Northern Pike in the Verde River
The Verde River drainage contains sportfish populations as well as native and protected fish that the Arizona Game and Fish Department (Department) and others have been working years to protect and restore. Although found in the same drainage, native and non-native sportfish populations are often separated, which allows for the management of distinct fish populations. When fish are moved from one location to another these barriers are breached and management becomes more difficult and costly.
Recently approximately 20,000 fish were killed when Horseshoe Lake was drained. The majority of the fish were Carp, (Cyprinus carpio) and Goldfish (Carassius auratus) and to a lesser extent Channel Catfish, (Ictalurus punctatus) Largemouth Bass, (Micropterus salmoides) Flathead Catfish, (Pylodictis olivaris) and Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). These species have all been well documented in Horseshoe and the Verde River and their presence was predictable. However, among the dead fish was a single Northern Pike (Esox lucius) which was not expected. While it was unfortunate that so many fish died, the most interesting aspect of the fish kill was where did this lone 26-inch Northern Pike come from?
There was a time that Northern Pike were stocked by the Department in a limited number of waters. Most of these lakes no longer have Pike but there are a few that support reproducing populations, these waters include Long Lake, Soldiers and Upper Lake Mary. All these lakes are open to the public and anglers can try their hand at Pike fishing. Unfortunately, these waters have also supplied the Pike that have been illegally and selfishly moved to other waters in Arizona. These illegal introductions have occurred in Rainbow Lake, Fools Hollow, Ashurst and Parker Canyon lakes. Northern Pike are top predators and highly piscivorous, basically eating anything they want. Unchecked and without competition, Pike introductions have a detrimental impact on trout fishing and native fish populations. New illegal introductions will provide a ready source of even more unlawful introductions that will seriously impact the Departments efforts to manage the state’s fisheries.
As a reminder to all anglers it is illegal to transport live fish (R12-4-315A) and illegal to stock fish without a permit (R12-4-410) and the Department will enforce these regulations to the maximum extent of the law. Anglers are also encouraged to report illegal stocking activity to the Department’s Operation Game Thief Hotline (800) 352-0700.
It only takes two illegally stocked fish to potentially destroy a fishery.