Barbless hooks coming to Columbia River

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter



Washington officials have had an itch for years to shift to barbless hooks for salmon and steelhead sport fishing in the Columbia River.

It’s been proposed — then postponed because Oregon was not on board — before.

Well, it becomes reality on Tuesday.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday that barbless hooks will be required when fishing for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout from the mouth of the Columbia upstream to the state boundary with Oregon, 17 miles east of McNary Dam.

Sportsmen still may use double-point or treble hooks, so long as the barbs have been filed off or pinched down.

Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission in early December approved a measure prohibiting Oregon license holders from using barbed hooks in the Columbia and the Willamette River downstream of Willamette Falls, including Multnomah Channel.

Washington and Oregon have talked a lot about requiring sportsmen to use barbless hooks in the Columbia as part of the revamping of Columbia River harvest rules starting in 2013.

It’s all part of transitioning the gillnetters to off-channel areas, requiring use of seines for commercial harvest in the main Columbia and making sport fishing the priority by 2017.

Washington’s commission is expected to bless the ban on barbed hooks when it decides on the Columbia River fisheries harvest reforms Jan. 12 in Olympia.

Oregon’s action earlier this month required Washington to follow suite by Tuesday in order to have concurrent rules in the Columbia.

“Fisheries can be very difficult to manage under two different sets of rules,” said Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The two states have worked together for nearly a hundred years to maintain regulatory consistency.”

Barbless debate

The Washington and Oregon commissions heard more than a dozen hours of testimony this month about the Columbia fisheries reform. Interspersed among the comments about gillnets, purse seines and off-channel areas were frequent opinions about barbless hooks.

Jim Myron of the Native Fish Society told the Oregon commission the barbless hook rule would be the biggest conservation move in the entire Columbia fisheries revamping.

Bob Margolis, executive director of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, supported barbless hooks. Doug Baldwin of the Clearwater Fly Casters also backed them.

But plenty of folks are less excited about going barbless.

Tom Hester of Poulsen Cascade Tackle Co in Clackamas told the Washington commission barbless hooks damper fishing enthusiasm and discourage tourism.

The barbless hook proposal is more about assuaging the hurt feelings of commercial fishermen than saving salmon and steelhead, said Hester.

Casual anglers will want to buy lures with barbless hooks, while veterans will stay with their favorites and pinch the barb, he said. That forces costly dual production.

“Barbless hook regulations have a better chance at killing business than barbed hooks do killing fish,” Hester said.

Randy Woolsey, a manufacturer’s representative, asked Washington for a couple of years to phase in barbless hooks.

“Barbless hooks will cost jobs in our industry,” he said.

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing and other outdoors topics for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4555 or by email at