A fishing boat was stranded at the mouth of the Elwha River last weekend during fishing season for halibut and cod.

PAT NEAL: Dangerous halibut date defies logic

IT WAS DAYLIGHT on the water.

It seemed like we were in the middle of the world’s largest washing machine.

That’s the feeling you can get making your way out of La Push over the bar at the mouth of the Quillayute River with an 8-foot swell coming in.

The locals joke that when the Coast Guard calls for rough bar conditions at La Push, they are not talking about the nightlife.

They are talking about one of the most notoriously dangerous pieces of water on the West Coast.

The Fisherman Memorial Stone and the Coast Guard Memorial at La Push bear mute testimony to this treacherous coastline that’s taken the lives of many people aboard commercial and recreational fishing boats as well as the Coast Guard rescuers who tried to save them.

On the morning of May 4, the Coast Guard warned mariners not to attempt crossing the Quillayute Bar in a boat smaller than 22 feet.

That was not a problem.

We were with an experienced skipper in a seaworthy craft with a new motor.

Others were not so confident.

A boat that was attempting to make the passage in front of ours must have heard the warning, or maybe they lost their nerve when they saw the rough water.

There’s an old saying at La Push: When in doubt, don’t go out.

Suddenly, the boat pulled a U-turn, narrowly missing rocks in the process.

Next thing I knew, they were headed straight for us on the way back to the dock.

Fortunately, they missed us.

That was a thrill I’ll never forget.

Once out on the water, the Pacific Ocean seemed like a very small place where you could get run over if you weren’t careful.

Boats were zooming by within a few yards of us at top speed.

We prayed these speed demons weren’t too busy fiddling with the radio, pouring coffee or jawing with their pals to watch where they were going.

Then the Coasties came back on the radio and said your boat had to be 26 feet to cross the bar.

Our boat was suddenly too small.

The halibut season dates were set months before by state bureaucrats in Olympia who seem to have no regard for human safety or the potential loss of life by using flawed metrics.

The state has determined that you either fish in the weather on the day they choose, no matter how foul it may be, or you don’t fish for halibut at all.

It reminds me of the old joke about the fisherman who drowned and went to heaven where St. Peter met him at the pearly gates and asked, “Did you get your halibut?”

The state determines our halibut season with methods that defy logical thought.

First, the 300,000 people who buy a saltwater fishing license are offered a free halibut punchcard.

Having no idea how many of these people actually fish for halibut or how many catch one from the relatively few halibut catch record cards that are returned, they use other methods to guess the halibut catch such as “fish checkers” at boat ramps and aerial surveys that count boats on the water.

Shrimp season opened Saturday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It also was opening day of the boating season with a ling cod season still in progress.

What was the actual count of the halibut caught?

We have no real way of knowing that.

How many wrecked boats and drowned people will it take to change this corrupt season-setting process?

We don’t know that either.

_________

Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]

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