WARMWATER FISH SPECIES such as sunfish, bluegill and brown bullhead catfish have repopulated Jefferson County’s Crocker Lake in the two decades since the state Department of Fish and Wildlife intentionally poisoned the lake to kill the voracious nonnative predator, the northern pike in 1998.
That decision, controversial with the public at the time, closed the popular lake to recreational angling. Fish and Wildlife admitted in 1998 that the poisoning led to a die off of several hundred young steelhead living in Snow Creek, one of Crocker Lake’s tributaries and a coho stream that deposits into Discovery Bay.
And Crocker Lake, what was once a prime lake fishing area with high visibility along U.S. Highway 101 north of Quilcene and an excellent public access site, remained closed to recreational angling for almost 20 years.
But while fishing poles gathered dust, nature didn’t lie dormant.
And a surprise was in store when the new fishing regulations went into effect in July: Crocker Lake has reopened to warmwater fishing, while remaining closed for trout species.
Fish and Wildlife fish program biologist Mark Downen said the department has conducted many species surveys on the lake since its closure.
“We have been surveying the lake on a near yearly basis since it was rehabbed back in 1998,” Downen said.
“There are no bass in the lake [now]. There are sunfish, bluegill and brown bullhead catfish.”
Downen said the original purpose of those surveys was to see if eradication of the northern pike had occurred and whether capacity existed to support the growth of coho in the lake and in Salmon and Snow creeks.
In the years since the closure, coho totals are down but Downen said the brown bullhead and sunfish have filled the ecological niches.
“Those species and bluegill are extremely abundant there and the department has thought that these warmwater populations could provide recreational opportunities,” Downen said.
“They’ve repopulated the lake and the coho just aren’t benefiting they way they once did.
“Coho use Crocker Lake more as an overwintering refuge than a summer refuge, they aren’t there year-round.”
Crocker Lake isn’t a typical North Olympic Peninsula lake, either.
“It’s shallow lake, classically a warm water lake with lots of vegetation,” Downen said. “A place where these warmwater species can thrive and are thriving. And we have a nice public access there. I love the idea of seeing it open, I just hope we can maintain something stable and predictable and have the natural resource managers supervise the lake and not have the public take that upon themselves.”
Fish and Wildlife is concerned that other species will be intentionally introduced to the lake by the public.
“All of the sunfish, bass and catfish — how they’ve gotten to various lakes have been spread by bucket biology,” Downen said.
Bucket biology is moving fish caught in one body of water and planting them in another.
“It’s common to move fish species around and we are concerned if people take fish stocking into their own hands we might have to close the lake again.
This also been one of the reasons the state was reluctant to open the lake for recreational fishing,” Downen said.
“Introducing bass is a real concern because there’s no question largemouth bass consume coho if they have the opportunity.”
Anglers meet up
A discussion of salmon and crabbing seasons will be held at the next meeting of the East Jefferson Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers.
The meeting will be held at the Port of Port Townsend Commissioners Office, 333 Benedict St., in Port Townsend.
Social time and the sharing of fish stories will begin at 6:30 p.m., with the business meeting following at 7 p.m.
A raffle featuring fishing equipment will be held, refreshments will be served and the public is invited to attend.
Fly Fishers meet
Land conservation along the Hoh River will be discussed at Monday’s meeting of the Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishers.
The group will meet at 6 p.m. at the Campfire USA Clubhouse in Webster Park, 614 E. Fourth St., in Port Angeles.
Nature Conservancy will present information on the group’s acquisition of land along the Hoh River from the Hoh River Trust.
This acquisition should translate to improved habitat for salmon and other fish in the Hoh River watershed.
Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]