Huge Changes In Sound, Straits Fishing Rules

Streams and beaver ponds are also now ‘closed unless open,’ a 180-degree reversal designed to protect ESA-listed salmonids.

GOLD BAR, Wash.—The fish were never large – except on one notable occasion – but now we may never get to fish the middle Wallace in summer for them again.

It was one of many streams as well as beaver ponds that were summarily closed or were slapped with more restrictive rules this year, part of sweeping changes affecting Western Washington waters everywhere from Neah Bay to Mt. Rainier to the Canadian border as managers try to protect weak salmonid stocks.

THE AREA UNDER NEW STREAM AND BEAVER POND REGULATIONS. (WDFW)

So much for the age-old delights of wandering down any ol’ crick or clambering out on a beaver dam on a hot summer day and flipping spinners, flies, salmon eggs or worms for whatever’s biting.

True, the affect probably won’t be felt by a large percentage of Pugetropolis’s angling public, but it will be a loss for the guys who might have a stream in their backyard they like to fish, or adventurous kids who beat the brush to access hidden waters.

“It makes me cry to see that the stream I grew up fishing for cutts will be closed,” notes one North Sound angler.

A FRIEND WHO WORKED at the state park on the Wallace found out about the fishing. When the sun burned down on July days, he, another pal and I would dive off the trail up to Wallace Falls, wade through the ferns down to where the forks of the river met and work our way up- and downstream.

There was little room for backcasting as we hopped from rock to rock, but the fish didn’t seem to care. They eagerly bit Hare’s Ears and Prince Nymphs.

And we didn’t care that the fish were small. It was really more about getting afield with friends, staying cool and being somewhere that few others went.

The best spot was a pool below where the river slashed down a diagonal 66-foot “flume.” At the bottom the Wallace bit into a rock wall that not 150 feet above us supported hordes of hikers tramping past completely unaware of the hidden glen. From the shadows underneath the overhang, 10- to 12-inchers would zip out and grab whatever floated past.

Once, however, we caught glimpses of a far larger fish, something around 10 to 12 pounds. Of course it didn’t bite.

What that megafish in the small pool was I couldn’t say. But it probably had something to do with why fishing the middle Wallace in summer is no longer an option.

TO BE CLEAR, the Wallace – like almost all Puget Sound streams – is no Deschutes, Yellowstone or other über-trouty river.

Wild winter-runs, summer Chinook and bull trout use it for spawning and rearing habitat, and juveniles of the species – as well as resident rainbows and coastal cutts – were most likely the fish we caught. The first three are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Frankly, some of our populations are not healthy and we need to take extra measures to return them to healthy levels,” explains Craig Burley, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Fish Division manager.

To that end, the agency overhauled the fishing pamphlet, rolling out a new 18-page section, “Puget Sound and Straits Rivers – Special Rules.”

Before, all unlisted streams and beaver ponds in those two regions were open June 1-Oct. 31 under blanket statewide rules – daily limit two, minimum size 8 inches, baits such as eggs and worms OK.

But now it’s the reverse: If your fave ain’t in those dozen and a half pages, fishing’s a no-go.

And many of those that still are open now fall under selective-gear rules, meaning single, barbless-hooked flies and lures only, and no smelly gunk.

The idea is to protect young steelhead, salmon and bull trout in waters where they’re “at risk of being incidentally caught and may not survive being handled and released, especially if bait is used,” WDFW says.

Burley couldn’t quantify how many streams and ponds were closed as a result – a minimum of 175 creeks, 71 rivers, a slough, a ditch, and beaver ponds in Mason and Kitsap Counties and Big Beaver Creek Valley do remain open – but he feels that anglers will appreciate being able to open the rules book and clearly read whether their stream is fishable or not.

KNOWN AS WDFW’s “stream strategy,” the changes came out of last fall and winter’s rules-making process.

Some anglers had wanted to be even more restrictive — no bait, barbless hooks, or close all rivers with anadromous runs — while others thought more review was needed or that only streams with low runs should be affected. At its February 4-6 meeting, the Fish & Wildlife Commission approved the strategy with some tweaks.

It’s all part of larger modifications to regional fisheries in the wake of those ESA listings, the latest of which came in May 2007 and protected Puget Sound and Straits steelhead. As I reported in April, the commission last winter OKed shortening winter steelheading by two weeks on many rivers. WDFW has quit using late-arriving hatchery fish to meet egg-take goals and no longer stocks smolts in streams where they can’t collect returning adults. The idea is to separate hatchery and wild runs as much as possible to prevent crossbreeding.

Burley says the agency is struggling to protect fish and meet conservation goals while at the same time trying to provide quality recreational opportunities.

An angler himself, he says the goal is to make sure today’s resources are around for our children and grandchildren, “and in some instances that means restricting fishing.”

IT’S ONE MORE GRIM reminder that the good old days are long gone.

Ages ago, Bob Heirman wrote Snohomish, My Beloved County: An Angler’s Anthology about the glory days of fishing the waters east of Everett. Reread it today and you’ll realize the world we’ve lost.

“They had rivers and streams back then that I drive over every day that used to be full of salmon and steelhead,” says Eric Bell of Granite Falls, a friend who went on some of those Wallace trips. “I can’t imagine anything living in them.”

Maybe something will again someday. The new rules at least better protect younger fish in a host of freshwaters before they brave the ocean. If these new rules work, WDFW has mulled going statewide with them. –Andy Walgamott

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS IS AN EXPANDED VERSION OF A STORY THAT APPEARED ONLINE IN LATE APRIL.

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One Response to “Huge Changes In Sound, Straits Fishing Rules”

  1. Beaver Pond Closure ‘A Horrible Loss’ « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] literally wrote the book on it, which I cited in our June issue. While putting together our July issue, I got a call from […]

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