WDFW working to reopen fishing season

OLYMPIA — The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is planning to open at least some fishing once Gov. Jay Inslee lifts the stay-home order, according to a WDFW official.

Dave Graybill, a member of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission since 2015, said all state agencies are working toward that May 4 date established by the governor.

“I don’t think everybody is going back to work and outdoors right away. I think there is a sort of a layered approach to getting people back into the field. Fishing is one form of outdoor activity people are really anxious to get back to,” said Graybill, known locally as the Fishin’ Magician.

Traditionally, the last weekend in April is the lowland lake opener. Graybill said it is one of the largest events in the state, drawing 300,000 to 400,000 people.

For many small communities, this opening-day type scenario might be overwhelming, he said.

“The governor just issued a letter. He talks about some of these small, rural communities which don’t want a huge influx of people from outside the area just because of the threat of exposure. How do we manage that?” Graybill said.

The turkey season was supposed to start April 15. Graybill said one suggestion is to allow people to hunt but only in the county where they reside.

There could be cases, he said, where a favorite lake is next door in another county. In that case, Graybill said they might add an additional layer, such only fishing and hunting in the county you reside and within 50-to-100 miles of your residence.

“That may be a reasonable approach, to begin with. We’ll see how that works. Between the two, you could have some flexibility,” he said.

Graybill said stakeholders voiced their thoughts at a commission meeting last week. He said commissioners were exposed to a whole range of ideas.

“Another thing that may need to happen — we may want to open fishing but if the state parks are not open, that is going to be awkward,” he said. “We need to coordinate this with other agencies like State Parks, DNR, BLM…other agencies that have control over public lands.”

With multiple municipalities involved, Graybill said there has to be some coordination with other agencies.

“I’ve always felt during a period like this, being outdoors is a healthy activity you can enjoy without being in a crush,” Graybill said. “You can practice social distancing from the shores of a lake. You can do that with your family. When you are out in a boat, there is not a problem. What we’re trying to avoid is a big crush at the boat launches.”

There has been a deadline for permits that have come and gone. These permits allow you to hunt a certain area for a certain species. Graybill said people have not been able to buy those permits. However, most of the permits are down the road.

Graybill said he heard recently from a young state Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer.

“They are out in the field. They see a lot of people. He said ‘people are complaining about not being able to fish, but they don’t seem to grasp the big picture where people are worried about making rent,’” Graybill said. “People are worried about groceries and having a roof over their heads — and you are complaining about being able to fish? I thought that brought it into perspective. That was insightful.”

Everyone wants things to get back to normal, but Graybill cautions getting back to normal is going to have to be in stages. On the west side, he said there are problems with congestion on biking and hiking trails.

“We’re trying to avoid those circumstances but get people back outside as quickly and safely as possible,” he said. “A lot of people like the solitary experience. It’s an important social activity. Closing the fishing has a huge economic impact. The social and mental health benefits — that’s why I fish. I forget about everything else.”