- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

KEYHOLE RESERVOIR, Wyo. (AP) - Some people call them water wolves. Other people say they’re “slimers”.

For Casper angler Scott Sterling, northern pike are just plain big.

Sterling has made the nearly three-hour drive in spring, summer and winter for six years to fish for northern pike in Keyhole Reservoir east of Gillette. He routinely catches them longer than 30 inches, a sizable fish, even by Wyoming standards.

Cari Pruismann likes their noses. Long, thin and wide, pike mouths open more like crocodiles than fish. And their teeth, Pruismann found, are razor sharp.

Not all anglers at Keyhole Reservoir admire northern pike. Bud Stewart, former Keyhole fisheries biologist, described many fishermen’s relationship with the toothy, underwater monsters as love-hate. But for those who love them, high water levels, abundant food and late spring means this is the time to fish.

Pike slithered their way illegally into Keyhole Reservoir in the mid ‘70s, said Stewart, Wyoming Game and Fish’s public information specialist who spent two decades as a biologist at Keyhole. Fishermen likely brought them to the lake, though why or from where, no one knows.

Shortly after biologists discovered pike, Mother Nature created a scenario where removal just wasn’t an option.

Northern pike need grass and other flooded vegetation along shorelines to reproduce naturally in Wyoming’s waters. When Keyhole is low, most of the shoreline is mud or rock. But in the late ‘70s, water levels in Keyhole rose dramatically, flooding grasslands and shrubs. The pike had all the food and shelter they needed, and the population exploded.

“The water went back down again and the natural reproduction wasn’t all that good,” Stewart said. “But since they were there, and fishermen liked them, we started our own stocking program.”

Game and Fish stopped stocking more vulnerable fish such as trout and began bringing in pike along with walleye. Smallmouth bass and crappie naturally reproduce alongside the larger predators.

Biologists also required anglers release any fish shorter than 30 inches. It wasn’t as much a way to preserve the pike population, as a way to reduce the growing carp numbers, Stewart said.

And it worked.

Pike are a vicious, and voracious predator. Left unchecked, they can drive populations of fish to the brink in some areas, which is why fisheries biologists fear illegally introduced pike establishing themselves in other Wyoming waters, Steward said. The fish have turned up in a few, but right now, numbers are under control.

Stewart has heard stories of pike grabbing ducklings and other small birds off the surface of the water. They’ll also eat mice or other rodents that either fall in the water or try to swim. Small fish don’t stand a chance.

In Keyhole, pike seem to coexist with walleye, Wyoming’s other apex aquatic predator.

“Crappie are extremely prolific and produce a lot of young and supply plenty of forage for walleye, pike and smallmouth bass,” Stewart said.

Game and Fish also stocks gizzard shad for additional food.

Since their introduction, pike have become part of Keyhole’s allure. Anglers will drive hundreds of miles to search for the slimy beasts with flies and bait. The state record weighs a little more than 27 pounds, and is almost 4 feet long. Newcastle angler Robert Hockett caught the Keyhole monster Oct. 27, 2004.

An even larger fish likely lurks somewhere in the depths, Stewart said.

“In the last 20 years, we’ve probably broken the state record a few times. Every few years someone catches a bigger one,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone came in with one a little bit bigger.”

For now, Game and Fish is going to take a break stocking pike, said Paul Mavrakis, fisheries supervisor for the Game and Fish’s Sheridan region. Natural numbers are high enough.

Anyone interested in a guaranteed way to catch pike should try smelt, said Roxanne Smith, co-owner of Empire Guesthouse, RV Park and General Store in Pine Haven.

Many anglers wandering in and out of her store near the lake are looking for pike. Some go back and forth between pike and walleye. Some don’t want the slimy fish in their boats, she said.

She tells fishermen interested in catching pike to use something thick and durable such as wire above their hooks. Pike teeth can easily sever normal fishing line.

And for someone lucky enough to catch one of Keyhole’s toothy offerings, Sterling, the Casper angler, recommends keeping a pair of needle-nose pliers handy.

“If you don’t have the right stuff, you’ll hurt yourself,” he said. “Bring a net.”

___

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com


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