-and-release sportsmen who appreciate any fish that hits and fights hard. But I can understand why some people don’t want to see them everywhere. When they’re biting (which is most of the time) they can seem like the only fish in the lake. And as some in the audience pointed out, if you want to catch pike you can always go an hour or so up the highway to Box Butte Reservoir, which is managed to produce lunker pike. I wouldn’t be unhappy to see those in Lake Minatare end up on someone’s dinner table.
Meanwhile, I appreciate that Game and Parks officials took the time to listen to the concerns of local anglers, which included a discussion of lost fishing opportunities and the disappointing management of parks, lakes and other resources out here.
The portion of the meeting devoted to Lake Minatare meeting began with a history of how it got started. It’s part of a complex known as the Inland Lakes, which include Winters Creek Lake and Lake Alice. The system got its start in 1915 with construction of the dam at Lake Minatare. The lakes form a storage system for Pathfinder Irrigation District water that originates in the North Platte River system as far away as Colorado. Having the water stored nearby makes delivery to local farms quick and convenient when the water’s needed. The volume delivered each year is determined by the irrigation district, based on policy that relies on measurements of inflows into the upper system during April and October. Delieries generally begin in April and conclude by the end of May.
The first stocking in the system was with rainbow trout in 1928. Walleye didn’t go into the lake until 1944. Annual stockings of walleye, prompted by heavy fishing pressure, began in 1986.
“Minatare is a walleye factory,” Hanson said.
The lake also includes channel catfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, white bass, wipers, yellow perch and crappies, all of which have been stocked, although the white bass population is now self-sustaining and stockings of wipers, a hybrid of white bass and striped bass, have tapered off in recent years. Shad are stocked as forage for the larger fish and “drive that entire system,” Hanson said.
Also on the agenda was a moose that has been lounging around the center island on the main lake at the Bridgeport State Recreation Area. Access to the lake for boaters has been shut down over concerns that the moose might become aggressive toward boaters. Bridgeport folks weren’t happy about that either.
Todd Nordeen, a big-game manager for the district, said a moose seen near Gurley early this week could have been the same one. Barring any further local sightings, the commission is expected to make an announcement today about when the lake will re-open. Meanwhile, signs warning of potential moose attacks quickly became collector’s items. A well-mannered moose, it seems, would be a welcome tourism attraction at any lake.
Pike, not so much.