Fishing guides anxious to get back on the water


Courtesy of Kyle Wilkinson

A sight of the Yakima river at Canyon River Ranch, near Wymer. Local businesses are introducing sanitation and social distancing measures to tackle COVID-19, but most services are still operating.

Mitchell Roland, Senior Reporter

While rules for recreational fishing have been relaxed in the state, fishing guides statewide are still anxiously waiting to hold tours.

Last week Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to allow fishing in the state as long as participants practice social distancing. However, commercial fishing is still prohibited in Washington which means guides on the Yakima River are still unable to conduct fishing trips.

Alex Kuyper said he guides to earn some supplemental income. Kuyper planned on guiding five to seven full day trips during his spring break. Kuyper said each eight-hour trip costs $425.

“That right there has been a pretty big financial impact to me,” Kuyper said. “It’s been a little tough.”

Kuyper, who is also a counselor at a high school in Seattle, said since he only guides tours part time, the impact for him has not been nearly as bad as other guides who do it full time.

With rules being relaxed for recreational fishing, Kuyper said he is optimistic the season will start on June 1 but there is no guarantee that it will happen.

“I’m not holding my breath for that,” Kuyper said.

Typically, during the peak season in the summer, Kuyper guides between three to five trips a week. On the trips, there are usually three people on the boat: Kuyper and two anglers.

When he can conduct tours again, Kuyper said he is optimistic people will want to fish.

“My hope is that people will still come out and support the local independent guides,” Kuyper said. “I think it will pick back up pretty quickly.”

Kuyper monitors the weather in Ellensburg and the conditions on the river, and that it’s been frustrating not being able to fish under prime conditions.

“It’s tough being stuck at home,” Kuyper said.

The ban on commercial fishing is also impacting CWU students who guide as a part time job.

Keegan Carlson, a student and part time fishing guide on the Yakima river, said the new rules mean he could fish with his brother and his dad, but he still can’t hold guided tours.

“Nothing really changes on the business side of things,” Carlson said. “From an economic standpoint, I can’t make money.”

Carlson said since they can’t lead tours, he and the other guides have had to find other sources of income. Carlson said he’s currently working at a Dominos Pizza.

“We’ve had to pick up part time jobs to stay afloat,” Carlson said.

Due to COVID-19, Carlson said he’s cancelled planned fishing trips during a prime fishing opportunity. Since there is a lack of snow runoff in the Yakima River, Carlson said conditions are ideal to guide tours.

Carlson said he is cautiously optimistic he can start holding tours again next month.

“I’m going to guess that within the next month we’ll be guiding again,” Carlson said.

When the ban on commercial fishing is lifted, Carlson believes some people will be unable to fish due to financial restrictions. However, he also thinks over time, those customers will return.

“I don’t think it will hurt us long term,” Carlson said.

Carlson said there is a somewhat false narrative by fishing, you are already socially distanced from people.

“A lot of people say you’re already social distancing when you’re fishing,” Carlson said.

Carlson said while you are away from other people when out on the water, there’s still interactions with other people. He said a lot of his customers come from other parts of the state, which means they are interacting with employees at gas stations and other businesses while traveling to the river.

Carlson said he also interacts with people at bait shops and grocery stores on days he guides tours.

“There’s definitely some involvement with other people,” Carlson said.

Still, he thinks he could guide tours while maintaining social distancing.

“I think there is a way you could do it,” Carlson said.