Opening day, still no access

Fishing season opens today, but Zeke Zardeskas and other angling enthusiasts still can’t fish in Dugualla Pond, where the access has been closed for more than 10 years by Diking District 3.  - Jim Larsen
Fishing season opens today, but Zeke Zardeskas and other angling enthusiasts still can’t fish in Dugualla Pond, where the access has been closed for more than 10 years by Diking District 3.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

Trout fishing season opens today, but chances are no one will be fishing in Dugualla Pond, once one of the best little fishing holes on the island.

The pond, located off Dike Road, is where all the runoff from Ault Field ends up before being pumped into the bay by the Navy. The man leading the effort to fish there, Zeke Zardeskas, is a retired Navy captain.

Zardeskas’ problem isn’t with the Navy, which has no position on whether access to the pond should be allowed, according to Kim Martin, base spokesperson. “We don’t have authority to grant access,” she said. “It’s a non-issue from our viewpoint.”

Access to the pond is controlled by a public entity called Diking District 3. A short dirt access road off Dike Road leads to an untaxed lot that could provide parking for several vehicles. But the road is blocked. Any fishing done there is done by people who walk down the steep embankment.

Zardeskas wants to drive his fishing rig into the parking area, launch a small boat and do some fly fishing. Although the pond is surrounded by private property, the access isn’t private, as it is owned by the diking district. “It’s not a lands right issue,” Zardeskas said. “This is a parcel of land that is untaxed.”

Zardeskas has been researching the issue for several years. He has garnered support for opening the pond from fishing clubs, county officials and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which until the early ‘90s annually stocked the pond with fish. Then the access road was closed. “If the access is not obvious the state won’t stock it,” Zardeskas said.

Fisheries department records show Dugualla Pond was annually stocked with rainbow trout from 1974 through 1992. In the final year the pond received 10,070 4-inch rainbow trout fry.

Zardeskas received a letter from Fisheries last year in which Chad Jackson, area fish biologist, agreed to resume stocking the pond if access can be obtained. Jackson said his research showed that stocked fry grew rapidly in the shallow lake because of the high amount of food available. Fry stocked at 4 inches in June grew to 14 inches and 2 pounds by the following spring. By the fall of the following year, surviving rainbow trout could grow to 18-20 inches and weight 5 pounds.

Zardeskas would like to see the pond managed as a “quality” lake, such as Pass Lake and Lone Lake, other nearby lakes with big trout. But in all his years of trying, he hasn’t been able to communicate with Diking District 3 except for one conversation in October 2001.

“They stonewall everybody,” Zardeskas said, referring to the diking district commissioners. “Fishermen, duck hunters, nobody gets a response from them.” The pond was also a popular duck hunting area at one time, Duck blinds still surround the pond, but Zardeskas said they are leased to hunters by private landowners.

According to the Island County Auditor’s Office, Diking District 3 has three commissioner positions. One is vacant; one belongs to Hettie Ducken whose term recently expired; and the other belongs to Bonnie Newkirk, whose term ends in 2004.

Newkirk did not return a number of phone messages left by the Whidbey News-Times over a period of several weeks. Ducken didn’t return calls, either, but her son, Joe Ducken, was willing to talk about the situation.

Joe Ducken said he does whatever maintenance is needed on the dike, and he realizes that some people want to reopen the pond to fishing. But he said the issue was discussed. “At the last meeting 99 percent of everybody in the diking district wanted to keep it closed,” he said, citing liability as a main concern. When asked when they met, he replied “a month or two ago.” He declined to estimate how many people attended. He said the commissioners meet annually.

According to Ducken, the diking district encompasses Dike Road itself, people who own the reclaimed tidelands, and an area around Dugualla Bay Heights. At present there is no tax assessment in the district.

As for Zardeskas’ concerns, Ducken said, “he should contact the commissioners for a meeting.” Zardeskas replies that he has tried that many time but nobody will get back to him.

County Commissioner Bill Byrd has looked into the situation and wrote a letter dated Feb. 28 asking the diking district commissioners to consider opening access to the pond. The letter cites support from the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, which would be willing to “enter into a memorandum of understanding” regarding maintenance of the access road and parking area. “This also appears to be an excellent opportunity to relieve you of some burden, and at the same time, provide recreational activity for the community,” Byrd stated.

Byrd asked to be invited to the next Diking District 3 meeting. That invitation never arrived, Byrd said recently. “I haven’t heard anything,” he said.

However, Byrd said he did talk with Commissioner Newkirk by telephone. “She’s obviously not in favor of the project,” he said. “But everybody else I’ve talked to is in favor of it.”

Zardeskas has also received written support for his efforts from State Reps. Barry Sehlin and Barbara Bailey, both of whom live in Oak Harbor. In a Feb. 13 letter signed by both and addressed to Commissioners Newkirk and Ducken they state, “We would like to go on record that we support the reopening of the Dugualla Pond access as being in the best interest of our constituents and your fellow Whidbey Islanders. We ask you to extend yourselves for the common good...”

With fishing season opening today, Zardeskas remains perplexed by the lack of response from the diking district. He said any concerns regarding litter, liability or illegal activity could be addressed through agreements with the state, county and private fishing organizations.

One oddity is that Dugualla Pond plays host to an Anacortes group’s hydroplane races each year, most recently a few weeks ago. “Campers showed up Friday and through Sunday there were 200 people,” Zardeskas said. “It just shows how discriminating they are.”

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