It was another tough week in the news. The Washington state Department of Wildlife threatened us with yet another emergency closure. We were warned last week that it could come this week, or maybe next week, or at any time you least expect. The state could eliminate steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula.
We are told that even catch-and-release fishing will be outlawed.
This, despite a recent study where steelhead were fitted with tags and tracked with transponders as they passed through the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Researchers found that even after being caught twice, steelhead had a more than 96 percent survival rate.
And yet, the state has banned catch-and-release fishing on most of Washington’s steelhead rivers while leaving the streams on the Olympic Peninsula open. As a result, rivers on the Peninsula have become increasingly crowded, putting more pressure on our fisheries. I certainly hope someone is studying the problem.
Meanwhile, in the last 20 years, the state has spent millions restoring fish habitat by building log jams, spraying glyphosate, planting native vegetation and buying property from “willing” sellers with no corresponding increase in fish populations.
Lately, the state is spending millions more building new bridges to improve fish passage for imaginary fish on tiny streams like our own Bagley Creek, where there are no salmon. The fact is, restoring habitat alone will not restore salmon. If habitat was the key to restoring salmon, there would not be threatened or endangered fish inside the pristine habitat of Olympic National Park.
Is there anything that can be done to restore our salmon and steelhead? Apparently not.
For example, the best steelhead fishing on the Peninsula this winter was on the Bogachiel River, where over 3,000 steelhead returned to the hatchery.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to fish for these fish. Instead of keeping these fish in the river, they were netted and donated to charity or sold by the state. It turns out the state does not want hatchery fish in the river where we, the poor suckers that buy fishing licenses, can fish for them.
Let’s review: Habitat restoration will not restore our fish. We have eliminated the fish hatcheries using native brood stock that would supplement our wild runs. We aren’t allowed the opportunity to catch hatchery fish that are being raised and even catch-and-release fishing is being outlawed.
Is there any management scenario that will allow us to keep fishing? Yes.
Biologists have determined that fish hooks are harmful to fish. This concern is reflected in our fishing regulations that eventually called for a single point barbless hook.
What if we eliminated fish hooks altogether? Would the benevolent state allow us to keep fishing without hooks?
Dictionaries define fishing as, “The sport or business of catching fish.”
With no hooks on your flies, lures or bait, you’re not fishing.
If you’re not fishing you don’t need a fishing license!
You are no different than a bird watcher, and there is no license needed for that.
Does fishing without hooks mean you can’t come home with a trophy that’s bigger than the one your buddy didn’t catch?
Of course not.
Here at Same Day Taxidermy™, we’ll simply plug in the measurements of the fish you think bit your gear into our 3D printer and you’ll have that fiberglass trophy of a lifetime delivered to you at the end of your fishing trip.
Fishing without hooks sounds crazy, but in this crazy world, it’s our only chance to keep fishing.
We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.