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Walleyes in Sprague Lake aren’t easy prey

Wanted: anglers who can unlock the mystery of catching Sprague walleyes.

This productive 1,840-acre lake along Interstate 90 holds a variety of fish dominated by walleyes.

By fishery standards, “It’s stuffed with walleyes,” said Chris Donley, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department fish biologist. “But hardly anybody has figured out how to catch them regularly.”

Time is running out to meet the challenge.

The debate over managing Sprague Lake will come to a head this summer, when department officials plan to hold public meetings on whether to use rotenone to wipe out the current fishery.

The proposal calls for starting over with a mix of species including bluegills, crappie, largemouth bass, trout, catfish and tiger muskies – but no walleye.

According to fall net surveys, the fish biomass in the lake is roughly 55 percent walleye; 30 percent carp and tench; 6 percent catfish; 6 percent crappie, bluegill and perch; 3 percent bass, and 1 percent rainbow trout.

“The predator prey ratio is out of balance,” Donley said. “That might contribute to the difficulty in catching the walleyes.”

“It’s the darndest thing,” said Scott Haugen, who runs Four Seasons Campground and supports the rehab proposal. “I saw (the researchers) pull the nets and I saw all the walleyes. Yet we have some really good fishermen come through this resort and they’re having trouble catching them.”

Seth Burrill of Spokane filmed an episode of his Angler’s Experience TV show on Sprague three years ago and caught numerous walleyes casting plugs into the shallows on a hot June day.

“People keep fishing in the deeper water when the fish are up along shore,” he said.

But Haugen said the walleye have become more difficult to catch in the past two years.

“If anybody finds the secret to catching them, they’ll have a ball,” he said, noting the big population of walleyes and the generous limits on Sprague: eight a day with a minimum size of 12 inches, only one over 22 inches.