Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pike Fishery Management, Trout Fisheries, Catch & Release

The great thing about pike is their size and fighting ability.
The trouble about pike is their fragility.
So how can it be that I'm suggesting such a strong fish "is fragile" ?
Well it's gets a little complicated, but read on ....

There are three basic types of pike population in a lake:

Type 1 is where there is lots of spawning marshy weedy areas, and many baby pike are born every spring. There is a tendency for the lake to have too many pike cropping the other coarse fish species, and the growth rate of the pike is low due to intense competition.
So a type 1 lake has lots of tiny jack pike from 1 to 4 lbs, and maybe only one or two double figure pike in the whole lake. Maybe it has only one twenty pounder in the lot.

Next we have type 2 pike lakes. In this case there is limited suitable pike spawning areas. Maybe it is rocky and deep at the shore, or maybe it's a reservoir where the pike spawn, but the water gets drawn down soon after and the pike eggs dry out and die. Either way the result is fewer baby pike every summer. So this lake has fewer pike but faster growing pike.
The fishing in these lakes is hard, very hard, with many blank sessions, but when you hook into one it might be 10lb, or it might be 25lbs. There are monsters in there, and if they are not there this year, the mid size fish grow through to create new 20 - 30 pounders next year.

Then there are type 3 pike lakes. The middle lake version with some of the features of both. There is a generous pike population with a good mix of sizes. A 30 is so rare and turns up only once every many years, but enough twenties to keep you happy. These lakes give the best pike fishing. The type 3 lakes are usually good general coarse fishing lakes.

Until mankind enters the scene that is ......

So what happens is this:
The pike killers return the little pike, and kill the medium 5 - 10 pounders for eating. That's next years 20 pounders gone. They kill the very few big fish as trophies, and now the lake is converted into a type 1. With few big pike left the jack pike have no natural predator. So they ALL Survive and compete with each other. Soon there are thousands of jack pike and not enough food to feed them.
If the lake is a type 2 with limited spawning, the numbers of pike will be so few these "pike killing anglers" go away due to catching nothing. Then because there is enough food, the remaining pike will grow and the lake recovers eventually. A normal pike population pyramid returns after about 12 years. Then the word gets out and back they come and hammer it again.

On trout lakes it happens differently:
The lake in question is a fertile type 3. But is designated as a game fish trout fishery. So the fishery board come along and net the pike when they come in to spawn. They remove all the pike they catch, of all sizes. So the perch have no natural predator and increase into vast numbers until they outnumber the trout by 500:1.
If the board managing the water do it right they should remove perch in proportion to the pike they remove.
But it's hard dicipline and work (and unpopular too!) to remove tons of perch and ease up some pressure on the pike, taking only some. The pike are easier targets. So the fishery boards don't get it right, too many pike, not enough perch,and the perch population explodes anyway.
In the "bad" old days they rotenoned the spawning perch, and took out all the pike they could, and the trout fishery was back in balance, and more biomass of trout was possible. But rotenone (fish poison) is frowned upon nowadays.
Atferwards the remaining pike find themselves in a type 2 situation. Loads of perch to eat, the perch living right in the weed cover the pike like to hunt in. And trout wandering around in open water as an extra snack from time to time.
So the very few pike remaining pack on the weight and become amazingly fit, healthy specimens.
A 30lb fish is not rare. But going piking and coming back without ever seeing a pike happens easily on this water. They are few, and the water is big, it is difficult angling for small numbers of huge pike.

So what do we get? A few big, fast growing pike. Millions of perch. The quantity of young perch is so vast that trout switch from feeding on insects to pinhead perch fry and 4" length perch instead. They become harder to catch by traditional fly fishing. The fly fishers often come home with little to show for their efforts.
But the trout grow well on this diet. They essentially occupy the niche that 5 - 10 pound pike would otherwise fill. So the lake now earns a reputation of having huge 5 - 12lb trout.
The big trout are very hard to catch, and there are possible record pike for pikers who perservere.

This is a very pretty accurate description of how the Irish trout loughs are now. Loughs like Sheelin, Owel, Ennell, Corrib, Mask, Arrow. Under present management practise these loughs have become specimen hunter trout and pike paradises, but heartbreaking for beginners. The big perch fishing on these loughs right now is top class. But not everyone appreciates how special those big perch are.

Is this so bad? I don't know. An 8lb trout is more memorable than an 8lb pike (in my opinion).
But management killing fish is reprehensible to some. You need to look at the end result. Pike anglers complain about the pike kill. But it makes a 40lb pike a real possibility in these lakes. And those lakes are trout lakes, so that might be a pike bonus of a sort?
Are the trout anglers losing out? They have monster trout in their trout lough. But the flyfishing is not brilliant. They wish a return to the older "kill all coarse fish" policy. They remember well how it used to be (except they forget the greater number of anglers removing trout nowadays). They grumble for more anti pike management. But the perch are the reason the trout don't eat their flies. Their trout are eating perch instead.

When it's left to nature ..... a mixed fishery.
But nature is not running affairs for long because in swoop the pike killers, out got big pike, and all the pike go small. Now the young trout have thousands of jack pike to avoid every day. They're reduced in numbers. So the trout goes down too.
The mixed fishery now has small predators in great numbers. Small fish of all species get eaten. This reduces the numbers to grow through, but simultaneously increases their growth rate.
Pike change to type 1 stunted numerous. Fish of all other species change to type 2. Fewer than is natural, but big. Big ones to save the name of the fishery. But fishing quality is below the best possible IMHO. The specimen list looks good. But the list would be better if more fish grew through their young years. So it seems to me the pike killers (and stunted pike) damage even the biggest of Irish lough mixed fisheries.
It's unfortunate these loughs are so large it is impossible to measure this, but it contributes significantly to the overall result in smaller loughs.

It seems to me that for the best pike fishery, you need to remove SOME small pike to speed up the growth of big pike. But the middle size pike MUST be returned, and those 20s are tomorrows 30s, so they ALSO MUST be returned. No killing pike over eg 4.5lbs.

It's very simple really.

A mixed fishery is dependent on catch and release of medium and big pike.
It is dependent on stocking of trout, or protected enormous natural trout spawning areas.
Unfortunately the mixed fishery is very easily ruined by thoughtless killing of big pike and both the pike and trout anglers suffer worst fishing for years as a result.
I suppose pike protection, and trout supplemental spawning/stocking is the best compromise for a mixed fishery.
Mixed fisheries are complex ecosystems.They could be either trout or pike/coarse and managed pro-actively as such. I think we have a situation where nobody is happy. But managing it makes other people unhappy at the fish population techniques that must be used. Not all the complainers are well informed as to the implications of this action, or that alternative.

Is there a better way for Loughs Ree and Derg for example? Im sure there is. But I'm sure it would be impossible to get anglers as whole to agree on it. the trout anglers are begining to realise that big trout spawn best, and removing them ruins the trout fishing quickly.
There is a move to returning trophy fish to reproduce and produce more fast growing fish, and killing only the smaller trout who have weak slower growing genes. Those alglers have got the idea, the enlightened ones that is.

The other anglers who will never understand that idea of genetic selection in catches, pike and trout angler alike, must be forced with legal slot size limits. All fish over a cetain size must be returned. All fish under a certain size are juvenile and must be returned. Fish between this stipulated length, and that length can be retained up to a stipulated bag limit, then all foish go back whatever their size.
The bag limit per season ( as currently used by salmon anglers with their tags ) is better than a daily bag limit, due to the mayfly season when a disproportionate number of fish can be removed on the good days where an large influx of numerous extra anglers descends on the water while it is producing quantities of fish. The cumulative effect of all the extra anglers all taking their fish has a big effect on the water. This means a "full season bag limit" is better for the water.

Article from Float Tube Ireland Website reproduced with permission :

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