Fly fishing’s Newest Frontier??

Squawfish (or “pikeminnow” if we want to be politically correct) are nothing more than a pest that steals your bait and eats juvenile salmon and steelhead, right?

Throw in the fact that they typically fight like a cross between a wet sock and a walleye and they don’t sport any beautiful coloration and squaws are pretty easy to loathe.

But are they perhaps a little more sporty than we give them credit for?

Where I fish for salmon on the Sacramento River, squawfish are conditioned to follow boats around. As soon as one pulls up to the beach (any beach), the squaws materialize in massive schools, looking for discarded roe…or better yet, filleted salmon carcasses.

Each day when I’m cleaning fish, I’ve noticed that most of my clients are fascinated by the hordes of squaws and many end up asking to borrow a rod so they can try to catch a few.
So, I started bringing out my kid’s mini 5-foot fly rod and let guys mess around while I cleaned salmon. As it turns out, the squaws are pretty gamey.

They are very skittish and a lot tougher to hook than you’d expect considering the amount of salmon chum in the water. They act…dare I say…almost like spring creek brown trout and the fly had to be presented very precisely to solicit a strike. And when hooked, the squaws often go airborne if you can believe it! On the light gear, they pull hard and make some impressive runs.

After catching a bunch of bright salmon, the guys almost seem to have more fun with the squawfish at the end of each day. As Matt Steiger, pictured above, said: “We may be pushing the boundaries of fly fishing here,” as he tied into yet another feisty squaw.

I’m not so sure fly fishing for pikeminnow is the next big thing, but I can honestly say (after trying it) that it is a lot of fun and surprisingly challenging.

So, next time you’re out on the creek and the marquee species aren’t playing nice, give the ol’ sqauw a try…


  1. john woo says

    squaw fish take out a lot of juvenile salmon and steelhead yet we are lucky that striper find them as a tasty treat. they are defenetly opportunistic feeders for i have caught large squaws on smaller sized squaws going after striper. they are also a real pain when fishing an area with roe, especially the slower drifts. do you guys feel it wrong for me as an angler to kill the all the ones iones i catch that are larger than whapt average sized striper prey on (5+pounds)? i feel they compete for food th that salmoid smolts could use and the larger ones prey on smaller steelhead and salmon smolts and they all eat the roe.

  2. Ross $ says

    They aren’t native to my home river, the Eel. They have all but taken over! There used to be an annual derby, awarding anglers with cash and prizes but DFG deemed it to be unlawful for some reason. It was a great program and motivated people to get out and remove them from the infected watersheds. I have personally caught them in excess of 30″ and won the derby several times. I know of others caught up to 36″. I wonder how many juvenile salmon and steelhead a fish of that size takes out in a season?

    • says

      Yep, pikeminnow need to be eradicated from the Eel system…they came down from Lake Pilsbury and are detrimental to the native chinook, coho & Steelies.

  3. allen day says

    we used to have a blast catching catching them in the creeks in santa clara county.they liked everything from woolybuggers to the ol san juan worm.weve even caught em on panther martins and cast masters.they love a pinched nightcrawler and salmon egg also. to bad they stink and i wouldnt even feed to a cat.has anyone tried to smoke one of these slimey critters?

  4. Jon says

    I’ve caught some pretty chunky squawfish on the feather while fly fishing for steelhead. They put up a pretty decent fight on a 5 weight and are better then being skunked anyday!

  5. Steve says

    Here in Washington there is a bounty program on the pikeminnow on the Columbia River. Some guys make enough money from this to be a full time job and earn up to $40-50K a year. Some fish are tagged and are worth $500 alone. I have heard that the numbers caught are dwindling because of the success of the program. No word yet on whether this is improving the survival rate of smolts for steelies and salmon.

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