As the month of February comes to a close, so do a number of our local rivers as well. Whereas there have been closures at the end of October, the last day of February marks the beginning of closures that take us into the last segment of this season.
These closures are designed to give fish, primarily steelhead, the opportunity to spawn without interruption by anglers. The waters largely affected are those in the upper portions of the rivers. In some cases, the closure will affect an entire stream. This is the case with some of our smaller rivers.
Those rivers which close at the end of this month in our area include: Copalis, all forks and the main, Hoquiam, West Fork of the Humptulips, Johns, North, Salmon, the middle and west forks of the Satsop rivers and Cloquallum and Stevens creeks. A more comprehensive list of closing rivers is given in the Washington State Sport Fishing Rules publication. Anglers will need to keep a watchful eye on other closures because they come at random dates.
It should also be known that in rivers where it is legal to fish for steelhead, there may also be a mandatory hatchery steelhead retention rule which applies. This newly applied rule indicates that the catch and release of hatchery steelhead is not allowed in waters defined by this ruling. These fish, when caught, must be retained, if legal to do so.
Speaking of new rules, the Washington Department of Fish &Wildlife will be introducing some new regulations for the upcoming season. One can also expect some changes in the cost of fishing licenses for the next season. Anglers can still enjoy the benefits of their licenses until March 31. This is the end of our current fishing season. The new season will begin April 1.
The entire state of Washington is a hatchery-only steelhead fishery. This simply means that all wild steelhead must be released. Wild steelhead have unclipped adipose and ventral fins. These markings are easily seen and these fish can be readily identified even while they are still in the water.
As we proceed toward the end of the season, there may also be a selective year rule applied to certain rivers. This rule states that only unscented artificial flies or lures with one single-point, barbless hook are allowed. Up to a total of three artificial flies or lures, each containing one single-point barbless hook may be used. Bait is prohibited and fish may be released until the daily limit is retained in water where the mandatory hatchery steelhead retention rule does not apply. Also, knotless nets are to be used to land fish. If any fish has swallowed the hook or is hooked in the gill, eye or tongue, it should be kept if legal to do so.
Every effort is being made to protect steelhead as we near their spawning time. So, it can get somewhat tricky as it pertains to the rules toward the end of the season. All you need to do is stay abreast of the rules and you will be good to go.