Long-fin smelt make their appearance in the Nooksack

Included in the fare on some Thanksgiving season tables will be a finger food that fishers may gather in the last half of November.

A small forage fish, nicknamed hooligans, make their appearance on an annual spawning run up the lower Nooksack.

Freshets or higher muddy river flows triggered by fall rainstorms signal to the fish it’s time to come in, and unlike many other forms of stream fishing where good clarity at depth is desirable, poor visibility works to a hooligan dipper’s advantage.

These small forage fish actually are long-fin smelt, not eulachons that are also known as Columbia River smelt. In Washington there currently is a statewide closure in place for eulachons.

Specimens from the Nooksack’s run have been studied and positively identified as long-fin smelt by a WDFW forage fish specialist.

The stock comprising the Nooksack’s November run is legal to catch and keep for personal use, though they are distant relatives of the San Francisco Bay populations of long-fins that are listed as threatened under the federal endangered species act.

A long-standing freshwater opportunity, the lower Nooksack personal use fishery is one of several overall Northwest Washington options.

Smelt populations spawning on marine beaches have occasionally been raked or dipped at Camano Island and Marches Point beaches. They’re also jigged in February from schools moving through Swinomish Channel at La Conner or occasionally in January along Bellingham’s downtown waterfront under the Roeder Avenue bridge.

The preferred method for catching Nooksack hooligans requires a basket-shaped catcher or dipper that’s securely fixed on a long pole. These are hard to find assembled and available commercially, though all the components are readily at hand for a homemade version.

The dipping bag or rigid basket must be designed to withstand the current. Small-mesh netting hung on a lightweight frame can work as a catch container, but the best is quarter-inch square stiff wire mesh formed into a cylinder on a frame with a bottom wired in.

The pole, at least 12 feet or longer, should be of aluminum tubing, wood doweling or green sapling tree.

Hooligan fishing is relatively easy, though a little muscle is a plus. It involves standing at the water’s edge and thrusting the pole-mounted basket as far as you safely can down into the muddy waters and holding it there.

The trick to hooligan catching is two-fold — first is feeling the faint taps of fish as they swim upstream into the basket and bump their noses into its bottom, and second is the ability to make a rapid, sweeping removal of the basket before fish dart out.

A good hooligan fishing spot has two essential characteristics: some depth immediately off the bank and room to swing a long-handled implement through the surrounding brush and trees. Such spots can be found on the lower Nooksack west of Bellingham.

Dippers must be familiar with the tidal influence on their fishing spot as well as the smelt themselves.

The left bank dike trail upstream from Marine Drive bridge to Slater Road provides reasonable access. Land inside Lummi Nation is off-limits

Long-fins typically are caught during a 10- to 14-day period around Nov. 20. The ideal time for dipping is on the dropping flow after a good rainstorm.

Also, if you’ve not tried these fish, often dried or fried and eaten guts, you may want to ease into them at the start.

Dippers should also be sure to inspect each individual fish brought to hand. Only long-fins may be kept if landed via the dipping method.

If juvenile salmon or trout, including steelhead and bull, are caught, they must be released according to state and federal law.

Sergeant Russ Mullins, detachment supervisor WDFW Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Program, said dippers can expect to be checked by fish and wildlife officers to make sure they’re complying with regulations.


County ordinances concerning the lawful discharge of firearms and trespass on private property affect where hunting can take place.

In Whatcom County, hunting in developing rural areas, site-specific locales or no-shooting zones is prohibited.

Another county ordinance (Chapter 9.36) that previously affected the possession and use of firearms by minors and required any shooter under age 16 to have a permit and be accompanied by an adult was repealed.

Whatcom County also has a locally enacted ordinance relating to trespass on private lands.

The two chapters of county code should be considered among the most important for hunters to abide because the degree to which hunters adhere to or disobey them shapes the opinion the general public forms and holds about them and their activities.


Chapter 9.32 of the county code is one of two main legal mechanisms governing the use of firearms and it sets the county’s framework for identifying, establishing, posting and enforcing no shooting zones across unincorporated areas.

Under sections of this ordinance, only tangible reasons (documented history of dangerous shooting incidents or explicit safety issues) may be used to justify imposition of a shooting ban. Paragraph D of 9.32.040 forbids consideration by the council of anti-gun or anti-hunting sentiments when deciding on a no shooting zone.

Before a shooting ban can be set, the county council must hold a public hearing on any community or council-generated no shooting zone petition.

In addition, the county’s ordinance protects by exempting them from coverage, historically hunted areas including, but not limited to, the Nooksack River, Fazon Lake, Mosquito Lake, Lake Terrell and a number of other named locales.

Also, current and long-standing club-operated indoor and outdoor shooting ranges here such as the Custer Sportsman’s facility and trap/skeet ranges owned by the Bellingham Gun Club (Larsen Road) and Lynden Shotgun Club (Weidkamp Road) are explicitly exempted from imposition of shooting bans.

New indoor ranges built to certain safety specifications may be exempted from potential application of the ordinance as are all so-called blackpowder shoots or matches.


Each currently in-force no shooting zone is delineated by readily identifiable boundaries outlined in individual legal descriptions.

As of now there are 22 NSZs in the county, many are in the unincorporated areas surrounding Bellingham, but some are in other areas where residential development has become denser making the discharge of any projectile firing device increasingly problematic from a public safety stand-point.

If hunters have any doubt as to whether their intended hunt may be inside a NSZ, they should take the time to sketch onto a map NSZ legal descriptions to determine if their destination lies within.

The NSZ ordinance sections are:



_ NSZ 1 Lake Whatcom – Geneva-Sudden Valley.



_ NSZ 2 Lake Whatcom – West and south shores (South Bay and Park areas).



_ NSZ 3 North Bellingham – Hannegan, Bakerview, Meridian and Bennett Drive neighborhoods.



_ NSZ 4 Lake Whatcom – North Shore Drive to Agate Bay.



_ NSZ 5 Lake Whatcom – Bonneville Power Administration powerline above Lake Whatcom.



_ NSZ 6 King Mountain – North of Bakerview, west of Hannegan Road.



_ NSZ 7 Lummi Island – Lummi Island Scenic Estates.



_ NSZ 8 Chuckanut – West (outside) of Larrabee State Park.



_ NSZ 9 Point Whitehorn – South of Birch Bay.



_ NSZ 10 Marine Drive – Just west of Bellingham city limits.



_ NSZ 11 Glacier Springs – Warnick area development west of Canyon Creek.



_ NSZ 12 Lummi Island – Northern side of the island.



_ NSZ 13 Point Roberts – All of the U.S. side.



_ NSZ 14 Emerald Lake – The development west and north of Toad Lake.



_ NSZ 15 Wiser Lake – All of the lake and its upland shores.



_ NSZ 16 Newhalem – Residential area and fringes under control of Seattle City Light.



_ NSZ 17 Diablo – Residential area and fringes under control of Seattle City Light.



_ NSZ 18 Southeast Bellingham – Yew Street, Galbraith Lane and Samish Way neighborhood.



_ NSZ 20 Baker Lake – Southwest shore at Horseshoe Cove and West Pass Dam.



_ NSZ 21 South Fork Valley – Nelson Road area at Van Zandt.



_ NSZ 22 Columbia Valley – The Urban Growth Area north of Kendall.



_ NSZ 23 Glenhaven Lakes – The vicinity of Cain and Reed lakes.

One NSZ, No. 19, created in 1994 was repealed in 1995.


With exceptions, fee title ownership of land gives persons the right of quiet enjoyment of their holdings without disturbance by intrusion or interruption from anyone else.

Both state and local laws make it a potentially chargeable misdemeanor offense to enter into or onto real property of another and remain there without lawful authority or permission to do so.

Hunting and fishing licenses, as is regularly confirmed, do not bestow authority to trespass on private property, not even to quickly retrieve downed game or to pass through to get to other lands.

While there are circumstances were venturing onto private property may not be a violation of law (on certain open space lands or unfenced, unimproved property), the safest course of action for hunters is to find the owner or legal tenant and get their permission, in writing if possible. San Juan County in Washington requires hunters to obtain such written authority as a matter of law.

Whatcom County’s ordinance concerning trespass on real property is Chapter 8.24. The state trespass statute is RCW 9A.52.010.


The complete Whatcom County Code can be found on-line at codepublishing.com/wa/whatcomcounty/.

Municipal codes for many other Washington counties as well as those in other states are available on-line through the private company Website codepublishing.com/index.html.

Ownership of real property as well as open space information can be found in the taxing records maintained by each county’s assessor.

Whatcom County’s real property Web portal is property.whatcomcounty.us/.