Fishing Without Hooks.

It was another tough week in the news. The Washington state Department of Wildlife threatened us with yet another emergency closure. We were warned last week that it could come this week, or maybe next week, or at any time you least expect. The state could eliminate steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula. We are told that even catch-and-release fishing will be outlawed.

This, despite a recent study where steelhead were fitted with tags and tracked with transponders as they passed through the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Researchers found that even after being caught twice, steelhead had a more than 96 percent survival rate.

And yet, the state has banned catch-and-release fishing on most of Washington’s steelhead rivers while leaving the streams on the Olympic Peninsula open. As a result, rivers on the Peninsula have become increasingly crowded, putting more pressure on our fisheries. I certainly hope someone is studying the problem.

Meanwhile, in the last 20 years, the state has spent millions restoring fish habitat by building log jams, spraying glyphosate, planting native vegetation and buying property from “willing” sellers with no corresponding increase in fish populations.

Lately, the state is spending millions more building new bridges to improve fish passage for imaginary fish on tiny streams like our own Bagley Creek, where there are no salmon. The fact is, restoring habitat alone will not restore salmon. If habitat was the key to restoring salmon, there would not be threatened or endangered fish inside the pristine habitat of Olympic National Park.

Is there anything that can be done to restore our salmon and steelhead? Apparently not.

For example, the best steelhead fishing on the Peninsula this winter was on the Bogachiel River, where over 3,000 steelhead returned to the hatchery.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to fish for these fish. Instead of keeping these fish in the river, they were netted and donated to charity or sold by the state. It turns out the state does not want hatchery fish in the river where we, the poor suckers that buy fishing licenses, can fish for them.

Let’s review: Habitat restoration will not restore our fish. We have eliminated the fish hatcheries using native brood stock that would supplement our wild runs. We aren’t allowed the opportunity to catch hatchery fish that are being raised and even catch-and-release fishing is being outlawed.

Is there any management scenario that will allow us to keep fishing? Yes.

Biologists have determined that fish hooks are harmful to fish. This concern is reflected in our fishing regulations that eventually called for a single point barbless hook.

What if we eliminated fish hooks altogether? Would the benevolent state allow us to keep fishing without hooks?

Dictionaries define fishing as, “The sport or business of catching fish.”

With no hooks on your flies, lures or bait, you’re not fishing.

If you’re not fishing you don’t need a fishing license!

You are no different than a bird watcher, and there is no license needed for that.

Does fishing without hooks mean you can’t come home with a trophy that’s bigger than the one your buddy didn’t catch?

Of course not.

Here at Same Day Taxidermy™, we’ll simply plug in the measurements of the fish you think bit your gear into our 3D printer and you’ll have that fiberglass trophy of a lifetime delivered to you at the end of your fishing trip.

Fishing without hooks sounds crazy, but in this crazy world, it’s our only chance to keep fishing.

We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

Fish Are Getting Smarter.

It was the American author John Steinbeck who said, “It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish had it coming.”

He should know. Steinbeck spent much of the Great Depression fishing and crabbing out of a small boat in order to get enough food for him and his wife to survive.

There is nothing on earth like subsistence fishing to humble a person into realizing that, on any given day, the fish can be smarter than they are. Over the years, Steinbeck’s observations evolved into some of the earliest notions of the environmental movement.

A lot of this realization occurred to Steinbeck when he was hiding out from what he described as “land owners, bankers and death threats” after writing his 1939 masterpiece, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

The book was banned for being obscene and misrepresentative.

In 1940, Steinbeck decided to get out of town. He and his marine biologist buddy Ed Ricketts went to the Gulf of California in the seiner, Western Flyer, to collect biological specimens.

Once there, Steinbeck watched trawlers dragging their nets across the sea bed, a destructive practice that continues to this day, which illustrated the interconnection of humans and the environment.

The resulting book, “Sea of Cortez,” was not a best seller. However, the “Western Flyer” still survives to this day in Port Townsend, where it has been in the process of being restored since 2015. But I digress.

This is about the intelligence of fish, which can be greater than a human’s intellect on any given day. It only makes sense.

Research has indicated the intelligence of fish matches or exceeds those of the higher vertebrates, including non-human primates and some fishing guides. This should come as no surprise.

Fish appeared in the fossil record about 530 million years ago. The first modern humans may have appeared a scant 300,000 years ago. In the evolutionary scheme of things, if the history of the fish was the length of the Hood Canal Bridge, the history of humans would be a speed bump at the end of the bridge.

Many believe that the intelligence of fish is evolving at the precise rate that humans are getting dumber.

Olympic Peninsula salmon and steelhead routinely navigate many thousands of miles across the ocean to the Aleutian Islands, returning years later to the precise stream where they were born.

I get lost in parking lots.

Once in their home river, fish use rocks to break the speed of the current to navigate upstream without fighting the main force of the river.

I hit the rocks going downstream.

Fish use rocks to break fishing lines and dislodge any lures they’re hooked on.

I had to go to the emergency room at the Forks Community Hospital to get a hook removed.

Fish use gravel in the bottom of the rivers to build nests across the stream beds that once stretched from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

The last time I made a nest in the gravel, I was drunk.

Recently, we witnessed a quantum leap in fish intelligence when a large steelhead was hooked. The line went slack. The fish was lost.

The unfortunate angler reeled in his line to find a pig-tail looking piece at the end.

To the untrained eye, it looked like the knot on the lure came undone. That’s impossible since I tied that knot myself. That would never happen.

There was only one explanation — fish are getting smarter. Now they can untie knots, underwater, with no hands!

Fishing is bound to get a whole lot tougher.

That’s Crazy!

They say we live in an age of disinformation. I can think of no greater example of this modern-day dilemma than a recent reoccurring theory based on a media-driven campaign to lure a potentially vulnerable demographic with a history of self-abuse and poor self-image down a garden path of self-destructive behavior that has no possible positive outcome.

Why would any one of the myriad internationally recognized mental health professionals, life coaches and gurus promote a path of unproven beliefs and half-baked therapies for a problem for which there may be no actual cure? That’s crazy!

Follow the money. As usual, if something sounds too good to be true, someone is probably making a fortune off it.

I can think of no better example of this timeless theme than a thread of recent news articles that claim fishing is good for your mental health. That’s crazy!

While certain outdoor activities like biking, hiking and camping might be good for your mental health, fishing is not.

Proponents of this outlandish claim say that relaxation and stress relief are the main benefits people get from recreational fishing.

As a steelhead fishing guide with over 30 years of experience, I can tell you, that’s crazy.

It begins with the fishing gear.

Do you know the difference between a fishing pole and a fishing rod? About a thousand dollars. And you are going to need more than one.

In fact, once you go overboard steelhead fishing, you are fed the delusion you need a different fishing rod for every day of the week even if you don’t go fishing.

One person’s hoarding disorder is another’s fishing tackle collection.

Hoarding fishing tackle is a symptom, or more like a cry for help, because once you find something that catches fish, it quits catching fish and along comes something else that catches more fish.

Of course, you have to buy it.

Maybe you fish with lures. How do you know you are buying the right one? That’s easy. You want to buy the one that’s not in the tackle store. It’s sold out because it catches fish.

So, you have to ask the tackle store for lures they don’t have anymore. They’ll think you’re crazy!

Or maybe you fish with flies. You use expensive, colorful feathers and fur of rare birds and mammals to tie a fly to catch a fish. So you can turn it loose? That’s crazy!

Over the years, I’ve seen how badly this can go.

It usually starts with that first fishing trip. People are so happy to get away from their dead-end jobs, abusive relationships and the constant stress of their consumer-driven, indebted lives. They are happy just to be out on the river.

Then they catch a fish. That changes everything. They want to catch another fish, then another in a never-ending cycle of increasing stress, drama and unrealistic expectations.

For example, the angler is usually surprised and delighted to catch that first steelhead. That’s when it’s my job as a responsible professional to advise they never go fishing again.

They seldom listen. Instead, they catch more fish until they are confident of their ability — which lasts until the inevitable slump. What worked before does not work anymore.

The luckless angler settles into a cycle of depression, anger and blame.

As a guide, I provide blame insurance. They can blame me for everything, but that is often not enough.

Then one lucky day, they catch another fish — which launches the whole degrading cycle again.

Why do people put themselves through all this? Because they think fishing is good for their mental health. That’s crazy!

A Good Horse.

Back on the farm, we used to say, all the animals go to heaven.

There was great reminder of this eternal truth when a picture came in the mail last week.

I was holding a lead rope on a donkey with my two sisters on her back.

The donkey was named Cinderella by someone with a weird sense of humor.

The legend says the cross on the burro’s back is a reminder of the time a donkey carried Christ into Jerusalem then followed him to Calvary where the shadow of the cross fell on the poor burro and stayed there ever since.

It’s a beautiful story, but if Jesus had to ride Cinderella to Jerusalem, he might have been bucked off long before he made it there.

Cinderella was a bucking burro. Us kids thought she must have packed the Anti-Christ.

Bucking was not her only talent. She had a way of brushing off a rider by going into the brush and knocking them off with low hanging tree limbs. Or she would gallop into her feeding shed that was just tall enough for her.

She knew how to get rid of a human in a hurry, so you’d better jump off before you were shoved off.

Still, riding a burro was better than riding a cow. I know that now. Especially the razor-backed Holstein steers we used to get cheap from the dairy farms.

You know the ones. They’d be about 1,500 pounds or more, of which 500 pounds was bones.

You had to wait until they were asleep to get on one these critters. You had to hang on once they woke up because they were not going to be happy. But if you could stay on a bucking burro, you had a chance on a bucking steer. Until they figured out how to brush you off in the woods, that is.

Then one magic day we got a horse. People were always giving us horses. Free horses are a lot like free trucks, boats or whatever. They have issues.

Still, there’s nothing better than having a good horse under you.

It certainly beats having a horse roll over on top of you. Especially if you are in a swamp or crossing a creek, but more on that later.

We were very proud of the fact that we could train our horses ourselves.

We taught them to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

They wanted to run fast. But if you could ride a burro or a steer, then riding a horse was easy.

The only problem was getting on top of them. That’s when the trouble started.

Just when you put a foot in the stirrup the horse would wake up and start crow-hopping in circles, while trying to bite you in the rear.

If you actually made it in the saddle, you had better hang on — there was only one speed and that was full throttle, until you came to a body of water.

That’s when the horse decided to stop, drop and roll, which could bust up the saddle and the rider if you stayed on.

Then again, if you jumped off you would have to get back on, so you’d better deal with it and get them running fast.

At some point, you would have to turn around and head for the barn, and the race was on!

Horses are always in a hurry to get home. It was the wildest part of the ride. They are all long gone now, but they all went to heaven, as far as we know.