PAT NEAL: Fishing from a sinking boat

It was another tough week in the news. Steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula has gotten so crowded you’ll want to bring your own rock to stand on if you hope to make a cast.

The state closed almost every other river in the state to even catch-and-release fishing, while the rivers of the Peninsula were left open.

This crowded the last remaining hardcore steelhead anglers from all over the United States and beyond into smaller and smaller areas where they could be studied and monitored with a helicopter, drones, trail cams, teams of fish cops patrolling the water with teams of fish checkers interrogating anglers up and down the river.

Add to this a series of the most complicated fishing regulations ever invented. Where the Hoh, a river just over 50 miles long, is divided into eight sections, each with its own seasons and gear restrictions that allow you to fish out of a floating device, called a boat on certain days of the week, but not others.

It’s all part of a study that will allow the state to eventually shut down fishing altogether.

My solution to these bizarre rules was to take the plug out of my boat. It would not be a floating device. It would be a sinking device.

While no one in their right mind would get in a sinking boat to go on a winter steelhead fishing trip, if I only took people fishing who were in their right minds, I would seldom be employed.

The idea that people who fish for steelhead are insane is not a new one.

How else could you explain someone spending thousands of dollars travelling thousands of miles to slowly freeze to death trying to catch a fish that, on any given day, may or may not actually exist?

The only people crazier are the deranged cabal of self-serving career bureaucrats who have managed the steelhead into endangered species status with a Byzantine system of inane regulations that subject the angling public to legal jeopardy every time they try to go fishing.

Meanwhile, scientists have long studied the effects of overcrowding on mice and rats in the laboratory. The results give us a chilling perspective on human behavior.

Back in the 1960s, a researcher named John Calhoun created a rat utopia and a mouse paradise with abundant food where the rodents were free to overpopulate. Which quickly led to over-crowding, disputes over available food and seemingly sinister anti-social behavior, which Calhoun termed, “behavioral sinks.”

Over time, the surviving rodents displayed a lack of interest in sex and raising their young. While Calhoun’s research is still being debated, one can’t help but wonder if humans would behave in the same way given the same conditions.

Similarly, the Olympic Peninsula was once described as a fishing paradise and a steelhead utopia.

As more and more anglers were confined into a smaller area by the scientists, the overcrowding led to disputes over fish and other anti-social behaviors.

This led to the row versus wade dispute. Wading anglers, who were stomping steelhead eggs into the gravel, wanted to ban boat anglers to keep them from dragging their anchors through the same gravel.

A striking parallel to Calhoun’s experiment was observed in the demographics of the surviving anglers on our rivers, where very few females and almost no juveniles were observed fishing for steelhead.

This could indicate that the surviving steelhead anglers, like the surviving rats, have lost interest in sex and raising their young.

Whether this represents a behavioral sink or an evolutionary trend is unsure. More research is needed.


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

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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