Free Fishing Weekend gets him all riled up

Every year in June the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife really chaps me over this Free Fishing Weekend rule that allows these guys to go fishing without licenses and tags but I still have to use my tag. So they can kill two spring chinook with no tag, but if I kill two chinook, I have to put them on my tag? All I get is 20 salmon or steelhead on my tag for the year. But if I leave my tag at home and do exactly what the freeloader is doing, then I'm a poacher? Seems really unfair.

— James B., Central Point

We at Since You Asked feel your chaffing, James. And looking into your plight has turned up the rousing decision that, when it comes to fishing rules, everyone is treated fairly — but some are treated more fairly than others.

Here's the deal. When Oregon started its Free Fishing Day about 20 years ago, the intent was to give people a chance to test-drive fishing in hopes of turning them into anglers, where they'd then buy licenses and join the fray.

At the same time, salmon-steelhead tags are used to help gather catch data that biologists use to gauge fishing success.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists realized early on that Free Fishing Day — and later, Free Fishing Weekend — would create this conundrum of yours on the Rogue and Umpqua rivers and the handful of other rivers with spring chinook runs, says Jessica Sall, the ODFW's Fish Division spokeswoman.

ODFW managers considered making Free Fishing Weekend anglers buy a salmon/steelhead tag if they were to fish for salmon, but they "thought it would defeat the purpose of Free Fishing Weekend," Sall says.

And there would be so few of these rookies actually fishing for, and catching, spring chinook that the information gleaned from their tags would be tiny at best, Sall says.

But your catch data is still important, so bring that tag with you June 11-12 if you fish for Rogue spring chinook on Free Fishing Weekend.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or e-mail

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