The Fishing Corner: Clearing confusion of expiring licenses as winter steelhead season arrives

By Larry Dublanko

For the Grays Harbor News Group

Lest there be any confusion around the valid license matter at this time of the year (and there usually is), 2019-20 fishing licenses are good until March 31. Any newly purchased license would also expire March 31, which makes for a rather short fishing opportunity for these anglers. Never the less, fishers who are targeting winter steelhead and do not possess a license would fall into this short-season scenario. All other anglers possessing a valid licenses are home free until the end of March.

Another issue which needs attention is that inland salmon fishing ended in our area Dec. 31. For those who do not generally read the regulations, it may be something that has escaped their attention. Usually, the inland salmon season runs until Jan. 31, but this year the season has been shortened by a month. This only makes common sense when anglers have been restricted to a hatchery-only fishery. The salmon that would occupy our rivers in January would likely be wild fish. These would have to be released, thereby putting more stress on them. Grant it this is still the case while fishing for steelhead; however, the fishing pressure has been greatly reduced and this impact is significantly lower for the balance of the month.

One can expect to see more closures as the season goes on. This will occur as we near the time frame when wild steelhead begin to occupy our rivers in greater volume. Efforts will be made to protect this species as well as the spawning hatchery steelhead.

Currently, we are in the heart of the hatchery winter steelhead season. The catch record numbers attest to this case. Our coastal rivers yield the highest productivity of these fish during the month of January. The numbers will drop off in February and March.

Given the fact that boat traffic evidence has increased would lead us to the conclusion anglers are taking full advantage of this opportunity. We have passed the Christmas rush and distractions and folk can devote themselves to the task at hand. At least, they can put newly acquired fishing gear to the test.

Steelheaders do not like it when their secret fishing holes are revealed. Being general with this information is the safe zone. However, it is not rocket science to observe where anglers tend to congregate. It is also revealing to examine the actual rivers which have received the largest plant numbers and thereby indicate the best chance to connect with a steelhead. It is common sense that a river which has been planted heavily will hold more fish. This situation will give the angler a better advantage. Yet, anglers are going to have to do the hard work of locating where these fish might be holding up. And, once that piece to the puzzle is solved, the skill of actually hooking a fish remains.

So welcome to winter steelheading. This fishery carries the reputation of being one of the greatest freshwater challenges.