Some anglers were startled this fall to learn the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department was entertaining a proposal to allow bait fishing in the Kettle River.
Some of the agency’s fish biologists were surprised, too.
Apparently there are two formulas for getting your idea of a good hunting or fishing rule into the state regulations pamphlets:
—Devote months to documenting your case, win the endorsement of wildlife professionals and garner public support, or
—Move to northeastern Washington and ask Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gary Douvia to make an end run around the public and the experts.
The end-run play emerged last year when Douvia paved the way for this year’s new four-point minimum rule in Stevens County areas. The proposal was introduced in an off-year for major rule changes and approved without the support of wildlife biologists.
Now fishermen are getting sucker punched.
“This came to us out of the blue,” said Steve Brabham, Spokane Walleye Club president, referring to proposals that would double the daily limit for walleye to 16 fish on most areas of Lake Roosevelt.
“Not knowing this was coming has us really upset. We haven’t seen any science to substantiate it. We’re not against increasing fish habitat for any sportfish, but we prefer a scientific methodical approach to it.”
Perhaps the most egregious of the recent assaults on public process and wildlife science is another Douvia-ushered proposal to end selective gear rules on the Kettle River.
Douvia graciously spoke to me on the phone to explain. He said the proposal originated with the Curlew-area Kettle River Advisory Group, which got the support of Stevens County commissioners.
They contend that reauthorizing bait fishing with barbed hooks would boost the local economy and make it easier for youths to go fishing.
“If it enhances participation, it would have an economic benefit,” Douvia said. “It might have an impact on conservation, but participation up there is pretty low. I thought it was a legitimate request to give youths more opportunity to fish.”
The advisory group was formed in the early 1990s to work with Fish and Wildlife managers to improve the river’s ailing fishery and give native redband trout a chance to thrive.
Out of this process came the selective gear rules that prohibit bait and require anglers to use artificial flies or lures with single barbless hooks to reduce hooking mortality on fish that are caught and released.
Selective gear rules are supported by anglers on numerous lakes and streams across the state, including portions of the Spokane River.
The Kettle River has flow and habitat issues that preclude it from being a blue-ribbon trout fishing stream. But everyone contacted for this column– including anglers, fish biologists, Kettle River Advisory Group members and Douvia – agrees the selective fishery rules have improved the size and number of trout in the Kettle.
Advisory board member Lorna Johnson said she’d heard from local anglers that the fishery might be four times better that it was before selective gear rules were adopted.
Nevertheless, she advocates changing the regulations.
“Kids can’t cast flies or spinners,” she said.
It’s a shame Mr. Douvia, the Northeastern Washington front man for responsible fish and wildlife management, can’t muster the backbone to take a stand for the health of the Kettle River fishery.
Selective gear regulations have helped. Allowing bait fishing will quickly erode those gains as well as future opportunity for economic benefits.
Some North Idaho residents resisted the phased-in rules that banned bait fishing in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers. Now the positive results over 20 years are obvious to virtually everyone.
Kids can fish just fine with spinners and even flies or jigs under a bobber if the methods are taught to them by open-minded adults.
Instead of stumping for bait fishing, why not spend the energy explaining the concept of fisheries conservation to Kettle River area youths?
Then take them to area lakes where millions of hatchery fish are stocked for them to catch.
Kettle River valley kids can ride their bikes to Curlew Lake and bait-fish to their heart’s content in one of Eastern Washington’s best fisheries.
Maybe Fish and Wildlife Commissioners aren’t interested in maintaining improvements in the Kettle River fishery and raising a local crop of knowledgeable anglers.
But at the least they ought to be held to the rules set for the rest of us.
To help avoid confusing flip-flops in fishing rules, state Fish and Wildlife Department officials have a policy of making major changes on a three-year cycle rather than annually. This is an off year.
New major proposals can be considered this year only if they involve rules that would:
—Address a critical conservation need.
—Produce significant recreational opportunities that generate revenue.
The Kettle River proposal fails to meet any of the criteria.
It should be dismissed on that basis alone.