Not even the most optimistic supporter of spiny-rayed species would have thought back in the 1960s that the state would eventually develop a program for raising and releasing millions of walleyes, channel catfish, bass, crappies and bluegills into state waters.
Washington, like other Northwest states, was trout country in those days. Advocates of spiny-rayed species were considered a loud and irritating minority.
Even fisheries biologists ridiculed the few anglers who had the temerity to praise the spiny-rayed clan. One Spokane biologist even told anglers to fill their boats with “those trash fish called walleyes” that were showing up by the thousands in Lake Roosevelt.
Times have changed. It’s politically incorrect these days to fight plans to enhance fishing for spiny-rayed species. Many trout fishermen still think the trout is king in Washington, but most of them are resigned to the reality that admirers of the warm-water fish no longer are ignored.
Washington is building a warm-water hatchery at Ringold Springs, buying walleyes and other species, planning the development of new waters for spiny-rayed fish, designating certain lakes for rehabilitation for the warm-water fish and determining where money can be spent to improve public access to existing fisheries.
Most of the new program will be funded by money provided by the state’s anglers. Thousands who bought 1997 licenses decided to pay the $5 surcharge to fish for bass, walleyes, channel catfish, tiger muskies and crappies. And many more thousands will pay the surcharge just before the opening of the general season in April.
All surcharge money must be used to improve warm-water fisheries.
The Fish and Wildlife Department has expanded its warm-water fish program. Biologist Bill Zook, who has replaced Doug Fletcher as program manager, and his staff are deciding what to do with the money that’s already come in.
The top brass in Olympia believes at least $1 million will be available by July 1. However, Zook and his staff don’t want to go on a spending spree.
“We don’t want to spend much before we know we’ve got the money,” commented Scott Smith, the acting assistant manager .
Smith said regional biologists are being asked to designate projects. The biologists will recommend waters to be treated with rotenone, where new lakes and ponds can be developed and where more public access can be created.
It’s possible that construction of the proposed access at Sprague Lake may be put on a fast track. The department had to drop plans to build an access on the north side of the lake and has been looking at property on the south side.
Sprague Lake also will be one of the lakes in the Spokane region that will benefit from the new program. When it was treated with rotenone several years ago, the department said the lake would be managed primarily for spiny-rayed species.
Trout were released so anglers would have a species to catch while spiny-rayed fish grew large enough to be desirable.
Last August, the department started construction of the new warm-water hatchery at Ringold Springs. When in full production, the hatchery will produce two million bass, walleyes, crappies, bluegills and catfish each year. The first fish are scheduled for release this year.
Although the new program became effective Jan. 1, some anglers apparently aren’t aware they must pay a $5 surcharge to kill certain species.
Incidentally, in addition to the surcharge, state residents who are 15 years or older must have a valid game-fish license. Youngsters under 15 don’t need the license nor are they required to pay the surcharge.
Persons who buy the three-day resident license, as well as those buying non-resident licenses, will be charged the $5 fee to fish for the designated warm-water species.
Anglers who don’t pay the surcharge must immediately release any designated warm-water species caught while fishing for trout, salmon and other species.
Pleading ignorance of fish species won’t help persons who violate the new regulations. The fishing rules pamphlet has drawings of game fish and the department has a brochure, “Warmwater Fish of Washington,” available at all its offices.
, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Fenton Roskelley by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 3814.