PAT NEAL: Luck of the draw in fishing seasons

I DON’T KNOW about you, but I’ve caught the holiday spirit just in time for the most important holiday of the year.

No, I am not talking about Black Friday or Christmas.

I’m talking about a holiday that’s got more drama, thrills and adventure than Black Friday and Christmas put together: the opening day of winter steelhead season.

The great thing about this holiday is that few people really know for sure when it is.

I’ve spent a career trying to translate our fishing laws into English.

It’s a job that never ends, since the fishing rule book, or what we call the Fish Cop Employment Security Act, gets thicker every year.

It was wrong for this wilderness gossip columnist to report that our fishing laws were fabricated by the tribal, state and federal fisheries co-managers with a roulette wheel.

That was an insult to the dedicated fisheries managers, who, with the best available science, have managed to come up with some of the most complicated fishing laws in the history of fishing.

Subsequent investigations revealed fishing laws are possibly manufactured by a process of throwing darts at a specially marked dart board.

Wherever the dart lands, a fishing season or fish hatchery is closed somewhere.

The highest score in the fisheries management dartboard is a bull’s-eye right in the dead center marked “emergency closure.”

Whoever hits the jackpot can pull the plug on an entire fishing town.

That’s what happened to the Forks salmon season this year.

Fish are very important to a fishing town. By the time the fishing guides, motels, campgrounds, restaurants, tackle stores and gas stations get done with them, the fishing tourist could have bought a truckload of salmon for what it cost to catch their limit.

People come here for something more than fish. There’s something about being out in the wilderness in the middle of the mystery and beauty of the Olympic Peninsula rain forest that makes a day on the river more than just a fishing trip.

For many, it is the culmination of a lifelong fishing dream. The money our visiting fishing friends spend like drunken sailors is plowed back into the community and skimmed by the corrupt government agencies for the benefit of us all.

This year, the opening day of steelhead season occurs Nov. 16, Nov. 21 or Dec. 1, depending on the river and who you are talking to.

All of which proves the government does have a sense of humor. They sell us our new fishing license April 1, don’t print the fishing rules until June or July, then open and close the seasons when you least expect it.

Begging the question, who in their right mind would want to go winter steelhead fishing anyway?

For some people, steelhead fishing is a disease with no known cure.

There are only temporary treatments that can backfire when the words “Fish on” release naturally occurring endorphins into the bloodstream that can adjust serotonin levels in the brain in a manner consistent with other forms of addictive behavior.

That’s no excuse to take advantage of steelhead anglers for money.

Many have worked hard to evolve an extra layer of fur and blubber that allows them to fish in weather that’s way too rough to work in.

Some have developed extra-long arms from dragging fish through the brush that can result in a knuckle-dragging condition.

Others have developed the ability to stare into a fire until their boots melt while waiting for fish to bite.

So, celebrate the holidays and just remember: With any luck at all, it’s probably opening day somewhere.


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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