Oregon Fish Bounty Cheaters Nabbed

I guess when a state game and fish agency offers anglers cash for catching a specific undesirable fish species to help protect a popular sportfish, they have to expect a few scofflaws will come along and try to cheat the system.

This week, officers with the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division cited two men who were allegedly attempting to defraud the state’s Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery program, in which anglers receive between $4 and $8 to catch a predatory fish that thrives on juvenile salmon in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

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Funded by the Bonneville Power Administration to the tune of $3.7 million, since the effort began in 1991 nearly 3 million Northern pikeminnows (commonly known as squawfish) have been removed from the lower Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Anglers are paid $4 each for their first 100 pikeminnows exceeding 9 inches; $5 each for the next 300; and $8 each for every fish after that.

To help prevent cheating, fish must be caught by legal, hook-and-line methods and only fish caught after each day’s registration qualify for payment.

The program usually runs from early May until mid-October. This year it officially began Monday, May 5.

Acting on a tip Saturday (May 3), authorities served a warrant on a boathouse being rented by The Dalles residents Reggie Dawson and John Brown, where they discovered 88 live squawfish in a trap attached to the side of a boat slip.

Outside of trying to claim they simply love to angle for the inedible roughfish, it seems unlikely the men will beat the rap, which includes charges of attempted theft by deception and unlawful holding of fish without a permit.

Too bad the two ne’er-do-wells didn’t follow the example of David Vasilchuk, a Washington state resident, Russian immigrant and part-time cab driver who has fared quite well playing by the program rules. In fact, for the past few years, he’s ranked among the top-five pikeminnow-bounty anglers on the Columbia.

Vasilchuk’s prowess as a squawfish angler was the subject of a feature story in the Seattle Times in October 2006. That year he earned $40,500 during the five-month bounty season for catching and reporting his 4,786 pikeminnows.

In 2003, Vasilchuk bought a fishing outfit at a second hand store and launched his career as a bounty angler.

That year he earned $14,878 and was No. 8 overall.

His secret?

“People ask me, ‘Where have you caught them?’” Vasilchuk says with a thick Russian accent. “I tell ‘em, ‘At the bottom of the river.’”

Here at the Outdoor Newshound, we think Vasilchuk may have it better than those guys on the professional bass-fishing circuit.

Minimal travel, few expenses, and he sleeps in his own bed every night.