Short Stories by Pat Nelson

Kids, birds will compete for Horseshoe Lake fish

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April 18, 2008
By Pat Nelson for The Daily News, Longview, WA
Reprinted with permission

Click to enlargeIn preparation for spring fishing at Woodlandís Horseshoe Lake, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife planted more than 8800 rainbow trout and more than 6510 brown trout during the first eight days of April. Another 2,500-3,500 rainbows will be trucked to Horseshoe Lake for the fifth annual Moose Lodge kids' fishing derby, to be held 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The derby is for children ages 5 to 14.

Moose Lodge volunteers will place a large net in the lake to hold the fish that the hatchery delivers for the derby. Then, they will stand guard through the night to make sure no fish-loving banditos catch the trout before the kids have had their fun.

The cormorants flew in this month just after the first fish were planted. They must have followed the truck from the hatchery. They eat their share of the newly-planted fish, but according to fishing derby chairman Fred Rotinski, they donít seem to bother the fish that are in the net. The ospreys, on the other hand, see the fish in the net and dive right in.

Cormorants work together when they fish. Last Friday at dawn, I watched several of the black, web-footed birds pick off some tasty treats with their hooked beaks. First, they flew in low and then settled on the water. They seemed to be just floating along leisurely, with their bodies under water and their long, straight necks sticking straight up like periscopes. Suddenly they started diving. I looked out at a group of cormorants in front of me, only to blink my eyes and then to see no birds at all; they had disappeared under water. I continued to watch the spot where I had last seen them, but after about 30 seconds, they popped up in another spot, and then dove again.

Cormorants can dive from 8 to 20 feet, sometimes even more. Here, though, they donít have to work that hard because the newly-planted fish swim close to the surface.

The cormorants weren't the only fishermen out in the early morning. A heron swooped low on the lake, just above the cormorants, surveying the seafood buffet, and three ospreys flew high in the air, often flapping their wings quickly to stay in place, like a helicopter in a holding pattern, before diving for fish.

Competing with the birds doesn't deter Moose Lodge volunteers, who have held eight or nine planning meetings to get ready for the derby. They will arrive at the park Saturday morning with 50 rods and reels for the youngsters to use. The kids only have to bring the $2 entry fee.

Volunteers in aprons will have their pockets loaded with hooks and bait. Kids can have their picture taken with their catch, and can even have their fish cleaned. Thanks to donations from local citizens and merchants, bikes, fishing rods, and other prizes will be awarded.

The birds are doing their best to make a dent in the more than 18,000 fish planted in Horseshoe Lake this month, but there should be plenty of fish left for the five hundred kids expected at the derby. Moose Lodge volunteers are excited about the event. "If you see some little kid catch his first fish, youíll understand why we do this," chairman Rotinski said.

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