The Problem With Northern Pike in Vermont

I began fishing Vermont’s Lake Memphremagog in 1980. The lake is about 85 miles northeast of Burlington, Vt., and the 35-mile long ake spans both Vermont and Quebec, Canada.

Back then there was a big run of walleye in the spring in both the Clyde River in Newport, and the Black River in Coventry. These runs were in conjunction with those of spawning rainbow trout, followed by a pretty good run of Lake Memphremagog salmon. This was a hardy strain of fish that were trapped in this glacial lake eons ago. They were so sturdy and prolific, this strain was used to stock numerous cold water lakes across the country.

I lived and fished in Vermont for 15 years, and I never heard of, or saw a northern pike come out of Lake Memphremagog. In fact, the first story I heard about northern pike came from a private pond that was stocked with brook trout. It seems the guy stocked his pond with hundreds of brook trout, and they had all mysteriously disappeared. He never saw any dead fish floating in the small pond, or did he see any otters or wading birds about. He finally had the pond pumped dry, and when the water level reached about 6 inches, there was his answer – a 40-pound northern pike, well fattened on the ready supply of brookies slithered about in the mud. Obviously the pond owner had an enemy, as there is no way that pike got there on its own!

Shortly thereafter, I began to hear rumors about northern pike being caught in Norton Pond. Back in the early 80s, this was primarily the domain of brook trout. I had a float tube, so I set out to verify the existence of pike in this body of water. It didn’t take long to confirm the presence of northerns. I caught three pike on soft plastic lures in short order. They were all over 20 inches, and obviously thriving. It was no longer a trout pond.

So it came as no surprise when I first heard about northern pike in Lake Memphremagog. I was living in Florida by then, but I came home every fall for the bird hunting. I also did a little fishing in the lake, off the Jimmy Quick Bridge, which was practically across the street from my house. One year I recall catching some nice rainbows, but never a northern pike. However, sometime after I left in 1994, the northerns began to make their presence felt.

I spoke with a Jud Kratzer, a fisheries biologist at Vermont Fish and Wildlife and he told me that pike were long-time residents of Lake Champlain, but were not natural to Lake Memphremagog. He also said there was practically no chance that they got there on their own.

Local anglers are quick to blame the pike for declines in salmon and rainbows, and for good reason — big pike thrive feeding on small salmonids. Newport, Vt., salmon fishermen Dick Dean told of a big pike caught last year with half-dozen recently stocked salmon in its gut. However, the biologist was quick to point out that chain pickerel, which are related to pike, have always been in the lake, and they too feed on other fish. More problematic is that northern pike have been in the local rivers during the spring runs in recent years, and the only reason for them to be there is to feed on spawning fish.

Other states where non-native pike have been introduced are attempting to deal with them. In southeastern Alaska, anglers must remove the head from every pike caught. In Maine and California, catch and kill regulations have met with mixed results. In a small lake it might be possible to catch all the pike, but in a big lake or a river system, getting rid of them is next to impossible. You only need miss a few fish and the population will sustain itself.

Ultimately, the best way to deal with the pike problem, is to go catch some. Aside from lake trout, the biggest fish you are apt to catch in Lake Memphremagog is probably going to be a northern pike.

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Top Photo: The author with a Lake Memphremagog northern pike.

 

 

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