Hammer-handles: Promoting the harvest of small northern pike

Pike-A-Palooza, sponsored by the Bay Lake Improvement Association, is scheduled for May 17-18 at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge. (Photo by Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge)

The problem of hammer-handle pike has plagued anglers for decades. These 1- to 3-pounders bite off lure and livebait rigs, increasing tackle costs while providing minimal excitement for experienced anglers.

Moreover, pike in overabundant populations grow slowly and rarely become trophies. They spawn at a small size, increasing in number but not size over the years. Anglers, biologists, resort owners, and lake associations realized that something had to be done.

In 2018, the Minnesota DNR took the bold step of regulating the state’s pike by region, a move that’s rare for management agencies. Other states’ fishery agencies are watching closely to see how Minnesota’s experiment works. In central Minnesota, anglers may keep 10 pike up to 22 inches in length, but only two longer than 26 inches. Fish from 22 to 26 inches must be released.

The key to improving pike population structure is reducing abundance of small pike, which allows remaining fish to grow faster, as well as increasing numbers of large pike, which provide fun fishing and also eat many small pike. The key to the success of this regulation in improving fishing is to greatly increase harvest of small pike.

Fortunately, several angler groups have embraced this effort and staged events to boost harvest. The most noteworthy is the Pike-A-Palooza, sponsored by the Bay Lake Improvement Association and scheduled for May 17-18 at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge.

Bay Lake, like countless others, is infested by hammer-handles. Last year, several members of the Bay Lake Improvement Association started an online contest, offering prizes to anglers who provided proof of their harvest of 10 small pike. Last season, 88 anglers took 3,752 pike, verified by photos submitted via email. Given that successful start, they worked with Ruttger’s staff to set up this year’s big event.

Teams of anglers will compete for a $750 first-place prize ($500 and $250 for second and third place, respectively). Moreover, every angler that brings in a 10-fish limit of small pike wins a prize. The event will be highlighted by a Friday evening social, with the tournament on Saturday morning with weigh-in at 3 p.m. That’s followed by an awards ceremony and demonstrations on how to prepare small pike for a wonderful fish fry that starts at 5:30. What could be better? A fun time, chance to win prizes, and helping to improve fishing at Bay Lake.

We hope other groups get in on the act with similar events around the region and that other states consider similar management options. Pike can provide healthy and delicious dinners, so harvest them whenever you’re out fishing. It’s good news when anglers can embrace new regulations and help make them work to improve fishing in the future.

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