PAT NEAL: Just another April Fools’ prank

For many, Jan. 1 marks the beginning and end of the calendar year.

For anglers in Washington, April 1 marks the new year. That’s the date the state demands we buy our new fishing license and punch cards. They have a keen sense of humor.

Why else would they make us get a new fishing license and punch cards on April Fools’ Day and then not print the new fishing laws until July?

The real fun starts when you discover your fishing license and punch cards are printed with disappearing ink.

Let’s say you catch a fish and the 148 pages of Washington fishing laws says you can keep it. You must immediately fill out the appropriate punch card in ink.

This can be a challenge since either moisture or sunshine can erase the ink from these documents, leaving you with blank pieces of paper and no clue which one is appropriate for the species of critter you caught.

Still, you must fill out one of the papers or risk getting a ticket for failure to record your catch. That’s another April Fools’ chuckle.

Chances are, the ink from your pen won’t stick to the paper. You end up with an ink blot that resembles a Rorschach test on the wrong blank paper. That could get you a ticket.

It’s all part of the Fish Cop Employment Security Act.

Eventually, we are required to turn in our punch cards to the state where we are assured that someone interprets the ink blobs — which would explain salmon management in Washington.

It’s a cycle of abuse. Washington salmon migrate to the Gulf of Alaska, where in 2023, a fleet of trawlers will dump 45,000 king salmon overboard as bycatch.

As our salmon return home, fishing fleets in Alaska and British Columbia catch fish bound for Washington.

Anglers in Washington get so fed up with the fishing, they go north to B.C. and Alaska to catch fish trying to swim back here.

Meanwhile, every winter the state of Washington and the 29 Treaty Tribes of Washington get together for the mysterious “North of Falcon Meeting.”

These top-secret meetings divide the predicted runs of paper salmon returning to Washington between competing groups of tribal, commercial and sport fishers who can only agree on one thing, banning the other person’s gear.

Once you get your new license in April, no one knows for sure what the fishing laws are until after the secret meetings — unless we are hit with the dreaded emergency closure.

These are determined by fish checkers interrogating anglers who are required, under penalty of law, to waive their Fifth Amendment right and report how many fish they might have hooked. If anglers report catching too many or too few fish, the season could get hit with an emergency closure.

Of course, anglers tell the truth. They only lie when their lips are moving.

Threats of closures and legal prosecution notwithstanding, mining data under duress or from Rorschach tests on blank documents is a cornerstone of salmon management in Washington.

See you on the water!

It’s all part of the April Fools’ Day fun.

Getting a fishing license on April Fools’ Day is a really great prank, because the state does not come out with the fishing laws until July.

Last year, the fishing laws did not come out until August — on Friday the 13th.

Was that just a coincidence? I think not.

If you buy your fishing license on April 1, you won’t know if you can even use it until months later.

It’s the best April Fools’ Day joke ever.


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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