Pike prey on fish in Anchorage lakes

Posted: Wednesday, February 07, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The 2-inch trout had just been dropped into the aquarium holding two Northern pike captured last fall in Cheney Lake when, faster than an eye blink, a foot-long pike snatched one. ''That was quick,'' said Anchorage-area sports fish biologist Barry Stratton, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Within a minute or so, the pike had inhaled two more. Then, with its stomach bulging as if it had swallowed marbles, the pike pivoted in sync with the last rainbow. Fins waving, mouth opening and closing, the pale streamlined pike tracked the little fish with its snout.

''Here it comes, '' said Dan Bosch, Stratton's assistant and the pike's caretaker.

For a moment, the mottled yellow spots and gray lines on its side grew brighter, as though the act of predation had produced some kind of internal rush. But the pike, now stuffed with six inches of live trout, suddenly lost interest. The other pike, its own belly bulging from a blackfish scarfed down overnight, had ignored the proceedings.

''Wait until tonight,'' Stratton said.

Welcome to the weekly feast at the pike tank in Fish and Game headquarters. These two pike have spent the winter as the state's chief exhibit in a campaign to rev up local anglers about the ''pike plague'' that has hit popular Anchorage lakes and streams, likely the result of illegal fish planting.

''We're just trying to educate the public about what these things can do,'' Stratton said.

The department has posted a pike Web site -- ''The Pike Page'' -- that conveys roughly equal parts information and attitude.

The site comes loaded with a video of the aquarium pike tearing into a young coho salmon at the same time. The remarkable display concludes: ''Any questions?''

The site combines a short lesson on fish biology with angling instructions and recipes. It urges anglers to ''Become a member of the 'Pike Police!' Go on pike hunting expeditions and keep all the pike you catch. Ask your friends to join you on these pike 'hunts.' ''

Pike, native to Interior Alaska sloughs and backwaters, were confirmed last summer in several of the city's most popular fishing waters: Cheney, Taku, Otter and Gwen lakes as well as Campbell Creek. Unconfirmed reports placed the fish in Mirror and Delong lakes. They had already been illegally introduced into Sand and Lower Fire lakes.

Like the pike in the tank, the voracious pike are eating up the trout and land-locked salmon Fish and Game stocks in the city lakes for anglers, many of them kids.

But once pike become established, the state curtails or eliminates the stocking program, Stratton said.

''I'm not going to spend anglers' money feeding pike,'' he said.

No king salmon were stocked last fall in 30-acre Cheney Lake, dominated by the weedy shallows that pike love best. No catchable-length rainbows will go in this spring, Stratton said.

In the meantime, Stratton wants people to catch pike, and more pike.

Serving as inspiration in the pike war are the two specimens in the department's tank. The pair, probably hatched in Cheney in 1999, have grown three inches since Stratton and Bosch netted them there last fall.

Little wonder. They have consumed at least 175 fish in four months, including rainbows and silver salmon, Dolly Varden char, blackfish, sticklebacks and 10 pet-store goldfish.

''Do the math,'' Stratton said. ''Just think what thousands or hundreds of them would do this winter in Cheney Lake. They could eat a fish as long as themselves, and they would probably eat one of those a week.''

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