Are Drano Lake tribal platforms off-limits?

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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It’s hard to get an precise count on the number of tribal scaffolds at Drano Lake. At least one is on its side and the functionality of a couple of others is hard to determine.

But there are at least 11 that appear usable.

Drano Lake is a large backwater of the Columbia River at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River in eastern Skamania County.

Chinook returning to Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery fuel a popular sport fishery at Drano, especially in April and May, then again in September.

Summer steelhead dipping into the cool water for a respite from the warmer Columbia power a 24-hour-a-day fishery in July, August and early September.

The scaffolds started appearing about Memorial Day weekend of 2011.

Little, if any, fishing has been observed on the scaffolds since their construction.

The Yakamas have set a subsistence season allowing dip nets, bag nets and hook-and-line from the platforms at Drano Lake from noon Mondays to 6 p.m. Thursdays beginning April 16 and ending June 14.

The platforms will be closed from 9 p.m. Tuesdays through noon Wednesdays on April 17 through June 13 while the tribe conducts its weekly set-net fishery.

Two weeks ago, a caller asked the following: “When tribal members are not fishing, and the platforms are vacant, can non-Indians fish from them?”

It depends on who you ask.

Virgil Lewis, chairman of the Yakama Nation’s Fish and Wildlife Committee, released the following statement on Wednesday:

“In general, the public and sport fishers do not use tribal scaffolds at the Columbia River or other tributaries. At Drano Lake, it should not be assumed that sport fishers can use tribal scaffolds, which are considered personal use items. The inquiry about sport fishers using Drano Lake tribal scaffolds when the tribal fishery is closed is under review by the Yakama Nation Fish and Wildlife Committee.”

Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, recommended non-Indians stay off the platforms.

“Those belong to individual tribal members, not the nation,’’ she said. “They consider it personal property. I would not say “yes’ to fishing off them unless you have permission of the actual owner.’’

Asked the same question, Capt. Murray Schlenker of the Department of Fish and Wildlife said: “I can’t answer. There’s no fish and wildlife statute that would prohibit it. There could be a trespass issue, but the tribe has not requested we work trespass. Who’s to say right now?’’

The scaffolds are built on federal property that is part of Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery.

“I don’t know of any regulations that say you can’t fish off them,’’ said Speros Doulos, manager of the four federal hatcheries in the Columbia River Gorge. “There might be an unwritten tribal understanding, but I’m unaware of one.’’

He said he will not tell anglers they must stay off the platforms.

“I don’t have any regulation to cite,’’ Doulos said.

Fishing ramp completed

Construction is complete of the wheelchair-accessible fishing ramp at Drano Lake.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added a ramp at a flat area known as “Social Security Beach’’ on the west side of Drano.

At the water’s edge, the ramp has a curb stop to prevent wheelchairs from entering the lake.

A 120-square-foot paved landing area at the water’s edge provides a spot to net fish.

Five Rivers Construction of Longview did the work in late winter.

Doulos said the ramp is ready for use. A formal dedication event is planned for June 28.