Britten Jay, a guide at the Silver Bow Fly Shop, came across a terrible sight Monday. A dozen dead redband trout floating in the Spokane River near the wastewater treatment plant.
“I’d never seen anything like that before,” Jay said. “It was just a gigantic massacre.”
Some of the fish were more than 20 inches long, Jay said.It appeared many of the trout had filets cut out of them.
Sean Visintainer, the owner of Silver Bow Fly Shop, said he knows poaching goes on in the river, but this case is particularly egregious.
It’s illegal to keep redband trout, or any wild trout on the Spokane River.
Although not an endangered species redband trout are in a precarious situation. Native to the more than 250,000 square miles that make up the Columbia River basin, the redband can only be found in about half of what is believed to be its historic range.
It’s estimated there are 300 redband trout per mile on the Spokane River.
Visintainer said new signs will be going up along the river explaining the fishing rules toward the end of summer. He hopes that clears up any confusion about what fish anglers can or can not keep.
Yet regardless of how much education and outreach is done some people will always poach.
“It’s still not going to stop poachers,” he said. “Poachers are going to poach no matter what.”
More importantly Visintainer said he believes the Washington Department of Fish and Widlife needs to patrol the river more aggressively.
“I haven’t been checked in a while,” Visintainer said of WDFW patrols. “The home water that needs the most protection is the one that’s getting the least amount of protection in my opinion.”
Jay Echoed Visintainer.
“I’ve lived here since 5th grade and have hunted and fished in the state of Washington and I have never ever been checked by law enforcement,” Jay said. “On this river particularly things just need to be buckled down. It’s getting out of control.”
Jay regularly sees people he suspects of poaching or of fishing with illegal gear such as barbed hooks or bait.
WDFW Police Capt. Dan Rahn said there has been no reduction in the number of officers or patrols of the river. On average, he said, the river is patrolled a “few times a week” by the four WDFW officers based in Spokane County.
Rahn learned about the redband poaching Tuesday afternoon. An officer visited the site Wednesday and found the poached fish and spoke to Jay. The officer gave his cellphone number to the Silver Bow Fly Shop guides so they could call him directly if they see more problems on the river.
But, Rahn said in recent years poaching hasn’t been a big issue, or at least not one WDFW officers hear about.
“I don’t think we’ve written a lot of tickets for keeping illegal fish there,” he said.
Rahn did not know exactly how many tickets WDFW officers have written for poaching on the river.
In fact, he said WDFW officers aren’t receiving as many calls from anglers reporting poaching or other illegal activity as in years past.
“Ten years ago we used to get a lot more calls,” he said.
But, according to anglers and fishing guides they are calling and reporting issues. And, Jay said even if WDFW officers are patrolling the river they aren’t doing it effectively.
“Patrolling should be more than driving the river road and patrolling boat access spots,” he said.
Instead WDFW officers should be out on the river in water craft actively deterring and busting violators, he said.
Rahn emphasized that WDFW officers are spread thin and rely on anglers to report poaching or other illegal fishing practices.
“We patrol as much as we can,” said Madonna Luers, a spokeswoman for WDFW. “We need eyes on the river. And we need to hear from people.”
In the past Spokane anglers have banded together and patrolled over the course of a day or a weekend helping WDFW officers extend their reach.
For Jay the dead redband trout are symbolic of a larger issue.
“The Spokane River is just treated as a river that flows through a city and that’s it,” he said. “It’s more than that. It’s a great resource. There are not a whole lot of places in the U.S. where you can float through the middle of town and catch some fish.”