Anglers puzzled over pike disappearance

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2004

WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory (AP) The sudden disappearance of northern pike from Watson Lake remains a mystery, says a Yukon fishery technician.

''It's weird,'' said Aaron Foos of the Department of the Environment.

The community on the British Columbia-Yukon border went from a destination for anglers in search of trophy pike to a lake devoid of the fish in one year.

In the summer of 2002, anglers caught 1,680 of the fish and kept 158.

Working from 2002 catch-and-release figures, Foos said it would be reasonable to expect there to be more than 20,000 pike in the lake.

But, for the summer of 2003, there is no known record of any pike being caught. Nor did any show up in an intensive search by ministry officials.

However, said Foos, the rest of the fish in the lake lake trout, grayling, white fish and burbot are doing just fine.

Watson Lake conservation officer Ryan Hennings received reports of dead pike on the lake's surface last spring but didn't recover any of the reported fish.

When the reports began, Hennings started checking for the normally visible, shallow spawning beds used by pike. There were none.

''That is when we realized, that yep, we have a serious problem,'' he said.

Through the summer, the conservation officer intensified his patrols of Watson Lake to speak with anglers.

Fisheries biologist Sue Thompson was dispatched from Whitehorse to the community last July to net for pike.

After 24 one-hour sets, they found lots of other fish but no pike.

Derrick Rothermel, of Kamloops, British Columbia, said he immediately became hooked on Watson Lake after his first night of fishing there in 1998.

''I have never seen pike like that in my life,'' Rothermel said.

Rothermel was at the lake for the 2002 season. While the fishing was slightly off from previous years, it was still phenomenal, he said.

But, last spring was different.

''We fished for three days and never saw one pike,'' he said. ''We checked every nook and cranny and could not come up with anything, not even a minnow. I have never seen anything like it.''

In the fall of 2002, Hennings received a report from a lake resident of four pike dead under his dock.

Hennings retrieved the fish but could see no visible signs of trauma, like blows to the head, or mouths scarred from fishing hooks. Nothing abnormal was apparent.

Though unusual, the four dead fish on their own were not something to ignite an in-depth scientific investigation.

Foos said there were no signs of contamination. Besides, he said, something foreign, such as a toxic substance, would likely affect other species in the lake.

There's also no evidence of effects on the pike living in the lake above, and it drains into Watson Lake, Foos said.

Foos said he and other Watson Lakers are planning to keep a close eye on the spawning beds after the spring thaw.

He also plans to do more test-netting to see if he can recover even a pike minnow.

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