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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

River patrol nets violators

Crackdown on illegal fishing turns up drugs too

A volunteer from the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club calls  state Department of Fish and Wildlife  enforcement officers to report an angler fishing illegally on the Spokane River on Saturday. About 30 anglers volunteered for the enforcement patrol to help protect the river’s struggling redband trout. (Rich Landers)

Saturday was a good day to wet a line but a particularly bad day to cast into one of the Spokane River stretches that closed to fishing on March 15.

About 25 volunteers from three area fishing clubs devoted the day to patrolling the river downstream from Monroe Street and upstream from Upriver Dam to look for illegal fishing activity.

Within an hour of dispersing with vehicles, bicycles, drift boats and on foot, their calls came trickling in a steady stream to Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement agents who were standing by.

“When we heard (a fish biologist) tell us that more than 30 percent of the river’s (adult) native redband trout were being killed by poachers, it was a no-brainer that this is something we can do to help,” said Judy Kaufman, a member of the Spokane Fly Fishers and Trout Unlimited.

Kaufman made one of the first calls to officer Lenny Hahn to report an angler fishing in the Peaceful Valley area, where fishing is closed until June 1. The angler also was using bait and a barbed hook, both of which are prohibited in that stretch of the river.

But Hahn couldn’t respond immediately. Within a half-hour of briefing the 15 fly-fishermen patrolling below town, he was writing tickets for unlicensed anglers fishing out of season and with bait.

“One guy also had drugs and two felony warrants for his arrest, so we had to run him into the jail,” Hahn said.

That’s the nature of Fish and Wildlife enforcement nowadays, especially in the urban setting, Hahn said.

On Tuesday, officer Dave Spurbeck was using a spotting scope to scan the river for fishing violations when he observed young adults selling and buying illegal hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Before the day was over, his supervisor said he’d worked with city police to make seven felony arrests, but only one of the cases involved a suspect fishing illegally.

“He’d have gotten off easier if I hadn’t found his marijuana,” Spurbeck said.

The officer was so busy that day, he couldn’t respond in time to catch the four illegal fishermen a homeowner had reported in Riverside State Park.

“Having all the extra eyes and ears really helped us a lot,” Hahn said Saturday afternoon.

The emphasis patrol working between Monroe Street and the Bowl and Pitcher in Riverside State Park made eight drug-related arrests and issued three citations for fishing without a license and five citations for fishing during the closed season. Offices issued warnings for eight other fishing violations.

The local chapter of Trout Unlimited has posted signs along the river to help educate anglers about the native redband trout and the special fishing rules.

“Our experience is that some anglers just don’t want to read the rules,” Hahn said.

The volunteers told the enforcement agents they will plan more patrols and urge their club members to be more diligent in reporting illegal activity they might see.

“And we hope we can get kayakers, hikers and mountain bikers to help watch over the fish in the river, too,” said Randy Shaber of the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club.

“We appreciate all the help we can get,” Hahn said. “We almost always have an officer working the Spokane River, but it’s a lot of area to cover.”