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Fishing 101

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Fishing glossary

While you don’t need to “talk fish” to catch one, it’s important to understand the basic terminology of Washington fishing regulations.  A more detailed list of fishing terms can be found on pages 22-24 of the 2009-10 "Fishing In Washington"  rules pamphlet. Here are a few key phrases all Washington fishers need to know:

  • Sportfishing:  Also known as recreational fishing, sportfishing refers to fishing activity that is not conducted for commercial sale of the catch.

  • Recreational license: Recreational licenses are annual, state-issued licenses to fish or gather shellfish in Washington. Fishing licenses are required for fishing or shellfish gathering except during annual, Free Fishing Weekend (June 6-7, 2009). License prices are discounted for resident fishers over age 70; disabled and youth 15 and under can fish for free. Annual fishing licenses may be purchased in various forms—for freshwater fishing only, saltwater fishing only, combination fishing license, for shellfish/seaweed gathering, and for razor clam digging.  Temporary licenses also are available.  Licenses may be purchased online or at hundreds of retail outlets statewide..

  • Seasons and rules: Fishing seasons and rules are specific, state regulations developed to ensure fish and shellfish resources are fairly shared and are not depleted.  Each year, non-commercial (sport) fishing seasons and rules are published by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in the "Fishing in Washington"  rules pamphlet, available on WDFW’s website and at recreational license dealer outlets. Fishing regulations include statewide fishing rules as well as specific rules by location, that may restrict the species, size and number of fish that may be taken, as well when fishing may take place, what types of fishing gear can be used or other factors. It’s important to check for specific rules for the location where you will be fishing and the species you intend to catch. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife enforces fishing regulations, and violators are subject to fines and penalties.  Additional fishing rules may apply within national or state parks.

  • Emergency rule:  Also known as an “e-reg” (emergency regulation), an emergency rule is filed when it is determined that immediate action is necessary to change annual fishing rules.  Emergency rules are adopted to reflect “real time” changes in fish abundance, fishing activity or other factors. WDFW announces emergency rules on our fishing regulations website, on a Fishing Hotline (360-902-2500) or toll-free Shellfish Rule Change Hotline at (866) 880-5431 and through the news media. Fishers also may register to receive rule changes and other department news by email.

  • Angling: Also known as “hook and line” fishing, angling is fishing for personal use (not for sale or barter) with a line attached to a pole that can be held in hand while landing fish, or by a hand-operated line without a rod and reel.

  • Bait:  Anything that attracts fish by scent or flavor is considered bait, whether it’s a live worm, fish eggs, chicken livers, or an artificial device dipped in fish-attracting scent. It’s important to know that live fish are not allowed as bait in Washington sport fishing.

  • Daily limit:  The maximum number (or pounds) of fish or shellfish of a given species and size that a fisher may legally keep in a single day.

  • Food fish: This term refers to species that are harvested in commercial fisheries, although recreational fishers harvest them as well. Food fish include salmon, sturgeon, halibut, tuna, shad, mackerel, common carp and forage fish, such as smelt, sardines, herring, sand lance and anchovy.

  • Game fish:  This term applies to fish that are exclusively harvested by sport (non-commercial) fishes. Game fish species including trout, bass, whitefish, steelhead and landlocked salmon. 

  • Hatchery salmon:  Hatchery salmon are Chinook or coho salmon reared in a hatchery, rather than naturally spawned.  To identify them as hatchery fish, the adipose fin (on the back near the tail) is removed when they are juvenile fish.  Fishers can identify a hatchery fish by checking for a missing adipose fin and a healed scar at the location of the fin.
  • Hatchery steelhead or trout:  Like hatchery salmon, except these species may be marked by either a missing adipose or ventral fin.

  • Mark-selective fisheries: Developed to protect naturally spawning salmon or steelhead, while allowing fishers to target hatchery-produced fish. Selective fisheries require fishers to check their catch for a missing adipose fin, indicating the fish was marked in the hatchery.

  • Jack salmon:  Salmon that return to rivers and streams at a younger age than most of their species.  In freshwater, a jack salmon is defined as a chinook salmon less than 24 inches in length or a coho salmon less than 20 inches in length.

  • Lure: Something that attracts fish to the hook by imitating the appearance of their food, by triggering their territorial behavior or by provoking their curiosity. Lures types include spinners, spoons, plugs, jigs and soft, plastic lures that simulate worms, grubs, fish, frogs and other natural fish food.

  • Night closure:  When a night closure is in effect, fishing is closed from one hour after official sunset to one hour before official sunrise.

  • Selective gear rules:  In some waters, only unscented artificial flies or lures with one, single-point, barbless hook are allowed.  See the "Fishing in Washington" rules pamphlet for additional information. 

  • Snagging:  Hooking any fish in a way that does not involve the fish voluntarily taking the hook(s) in its mouth.  In freshwater fishing, it is illegal to possess a fish hooked anywhere other than inside the mouth or on the head.

  • Statewide rules:  Catch limits, size limits and other fishing regulations in effect for most—but not all—waters in the state.  Statewide rules are printed near the front of the "Fishing in Washington" rules pamphlet; exceptions to those rules are noted in fishing rules for specific waters.