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How to Mess Up a Perfectly Good Lake

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From the Mouth of the River

I helped my dad gather 400 mother cows one morning when I was about 14. We were going to hold them in a large pen until we could ride through and look for sick or crippled animals, at which time we would release them into a new pasture. As we approached the holding pen the cows started picking up speed, running, jumping and acting like a bunch of young heifers. Cows don’t usually run into a pen or enclosure with that much enthusiasm. We sat there on our horses, a dumfounded look on our faces. As the dust cleared we realized we had forgotten to close the gate at the other end of the corral and the whole herd  had escaped out the other end, running and bucking and scattering to the four winds. All that work for naught.  

This must be how the Idaho Fish and Game feels about trying to kill all the fish in Lake Pend Oreille. A lake with 111 miles of shoreline, Pend Oreille was Idaho’s premier fishing lake, the most diversified of all the lakes in Idaho and with enough room for all species. 

But several years ago, when its shores were covered with pink, spawning Kokanee, someone got the bright idea of harvesting these fish for market and Fish and Game were sold on the idea. Fish were harvested by the net-full;  then sport fishermen complained they could only catch 200 a day, then down to 40 twice a day. Boats were circling like Indians on a wagon train in front of Trestle Creek, hauling in fish twice a day, smoking and canning them and taking them down to Arizona and California and trading them for Houha. 

Then the word was sent to Boise that there were only two Kokanee left in Lake Pend  Oreille and one of them was gay. A hush-hush meeting was held in Boise by Fish and Game and after going over all their maps it was discovered that Lake Pend Oreille was indeed in North Idaho. “All this time I thought it was in Canada,” one high-up official said. 

“The world record Bull Trout and the world record Kamloops Rainbow was caught there; are you sure it’s in Idaho? Find a fisheries biologist who has gone to school out of state and put him in charge of cleaning up that mess.” And as for asking the public what they’d like to fish for: “Are you crazy?” said the biologist. “These people are uneducated commoners. They don’t know what is good for them. Besides, my brother-in-law likes Kokanee, so we will reestablish Kokanee. These are the little red fish, right? But first we need to do a study. We will catch all the fish in the lake and tag them so we’ll know how many of each kind we have to work with. If that doesn’t work we will send out cute college girls in short shorts to wait for fishermen at boat ramps and they can ask what fish were caught that day. I mean, really, what fisherman would lie to a cute collage girl?” 

“We caught 87 of those funny looking ones with spots and 42 bottom feeders,” one said, “and do the ones that got off the hook count? And by the way, is there a limit on ugly fish with teeth?”  

Well, after years of study and doing all that research, the analysis was, “Screw it, we will kill all the fish in the lake and start over.”

“Good idea,” said the head of fisheries. “I knew that college education would pay off.” Turns out the lake is to deep to seine, and they kept losing biologists. “How are we going to catch all those fish? We don’t have anyone left from the old days who knows how to net fish.”

“I know some netters back east who will be glad for the work,” someone undoubtedly offered. “They can catch ’em all, we just got to pay ’em.” And somewhere under some table in Boise, Avista agreed to write the check as long as the state agreed to raise the rates on gas and electricity so the public would actually end up paying for the killing of all the fish while Idaho Fish and Game people were given jobs with Avista to sort of cushion their income. 

Avista has also picked up some prime property along the Clark Fork River as well as along Trestle Creek. While the netting of the fish in Lake Pend Oreille has taken a toll on the fishing, it was not doing the job first expected. To save man hours the nets were changed from traps to gill. Traps meant you had to sort out the fish you wanted to kill. Gill nets meant you would kill all the fish and sorting wasn’t necessary.  

This subject was brought up at public meeting. “You are aware, are you not, that Bull Trout is a federally protected species in this lake?” was the question asked of  biologists. “Yes, but we just call that collateral damage...”

“You mean If I catch one that’s collateral damage?” 

“No, that’s a federal offense and you are subject to a hefty fine.”

While the Corps of Engineers don’t seem to be fazed by anything done to this lake by the state of Idaho, they continue to raise and lower the lake according to how many lights are on in California.  

Idaho Fish and Game have disrupted this lake with their good intentions; they still haven’t figured out that the gate is open on the east side of the lake and all of the fish from the lakes and rivers of western Montana are being flushed into Lake Pend Oreille. This year, the high water that lasted so long put more fish in Lake Pend Oreille than the Fish and Game had netted. One of these fish is the most popular fish in North America, the Walleye. Every fisherman I have met on the lake is fishing for Walleye, and are catching them up to five pounds and larger. They’re considered the best eating fish in North America. Large pike are being caught in decent numbers as well. 

The times they are a changin’ and it’s time Idaho Fish and Game listened to the people, went back to Boise and left our lake alone. In four years this lake would level itself out from the mess they have made of it, and once again become a great fishery.  That’s just the peoples’ opinion.

Note: this is a humor column and is not intended to suggest that any of the above is the true account of any actual conversation regarding Lake Pend Oreille; just that it could be.

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Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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