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Volunteer Mike Coyle nets legacy at Spokane Fish Hatchery

Mike Coyle, 79, has coordinated the tour program at the Spokane Fish Hatchery for five years. (Rich Landers)
Mike Coyle, 79, has coordinated the tour program at the Spokane Fish Hatchery for five years. (Rich Landers)

Behind the scenes, Mike Coyle has taught hundreds of kids about the life history of trout while helping the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department save fish for anglers.

Coyle, 79, is stepping down after five years of coordinating up to 60 group tours a year at the Spokane Fish Hatchery in north Spokane off Waikiki Road.

“It’s time for me to pass the torch,” he said last week as Safari Club International chapter honored him with a barbecue at the hatchery.

Coyle, who helped organized the SCI chapter in 1978, persuaded the group to donate $2,800 to replace netting to keep avian predators away from hatchery raceways full of small trout destined for stocking in the region’s fishing lakes.

“Without the netting, we would lose 30-50 percent of our small fish to predators,” said Ace Trump, Spokane Hatchery manager.

“(Great blue) herons and kingfishers can really take a bite out of our production,” he said, noting that the donation was a welcome boost to the cash-strapped agency.

Coyle spurred another improvement – installing fish-food dispensing machines that resemble gum-ball dispensers. Hatchery visitors used to throw all sorts of bread and junk food in the ponds to see the fish eat. That was bad for the fish and made a mess in the ponds.

The quarter each visitor plugs into the machine pays for food that gives fish proper nutrition while raising more money for materials offered to group tours that are especially popular with youth groups and schools.

“The most popular time for school tours is in the spring when the weather gets nicer,” Coyle said. “But the best time is December and January when the hatchery staff is milking the males to fertilize the eggs from the females.

“February is good because there still are eggs inside the hatchery and fish of all sizes outside before they start stocking the lakes. So you can really see the full life cycle.”

Coyle also lobbied the Safari Club to purchase a TV so groups could see an 8-minute video of the egg-taking and fertilization process any time of the year.

School budget cuts, and less money for renting buses, have reduced the number of school tours at the hatchery.

“Visitors love to see the fish and how they’re produced,” Coyle said, noting that about 10 trained volunteers help guide the tours through the year. “It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.”