On a rainy, socked-in spring day, Tim Cherry, 17, tried his luck in the placid waters of Waitts Lake. By 6:30 a.m., he’d already caught three rainbow trout and was working on adding a fourth to his haul.
Cherry, who lives in Spokane, spent the previous night camped out on the shores of the popular Stevens County lake. He woke up early Saturday morning on the first day of the 2018 lowland lake trout fishing season.
It also happens to be the last opening day.
New, statewide fishing rules that take effect in July have made a number of Spokane-area lakes open year-round. Waitts Lake is one of them.
Although some resort owners are worried the change will have a negative impact on their business, the anglers themselves couldn’t be happier.
“It’s pretty cool,” Cherry said. “Kinda pointless to close it for two months. I’m looking forward to year-round fishing, because they have some huge fish here. That’s what I”m looking forward to.”
Nearby angler Don Longbottom, 70, agreed.
“Oh yeah, I like that idea. It increases my fishing capabilities,” he said.
Longbottom has been fishing Waitts Lake for more than 20 years. He said it’s not uncommon for him to skip opening day, thus avoiding the crowds.
Those crowds are exactly what Gary Roach is worried will disappear.
“Opening day gives us a chance to get a little cash on hand,” Roach said. “We don’t have very much business again until the kids get out of school.”
Roach is the owner of Waitts Lake Resort. He said on an average opening day he’ll make as much as $900.
While that may not seem like a lot, he said it makes a big difference for a business his size.
Roach also believes leaving the lake open year-round poses a safety hazard. He believes ice fishers may risk traveling on thin ice in hopes of catching fish well into early spring. And, he said, even if anglers start showing up early – potentially giving him more business – he usually doesn’t open until late in April anyway.
Overall, he believes the rules don’t fully consider the reality on the ground.
“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials. “They’re over in Olympia and they don’t have any idea what’s happening on the eastern side of the state.”
Chris Donley is sympathetic to Roach’s first concern.
“We’re going to monitor that (resort revenue) over time and see if there is a change,” he said.
Donley is the Eastern Regional Fish Program manager for WDFW. Waitts Lake resort owners petitioned WDFW, raising their concerns about having the lake be open year-round. In response to that petition, he said WDFW will monitor what happens over the next several years and report its findings to the WDFW commission.
“I wouldn’t expect there to be a change,” Donley said. “My anticipation is that people will use the lake very similar to how they have in the past.”
WDFW will continue to stock the lake in April close to the traditional opening day date.
While Donley doesn’t think there will be a change, he’s open to being wrong.
As for the safety argument, he doesn’t think that holds water.
“We don’t cut rules to make sure people are safe,” he said. “We close Liberty Lake to fishing, yet people ice skate the heck out of it.”
He thinks arguments like that distract from the potentially legitimate concern.
“How can revenue be negatively impacted?” he asked. “I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but I’d sure like to understand how that works.”
Paul Copeland, 60, is excited to have a lake he can fish year-round.
“I’ve been coming for three weeks watching the water calm out,” he said. “The fish jumping, it’s a tease.”
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