OFFICERS WILL SMITH AND CHRIS BUSHINGS POSE WITH THE 242 LAHONTAN CUTTS, ILLEGAL NET AND 2005 TUNDRA THEY SEIZED FROM ALLEGED NETTER AT LAKE LENORE LATE LAST WEEK. (WDFW)

Wardens Nab Netters With 242 Lenore Lahontans

UPDATE APRIL 11, 2013, 11:25 A.M.: Rich Landers at the Spokane Spokesman-Review identifies the four suspects as:

Vitaliy Kachinskiy, 23, of Mount Vernon and three Everett men: Sergey Otroda, 32, Igor Bigun, 26 and Oleg Pavlus, 25.

He also quotes the local enforcement chief:

“We have members of two ethnic groups involved with an annual thing of illegal netting that’s causing great concern for our fish program,” said WDFW Capt. Chris Anderson in Ephrata.  “One group has been caught targeting mostly whitefish at Banks Lake and this group was targeting the big spawning cutthroats at Lenore. The 242 fish were just one night’s catch. We’re not sure how many nights or weeks worth of fish they’ve taken out of the lake.”

And Landers notes:

This is a huge bummer for fishermen. Not only do we deal with environmental issues that plague fish, but also with human pond scum that will do this to a fishery that means so much to anglers and the local economy.

Lake Lenore attracts anglers from all over in spring when its big Lahontan cutthroat swim to the shallows to try and spawn.

The chironomid fishery at either end is featured in the April issue of Northwest Sportsman, and was a favorite of the editor for years.

But it also brings out some who would steal the Columbia Basin lake’s bounty.

That’s what happened late last week, according to Washington fish and wildlife officers, who passed along the following story and photos:

Officer Will Smith and Officer Chris Busching teamed up for a night patrol at Lake Lenore to watch for individuals stealing Lahontan cutthroat trout out of the a fish trap filled with thousands of trophy class trout. While easy picking for poachers, we had two of our finest on the job.

After about an hour of surveillance, they saw a vehicle pull into the boat launch area and shut off its lights. The vehicle was there for less than a minute before turning their lights back on and leaving.  Although the officers thought this was suspicious, they never saw any people.

Several hours passed and the vehicle did not return, so the officers drove down to check on the fish trap. Initially, the officers didn’t see anything so they drove back to the boat launch where they had originally seen the car. There they located a blue plastic tote, which contained a net and a large number of Lahontan cutthroat trout. Next to the tote were five green duffel bags stuffed with fish.

ONE OF FIVE DUFFEL BAGS STUFFED WITH TROUT DISCOVERED NEAR THE LAKE LENORE FISH TRAP, ACCORDING TO WASHINGTON GAME WARDENS. (WDFW)

Officer Smith jumped out of the truck with his night vision and hid in the brush next to the fish while Officer Busching drove off and hid about a mile away.

Several minutes later the same vehicle appeared driving on the highway, eventually turning into the boat launch past Officer Smith. Four men jumped out of a 2005 Toyota Tundra and began quickly loading the fish into the truck.

Officer Smith radioed Officer Busching who quickly returned to the boat launch and activated his emergency lights. Three of the men took off running, while the fourth jumped back into the truck and tried to drive off. Officer Busching was able to use his patrol vehicle to block the suspect in and ordered the driver out at gun point.

Officer Smith pursued the three other suspects on foot, one of which gave up quickly when he saw Officer Smith come out of the bushes at him.

The two other suspects ran into the lake, which still has a water temperature only slightly above freezing. One of suspects was observed swimming approximately 40 yards out in the lake and appeared to be having a difficult time with all of his clothes on.

The fourth subject was spotted lying in the lake holding onto a tree and trying to blend in with the environment.

As the officers were taking the three suspects into custody, they lost track of the fourth suspect, who was last seen swimming away. After a long search, Officer Busching and Officer Smith, along with multiple assisting officers, were unable to locate the fourth suspect.  It was believed he may have possibly drowned or was unlikely to survive the night due to hypothermia.

The two officers took the three suspects back to the Region 2 office where they were interviewed, and confessions obtained.

The truck, net, and other items used were all seized for forfeiture.

At 4:00 a.m. Officer Busching and Officer Smith returned to the lake to help search-and-rescue units look for the fourth suspect. An hour later, at about 5:00 a.m., a Soap Lake police officer who had assisted earlier in the night spotted a subject walking through park wearing camouflage clothing and no shoes. The officer contacted the man and identified him as the missing fourth suspect. The man had walked almost 10 miles in socks he stuffed with newspaper.

(All totaled), the men were found to be in possession of 242 Lahontan cutthroat trout weighing nearly 600 pounds that had been removed from the fish trap.

WDFW OFFICERS WILL SMITH AND CHRIS BUSCHING POSE WITH THE 242 LAHONTAN CUTTS, ILLEGAL NET AND 2005 TUNDRA THEY SEIZED FROM ALLEGED NETTERS AT LAKE LENORE LATE LAST WEEK. BEHIND SMITH IS THE HOMEMADE CART ALLEGEDLY USED TO MOVE THE SACKS OF FISH. (WDFW)

Each suspect was cited for illegal use of a net, fishing closed waters, fishing without a license, and 1st degree exceeding the bag limit.

The fish were later donated to the Moses Lake Food Bank.

Earlier this year, illegal netting was discovered at Banks Lake (Northwest Sportsman, February issue), to the north of Lake Lenore, where poachers allegedly gillnetted 50 whitefish.

Two men, identified by the Columbia Basin Herald as Spokane residents Maxim Andriyenko, 28, and Vladimir Lebedinski, 33, were jailed for that.

And at Sturgeon Lake, at Sauvie Island Wildlife Area near Portland, where two men were arrested after netting at least 32 fish and tossing back a couple dozen others.

They were identified by the Oregon State Police as Vadim V. Kovaley, 46, of  Portland, and Yuriy M. Zlobini, 53, of Milwaukie. A third man, Vladimir A. Palamarchuk, 55, of Portland, was also cited.