PAT NEAL: Understanding our fishing laws

It was another tough week in the news.

The good news is the 2021 Washington State Sport Fishing rules came out. The bad news is the 2021 Washington State Sport Fishing rules came out.

To understand the significance of this annual event, you’d have to believe in Santa Claus.

He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. You wait, not knowing where you stand, until your sock gets filled with coal or presents.

Some years, that first reading of the fishing laws is like opening Christmas presents. This year, reading the fishing laws is like finding a lump of coal in your Christmas sock.

I have spent years studying our fishing regulations in an attempt to translate them into English.

This is not as easy as it seems. At first, I thought I was just too stupid to figure out our fishing laws. It was then I discovered that most other people couldn’t figure out the fishing laws either. For example, what is a “single barbless hook?”

It was then I suspected the fishing laws were made to be as incoherent as possible for a reason.

The WDFW, which loosely translated means, “We Destroy Fishing in Washington,” is a massive bureaucracy with an enormous budget to match.

By making the fishing laws, also known as the “Fish Cop Employment Security Act,” as complicated as possible, the state was able to develop a lucrative revenue stream that had the game wardens writing so many tickets they got the dreaded tunnel carpel syndrome.

To understand how important it is to obey our fishing laws, it might be helpful to understand how they are made in the first place.

The process begins shortly after Groundhog Day, when the biologists emerge from their burrows beneath a bunker in the basement of the state capitol building.

Here, these dedicated professionals have spent months making fishing laws by spinning a roulette wheel affectionately named “The Best Available Science.”

Each spin of the wheel hires another biologist, creates a new fishing law or shuts down a fish hatchery somewhere.

The biologists then take the raw data to a magic place called the “North of Falcon Meeting,” where the imaginary paper salmon runs are divided between competing groups of commercial, sport and Native American fishers who can only agree on one thing, banning the other guy’s gear.

These are secret meetings, so we are not really sure what they do, but we’re pretty sure we won’t like it.

Shortly after the North of Falcon meetings, it’s April Fool’s Day, time to buy your new Washington State fishing license.

The fishing laws don’t come out until July. I couldn’t find a copy until August, Friday the 13th.

Coincidence? I think not.

Reading this year’s 148-page edition of our fishing laws, one soon realizes the evil genius of the writers.

Just when you think you are a law-abiding ethical angler, they change the law.

The goal of this current philosophy of fisheries management seeks to preserve and protect the resiliency of our iconic salmon and steelhead resources with a series of new laws that anglers will have a doozy of a time trying to figure out.

Biologists have somehow determined that fish hooks are a major cause of fish mortality. At first, they said you could use a single barbless hook to fish. That was wrong.

This year you can only use a single-pointed barbless hook. We can only hope that the best available science doesn’t outlaw fish hooks altogether, but you never know.

Is forbidding fishing with fish hooks foreseeable in our future? We’ll have to read the fishing laws.

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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 patneal wildlife@gmail.com.