All rivers and creeks including their beaver ponds that flow into Puget Sound are now permanently closed to game- and food-fish angling unless a special regulation designates them as open
When they’re designated for summer trout and gamefish angling Northwest Washington, streams with anadromous or sea-run species have a principle opener on the first Saturday in June — just under three weeks from now on Saturday, June 6.
Stream fishers whose backyard is the Nooksack River basin have the opportunity for a head start in that a number of upper basin stream that are set to open two weeks earlier, the Saturday before Memorial Day this year Saturday, May 23.
Streams in this early-bird package are the higher elevation sections of the North, Middle and South Forks of the Nooksack above barriers that bar protected steelhead, chinook salmon and bull trout from getting to them.
The May 23 opening list here specifically includes:
• North Fork Nooksack River upstream of Nooksack Falls and all tributaries to that section of the river.
• Also in the North Fork Valley, Canyon Creek upstream from the Forest Service Road 31 (Canyon Creek Road) to its headwaters.
• Middle Fork Nooksack River upstream from the City of Bellingham's diversion structure
• South Fork Nooksack River upstream Wanlick Creek
• Sections of other major creeks in the mid-South Fork Valley upstream from Skookum Creek also open, but those reaches are above barriers or mileposts. For starting points on these streams, see the listings on page 24 in the Fish Washington sporting fishing regulations pamphlet.
In neighboring Skagit County reaches of Jones, O'Toole, Cumberland and Pressentin creeks also open. (for those legal descriptions, see page 25 in the Fish Washington sport fishing regulations pamphlet).
There are a small number of other early openings of streams elsewhere in the state that are listed in the regional special regulations sections.
CHECK THE REGS
It is always an angler’s responsibility to first read and understand, then abide by the rules.
Sections of the 2014-15 Fish Washington Sport Fishing Regulations pamphlet dealing with rivers and creeks are colored coded according by major geographic area, gold for Puget Sound and Strait flowing waters (pages 23-38), green for all coastal watersheds (pages 39-51) and purple for remaining Western Washington river systems (those entering the lower Columbia River) (pages 52-57).
The special rules section for all Eastern Washington watershed streams is highlighted in red and runs between pages 69-84.
As before, listings of west-of-the-Cascades lakes are on purple pages, the Eastside’s still-waters are in red.
WHEN TO STOP
Closings for stream seasons also are staggered.
The summer trout and gamefish stream season duration for a host if the smaller creeks and streams lasts five months, closing on the last day of October.
But as has been the custom, selected lower mainstem reaches within river basins, may stay open by rule to allow angling for hatchery-origin winter-run steelhead and occasionally native char, mainly through the end of January in our area.
Some westside rivers on the lower Columbia and on the north coast are open to hook and line effort further into the winter.
OTHER RULES FOR FLOWING WATER
Bag limit and size rules vary by category of stream.
Maximum and minimum ‘keeper’ lengths are set to protect very young as well as mature age classes of trout and salmon species, especially those in populations that reproduce naturally.
Anglers fishing stream waters governed by the statewide basic length rule may keep up to two trout per day that are 8 inches or longer. The measurement is overall length (from the tip of the nose to the tips of the caudal fin (tail) lobes. There is a bonus number keepers for stream-caught eastern brook.
A major exception to this minimum length rule occurs in lower basin streams with anadromous forms of coastal cutthroat, so-called sea-runs. To maximize the escapement of first-time spawning females of this native wild species, a minimum keeper length of 14 inches is set for trout in the special rules section for listed streams.
Fishing in many ‘open’ streams including virtually all smaller order tributaries also may be restricted by the selective gear rule, which bans use of bait (single eggs, worms, cluster eggs and sand shrimp) or scents and mandates fishing only lures equipped with single-point barbless hooks.
In the Nooksack and Whatcom Independents basins, 14 ‘open’ streams or stream reaches now have the selective gear rule in place. One newly flipped-to-open stream has been designated ‘fly-fishing only.’
Anglers should also read carefully for other details that constitute exceptions to the general rules, in particular, these are unusual cut-off or closing dates. The Samish River’s rules are a key example here.
As mentioned, this season anglers may reacquaint themselves with a goodly range of fishing options in the form of beaver ponds associated with creeks that open either this Saturday or next.
The North Fork Nooksack (above Nooksack Falls) and Baker River (above Shannon Dam) valleys complexes of beaver impoundments will open again and beckoning the tough angler as will those stick dam ponds in the Nookachamps Creek drainage in neighboring Skagit County.
Coming the first of July anglers also may ply the extensive and mysterious complex of beaver-made open waters in Big Beaver Creek Valley above Ross Dam.
In the category of Memorial weekend fishing inaugurals, basin streams (and beaver ponds) above the North Fork’s Nooksack Falls, the Middle Fork Nooksack’s City of Bellingham Diversion and the South Fork’s Wanlick Creek all are Saturday, May 25 starters.
Anglers willing to pay the price also may fish mid- and upper reach sections of Pressentin, O’Toole and Cumberland creeks in Skagit County beginning Memorial Day weekend.
Fly fishers, once the Loomis-Nooksack Forest Service Road gate opens and the snowpack melts out, as of this year again may dabble in upper South Fork Nooksack waters upstream from and including Wanlick Creek.
A thoughtful perusal of the regs and consultation with a good map or Google Earth also will find renewed fishing opportunities in the nearby Stillaguamish and Snohomish river basins and else where in Western Washington
Even with these additions, some conspicuous streams remain closed and need to be mentioned since they historically have been the focus of neighborhood fishing especially by youngsters.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald’s outdoors correspondent, since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at bellinghamherald.com /outdoors-blog/.