Outdoor Enthusiasts Greet News Of Reopening In Washington With Cheers Of Victory

A protester reels in a fake fish near poles marking a six-foot social distance on a boat on Lake Union in Seattle April 26, 2020 during a protest against Washington state's current ban on recreational fishing. CREDIT: Ted S. Warren/AP
A protester reels in a fake fish near poles marking a six-foot social distance on a boat on Lake Union in Seattle April 26, 2020 during a protest against Washington state's current ban on recreational fishing. CREDIT: Ted S. Warren/AP

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Last weekend should have seen thousands of anglers flock to Washington state lakes for the always-popular lowland lakes trout opener. Like so much else, opening day of fishing season was canceled due to the coronavirus. But freshwater fishing is coming back soon, along with significant additional elements of the  outdoor recreation scene.

In Olympia on Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that restrictions on fishing, hunting, hiking and golfing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will begin easing next week on May 5. Inslee also announced most state parks, state forestlands and state-managed boat ramps will reopen on that Tuesday. Inslee was joined during an online briefing by the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state lands commissioner and the director of the state Parks and Recreation Commission.

“Reconnecting people with nature is the first step in a long journey back to normalcy,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “However, we need to make sure that in reopening our public lands we do not in any way get so lax that we have a return of this problem.”

The state officials said the phased reopening would start with day use of public lands. Camping, team sports and large gatherings of people in public will continue to be off limits until further notice. Golfers would be restricted to twosomes unless a foursome was composed solely of people from the same household.

State Fish and Wildlife Department director Kelly Susewind urged outdoor enthusiasts to seek out uncrowded spots in their local area and limit groups to members of their immediate households.

“We’re asking you basically to stick with day trips,” said Susewind. “Take everything with you that you need so you can leave your home, go out, recreate, come home and not have to engage with anybody beyond your immediate group.”

Flotillas of boaters took part in “Let Us Fish” rallies over the past two weeks in Kennewick, Spokane, Wenatchee, Moses Lake and on Sunday in Seattle. The news of the imminent resumption of recreational fishing delighted avid fisherman Ben Hanes of the Tri-Cities. Hanes helped organize many of the on-the-water protests.

Terah Altman says she lives off grid and depends on fishing for much of her food. She supports social distancing and health safety measures but thinks the fishing ban is

Terah Altman organized a “Let Us Fish” rally in Spokane. She said she lives off grid and depends on fishing for much of her food. She supports social distancing and health safety measures but thinks the fishing ban is “unacceptable.” CREDIT: Nick Deshais/N3

“I consider it a big victory,” Hanes said in an interview Monday. “We were heard, and that’s awesome.”

Hanes said recreational fishing never should have been banned to fight the coronavirus.

“I know for a fact that fishing can be done in a socially distanced manner,” Hanes said. “I mean, the average fishing pole is over six feet long. So, if you’re too close to someone, chances are you’re probably going to be whacked in the head.”

“My goal when I’m out fishing is to be as far away from anyone as possible so I can have all the fish to myself,” he added with a chuckle.

Republican party leaders were also persistent critics of the restrictions on outdoor recreation that the Inslee administration imposed. GOP candidate for governor Tim Eyman piggybacked on several of the angle