YAKIMA -- Rule-breaking anglers certainly don't like it and even some law-abiding fishermen may not like it, but state fisheries biologists are quite pleased with the Yakama Nation's decision to close to sport fishing the stretch of the Yakima River that borders the reservation.
For years, tribal and state fisheries and enforcement officials have been alarmed about the number of winter and early-spring anglers that, while fishing for whitefish, have reeled in and in some cases illegally harvested steelhead.
"Our enforcement guys watched it, and in some cases, if people thought they could get away with it, they would keep steelhead," said John Easterbrooks, regional fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"You really couldn't write a ticket when somebody caught and released a steelhead, because they could say they were fishing for whitefish and caught a steelhead. 'We let it go, so no harm no foul,' that kind of thing."
But if enforcement officials weren't around, some anglers were keeping those steelhead, which in the Mid-Columbia are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The worst violators, officials say, typically congregated in certain deeper pools where the steelhead would hold up, such as those at the confluence of Toppenish and Satus creeks, before heading into tributaries to spawn.
"We were having problems with anglers there using nonwhitefish-type gear and really targeting steelhead," WDFW biologist Eric Anderson said. "It's been a problem issue for us, but we couldn't do anything about it because the tribe has it open."
But the tribe, which has governance rights for the Yakima River in the so-called Boundary Reach, where it borders the reservation, already was quite aware of the problem.
So on Dec. 27 the tribe instituted a closure to all sport fishing -- for any species -- that would continue through the end of April.
To have its own rules mirror the tribe's, the WDFW closed the river to all fishing from the Granger bridge to the I-82 bridge at Union Gap.
That closed the only other area in the river considered a problem will illegal steelhead harvest, just below Parker Dam.