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Probably because we’ve been “sheltered” for the last few months, and if coincides with outdoor “openings,” this year’s Washington State Free Fishing Weekend is a bit more exciting than normal. It is always the weekend following the first Monday of June, and has become, for a great many families and their youngsters, the traditional backdrop for the waterside social events of the year.

Free fishing weekend was established to introduce adults and kids to fishing; to get them hooked or re-hooked on fishing as great family recreation. It also creates a fine opportunity for you to teach a neighbors or friends — and their kids — the ins and outs of your fishing passion and recreation.

This Saturday and Sunday, you will need no license to fish in any open water in the state. Nor will you need a Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Access Pass or Discover Pass to be on any public fishing water on DFW or State Parks ground. You will need to abide by size and bag limits and closures, but opportunities abound, and plenty of fat trout have been dropped into local waters for you.

Check out the 2019-2020 Washington State Fishing Regulation Pamphlet (in effect through June 30) for rules and regulations. You will find the pamphlet free at any of our local hunting and fishing license dealers or online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations. You will also find that DFW has posted a great deal of help and many fishing tips (including recent stocking reports) at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/free. This site also has a great deal of useful and valuable information for folks who already have licenses and fish regularly.

Traditionally, the big excitement of Free Fishing Weekend has been the kid fishing derbies across Paradise and across the state. Watching groups of parents, grandparents and friends gathered around fishing holes cheering for kids fishing has long been a very appealing way to spend time over this weekend. And why not? As a friend repeatedly reminded me some decades ago, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!” It certainly is a primary reasons we work to get kids hooked on fishing. Sadly, this year, the Covid 19 pandemic led to the cancellation or postponement of virtually all — county and state wide — kids’ fishing events.

Still, virtually all those waters on which kids usually enjoy the derbies have recently planted trout. In the last couple weeks waters in all parts of Kittitas County (from Mattoon and Fiorito Lakes to Cooper Lake) have all received feisty fat rainbows. As mentioned above, you will find more about these recent plants and the weekend itself at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/free. This is still a perfect weekend to get kids and friends on the water, fishing.

Truth be told, while most of the fishing around Paradise will be for trout of one type or another, you never know what a youngster might latch onto on a particular day. A couple decades ago, I pulled into the McCabe Pond parking lot with Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward and his two older sisters, Tena and Anna. The kids were eight to 14, and ready for some serious fishing. As the morning wore on, Edward was getting skunked, but always one to make lemonade out of lemons, he took up the cause of cheering his sisters to bigger and better fish dreams. When Anna’s rod started twitching, she grabbed it and set the hook.

Whatever was on the other end almost took the rod from her little hands. Over the next twenty minutes, the critter on the line triggered startled squeals of delight as it yanked away. Edward cheered Anna on, and the two-foot-long fish finally thrashed its way into the weeds at our feet. Turned out, that five-pound-plus channel catfish didn’t like being released any better than it had liked being caught. As mud flew and kids slipped and laughed, we created an ongoing family legend and cemented several lifelong fishing passions.

So. Get out, go fishing AND be safe. Most every agency involved with supporting folks outdoors these moments has signed on to the #ResponsibleRecreation (hashtag ResponsibleRecreation) campaign. Our Department of Fish and Wildlife, With State Parks and the Department of Natural Resources have been actively campaigning for safety — and continued caution — in your outdoor recreation. Some new campgrounds have opened and things are relaxing a bit, but overcrowding and leaving messes on our public ground could be cause for reversing some of the recent moves to open more and more of our outdoors.

Folks are strongly encouraged to take the #ResponsibleRecreation pledge. It simply means: planning ahead and getting licenses and park passes online; recreating close to home; following best practices for avoiding Covid-19; following state and federal guidelines; packing out trash as a courtesy to others and avoiding an appearance of overuse; and sharing your adventures respectfully on social outlets. Find more at www.recreateresponsibly.org.

Go fishing. Take a neighbor or two. Take a youngster or two. This weekend could be a find start to a fishing life. Be safe.

Jim Huckabay is retired from the Department of Geography at Central. His “WILD WINDS and Other Tales of Growing Up in the Outdoor West” is available online and at bookstores. Contact Jim and join in discussions at www.insidetheoutdoors.com.

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