Getting the green light: Gear up to get out with Washington fishing guides, charters

You can once again start planning a trip with your favorite guide or charter operator under new COVID-19 guidance provided Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee — but expect your trip to look a little different.

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(Andy Walgamott photo)

Guide and charter operations were suspended coinciding with the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order issued in late March. The industry, like many others, endured an economic blow. Now, as Washington begins to reopen under a phased plan, operators can immediately resume getting back to the business of helping their customers land the catch of a lifetime.

According to WDFW employee Raquel Crosier, who often works with the guide and charter industry, going out with the help of a guide can ease the learning curve, increase your chance of success, and — in many cases — spark a lifelong addiction to the sport.

“With so many people looking for new outdoor activity right now, taking a guided trip is a great way to experience the sport for the first time, or try a new kind of angling,” Crosier said. Guides are also a critical part of the outdoor economy. Customers who go out with these small-business owners provide direct local economic benefit, and it can be reassuring to know that your adventure helps communities begin their financial recovery.

Crosier notes, however, that customers should not expect “business as usual.” There are a number of new requirements and potential restrictions that both guides and customers need to be aware of.

The governor’s approach to reopening corresponds to the four phases he’s outlined previously.

If you intend to go fishing in a county still in “phase 1”, which includes most of the state, your trip can include yourself and one additional member of your household.

In phase 2, guides and charter operators can take up to 12 customers from up to eight households. Boats with 8 or more customers are limited to one customer for every 9 feet of rail space.

These passenger limitations may not be cost-effective for some vessel operators, so some may continue to wait before they begin serving you again. Be patient — the wait is worth it.

In both phases, guides and charter staff are required to follow safe physical distancing guidelines and wear masks. You, too, will have to wear a mask. These are just a few of the recommendations and requirements issued by the governor. Customers, guides and charter operators can see below for the full list.

Guides, charters, and customers will also need to abide by WDFW COVID-related restrictions, which currently don’t allow saltwater fishing or shellfishing in Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay), nor halibut fishing off Washington’s coast.

If Washington state is not your primary residence, you can’t currently purchase a fishing license. But if you have a license already, you may use it to fish now. We anticipate lifting the residence license restrictions as travel guidance shifts in the future.

Keep in mind that #ResponsibleRecreation guidance asks you to book adventures close to home, and only when healthy.

According to Doug Saint-Denis, president of the Washington State Guides Association, “Fishing guides and charter boat operators are taking these extra safety measures seriously and are committed to keeping our customers safe. We’ve spent the last couple months prepping, disinfecting gear and are eager to get back out on the water this weekend. Contact your local guide or charter to book a trip — there’s no better way to celebrate getting back outdoors after months inside.”

Full list of recommendations and requirements

The governor’s “Outdoor Recreation Phase 1 Clarifications and Phase 2 COVID-19 Requirements” document laid out a number of requirements and recommendations for guides and charters to resume operation in Washington. They were updated on May 26 with new guidelines for charter vessels in Phase 2.

The governor’s office says it will assess and potentially modify these requirements on a weekly basis.

Businesses must comply with the following requirements:

  1. Utilize on-line or phone reservation systems to pre-pay and limit interactions, and restrict payments to credit cards only to eliminate the handling of cash.
  2. Recommendation 2, which required guides and charters to keep a log of customers, was deleted. Please refer to the governor’s memo on customer logs for more information.
  3. During Phase 1 of Safe Start Washington, only guided fishing trips with up to two clients at a time are allowed and all clients must be from the same household. Social distancing must be maintained. In Phase 2, charter boats are permitted to host up to twelve customers from up to eight households. Boats with 8 or more customers are limited to one customer per nine feet of rail space. Social distancing must be maintained.
  4. Require passengers to bring and wear masks or facial coverings on the boats. Crew members are also required to wear masks or facial coverings on boats.
  5. Users need to bring their own pens to sign waivers. Digital devices must be sanitized between each user to sign waivers.
  6. Consider the space provided for each customer when determining the maximum number of people allowed onboard. Ensure there is 6 feet of rail space between each person, or 9 feet of rail space if there are 8 or more customers onboard. Limit the number of passengers permitted in the cabin at any one time to provide adequate spacing unless there are safety issues such as weather or sea conditions.
  7. In Phase 2, overnight boats are allowed. Physically distancing is still required between participants of different households. The bunks pads and all bunk room surfaces and hand holds should be cleaned and disinfected between each trip.
  8. Create adequate space for physical distancing during tour check-ins, and when outfitting customers. Use visual markers for reference.
  9. When outfitting participants with protective clothing and lifejackets, staff will maintain social distance. When social distance is not possible staff will wear appropriate PPE, including masks or facial coverings.
  10. Where necessary, stagger tour departures to minimize contact between staff and groups of participants.
  11. Develop cleaning protocols that allow for proper disinfection of fishing gear, protective clothing, and lifejackets after each use using CDC and EPA approved products. Regularly sanitize counter tops, hand rails, door knobs, and other common surfaces. Have hand sanitizer available for staff and clients.
  12. In Phase 1, shuttle transportation only allowed for groups where all members are in the same household. In Phase 2, mixed household groups are allowed only if social distancing while transporting is maintained.
  13. Require customers to cancel if they have a fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, or new loss of taste or smell and ensure that they can reschedule with no penalty when they are feeling better.
  14. Keep up to date on all changes issued by the Office of the Governor, the Department of Labor & Industries, and the Department of Health.

Written by

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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