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Sprague proposals irk anglers

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

A proposal to protect shorebirds and waterfowl by changing a wildlife reserve boundary at Sprague Lake has caused consternation among fishermen.

Anglers are not the only ones confused about a proposal that would preclude them from prime trout water west of Harper Island this spring.

Some of them were summoned off the west end of the lake on several occasions this fall by a wildlife enforcement officer who mistakenly thought the fishing closure was already in effect.

The anglers also are concerned the proposal to close more of the lake to fishing boats seems to have been buried in the statewide fishing rule changes the Fish and Wildlife Commission will bring up for a vote at a Feb. 4-6 meeting in Olympia.

Even the Spokane region fish and wildlife managers were not fully aware of the changes that were being proposed by agency staff in Ephrata. The two regional offices share jurisdiction over the lake that laps over the border between Lincoln and Adams counties just south of I-90.

“I was called back to shore this fall by an officer who told me I was in closed waters,” said Boyd Matson, of the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club. “We had a polite conversation, but I told him he was mistaken. He didn’t write me a ticket, because he acknowledged there was some confusion.”

That’s no consolation to Matson and other anglers concerned the proposal would limit their fishing opportunity to catch trout that have flourished and grown to huge sizes since the lake was rehabilitated two years ago.

The west end of the lake has good fishing opportunities close to the public access, Matson said.

“We worked hard to get the Sprague Lake fishery rehabilitated,” he said. “And now that we’ve revived this fabulous trout fishery, we don’t want to lose opportunity to enjoy it.”

Fish and Wildlife Department mangers in Ephrata say they’ve been hearing angler concerns and are considering possible changes. But so far, the proposal before the commission would:

•Prohibit boats with combustible engines year-round from the waters west of Harper Island.

•Prohibit fishing west of the island Sept. 1-April 30.

•Prohibit fishing within 50 feet of shore all the way around Harper Island.

The restrictions, which would take effect May 1 if approved, are geared to protecting waterfowl and shorebirds during nesting season and increasing their undisturbed resting area during fall.

The 50-foot buffer around the island would deter people from beaching boats and disturbing birds by fishing from the shore.

“Gulls and shorebirds, some black-crowned night herons nest there as well as a very small colony of Caspian terns,” said Matt Monda, department wildlife manager in Ephrata. “The terns are a big problem on the Columbia where they eat young salmon we’re trying to protect. So it’s nice to have a group here where they’re not threatening anadromous fish.”

The powerboat closure seeks to protect resting and nesting birds, especially western grebes, which nest on mats of reeds that are easily swamped by boat wakes. Grebes are declining statewide, Monda said.

Sprague Lake’s wildlife reserve dates back for decades, but the rules were slackened in recent years because the fishing had deteriorated and few fishermen were on the lake before the rehabilitation, he said.

As the rehab revived the fishery, it also renewed the need for protecting the wildlife habitat.

“The west portion of Sprague is a reserve – like Coffeepot, Jamison and Stratford lakes – with fall restrictions to help distribute and hold lesser Canada geese when they come down (from Canada),” he said.

“For us, it’s a matter of balancing the interests of fishermen with the interests of hunters who would like to have the waterfowl remain in the area during the fall seasons.

“But if people are concerned and have suggestions for a better approach, that’s what we need to hear.”

“We’re already looking at changing the fishing closure from Sept. 1 to later in September or possibly even October,” said Jeff Korth, department fisheries manager in Ephrata.

Contact Rich Landers at 459-5509 or e-mail

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