Making fishing better at Rainbow Lake
On February 17, Department biologists began their annual efforts to control illegally introduced Northern Pike in Rainbow Lake in Pinetop-Lakeside. The pike were likely stocked by a naïve or selfish angler in the late 1990s and began to do very well in the shallow weedy lake. And though a few might like the pike, they have had a negative impact on the sportfishing as a whole in Rainbow Lake. The super competitive pike eat bass, sunfish and stocked trout to the point where those populations can be depressed and not as available to anglers. Biologists began control efforts approximately 10 years ago to salvage the sportfishery in Rainbow Lake. These control efforts focus on gillnetting the lake in the spring when spawning pike began to congregate in favored areas. They attempt to catch the pike before they release their eggs, helping to cut down on the number of pike that grow and feed on other sportfish. The nets are set during the day only, which nearly eliminates the bycatch of preferred species (bass, bluegill, trout) in the lake while maintaining good catch rates on pike.
On the first day, only 5 nets were set to test if the pike were starting to congregate for the spawn, which is generally controlled by day length (photoperiod), with the final trigger being water temperature. The target water temperature is around 45 degrees. The pike were ready and over 50 were caught. Most were smaller males, which tend to arrive at the spawning areas first. A few females full of eggs also were caught, including one really large pike. This is perfect timing for the control efforts, beginning an intensive effort that will last up to two weeks. Volunteers are recruited to work alongside biologists during these netting efforts to keep costs down and also to get the community involved in helping to manage the problem. The pike are euthanized and either donated to a local food kitchen or used to feed rehabilitating wildlife so nothing goes to waste.
This annual control effort is an attempt to only reduce the number of pike in the lake just before the trout stocking season at Rainbow Lake (April-May). Eliminating pike entirely from the lake would be preferable, but would require additional mechanical effort, water level manipulation and perhaps even a piscicide (fish poison). But for now, there are no plans to do anything more than the annual mechanical removal.