Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers arrested four suspected poachers in the early morning hours Saturday with 242 cutthroat trout caught in an illegal nighttime netting operation at a prized Grant County lake.
Lake Lenore - north of the communities of Ephrata and Soap Lake - is managed as a "quality fishery," attracting anglers who want to use single barbless hooks and no bait to catch-and-release large fish. Anglers are allowed to keep no more than one fish a day from the lake.
Arrested were Vitaliy Kachinskiy, 23, of Mount Vernon, Wash., and three Everett men: Sergey Otroda, 32, Igor Bigun, 26, and Oleg Pavlus, 25.
Grant County prosecutors have not brought formal charges.
Fish and Wildlife Capt. Chris Anderson in Ephrata said the illegal netting has caused great concern for the state's fish program.
"The 242 fish were just one night's catch," Anderson said. "We're not sure how many nights or weeks worth of fish they've taken out of the lake."
Fish and Wildlife agents also nabbed two Spokane men -- Maxim Andriyenko, 28, and Vladimir Lebedinski, 33 -- for similar illegal netting activity in January. Police say one of the subjects threatened to cut off the fingers of one of the arresting officers.
The case broke open when two wildlife agents on night patrol at Lake Lenore sat waiting near an area filled with thousands of large trout. They watched as a truck pulled into the area by the boat launch and shut off its lights, according to their report detailing the stakeout and arrests.
Less than a minute later the truck was driven away.
A couple hours later the truck returned. Four men jumped out and began loading nets and backpacks filled with fish into the truck.
When agents confronted the men, three ran off and another climbed into the truck to drive away but was blocked by the officers' vehicle.
One of the three men who fled on foot soon surrendered. The other two jumped into the lake and began swimming away in water thought to be slightly above freezing, according to reports.
One of the swimmers struggled and clung to a tree limb. He was arrested.
Agents lost track of the other swimmer, but they found the swimmer's waders and a coat floating in the water.
Around 5 a.m., a police officer in Soap Lake spotted a shoeless man dressed in camouflage clothing walking through a city park. He was identified as the fourth suspect and arrested.
Agents reported that the men had collected about 500 pounds of fish. They were charged with illegal use of a net, fishing closed waters, fishing without a license and exceeding the bag limit.
The trout were donated to the Moses Lake Food Bank. Agents seized the pickup truck for forfeiture.