Smallmouth bass get preferential treatment among exotic predators in Lake Roosevelt.
Starting April 1, the daily catch limit on walleyes increased from eight fish a day to 16 fish a day with no size restrictions.
Chris Donley, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department lake fisheries manager said the changes seek to bring overpopulated walleye back into balance with their forage fish.
Eventually the result should be longer, fatter walleye, he said.
However, fishing for smallmouths, another bountiful non-native species that feed on forage fish, is more restricted in Lake Roosevelt, where the limit is 10 fish a day, no more than one over 14 inches.
Indeed, the state this year made a policy change to curb bass, channel catfish and walleye throughout much of the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries upstream from McNary Dam. Limits and size restrictions on those popular but predatory sportfish were dropped entirely in most stretches to encourage their harvest and give more protection to endangered native salmon and steelhead.
Lake Roosevelt was exempted because Grand Coulee Dam blocks passage of endangered salmon or steelhead into the reservoir.
But why are smallmouth bass given more protection than walleye in Roosevelt?
“Basically, we dealt with walleye first,” said John Whalen, the agency’s regional fisheries manager.
“We had a lot of discussion among anglers and clubs about (Lake Roosevelt) walleye last year, with more than 100 comments on the various proposals,” he said. “And we had a lot going on with rules on the Columbia outside of Roosevelt.
“We had good information on walleye in Roosevelt and not so much on smallmouth, although we know they’re in the lake in large numbers.
“So we held off on any proposals. We thought about expanding the bag limit and we may in the future, but we didn’t want to throw out too much for anglers to swallow at once.”
Anglers who catch a big smallmouth may continue to fish until they have a 10-fish limit, but they can keep only one fish longer than 14 inches.
“There’s a good population of smallmouths in Roosevelt and lower Spokane River,” he said. “Fisherman like to catch them, but it doesn’t appear they’re impacting them.”