The fishing, hunting and conservation community has lost a passionate advocate and a very good man. Mike Meseberg, the longtime co-owner of MarDon Resort at Eastern Washington’s Potholes Reservoir, passed away at home with his family around him on December 26th. Mike, who was 71 years old, had been courageously battling cancer and the aftereffects of a stroke over the last four years.
Mike was not just the man you saw in the resort’s tackle shop dispensing fishing advice, helping customers fix the broken tips on their rods, or teaching them how to catch the various species of fish found in the lake. He was more than the man who would take you out to the sand dunes to go after waterfowl and then cook up fresh duck kabobs in the blind during a guided hunt with the MarDon Duck Taxi. He also was more than the man who would cheerfully carry on a five-minute conversation for a half hour. He was a man who made a difference in the Columbia Basin and in Washington State.
MIKE’S MOST OBVIOUS LEGACY IS THE resort he and his family took over from his mother and father, who purchased MarDon in 1972. When I first started coming here in the 1990s, the wooden dock floats of the marina were approaching the end of their life span, the hook-ups for the RVs were in similar shape, and if you were looking for motel-style accommodations, you had your choice between the bunkhouse motel or the older strip of motel rooms near the swim beach that were cooled not by air-conditioning, but by swamp coolers.
About 20 years ago Mike, his brother Dave and his wife Marilyn removed the old strip of motel rooms and replaced it with several park-model cottages overlooking the swim beach, giving guests a perfect view of the lake and summertime sunsets. Dave then retired, which allowed Mike to have his dream of having his kids work with him as their career choice. Levi and Annie jumped in full time and began an ambitious remodel and expansion of the resort.
The dock on the marina was overhauled and additional park cottages were put in, along with other roofed accommodations. As the resort improvements continued, Mike’s son took the lead. The RV sites were completely updated and a whole area was added to the resort west of its historical boundary, with more RV sites and small camper cabins. After that, Levi designed and built a putting course on the resort grounds and the bunkhouse motel was torn down, making room for some wonderful two-bedroom cabins that opened up last year. Mike had a part in of all of this, though in truth the entire family helped with planning, permitting and building this ambitious dream that is now a reality. Today, the resort is pretty much full from April through October, a testament to the vision of the Meseberg family.
THE RESORT IS CERTAINLY A VISIBLE and lasting part of Mike’s legacy, but what he left behind as a hunter, fisherman and conservationist is also very important. More than anything else, Mike should be remembered as the man who saved Potholes Reservoir and made it into the sustainable multispecies fishery it is today, regularly named as one of the top 25 bass lakes in the country by Bassmaster magazine and also known as a quality walleye, panfish, trout and catfish destination.
It’s easy to take the fishing for granted, but if it wasn’t for Mike, his family and a number of volunteers, the fishing would have cratered years ago. Potholes Reservoir was created in 1949 when O’Sullivan Dam was built. The flooded brush degraded over the years and when Mount Saint Helens erupted, the ash that fell not only covered the bottom of the reservoir, but also smothered the fish eggs from the 1980 spawn. In addition, there was severe overfishing of panfish in the 1960s and ’70s, when anglers regularly filled up five-gallon buckets of fish to take home.
The sand dunes area at the north end of the reservoir provides great habitat for fish in the spring, but the water drains from there in the summer and early fall, forcing the small fry to enter the main lake. The young fish were met there, in Mike’s words, by a moonscape, devoid of cover, and they were easily consumed by the walleye and bass in the main reservoir. By the late 1990s, the reservoir’s fisheries were in a significant decline.
That was the reason Mike’s dad Rod, along with Ron Sawyer, founded the Central Washington Fish Advisory Committee. In 2005, the CWFAC became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. With Mike as the chairman, the CWFAC went to work restoring the reservoir and its habitat.
Mike got the idea about how to do it when he visited Lake Havasu some 20-plus years ago. Conservationists there were dealing with similar issues of forage fish not having cover and came up with the idea of constructing habitat boxes, made of PVC and surrounded by mesh netting, that were anchored to the bottom and provided a safe place for the small fry to survive from bigger predatory fish.
Returning to Potholes Reservoir, Mike and his family began building similar habitat boxes, but instead of anchoring them, the PVC pipes had holes drilled through them to let them sink and remain on the bottom. With the help of volunteers and through donations, the CWFAC began dropping these habitat boxes into the reservoir, forming three reefs at the outlets of the main channels and creeks flowing into the lake.
The experiment worked. In 2007, Mike was named one of Field and Stream magazine’s Heroes of Conservation for the habitat work he was spearheading at Potholes Reservoir. To date, over 3,000 habitat boxes have been dropped into the lake. The work has been funded over the years by grants, donations and by anglers through bass and walleye tournaments held out of MarDon Resort.
MIKE ALSO WAS OFTEN A LONE PROPHET in the wilderness of Washington State advocating for warmwater fisheries as a member of the state’s Inland Fisheries Advisory Group. Mike stood up for warmwater species in a state where coldwater fisheries remain king and fish like walleye, bass and panfish were looked down on by biologists and managers in favor of the salmon, steelhead and trout fisheries Washington is known for.
At a time when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was pushing to remove limits on many warmwater species, Mike pushed for size and quantity limits for walleye, perch, crappie and bluegill. Today, not only Potholes Reservoir but a number of other lakes and reservoirs throughout the Columbia Basin provide excellent sustainable fishing to thousands of anglers every year, and this is a true gift Mike leaves behind for all of us.
Mike’s legacy doesn’t stop with fisheries conservation. He also did a lot for waterfowl conservation and for local students in the Royal School District. In addition to helping Marilyn put on Ducks Unlimited banquets, Mike also served on the Washington State Waterfowl Art Committee. Back when Washington State had a physical state duck stamp to put on your hunting license, the committee would steer artists towards an annual stamp and choose the one that would grace the licenses for the year. The funds from the sale of these duck stamps were used to enhance wetland habitat. In addition to serving on this committee, he also was a member of the state’s Waterfowl Advisory Group. Altogether, Mike spent close to 20 years serving on Washington State’s Waterfowl Advisory Group and Inland Fish Advisory Group, panels meant to enhance warmwater fisheries, waterfowl and habitat.
In 1992, Mike and several other parents came up with a novel way to raise funds for the Royal School District’s after-school and athletic programs. They decided to start a hunt club, known as the Royal Slope Youth Boosters. A limited number of season permits were sold out of the store at MarDon allowing pheasant, quail, duck and goose hunters to access up to 25,000 acres of private land owned by participating farmers in the region. The program has provided several hundred thousand dollars to the students of the school district over the last 20 years, another memorable legacy.
MIKE LEAVES BEHIND A loving wife (Marilyn) and two grown children (Levi and Annie) who are carrying on the family business of running MarDon Resort, an oasis in the desert for generations of hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. He also leaves behind a better place for all of us who love to hunt, fish and watch wildlife in the Columbia Basin.
I got to speak with Marilyn, Annie and Levi as I prepared to write this article about Mike and I asked them to share some of their memories about him.
Annie told me about how her dad would take her and Levi out as young kids onto the lake for an evening of fishing. Mike tended to stay out pretty late, so much so that Annie and Levi would climb into a sleeping bag towards the bow of the boat and fall asleep. Annie especially remembers waking up on the boat ride back to the resort at night and looking at all the stars above her.
Marilyn, when asked about Mike’s legacy, said it was probably about how many people he taught to fish. He would teach them how to put a worm on a hook, how to cast, and fix the broken tips of their fishing rods. He went to college to become a teacher but never taught in a school. However, Mike was a natural-born teacher, a lover of the outdoors, and he shared this with everyone. I think we can all agree with Marilyn’s assessment that Mike was very generous with his time and his love.
Marilyn also told me that all this being said, Mike’s true legacy lies in the grandchildren that he leaves behind. Mike was a true family man. He rarely missed a grandkid’s sporting or school event. And he has shared his passion for the outdoors with them and has left this earth with the knowledge that they will carry on!
Editor’s note: A remembrance for Mike Meseberg will be held starting at noon this Saturday, January 13, at MarDon Resort, 8198 Highway 262 SE, Othello, WA 99344. The public is welcome to attend.