Jan 11, 2011

To Barb Or Not To Barb.

This age old debate has risen again on the banks of the Columbia River.  Washington State Fish and Wildlife had hoped to administer a no barb policy on the hooks of all anglers fishing from the mouth of the Columbia, all the way to the McNary Dam.  The rule was to begin this January 1 of 2011, however it looks like they have dashed their hopes for now.  One other big player failed to agree with this policy change - the state of Oregon.  For generations both Oregon and Washington, have agreed on regulations so as to smooth out the grey areas on the water.  She is a shared river, although in some areas, the river is more in Washington and in other places, she falls more under the jurisdiction of Oregon.  Instead of going ahead with the plan, Washington has resolved to wait out issue in hopes of garnering a better discussion with policy makers from Oregon.

As an angler, I love to finally lay my hands upon that mythical creature, after it has taken my fly, peeled line from my reel, given it her all in fits of courage and her burn for life.  It is indeed, a sacred moment, one that touches you, for you have just made a connection to another thing in our animal kingdom.  Your hearts beat together and as you cup her brillant body you see a reflection of her triumphs and her shared destiny.  You are proud to be a part of her life and the majesty of her existence.  And if you must eat, it is a worthy sacrifice from your own, hardworking hands. 

I love this moment.  I like to land fish, but personally I do not need a barb to encourage such an outcome.  If you get the hook sunk, past the barb, it certainly helps keep the fish pinned.  This point is hard to argue with, however what type of playing field do we actually need as anglers?  I get it, you got to eat.  This stuff sure tastes good and there's no doubt about it.

The major issue with a barbed hook in the Columbia River system is that there are many threatened species of anadromous fish that use the river as a highway to get back to their birthplace tributaries.  In order for a wild, native species to survive, it must make it back to its origins to reproduce.  Both Spring and Fall Run Chinook native to the Snake River are listed as Threatened.  Columbia River Chinook are listed as Threatened.  Columbia River Chum Salmon are Threatened.  Steelhead native to the Columbia and Snake River both, are listed as Threatened.  Snake River Sockeye are Endangered.  These fish are listed under federal law of the Endangered Species Act because there is a good chance that without proper actions they will disapear from our watersheds forever. 

Unlike other types of hunting, we are rarely able to pick and choose which fish we hook.  There is always the chance that the pulse on the end of the line is wild, and she must be  released quickly and unharmed.  This release is where the barb can really create issues.  The longer she stays, head out of the water, the less her chance of survival.  Trying to pull the hook free by yanking back and forth can tear apart vital blood vessels and portions of the inner-gill.  Often a fish will suffocate before bleeding to death, sometimes the other way around.

Some folks would argue that barbless hooks have greater ease of penetration.  Without the bump, the hook is able to sink deep into the jaw more seamlessly.  Once it's there we must do our best with technique and will, to keep it there.  It is challenging, rewarding and at times, frustrating.  But hopefully that is what we have learned to love. 

Whenever I meet an elder person native to the area, if he is willing, I ask him about Celilo Falls.  Down there she lay, dormant beneath the backwater.  A twinkel comes to his eye as he recalls the majesty of the cascade and the priveledge of witnessing it.  It was a holy place and a provider to generations.  The falls are gone, but the blood that ran through them still swims on.  I hope I never have to tell another, "Yes, I remember when the Salmon ran.  I would fish for them.  Boy how they would fight!" 

-duffy


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