Understanding Freshwater Fishing Regulations

Overview of Statewide Freshwater Rules

Before embarking on your fishing trip, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the statewide freshwater rules applicable in your area. These regulations provide essential information regarding seasons, catch limits, and other general rules governing freshwater fishing for various species.

Special Rules for Different Locations

In addition to the statewide regulations, it's essential to check for any special rules specific to your location. These special rules may modify or supplement the statewide regulations and are categorized based on different areas:

1. Puget Sound and Coastal Rivers

  • This category includes regulations pertaining to freshwater fishing in the Puget Sound region and its coastal rivers.

2. Columbia Basin Rivers

  • Regulations for freshwater fishing in rivers within the Columbia Basin are outlined in this section. It's important to note that the Columbia and Snake rivers are considered rivers, not reservoirs, in this context.

3. Westside and Eastside Lakes

  • Special rules for freshwater fishing in lakes situated on the west and east sides of the state are detailed here. These rules may differ from the statewide regulations.

Identifying Fishing Areas: Rivers and Lakes

To ensure compliance with the applicable rules, it's crucial to understand whether your fishing location falls under the category of rivers or lakes:

  • Rivers: This category encompasses rivers, streams, and beaver ponds where freshwater fishing is permitted.
  • Lakes: Lakes, ponds, and reservoirs are included in this category, each subject to specific regulations outlined in the corresponding section.

Emergency Rules Advisory

Stay informed about any emergency rules that may be in effect by checking the latest updates. Emergency rules can be accessed through the following channels:

  • Fishing Hotline: Call the WDFW Fishing Hotline at (360) 902-2500 to inquire about any emergency regulations.
  • Customer Service: Reach out to statewide customer service at (360) 902-2700 for assistance regarding emergency rules.
  • Online Resources: Visit the WDFW website at to access the latest information and updates on freshwater fishing regulations.

Washington Statewide Freshwater Fishing Regulations

Washington Statewide Freshwater Fishing Regulations

Fishing Areas and Seasons

Special Rules for Fishing Areas

When reviewing the Special Rules section, you'll find comprehensive information on all game fish and salmon fishing opportunities available in the specified area. These rules outline the types of fish that can be harvested and the regulations governing their capture.

Harvest Regulations in Freshwater Areas

It's important to note that all freshwater areas have specific regulations regarding the harvest of fish. Unless classified as food fish or game fish (refer to Definitions), the harvesting of fish is prohibited, with the exception of Northern pike.

Fishing Hours and Restrictions

Freshwater areas are typically open for fishing 24 hours a day during the specified open season. However, certain restrictions may apply, so it's essential to verify the fishing hours and any additional regulations for your chosen fishing spot.

Prohibited Fishing Activities

Certain fish species are protected in freshwater areas, and fishing for them is strictly prohibited. These species include salmon, Dolly Varden/bull trout, lamprey, and grass carp. It's crucial to adhere to these regulations to ensure the conservation of these fish populations.

Year-Round Fishing in Lakes, Ponds, and Reservoirs

Game fish, excluding Dolly Varden/bull trout and grass carp, can be legally fished in lakes, ponds, and reservoirs throughout the year. This provides anglers with ample opportunities to enjoy fishing activities and catch various game fish species.

Seasonal Fishing in Rivers, Streams, and Beaver Ponds

The fishing season for rivers, streams, and beaver ponds typically extends from the Saturday before Memorial Day through October 31. It's essential to observe these seasonal restrictions and plan your fishing trips accordingly. Beaver ponds connected to or within streams listed as open for trout and other game fish follow the same seasonal rules as the streams themselves.

Tackle Regulations for Freshwater Fishing

Types of Fishing Gear Allowed

In freshwater fishing, only hook and line angling is permitted. Anglers have the option to use either barbed or barbless hooks, with a maximum of one line per angler. Each line can have up to three hooks, which may be single-point, double, or treble hooks.

Special Regulations for Certain Areas

In areas designated as "fly fishing only" or under "selective gear rules," anglers must use single-point barbless hooks. These regulations aim to promote specific fishing methods and conservation efforts in these designated areas.

Management of Fishing Equipment

Anglers are required to keep all fishing gear under immediate control at all times. Leaving fishing gear unattended while fishing is prohibited. While rodholders are permitted, anglers must ensure that the rod can be easily removed without delay. However, the rod may remain in the holder while playing a fish.

Assistance in Landing Fish

To assist in landing legal fish caught using legal gear, anglers are allowed to use a club or dipnet. However, the use of a gaff hook for this purpose is not permitted under the regulations.

Proper Handling of Caught Fish

It is unlawful to possess any fish taken from freshwater unless it was hooked inside the mouth or on the head. The head is defined as any portion forward of the rear margin of the gill plate. This regulation ensures the ethical and sustainable harvesting of fish populations while minimizing harm to non-target species.

Bait Regulations for Freshwater Fishing

Prohibited Bait Activities

Anglers are prohibited from engaging in activities such as chumming, broadcasting, feeding, or distributing any bait or substance capable of attracting fish into freshwater, unless explicitly authorized in the Special Rules section. These regulations aim to maintain the integrity of the freshwater ecosystem and prevent excessive attraction of fish.

Catch and Release Regulations

In areas where the use of bait is prohibited or where anglers voluntarily choose to use lures or flies, game fish can be caught and released until the daily limit is reached. This practice allows anglers to enjoy the sport of fishing while conserving fish populations within the established limits.

Restrictions on Live Aquatic Animals as Bait

The use of live aquatic animals as bait is generally prohibited, except in specific circumstances:

  • Live aquatic animals (excluding fish) collected from the water being fished may be used as bait.
  • Live sand shrimp are permitted as bait.
  • In the Columbia River downstream of Rocky Point/Tongue Point, live forage fish are allowed as bait.

These exceptions provide anglers with limited options for using live bait while ensuring the protection of freshwater ecosystems and native species.

Guidelines for Special Rules Compliance

To ensure compliance with freshwater fishing regulations, it's essential to understand and follow the instructions regarding Special Rules:

Special Rules Modifications

The Special Rules section identifies freshwater areas where deviations from the Statewide Rules have been made. Anglers must adhere to these modified regulations when fishing in these specified areas.

Default Compliance with Statewide Rules

In the absence of specific modifications listed in the Special Rules, anglers are required to follow the regulations outlined in the Statewide Rules.

Fishing Opportunities and Regulations

Special Rules provide comprehensive information on game fish and salmon fishing opportunities available in the designated areas. Anglers should refer to these rules for guidance on permissible fishing activities and catch limits.

Understanding Common Terms and Definitions

Definitions of common regulation terms are available for reference. Key terms such as "trout," "char," "all game fish," and "other game fish" encompass the species outlined in the Definitions section, excluding grass carp.

Regulation Interpretation for Landlocked Salmon

In cases where landlocked salmon rules apply, such as for landlocked Atlantic, coho, and Chinook salmon, these species are regulated as trout. Detailed explanations can be found in the Definitions section.

County References for Clarity

County references provided after lakes or streams aid in locating specific waters or distinguishing between places with the same name. These references do not imply that the rules apply exclusively to the portion of water within that county.

Fishing Near Man-Made Dams or Obstructions

In Grant, Adams, Okanogan, and Douglas counties, anglers are permitted to fish up to the base of all man-made dams or obstructions, except Zosel Dam, in both listed and unlisted areas.

Sturgeon Fishing Regulations

Green Sturgeon Regulations

Anglers are prohibited from retaining Green Sturgeon.

White Sturgeon Catch-and-Release Fishing

  • White sturgeon fishing is permitted on a catch-and-release basis during open game fish or salmon seasons.
  • Catch-and-release fishing is allowed in specific areas:
    • Columbia River from Bonneville Dam downstream
    • Columbia River from McNary Dam to Chief Joseph Dam
    • Snake River from Ice Harbor Dam upstream
    • Coastal and Puget Sound waters and their tributaries.

Annual Limit and License Requirements

  • The annual white sturgeon limit is set at 2 fish, regardless of whether the angler holds both Washington and Oregon licenses.
  • Anglers may continue catch-and-release fishing after reaching the daily limit.

Fishing Gear Regulations

  • Anglers targeting sturgeon are restricted to using only one single-point barbless hook and bait.
  • In the field, eggs must be retained with the intact carcass of the fish from which they were obtained.
  • Night closure is in effect for all sturgeon fishing activities.

Handling and Release Protocols

  • Sturgeon not to be retained must be released immediately.
  • Sturgeon measuring over 55" fork length cannot be completely or partially removed from the water.

Tagged Sturgeon Protocol

  • Anglers encountering tagged sturgeon must follow specific procedures:
    • Do not remove tags from sturgeon that are not of legal size or are not intended to be retained.
    • Record tag number and color, date, location of catch, fish length, your name, and address.
    • If the fish is retained, remove the tag and send it along with the aforementioned information to the WDFW Region 5 Office at the provided address.

Mandatory Catch Record Cards

  • Anglers are required to possess and fill out Catch Record Cards statewide.
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