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News / Sports / Outdoors

Fish for free anywhere in Washington for 2 days — but new rules limit what you can catch

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: June 5, 2023, 7:49am

KENNEWICK — The annual free fishing weekend in Washington state is set for June 10-11.

But new restrictions that take effect this year will limit the species that can be caught without a fishing license.

“Free Fishing Weekend can’t be as ‘free’ as it has been in the past,” said Kirt Hughes, a manager with the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Anyone can fish for rainbow trout and bass in lowland lakes; for lincod, cabezon and rockfish on the Washington coast; and for many types of fish in the Columbia and Snake rivers without purchasing a fishing license those two days.

But this year a Washington fishing license still must be purchased to fish that weekend for species requiring a catch record card to be submitted to the state, including salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut.

Shellfish harvesting also requires a license.

The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife found that there was a substantial impact on some species as a result of the annual free fishing weekend, it said.

The no-license weekend resulted in fewer fish available for licensed anglers and shellfish harvesters due to unreported or unlawful retention of fish and shellfish, as well as a significant increase in the harvest of intertidal clams and oysters from many beaches in Western Washington, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The fishing season is set for some species, such as chinook, based on the annual forecast for their numbers in Washington waters. The season may end early if more fish than expected are caught.

In fact, some shellfish beaches had seasons close earlier than expected due to a spike in interest in past free weekends. Harvest on beaches not open for shellfishing has also occurred, along with concerns about crowding, parking and trespassing, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The ability to enforce regulations and to account for harvest is of paramount importance to ensure conservation needs are met to provide for future opportunities,” said the Department of Fish and Wildlife in its explanation of the rule change.

It also said that most fish that require a catch card and are not included in the free fishing weekend are typically caught from boats and require specialized gear.

Because this is the first year of the new regulations, enforcement will focus primarily on educating the public about the license changes, but anglers may still face criminal penalties for illegal harvest, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Free fishing, free parking

The goal of the free fishing weekend, scheduled each year after the first Monday in June, is to help introduce people to fishing.

And even with the new restrictions, there still is plenty of fishing available for free, including free parking.

A Discover Pass to park at Washington state parks, state Department of Fish and Wildlife land, and state Department of Natural Resources land is not required on free fishing weekend.

There also will be no two-pole endorsements required that weekend. The endorsements allow anglers to use two fishing rods on most freshwater lakes, ponds, some sections of rivers and a few marine areas.

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However, other fishing regulations apply, including size limits, bag limits and some fishing area closures.

For all fishing regulations, go to wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations.

You can also download the free “Fish Washington” app — with fishing regulations for every lake, river, stream and marine area in the state — from Google Play and Apple’s App store. However, the app does not include shellfish and seaweed collection rules.

The app’s maps also can help anglers find nearby fishing areas.

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