PAT NEAL: The Fish Cop Employment Security Act

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. The 2024-25 Washington state fishing regulations came out.

We’ve been waiting for them since April 1. That’s when we’re supposed to buy our new fishing licenses, on April Fools’ Day.

So, it just makes sense the new fishing licenses are printed with disappearing ink.

In fact, all of our licenses, tags, punch cards and permits that you have to buy to fish and hunt in Washington are liable to become blank pieces of useless paper shortly after you buy them if they are exposed to sun or moisture. Which should not be a problem, as long as you don’t venture outdoors in pursuit of your chosen activity.

If you do, be assured the ticket you get for violating our fishing laws will be filled out with permanent ink.

That’s why it is so important to understand our fishing regulations, collectively known as the Fish Cop Employment Security Act, because if you don’t, they can always write you up for something.

If you cannot understand the fishing laws, you may require an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you probably cannot afford to go fishing.

I have spent years trying to translate our fishing laws into English. The latest research suggests our fishing laws are a form of code that can change at any time, for any reason, when you least expect.

For example, “angling,” on page 20 of the regulations, is defined as “fishing for personal use not sale or barter.”

What does that mean? If we are fishing to barter fish for beer, we don’t need a fishing license?

That could make Washington the salmon capital of the world, again.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but fishing while intoxicated isn’t against the law in Washington.


Reading the regulations, we discover, according to WDFW definitions, a grayling is a trout.

A brook trout is not a trout.

There is a Stationary Gear Rule in Washington. Defined, on page 23, as “The line, weight, lure, or bait must be moving (not stationary) while in the water.” Making it illegal to get your fishing gear snagged up on the bottom of a lake, stream or river?

Getting snagged up while fishing can lead to an expensive loss of gear.

I think, at the end of the day, we can all agree that it is a good thing the enlightened lawgivers at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have finally made getting snagged up on the bottom of the lake, stream or river illegal. That will save a lot of money on lost tackle.

In addition to not getting snagged up, it is important to know where and when you can fish.

The Hoh River, a stream a little over 50 miles long, is divided into eight different zones, each with its own seasons, bag limits and gear restrictions.

In addition, it’s illegal to keep a hatchery salmon, as identified by a clipped adipose fin, in the Hoh River throughout the summer months.

On other waters, we are only allowed to keep salmon with a clipped adipose fin.

If it was only that simple.

Unfortunately, Washington state doesn’t clip all the adipose fins off the all fish produced at their fish hatcheries.

Anglers are invariably required to release unclipped hatchery fish.

There could be many reasons for this, besides gross mismanagement and systemic corruption.

When unclipped hatchery fish return to the fish hatcheries, they can be sold for cat food. Unclipped hatchery fish represent a vibrant new revenue stream to our fisheries managers.

Who says April Fools’ Day can’t last all year?


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