Fishing Here Is Far From Child’s Play


There are two ways to look at just about everything. My wife reminds me of this daily.

But at least she hasn’t fined me for our differences.

Russ Cooley wasn’t so lucky. His disagreement was with a Washington Fish and Wildlife Department enforcement agent who didn’t think his 2-year-old son, Shawn, was old enough to fish.

Cooley, publisher of “Fishing Holes” magazine, was entered in a mid-May Lake Chelan salmon derby. Cooley had paid $35 entry fees for himself and his son.

One person might look at this as a fine example of parenting. Another might see it as a greedy attempt to double his chances of winning the $4,000 derby prize by putting two lines in the water.

The duo was trolling two rods on downriggers when enforcement agents stopped them.

“I was shocked when one officer said he was writing me a ticket for $133 dollars,” Cooley said. “He claimed Shawn wasn’t capable of catching a fish by himself. He was accusing me of poaching.”

Cooley’s arguments about father-son relationships and giving a kid the pride of fishing with his own rod were disregarded. His arraignment is June 22 in Wenatchee.

Wildlife officials say the Cooleys were fishing with two 9-foot fishing rods and 200 feet of line behind the boat. They said Shawn was in diapers and sucking on a baby bottle.

Capt. Dick Smith, supervisor of the agent who wrote the ticket, could not be reached this week. But he was quoted by the Tacoma News Tribune as saying the citation was written under a law making it illegal “to fish with a rod not under a person’s immediate control.”

Smith said the officers “did not feel the child was capable of handling the gear. It was a judgment call.”

This could be interpreted to mean that former state Rep. George Orr and writer Pat McManus broke the law last summer when they helped escort severely handicapped children on a fishing trip to Bear Lake last summer.

No wonder Orr lost the November election.

But page 6 of the 1995-96 fishing regulations says no fishing license is required for anglers “0-14 years old.”

If a dad is going to be cited for fishing with a 2-year-old, the rules shouldn’t suggest it is legal to do so.

The state should make it clear, or lighten up.

But in this case, Washington agents have taken a different view.

“I certainly wasn’t trying to cheat,” Cooley said. “I didn’t catch any salmon that day. Anybody who’s ever fished with a 2-year-old can understand that.”

Similar gray areas: People get all goodall-over feelings when presented a picture of Grandpa catching bluegills with a kid in his lap.

So why are anglers incensed to see a guy load his boat with three little kids and put out four rods so he can pack home four limits of salmon?

Fillet follies: Then there’s the February incident in which two Yakima anglers were cited under Washington’s wacky rule prohibiting anglers from filleting walleyes at those expensive lakeside fish-cleaning stations.

Boat dealer Doug Allen had driven to the Grand Coulee area with a client who’d just purchased a $25,000 boat.

“I was trying to do him a service by teaching him how to use the boat and how to fish,” Allen said.

On the first day, the anglers caught four walleyes below Grand Coulee Dam. The fish were checked by Fish and Wildlife Department employees when they reached the dock. Then the anglers went to a motel, where they cleaned the fish and put the fillets in a cooler.

State wildlife officials agree this is legal.

The next day, Allen and his client launched at Spring Canyon for one more day of fishing, this time for kokanee on Lake Roosevelt.

As they drove away from the lake that afternoon, they were stopped at a check station and fined for being in possession of the walleyes they had legally caught and filleted the previous day.

Washington law prohibits anglers from filleting walleyes and then transporting them. Processing walleyes at a lake would make it impossible for enforcement agents to know whether the fish had met the legal size restrictions.

At Lake Roosevelt, for example, walleyes must be less than 16 inches or more than 20 inches to be kept.

But the regulations pamphlet on page 9 says fish no longer are in transit once they reach residential quarters, such as a motel, motorhome or houseboat.

“This was the odd case of a guy who was trying to obey the law but was cited,” said Evan Jacoby, the Fish and Wildlife Department’s legal council. “We’re looking at this case very closely to see if we can refine the law.”

Such sympathy didn’t do Allen much good, however. He had to go to court, where his arguments persuaded the judge to throw out the case.

“My client had never been ticketed in his life,” Allen said. “He’s a bonded investment counselor. Getting a ticket would affect his livelihood. I’d be affected, too. I couldn’t fish in professional walleye trail tournaments with a game law conviction.”

Allen is angry about laws that trap honest fishermen.

“This law was written with the intention of keeping people from cleaning fish on the water so they can catch more than their daily limit,” Allen said. “It’s not meant to punish fishermen who go to shore and properly take care of their fish.”

One enforcement agent, who asked to remain anonymous, said he’s frustrated by ambiguous laws.

“Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of fishermen who’d fillet a fish to avoid get through a check station with oversize fish,” he said.

Said Allen, “But in this case, they took a budding fisherman and soured him on the sport and the department.”

You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

, DataTimes

Tags: column

Click here to comment on this story »