There are some mighty fishermen here in Washington State that only work from May to September.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's reward fishery is open once again to the delight of an elite fraternity of fishermen capable of catching the Northern Pikeminnow.

Those at the top of the catch list at the end of the year make enough not to work the rest of the year. Yes, just by fishing for what is considered a "trash fish" that is actually native to the Columbia watershed. The problem with the species is that the lakes and pools created by the dams made their numbers explode along with their impact of spawning steelhead and salmon.

The top angler earned almost $120,000 last year. That is an insane amount of money when you look at the numbers from WDFW:

Rank Tags Fish Reward
# 1 12 14,019 $119,341
# 2 5 6,625 $55,245
# 3 4 6,389 $53,165
# 4 7 5,561 $47,817
# 5 4 4,688 $39,057

Sure you can catch them on the Yakima all day long, but those don't count.

The Columbia River fishery is not for the faint of heart. That is an INSANE amount of fish and I find it really hard to fathom how that person does it according to the rules.

Those that have been known to have 100 shad days, hit their limit every other time out, nail 40 walleye on a weekend playing with the kids have come up empty at the checkstand at the end of the day.

You see them as you talk to the fish counter measuring your fish. The guys that launch from the checkout launch, walking with keys in their hands back to their rigs.

Hendo had ONE fish at the end of this long day...
Hendo had ONE fish at the end of this long day...

That walk sucks.

I have been one of those guys.

Back years ago when the bounty rates were actually smaller, I tried to support my family and make a living on the pikeminnow fishery. I failed miserably and had to end up resorting to going to WorkSource and getting a real job. I got one within days and avoided being homeless. Barely.

Look closely at that top five list above. The top earner smoked everyone else by at least double. It's not like everyone else tried half as hard. That dude knows something the rest of them have not figured out in several years of trying. I know, I have heard stories of spying and fist fights over such information.

This is old school, fishermen turf battles of Old Washington alive and well right here in our back yard.

One of the best pikeminnow spots during a portion of the season are the flats from the Highway 240 bridge in Richland to the south of Bateman's Island out on the big water of the Columbia. 


There are several baits that you use to target the fish. Some you have to travel to far of places to trap and collect and dodge snakes in the process. There are tricks you use for baits, like curing, that you do for things you never would have thought about. Afterward, you feel stupid for not thinking of it before when targeting catfish. There are nightcrawlers. They work just as good as everything else some days and I find it hard to believe a guy that stays on his boat 22 hours a day has time to go trap or track down other baits. If he did, he did it in the off season.

The top earner stays on the boat for 22 hours a day. So do a lot of other guys that didn't make the top 20, I know because I met many of them.

I met the most influential fisherman in my life struggling to get through my second season.

His name was Phil Zoller he told me as he crept up to my kayak. I was tied to a pretty large tree that allowed me a little rest from balancing on my kayak for eight hours straight.

My fishing partner for a couple of years on the Columbia.
My fishing partner for a couple of years on the Columbia.

Scared the crap out of me as I thought he was awfully close to be passing by. He was stopping.

He anchored up.

"I've been watching you," he said. "You're out here longer than I am and you're always in that kayak."

I did see the same 20 boats everyday on the flats.

"You should really team up with me and just be on the boat from now on," he said after we fished together for a week or so in that spot. It was a battle for a known GPS-saved spot on the flats, but I just fished the tree stump because it was the safest option for me. I fell asleep on that kayak when I fished through the night.

From 1980! Phil is a fishing legend!
From 1980! Phil is a fishing legend!

We finished the season together but we were both lucky to even get close to $2,000 and that's with Phil nailing a tagged fish after dropping me off at the dock one morning because I got sick.

I didn't stay on the land long and was back out after he called me. Stomach virus be dammed.

You have to want to eat, brother. I will NEVER stand on the side of the road with a cardboard sign to earn money.

Phil had the same work ethic I did and we started before first light and finished often when the sun had passed the horizon. I did a lot of listening. Some guys talk way too much when the knowledge is on the other side of the boat.

We fished together on a boat Phil pieced together after buying it for $500. It had a wench for the anchor system, which he rigged himself.

The dude knew how to keep that ancient outboard going with duck tape and bubble gum.

The next season Phil had moved on to northern Idaho where he settled with a woman he met in the off season.

The two years we got to fish together though, I learned so much from Phil. He guided on rivers for more than 30 years and his sons continue the family legacy on Washington rivers to this day.

More From 94.5 KATS