PAT NEAL: Remember your river etiquette

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column has been corrected to reflect that the river etiquette guidelines mentioned here are from the Olympic Peninsula Guides’ Association.

IN AN EFFORT to provide a more positive angling experience, the Olympic Peninsula Guides’ Association has come up with a set of river etiquette guidelines.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is not providing a very positive angling experience.

Here in Washington we try to manage our fish and wildlife in a responsible manner that does not hurt anyone’s feelings.

If, for example, someone feels that seals and sea lions are cute, they are protected to the fullest extent of the law no matter how many salmon and steelhead they eat.

If someone else thinks seagulls, terns, cormorants and fish-eating mergansers are cute, these voracious predators are protected to the fullest extent of the law.

If someone else feels that after planting hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead in our rivers for the past 100 years these fish are somehow genetically inferior with no real scientific proof of this claim, then, OK, we’ll stop planting fish and run our industrial fisheries on naturally spawned fish.

Hatchery runs of salmon and steelhead always fail after they fire the workers and stop feeding the fish.

Then, mysteriously, nearly every year about this time the WDFW shuts most of the rest of Washington’s rivers to steelhead fishing even on a catch-and-release basis while leaving our Olympic Peninsula streams open.

For whatever reason, perhaps the law of unintended consequences, this bureaucratic edict results in an invasion of steelhead fishing refugees from other lands to the south and to the east that invade our streams, fishing the few rivers in the state left open to steelhead.

Scientists have long ago proven the negative social impacts of over-crowding in experiments involving laboratory rats.

These eternal principles apply equally to anglers.

Fisheries management in Washington is an experiment where the scientists are out to lunch and the rats have taken over the laboratory.

We’re spending billions looking for water on the back side of Mars when we have no idea what is happening in our oceans.

What else is there to do but blame the victims, the poor people who still buy a fishing license?

The angling hordes will invade our rivers when most of the others shut down at the end of January.

This year they will be greeted by a code of ethical guidelines on trees along the edge of our rivers.

Gone are the days when you would not fish somewhere when someone else was already fishing there.

These days it means if someone’s fishing there must be fish and if we have to cast over your line to catch them it’s just your tough luck.

The official river etiquette guidelines request that you be positive and respectful of other anglers when the river is crowded by corrupt management policies to the point where you have to bring your own rock to stand on.

The etiquette guidelines also suggest that you communicate with other anglers to find out where they are fishing, if you can catch a ride at the end of the day, what’s for lunch and what they are using.

No, sorry, the last three questions were my idea but it never hurts to ask.

River etiquette also suggests you not fish all of the water on a particular section of river, leaving some for the crowds of angling friends that you just haven’t met yet.

That’s a no-brainer.

It’s always fun to leave the dead fishing holes where the fish would rather sprout legs and hike around than swim through while we fish the glory holes.

River etiquette is an idea whose time has come.

It’s a polite way to fight over the last fish.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing 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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