Tracy Cole, left, and Don Schmidt hall in gill nets full of tui chubs in efforts to show that mechanical removal of the fish is a viable alternative to poisoning the lake. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Machine removes lake's invaders

Tracy Cole feeds a gillnet through a flapping contraption that is sending tui chubs flying around like popcorn.

Hundreds of dead chubs coat the boat deck as Cole ducks to allow a 4-inch chub to skip past his face and land belly-up into Fish Lake.

"The ospreys love us," Cole says.

And so will the lake's trout anglers who stand a better chance at keeping Fish Lake a fishable trout lake thanks to an experimental netting program that shows you don't need poison to beat back invading chub.

Cole is part of a team of commercial fishermen who pulled more than 11,000 pounds of illegally introduced chub from Fish Lake last week using gill nets and a specially designed "beater-bar" that separates the chub from the net in speedy, but smelly, fashion.

It would take a full day to pull the dead chubs from the 600-pound net by hand, but the gas-powered beater-bar can do it in minutes. That makes chub-netting a cost-effective replacement for rotenone — an expensive piscicide used to wipe chubs out of Diamond Lake only after years of environmental studies.

"That was our goal — to come and show that this is a feasible alternative to rotenone," says Bob Schones, the Siletz fishermen hired for the job. "This thing beats the fish right out of the net. If you had to pick them out by hand, it would be unbearable. It'd take all day.

"It's a little dirty, but it's fun," he says.

It's also found favor with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, whose biologists are looking for a way to keep Fish Lake's unwanted chubs down to a level where they won't out-compete stocked trout for food and space as they did at Diamond Lake.

Mechanically removing chub didn't work at Diamond Lake, but Schones' test-netting shows it has promise for Fish Lake, where the estimated 1 million chubs are a much smaller population than the 90 million at Diamond Lake when it was poisoned in November.

"As far as mechanical removal goes, it definitely looks like it has merit in Fish Lake," says Ian Reid, a Forest Service fish biologist on the project.

Fish Lake needs it.

The lake, off Highway 140 near the Jackson/Klamath county line, has a long and painful history with chubs.

Illegally introduced in the early 1940s by fishermen from nearby Klamath Lake, the chubs have survived five rotenone treatments. That makes it a poor candidate for any future effort at better fishing through chemicals.

Two Ohio college interns spent the summer using trap-nets to catch and haul about a quarter of the estimated 1 million chubs, leaving the lion's share to Schones.

The work was as much an experiment as it is a screen test for Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" with Mike Rowe.

Eleven nets, each 600 feet long and ranging from 8 to 16 feet deep, were set in known chub waters and left overnight. Chub swam into them and got their gills stuck on the thin mesh netting. Most die.

The mesh was small enough, Cole says, that only 10 trout were captured last week.

The next day, the nets were hauled onto the boat and run through the beater-bar, which jettisons the catch.

"We call it 'Thumper,'" Cole says.

The thumped chubs were bagged and hauled to a farm outside of Phoenix, where they were buried as fertilizer.

The project cost $24,000 and was paid for through Northwest Forest Plan funds, Reid says.

Schones' contract called for netting, hauling and disposing of 8,000 pounds of chub, or about 160,000 fish.

He caught almost that many Sept. 16-17. By the time the crew beat chub out of their last net Thursday, more than 11,000 pounds of chubs were gone.

"It's amazing," Schones says. "I think we put a dent in the chubs."

They also put a dent in their sense of smell.

The chubs rotted quickly in the sun, drawing a mean team of yellow jackets to the boat when it approached shore.

"Most fish need a day or two to really stink," deck hand Don Schmidt says. "These things stink right away."

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