Northern Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus Oregonensis)

northern pikeminnow

Last updated on July 30th, 2022 at 07:42 pm

The northern pikeminnow, also known as the Columbia River dace (or Ptychocheilus oregonensis), has been listed as threatened since 1993 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA protects all listed fish species from being harmed, harassed, or killed by people or their pets. In addition to protecting the northern pikeminnow from being harmed, the ESA also protects the Columbia River dace’s habitat, including its native spawning grounds and feeding grounds in the Columbia River system.

A lot of people don’t realize that there are northern pikeminnows living in the Columbia River, and they might be surprised to find out how endangered they are.

Typical of many fish species that live in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, the northern pikeminnow is considered an endangered species by both Washington and Oregon state governments as well as by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

But if you’re ever lucky enough to spot one of these beautiful creatures swimming through its natural habitat, here are some things you should know about them!

Origin and descriptions

The northern pikeminnow is a slender fish with a streamlined body, it lives in freshwater rivers and streams of North America from British Columbia and Washington to California, Nevada, and Colorado.

Ptychocheilus oregonensis is native to western North America, where it can be found in rivers and lakes. It lives in areas with a sandy or rocky bottom and is generally found close to shore. Northern pikeminnow’s fins are set far back on its body, which means it cannot swim backward, an adaptation that helps it hunt prey.

It inhabits areas with swift currents where it hunts for small aquatic animals at depths between one foot and 10 feet. Due to its high reproductive rate (up to 1000 eggs per season), it has a relatively high chance of survival compared to other species that are not as successful in reproducing. However, these characteristics do not make it an ideal choice for aquaculture because they have a short lifespan, which makes them less profitable than other species.

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It is best kept in large tanks or ponds because they require plenty of space to swim freely and often get tangled up if confined in too small an area. They eat insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and worms; however, they prefer smaller prey such as insect larvae over larger prey like crayfish.

Species profile

northern pikeminnow

The northern pikeminnow belongs to the family Leuciscidae and order Cypriniformes. They are also known as Columbia River dace, squawfish, squaw fish, blackfish, chub, jack salmon, or tyee salmon. They are a large species of minnow that is native to North America. Their range extends from Alaska down through Washington and Oregon and into California.

In addition to these states, they can also be found in Idaho and Montana. This makes them one of only two species of fish (the other being lake whitefish) that live in every state west of the Rocky Mountains. This species is currently listed as threatened by both state and federal governments.

They were once abundant but their numbers have dwindled due to overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, competition with introduced species such as bass and trout, and dams that block their migration patterns. The Columbia River basin supports up to 85% of all remaining populations today, but there are still threats present here too.

Scientific name

The scientific name of the northern pikeminnow is Ptychocheilus oregonensis

Common name

The pikeminnow is also called Columbia River dace, squawfish, squaw fish, blackfish, chub, jack salmon, or tyee salmon.

Northern pikeminnow habitat

The northern pikeminnow primarily inhabits shallow, fast-moving rivers in western North America. It can also be found in coastal waters and larger rivers, as well as lakes and reservoirs. In these environments, it will feed on a variety of insects and crustaceans that live in or near water.


This fish has been known to grow up to 12-20 inches (30-50 cm) in length. However, a maximum length of 25 inches (63 cm) has been recorded. They weigh up to 3.4 kg (7.5 pounds).

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Tank size

If planning to keep this fish in a tank, the minimum recommended tank size they can live in is 250 gallons (946 liters).

Tank requirements

The Columbia River dace will tolerate a large range of pH levels. However, because they are surface-dwelling fish, it is recommended that you keep your tank temperature between 20 and 28 degrees Celsius. It’s also important that you ensure there is a high level of oxygen in your water; these fish do best with a strong current circulating around their tank at all times.

They prefer neutral or slightly acidic water conditions, which means you should avoid ammonia or nitrite in your tank. For optimal results, make sure that chlorine levels are low (less than 0.5 ppm). To achieve a healthy balance for your fish, try using peat moss as an organic source of carbon dioxide and biogenic substances to reduce dissolved solids such as sodium and chloride.

Tank mates

Although they’re relatively easy to keep in a well-maintained aquarium, these fish are best kept with tankmates that aren’t too large or aggressive, such as small trout species and dace. Other bottom-dwelling fish species like catfish or sculpins are also suitable tankmates, but northern pikeminnows should never be kept with other members of their own species.


northern pikeminnow

Ptychocheilus oregonensis is an egg-scatterer, meaning it lays its eggs randomly over a sandy or gravelly substrate. Females deposit their eggs at a rate of 1,500 to 3,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight (2.2 pounds). Incubation can last anywhere from one and a half to three days. During incubation, females will actively defend their nests by chasing away intruders.

The fry hatch with fully formed yolk sacs that they use for nourishment until they are able to start feeding on zooplankton in about two weeks’ time. At six weeks old, northern pikeminnows begin transitioning into adult size; these fish reach sexual maturity at age two.

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Are they aggressive or peaceful?

They are aggressive and territorial. Males of Ptychocheilus oregonensis (Northern Pikeminnow) are considered more aggressive than females. Even in smaller fish, males tend to be more territorial and display aggression toward other individuals of their species.

Northern pikeminnow care

northern pikeminnow

Ptychocheilus oregonensis is moderately hardy, but they require a well-established tank with lots of room. Keep your fish in an aquarium that’s at least 250 gallons and has plenty of hiding spots and plants for them to explore.

They prefer stable water conditions so filtration is important, along with frequent water changes.  A pH between 6.5 and 8.0 is ideal, as long as you keep ammonia levels below 0 ppm (the fish will be more sensitive to nitrites). The temperature should be between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Northern pikeminnow diet

Feeding should consist of bloodworms, brine shrimp, krill, shrimp pellets, or other meaty foods several times per day; supplement their diet with algae wafers or blanched vegetables such as zucchini or spinach once per week.

Feeding should be done on a regular schedule; feed once or twice per day as much as they will eat within five minutes.


northern pikeminnow

They can live for more than 12 years in their natural habitat.

Parasites and diseases

The northern pikeminnow is a sturdy fish that doesn’t suffer from many diseases, but they do occasionally get tapeworms and skin infections. Good water management practices are key to keeping your pikeminnows healthy and happy.


The northern pikeminnow is eaten by predators like bull trout, lake trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, westslope cutthroat trout.

Are northern pikeminnow edible

Yes, northern pikeminnow can be eaten. They are often used as baitfish and sometimes prepared in a dish called mousse of pike-minnow. Some people also like to eat their eggs. While northern pikeminnow may not be everyone’s favorite food, they do have some nutritional value and can make for an interesting meal if you happen upon them while fishing or camping.

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Status and Conservation

The northern pikeminnow (formerly known as squawfish) is a native species that was widely distributed throughout much of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming in pre-settlement times. Today, it is listed as threatened under both state and federal endangered species acts.

Despite its legal status, anglers continue to harvest large numbers of northern pikeminnows each year. In fact, they are often targeted by anglers because they can be caught on small lures or baits—and can reach sizes of up to 50 pounds!

Unfortunately, due to their slow growth rates and low reproductive potentials (reproductive females are rare), populations are unable to withstand these high levels of harvest. This has resulted in declines throughout much of their range—and some local extirpations.