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October 09, 2007

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Dishonest Anglers? What Would Zern Say?

Last year, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game initiated a bounty program aimed at reducing the rainbow and lake trout populations in certain state waters where kokanee salmon numbers were dwindling. It was determined by biologists that the predatory trout were decimating Lake Pend Oreille kokanee and hampering the species’ recovery there.Lake_pend_oreille_2

Today, the incentive program pays anglers $15 for every lake or rainbow trout over 13 inches caught from the state’s largest lake and its tributary rivers and creeks.

With tongue firmly implanted in cheek we ask Newshound readers: What could possibly go wrong?

The Idaho agency is currently investigating reports that some anglers participating in the trout bounty program have been, let’s say, less than honorable when submitting fish for cash payments.

Unscrupulous anglers? How could it be??

Ned Horner, the department’s fisheries manager, said anecdotal evidence of cheating appears to be corroborated by empirical data being gathered by Fish and Game, according to an article appearing in the Bonner County Daily Bee.

(Translation: Trout caught in other lakes are being submitted for the $15 bounty payments.)

The program began in 2006 with a $10 bounty, before being raised to $15 this year. In 2006, 5,048 rainbows and 11,041 lakers were caught, according to Horner. Through August of this year, 4,916 rainbow and 13,670 lake trout have been turned in for bounty payments.Kokanee

That means more than a half-million dollars has been spent on the program so far.

Without trying to sound too hardened and cynical, don’t you Newshound readers think it was perhaps a tad naïve for the Idaho F&G to assume there wouldn’t be some cheating in a “money for fish” program?

I mean, really.

“Unfortunately, there’s a few people that are taking advantage of the situation and using it as an angler welfare program, and that’s not helping restore kokanee,” said Horner.

In addition to the obvious effect of depleting fisheries funds and jeopardizing the kokanee restoration at Lake Pend Oreille, biologists worry that cheaters submitting trout from other lakes have put the data gathered thus far at risk, making the numbers essentially worthless, scientifically speaking.

As a result, the department vows to make the fish check-in process more stringent, and to prosecute anglers for theft and falsification of state records if they’re caught cheating.

The whole thing makes me think of Field & Stream’s venerable humorist from decades ago, Ed Zern, who had it pegged in his 1945 book, To Hell With Fishing.

“Fishermen are born honest,” Zern wrote, “but they get over it."

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