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Salmon, Trout, & Steelhead Handling Rules

Fishing Regulations Icon Washington Fishing

FRESHWATER:

It is unlawful to totally remove salmon, steelhead, or Dolly Varden/bull trout from the water if it is unlawful to retain those fish, or if the angler subsequently releases the salmon, steelhead, Dolly Varden/bull trout.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • The Columbia River between the Buoy 10 line and the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line
  • The Columbia River from the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream to Hwy. 730 OR/WA border the rules apply only when fishing from vessels less than 30 feet in length during Feb. 15-June 15.

MARINE AREAS 5 through 13:

It is unlawful to bring wild salmon or a species of salmon aboard a vessel if it is unlawful to retain that salmon (aboard means inside the gunwale of a vessel).

MARINE AREA 2-2:

It is unlawful to totally remove salmon from the water if it is illegal to retain those fish, except anglers fishing from boats 30 feet or longer as listed on either their state or Coast Guard registration, are exempt.

Selective Fishing

Selective fisheries for hatchery-produced fish and catch-and-release fisheries are increasingly important to providing recreational fishing opportunities in Washington. To ensure these fisheries are successful, it is absolutely essential that participating anglers comply with all regulations and take great care in releasing unmarked fish to ensure the greatest chance for survival.

How to Release Fish

When you need to release a fish, there are some special precautions you can take to give it the best chance of surviving:

  • Minimize handling by leaving the fish in the water.
  • Do not net your fish – but if you must, use a soft, knotless net or rubber mesh net. Knotless nets are now required in fly-fishing only areas and freshwater areas with selective gear rules.
  • Use a hook remover (dehooker) when hooks are imbedded in the mouth or jaw.
  • If a fish has swallowed the hook, cut the leader.
  • Keep fingers away from the eyes and gills of the fish.

Dehooker (not a gaff hook)

Photo shows the proper technique of releasing a fish with a dehooker without bringing the fish aboard the vessel.