Rounding up the invaders – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Abel Quiroz caught over 115 pounds total of invasive pike this month in the Rogue River. [Courtesy photo]

Rogue River’s Pikeminnow Derby completes fourth year

PASS GRANTS – Abel Quiroz takes it upon himself to personally harm encroaching Rogue River pike, even forgoing eating fried chicken skins to do so.

Hide is the main bait he used to bring down 115 pounds – and counting – of Middle Rogue pikeminnows during this month’s pikeminnow derby, designed to point the middle finger at those wild salmon predators no one wants here.

“I try to do everything I can,” says Quiroz, 36, owner of a Grants Pass donut shop. “It was fun. I caught a lot of big ones. It’s exciting. But I can’t eat my fried chicken skins.

If Quiroz took his team of pikeminnow wreckers down the Columbia River, he could make more than six figures. But on the Rogue, he’s up for a $50 gift card.

Either way, hitting pike for wild salmon is more than enough for Quiroz to drag his three kids to the Rogue six days a week to catch these invasive fish.

“I really like going to the river,” says Quiroz. “It’s my life, man.”

This is the fourth consecutive August that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is hosting this pike fishing derby which is largely a symbolic attempt to raise awareness of invasive species that can have negative effects on native species such as salmon and rainbow trout.

Pikeminnows, historically known as squawfish, and wild salmon have lived together in the Rogue since Pikeminnows were illegally introduced when a farm pond overflowed into the Grave Creek watershed in the late 1900s. 1970s.

They are native to Oregon, but not the Rogue Basin. And therein lies the problem.

A 1993 ODFW study showed that pike over 10 inches long in the Rogue ate infant wild salmon and rainbow trout, and juveniles outperformed wild salmon and rainbow trout fry. rainbow trout for food and space.

In this very low-key derby called “roundup”, anglers are invited to catch as many pike from the Rogue under legal circumstances, deliver them to collection stations and enter for various prizes through contests and raffles. .

The categories are for the largest pike, the five largest fish and the highest total weight.

There’s also a raffle for anyone who catches at least one pikeminnow and sends a photo of their catch by Sunday night to [email protected]

The raffle is full of big prizes.

Quiroz looks set to win the top prize, which will net him a $50 gift card from Sportsman’s Warehouse in Medford. Second place is a $20 gift card to the Black Bird Mall.

“Abel has spent more money on gas than he will earn,” says Ryan Battleson, the ODFW fish biologist who coordinates the derby with a slew of volunteers.

Battleson does not claim that the derby really makes a difference to the pikeminnow population or their impacts on wild salmon and rainbow trout.

But it’s a great way to tell this simple story of wild salmon. Invasive species: Bad. Good cold habitat: Good.

“It’s our presentation on habitat and invasive species,” says Battleson.

Pikeminnows do their greatest damage in reservoirs, which is why they have been financially isolated in the Columbia River for angler attacks.

The Bonneville Power Administration pays big bounties there for pikeminnows, with some anglers historically cashing in over $100,000.

Bad luck here.

A 2020 Oregon Legislature bill called for a minor bounty on Pikeminnow here, but it never gained popularity.

“If I had a bounty program, I think we could dent these fish,” Battleson says. “But we don’t.”

And neither does the annual roundup, Battleson acknowledges.

“It’s a way to raise more salmon and rainbow trout and encourage kids to get out and fish,” Battleson says.

Quiroz enjoys taking his three children with him to the river, fishing six days a week after working a full graveyard shift at his Magic Donuts & Coffee store.

Avoiding chicken gizzards as bait, they now rely on their friends’ chicken skins. They cast lines with weights and no floats, letting the skins bounce slowly along the river bottom in pike waters.

Places like the Rainbow Bar near Galicia and under the Gold Hill Bridge are teeming with pikeminnows, he says.

Quiroz has caught them as big as 21 1/2 inches so far this month. If he wasn’t hoarding them for the derby, Quiroz occasionally eats them.

“I fry them, with lots of lime,” he says.

Quiroz knows he gets very little for the price of gas he pays to get to his favorite haunts. He knows he could make a lot of money if he took his talents to Columbia.

“A lot of people tell me that,” Quiroz says. “I hear it all, man – that these guys don’t need to work, they just spend their days on the river. But I have a life here.

Mark Freeman covers the exterior for the Mail Tribune. Contact him at 541-776-4470 or email him at [email protected]