PAT NEAL: Steelhead season’s sinking feeling

EVEN WITH GLOBAL warming, January is the coldest month. When all the rabid chickens come home to roost. When the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark in the darkest night of the soul.

Unless you fish for steelhead. Or what we call the winter run.

Then, January can be the best month of the year.

This is when the biggest trout that swim come up our rivers. When fishing is all that really matters. Unless it’s raining so hard there’s a river running down your driveway.

Or, unless the government has shut down your river to fishing, as has happened throughout much of Washington, where even catch-and-release steelhead fishing has been outlawed.

Causing what’s left of the hard-core anglers to crowd into one of the last few places left to fish for steelhead, the Olympic Peninsula.

Our bungling bureaucracies have accomplished this miracle of mismanagement through a three-step program of extinction for profit that is still going on today.

Step one involves the elimination of the hatchery production of steelhead that would otherwise mitigate the harvest of fish.

Step two restricts the rules by allowing only catch-and-release fishing.

Step three is a total shutdown of even catch-and-release fishing when the runs mysteriously vanish.

Here on the Olympic Peninsula, step one has largely been accomplished.

Hatcheries have been shut down due to the mistaken notion that steelhead that start their lives in a hatchery are somehow inferior to fish that are spawned in the river.

It is somehow supposed that after a hundred years of fish hatcheries raising and planting salmon and steelhead in every river in Washington, we are going turn back the pages of history in hopes the hundred-pound salmon will magically appear.

On the Peninsula, we are now between catch-and-release fishing and an imminent shutdown.

In the meantime, we’ve been hit with a mess of new rules that I call the Fish Cop Employment Security Act.

That is a set of fishing regulations that are so complicated no one can figure them out.

At one point, things got so bad the game wardens put posters along the river in an attempt to explain the rules because they were getting carpal tunnel syndrome from writing too many tickets.

Lately, we were handed another devastating rule designed to end steelhead fishing on the Peninsula.

As of Dec. 14, “Fishing from a floating device is prohibited.”

Now, I am not an attorney, and as we say on the river, if you cannot afford an attorney, you probably can’t afford to go fishing. But from what I hear, a “floating device” means a boat.

Darwin said it ain’t the smartest or the strongest that survive, it’s the ones that can adapt.

Not fishing from a floating device should not be a problem.

Without a boat plug, the boat will no longer be a floating device. It will be a sinking device.

A sinking boat in a river could be dangerous, but do you really want to catch a steelhead? Toughen up.

You’re thinking that fishing in a sinking boat on one of our rivers is totally insane, and you’re right.

But you have to be crazy to go fishing in the winter anyway, even if your boat’s not sinking.

Many boaters have already used this revolutionary technique without really trying.

I did it myself a couple of times just to get the hang of it.

So, forget the boat plug.

Bring a water-tight lunch box, wet suit, mask, snorkel, search-and-rescue beacon, and a helmet for the fishing adventure of a lifetime!

_________

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 [email protected].

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