It's time to practice a little social fish-stancing
Washington closed all fishing through May 4.
California had an emergency meeting last week to discuss emergency closures.
Oregon closed all fishing to nonresidents and removed trout stocking schedules from their website.
Idaho closed many fisheries to nonresidents.
It's not the best time to be an angler in the Pacific Northwest, but cards on the table, if people don't start thinking about where and how they fish — social fish-stancing, if you will — it could be over for everyone.
Social distancing has become our new way of life. Outdoor activities are a necessity for the health and sanity of stir-crazy people stuck working from home, the under- and unemployed, kids not in school, and retired folks facing limits other than those imposed by aging bodies on what has long been my dream job (retirement). Even still, we have to recreate rationally and within the bounds of the law and not go all-in on any single body of water, or our ever-decreasing fishing opportunities will vanish entirely.
How? Avoid, create and explore. Conveniently, the acronym is "ACE", which speaks to the solo nature of what angling must be until things improve, so buckle up for the type of paint-by-number checklist you'd find on "Buzzfeed" or "Vox" but written for people who don't keep up with the Kardashians.
As an introvert, avoiding people is in my DNA. I've always called in orders to restaurants, shopped at off-peak times, worked out before or after the rush and planned my fishing trips to avoid crowds at the boat ramp, shoreline or pier.
With fewer options and more people opting outside with warming weather, this can be tough.
Most parks, boat ramps and piers have been closed to public access up and down the Best Coast. While inconvenient, this is intended to reduce congregations of people. Simple enough.
If you plan to fish a high-traffic spot still open, consider going mid-morning, mid-afternoon or on a weekday when crowds will be smaller.
Instead of combat fishing for salmon, steelhead or freshly-stocked trout on the most heavily-trafficked rivers and lakes (the behavior that caused fishing closures in the first place), consider walking a little further upstream, parking on the gravel shoulder instead of the parking lot or trying the far end of the lake. Avoiding other anglers isn't just safer for you; it's also going to lead to less-pressured fish.
Trout, salmon and steelhead represent the most popular sport fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, but this is the time to consider creating other, less-popular fisheries.
April is the month when most warm-water species begin spawning or moving into the shallows for pre-spawn activities. Sunfish, crappie and bass are obvious choices, as are walleye and catfish where available, but what about suckers, chubs, shiners and pikeminnow? All of these native species will take a worm, lure or fly and (brace for sacrilege) fight harder than similarly-sized hatchery trout.
Best of all? These fish are widespread and face virtually no pressure. Just like some populations of trout, these fishes spawn April through June, so you can capitalize on their increased aggression and feeding habits during a time when everyone else is chasing pus-gut hatchery trout. Unlike brown trout, bass or catfish, these fish are all native, so release them or create a meal you've never tried with the firm white meat of a sucker or pikeminnow (where legal).
If chasing big nongame fish isn't your thing, consider chasing smaller fish or fishing smaller water. Any water, really.
There's a canal about five minutes from my house. There's a tiny stream a few hundred yards from my siblings' apartment complex in Beaverton. Both hold fish.
I've never seen another person fish them, but I've caught half a dozen unglamorous little species in these overlooked waterways, including sculpins, chubs and threespine stickleback.
Odds are, you have a ditch, canal or stream you drive past every day. Why not stop? Fishing new waters has never been more realistic than it is right now, when your favorite park is closed, and you're supposed to avoid people.
So remember to practice social fish-stancing by following ACE (avoid, create, explore), and remember when you walk up to your favorite fishing hole that the saying is "ace in the hole" and not "entire deck in the hole" for good reason.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.