Just when things were beginning to look up for largemouth and largie lovers at Lost Creek Lake, someone complicated it by illegally stocking yet another bass species in the upper Rogue River reservoir.
I’ve been following Mark Freeman’s reports on the struggles to bring back the fishery at the lake north of Medford. It yielded the Beaver State’s one-time record, an 11-pounder, when it was a true bucketmouth lake. But then somebody dumped in smallmouth bass in the 1980s and the fishery went downhill — at least for largemouth.
There have been signs of a comeback, we report in our September issue, which discusses the problems of bucket biology throughout the Northwest. Anglers have been planting willows for cover, 2,000 largemouth fry were transplanted here from elsewhere this past spring and it appeared the smallmouth population had stabilized.
But yesterday, Freeman, of the Mail Tribune, reported that Lost Creek now has a whole ‘nuther bass species in it: spots.
At least three small ones have been caught since 2006. The speculation is that someone drove them up I-5 from California’s Lake Shasta, a well-known spotted bass lake.
“It’s really a shame,” ODFW biologist Dan VanDyke in Central Point told Freeman. “It’s an illegally introduced species, and we find it completely unacceptable.”
Unacceptable it may be, but VanDyke suspects there’s now a reproducing population. It’s unclear how or if spots will affect the lake; the biologist says the bass will never do well in the lake due to colder winters.
But thought doesn’t seem to be a big thing among bucket biologists, a group one former Washington trout manager disparages as “bassholes.”
They sprinkle non-native “Frankenstein fish” here and there — but also rainbows and cutt-bows in at least one case that contributed to the collapse of a grayling population in Northwest Montana.
Jim Vashro is a fisheries manager there. He has records of 500 illegal plants in the Treasure State and needs to enter 50 more into his database. Of 66 perch plants, almost every single one has seriously compromised the existing fishery (Lake Mary Ronan’s kokanee population declined 75 percent and perch made up 80 percent of its biomass) and results in stunted perch or bluegill or whatever is introduced.
“What makes bluegill fans think the outcome will be any better or different this time?” Vashro told my reporter Jerry Smalley on an illegal reintroduction at Carpenter Lake, formerly a top trout lake, after treatment. How’d that turn out? Writes Smalley, “Trout fishing is plummeting. Bluegills are the size of quarters.”
Bob Jateff, in North-central Washington, rotenoned one lake, stocked it with fingerling trout and the next spring found that someone had dumped in perch as well.
“As a biologist, it’s frustrating,” he told me. “You know what a lake can do. Spectacle has all the attributes of a wonderful trout lake – depth, access, lots of good bank fishing room.”
And yet he figures he’ll now have to spend another $50,000 in a few years to clean the lake.
That’s nothing compared to the $5 million to eradicate tui chub, introduced likely as baitfish, in Oregon’s Diamond Lake, or the $33 million spent so far to kill off pike that somehow got into California’s Davis Lake.
Then there are endangered species ramifications. Jeff Ziller, a biologist in Springfield, Ore., now has walleye – and walleye anglers – at Lookout Point Reservoir, in the upper Willamette River. He’s trying to recover threatened spring Chinook, bull trout and bite-sized Oregon chub there, but he can’t drain or rotenone the reservoir — it’s too big, plus there are those listed species.
But the Beaver State isn’t exactly sitting still anymore. One hundred and twenty river miles downstream from Lookout, Gov. Kulongoski signed a bill earlier this summer that made the maximum fine for illegally moving live fish $125,000 and/or a five-year jail sentence.
(“Cool,” said Vashro, when I told him that.)
That actually trumps the max Federal penalty for illegally shooting a wolf, plus ODFW can sue to recover the cost of rotenoning.
British Columbia attacks it from another angle: In one case where perch were illegally planted in eight lakes, the province closed fishing on all of ‘em “because it removes the incentive for people to illegally move fish.”
This is not to vilify perch or walleye or bass. I enjoy fishing for them – as well as other nonnative fish – and I think they all have their places in managed fisheries. I also think that more education needs to be done on the damage and expenses wrought by bucket biology.
But I think that if Oregon’s serious about stopping bucket biology, they need to mimic what the judge did earlier this summer to that woman in the Yachats Valley who fed all those bears in her backyard. They need to crucify someone who tries to sneak Species X – whatever it might be, trout, carp, goldfish – somewhere that species ain’t supposed to be.
Maybe then people will start to get the message to leave fish management to the folks we pay to do it.