PNNL biologist Dauble tells all he knows about fish

RICHLAND -- Scientist, educator, historian, fisherman -- Dennis Dauble is a combination of all four.

As a columnist for the Tri-City Herald since 1998, he's written columns about Columbia Basin fish species that mix science, history and how to catch them along with touches of humor that friends and co-workers call "Daubleisms."

Now the recently retired Pacific Northwest National Laboratory fisheries biologist has used that unique mix of skills and knowledge to write Fishes of the Columbia Basin, which he describes simply as a guide for "the fisherman who wants to know more about fishes."

Specifically, the more than 60 species of fish to be found in the Columbia Basin.

Dauble, 58, who retired in June after more than 35 years at PNNL as a researcher and manager, will hold a book signing and public presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday on "History of Fish Use in the Columbia Basin" in the Battelle Auditorium. A presentation for Battelle staff will be offered at noon that day, also in the auditorium.

The Columbia Basin Fly Casters club is co-sponsoring the presentation, which will focus on historical fishing practices starting with Northwest native tribes, the introduction of non-native fish species in the early 20th century and the present.

Dauble said he got the idea for his book in 2002, when he wrote an outline for a book that would detail history of Columbia Basin fishes. He began writing in 2004, getting most of his work done in winter between fishing seasons.

While working with the Lewis and Clark expedition bicentennial celebration in 2000, he had wrestled to find information on the history of Northwest fishing. And as he dug deeper, he found existing journals had mistakes.

And as instructor for an introductory course on Fish Ecology at Washington State University -- which he still teaches -- Dauble struggled to find a suitable textbook.

"I had to teach the students something about fish before I could teach them about fish ecology," he said. "They didn't have the right background."

The book jelled as he completed research at PNNL detailing historical salmon and steelhead spawning areas on the Columbia River.

"I realized I had something different," he said. "There's nothing out there that had much on natural history of fishes, so that's the first part of the book, and the second half is about what fish are here now."

As a scientist, Dauble wrote more than 60 journal articles and 50 technical reports on topics ranging from radioactivity in white sturgeon to recovery plans for chinook salmon.

But scientific writing can be thick reading for a nonscientist, a fact the lifelong fisherman has tried to balance in his work in science education. With the help of Georganne O'Connor, a former PNNL co-worker and author, he worked to make Fishes of the Columbia Basin readable.

That comes through particularly as Dauble details the importance of fish in Northwest history and how man has changed the river and its fish. The 147 historical photos and illustrations provide fascinating glimpses into how man has exploited the Columbia's bountiful fish resources.

While the second half of the book is more an introductory fisheries text, it still will be useful for nonscientific reader/anglers. It includes a key to identifying fish, plus information that could be useful to anglers, such as where species are found and their habits.

Color plates of 54 of the Columbia system's fish species also help make the guide a valuable addition to the tackle box.

Dauble said he has other ideas in mind for books on fish, such as a "how-to, where-to guide for the Blue Mountains."

"But what I dream of would be to put together a collection of essays on fishing," he said.

A hint of that, perhaps, was in his first column for the Herald on Feb. 22, 1998, which concluded: "Now that winter is lessening its grip on the Mid-Columbia, listen for the sound of redwing blackbirds perched in the willows growing thickly along the river banks.

"These common birds will soon be showing off their bright red speculum and singing a territorial song that signals spring is coming. Thoreau wrote that redwing blackbirds in the springtime sound something like 'o-gurgle-ee-e-e.'

"The way I read it, this is probably their attempt to mimic the sounds of the hidden world within the river."

Until Dauble writes those essays, however, Fishes of the Columbia Basin provides glimpses into that hidden world.

It's available for $16.50 through publisher Keokee Books, www.keokeebooks.com.

* Rick Larson: 509-582-1522; rlarson@tricityherald.com