Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police Officer Bryan Davidson displays two wild steelhead and an undersized cutthroat trout along with the rods used to poach the fish after a January incident on the Quillayute River near Forks. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police)

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police Officer Bryan Davidson displays two wild steelhead and an undersized cutthroat trout along with the rods used to poach the fish after a January incident on the Quillayute River near Forks. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police)

Port Angeles man who pleaded guilty to tree theft pleads not guilty to fish poaching

EDITOR’S NOTE: Single barbless hooks are legal fishing gear on the Quillayute River. The initial version of this story incorrectly stated that single-point, barbless hooks were required on the Quillayute.

FORKS — A day removed from receiving a 30-day sentence in federal court for felling and sectioning a big leaf maple in the Elwha River restoration project area, Port Angeles resident Michael D. Welches was arrested by state Department of Fish and Wildlife Police for alleged wild steelhead poaching violations on the Quillayute River near Forks.

Welches, 63, faces misdemeanor charges of unlawful recreational fishing in the first degree: possessing a wild salmon or steelhead during a closed season, unlawful recreational fishing in the second degree and avoiding a field inspection (refusing to present fish to a Fish and Wildlife officer). He was arrested Jan. 20.

Welches was arraigned Feb. 15 and pleaded not guilty to the illegal fishing charges in Clallam County District Court No. 2. He faces a pre-trial hearing in Forks on April 30.

Two others — Welches’ son Richard Welches, 24, and Michael Welches’ girlfriend Vicki Hovey, 55 — also were charged in connection with the Jan. 20 incident along the Quillayute River.

Richard Welches pleaded guilty March 26 to possessing wild steelhead, avoiding a field inspection and resisting arrest. He was sentenced to a total of 15 days in jail with credit for time served and a $500 criminal wildlife penalty assessment.

The younger Welches also is alleged to have participated with his father and Matthew Hutto, 50, in illegally felling the big-leaf maple near the former Lake Aldwell in November 2013.

A receipt indicated that the men had sold the wood to a Quilcene music wood supplier, the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch said.

Wood retrieved from that supplier matched the wood from the felled maple, investigators said.

The value of the timber as music wood was estimated to be $8,766.

Michael Welches pleaded guilty to the timber theft Oct. 12 and received a 30-day sentence Jan. 19 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

Hutto was sentenced to 60 days in prison to be followed by two years probation Feb. 16.

He pleaded guilty in federal court Oct. 6, 2017, to one count of depredation of government property.

Richard Welches was indicted Feb. 2 on one count of depredation of government property and was ordered to appear in federal court to answer to the indictment May 8. He was booked in the Clallam County jail Feb. 8 on a multitude of charges and remains incarcerated.

Hovey’s two counts of unlawful recreational fishing were amended to unclassified fishing violations. She must pay two $150 fines for the violations as well as $200 in court costs.

A routine drift boat patrol conducted by Fish and Wildlife Police Sgt. Kit Rosenberger and Officer Bryan Davidson near Leyendecker Park uncovered the illegal fishing activity, they said.

“That area of the river can be kind of a troublesome poaching area for us,” Rosenberger said. “It’s an area that is notorious for poaching activities.”

The officers noticed two men and a woman fishing with five rods and made contact with the younger Welches first, obtaining his identification and discovering he lacked a valid fishing license and was fishing an unlawful second rod, they said.

“It appeared they were just there for the day fishing,” Rosenberger said. “They had brought in a wheelbarrow with firewood, set up an umbrella and had a lunch ready.”

Michael Welches and Hovey also were contacted by the officers. In the interim the younger Welches bolted from the scene, police said. They said Davidson gave chase, yelling for the man to stop as he was under arrest and that there was no point in fleeing because the officers had possession of his identification.

The younger Welches eluded apprehension by Davidson, but was later arrested by an officer with another law enforcement agency.

Davidson said he found two wild steelhead hidden in brush near the group’s campfire.

Michael Welches and Hovey were questioned and found to be in possession of an undersized cutthroat trout, Rosenberger said, adding that they refused to admit that they had caught or kept any steelhead.

“They had a small cutthroat trout, small enough that it was almost a bait fish,” Rosenberger said.

“I could see that Welches had more fish blood on his pants than could have come from that cutthroat and pointed that out to him. He answered that he had cut his hand.”

Welches was informed that his pants could be seized as evidence and the officers could apply for a warrant to compare the blood on his pants to the wild steelhead in the nearby brush.

Rosenberger said that at that point, the elder Welches admitted to catching the larger steelhead (estimated to weigh in the low teens) and his son had caught the smaller fish (7 or 8 pounds), according to Rosenberger. Officers confiscated the five rods, all of which were found to be equipped with barbed hooks, a violation on a river where the rules allow for only single barbless hooks, officers said.

Rosenberger said that the wild steelhead were donated to Serenity House of Port Angeles.

To call in a poaching violation on the North Olympic Peninsula, call the state’s Fish and Wildlife enforcement dispatch at 360-902-2936 seven days a week during business hours. After-hours calls can be placed to the State Patrol.

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Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]

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