Washington’s Free Fishing Weekend — the annual event when anglers across the state can fish without a license — will have a new look this year.
In past years, nearly any species of fish or shellfish open for harvest could be harvested without a license during Free Fishing Weekend. Beginning this year, any fish requiring a catch record card (including sturgeon, salmon, steelhead and halibut) and all shellfish will still require a license on Free Fishing Weekend. All other species open for harvest can still be harvested without a license.
Some of the fishing opportunities available throughout Washington on Free Fishing Weekend include:
• Trout and bass in lowland lakes, and in the many rivers open to gamefish throughout the state. Search for a lowland lake near you at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/locations/lowland-lakes and see which lakes have been recently stocked.
• Lingcod, cabezon and rockfish on the Washington coast (no boat required).
• Shad on the Columbia River.
Anglers should be sure to check the current fishing regulations valid through the end of June before hitting the water, as well as any current emergency rules. Even for species that don’t require a license on Free Fishing Weekend, other rules like seasons, size limits, daily limits and area closures are still in effect.
The change to the Free Fishing Weekend rule was unanimously adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in July 2022 to address concerns about illegal or uncounted harvest and to promote conservation of fish and shellfish populations.
“Free Fishing Weekend can’t be as ‘free’ as it has been in the past,” said Kirt Hughes, the fish management division manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “This event is still a great opportunity to be out on the water and enjoy fishing for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, without having to buy a license upfront. Most importantly, we have to balance opportunity with conservation and Free Fishing Weekend was presenting challenges for certain species.”
The spike in participation during Free Fishing Weekend in past years put excessive pressure on certain shellfish beaches, leading to some beaches seeing seasons close earlier than expected, according to WDFW. Harvesting on beaches not open for shellfishing has also occurred, along with concerns about crowding, parking and trespassing, according to WDFW.
Additionally, while anglers were still required to record their catch on relevant catch record cards for Free Fishing Weekend, some would harvest species like salmon or halibut without a catch record card, leading to inaccurate catch reporting and challenges to enforcement.
Given this is the first year of the new regulations, enforcement will focus primarily on educating the public about the license changes, but anglers may still face criminal penalties for illegal harvest, WDFW stated in a news release.
Harvest of species requiring a catch record card and shellfish is still allowed on June 10 and June 11 with a valid license applicable to the fishery.
Anglers without a license taking part in Free Fishing Weekend can still participate and win prizes in the department’s 2023 Trout Fishing Derby and can redeem tags from trout caught over the weekend. Plenty of prizes remain on tagged fish stocked in lakes throughout the state.
Also not required on Free Fishing Weekend:
• Vehicle Access Pass (which comes with a fishing license)
• A Discover Pass will not be required on WDFW, Department of Natural Resources or Washington State Park lands on Free Fishing Weekend, in recognition of National Get Outdoors Day on June 10 and Free Fishing Day on June 11.
• Two-Pole Endorsement
In addition to the permanent rules and emergency rules available online, the free Fish Washington app — available on Google Play, Apple’s App store and at WDFW’s website — is designed to convey up-to-the-minute fishing regulations for every lake, river, stream and marine area in the state.
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