Sports anglers turn their ire to use of nets



COWLITZ RIVER, WA-- Jerry Menge flipped his jig and bobber rig into a seam between fast and slow water Friday afternoon.
A hatchery steelhead as shiny as a chrome bumper was already on Menge's stringer, but he hoped for another bite, another fish fresh from the ocean.

Menge lives in Tacoma but camps near the Cowlitz for days at a time during the winter steelhead runs, and he had a good chance of getting another fish.

Menge, 62, was casting where Blue Creek flows into the Cowlitz River. The famous -- and often crowded -- Blue Creek Hole is one of Western Washington's most heavily fished waters, as thousands of steelhead pass through the area during their return to a nearby hatchery.

Fishing on many Western Washington steelhead rivers was as good as at the Blue Hole before the 1974 Boldt Decision gave tribes the right to half of the steelhead and salmon, Menge and other anglers said.

When the ruling came down, tribal nets joined commercial nets in many rivers, and steelhead and salmon didn't have a chance, Menge and other anglers said last week.

And it left little for sports anglers.

"I didn't like it," Menge said. "I used to catch a lot more fish before Boldt. The fishing has gone downhill.

"I used to fish the Puyallup River a lot, but it went way downhill."

But Menge blames the nets more than the tribes or Boldt.

"I don't mind giving the tribes their share of fish," Menge said. "But when you see the river full of nets, the fish don't have a chance."

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the tribes are now working together to improve fish runs, but the damage done was incredible, said John Hendrick, an Oakville angler who has fished Western Washington streams since 1963.

Hendrick is still a little bitter about the 1974 Boldt ruling -- he called a sucker fish he caught a "Boldt Fish" -- but he said he's moved on.

The tribes and state biologists have helped many Western Washington streams rebound, especially the Chehalis, Wynoochee and Satsop rivers, Hendrick said.

Hendrick said he now believes that nets -- both commercial and tribal -- have no place on the rivers.

Nets don't let enough fish escape to spawn, and he said it makes no sense to make it illegal for a sport angler to kill a wild steelhead while nets kill hundreds of wild salmon and steelhead.

Don Miller made a four-hour drive from Granite Falls to the Cowlitz for a shot at some bright steelhead Friday.

The huge hatchery run that heads up Blue Creek is worth the drive, and reminds him of like how fishing in many western Washington streams used to be, Miller said.

The Boldt Decision unleashed too many nets on steelhead and salmon, and runs on many rivers are still weaker than they used to be, Miller said.

Even with joint state/tribal management, commercial and tribal nets still kill too many fish, Miller said.

"Let's take the nets out of the rivers for a couple years and let the fish be," Miller said. "When you can't keep native (non-hatchery) fish, you know something is not right."

Menge agreed. "When the nets are in the river, the fishing gets bad," Menge said. "The fishing gets good again when they stop netting."



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