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Chronicling catches a fishy ordeal

Improperly filled out salmon tags could land anglers a &

36;299 lesson

Some upper Rogue River anglers are learning that hooking and landing a prized spring chinook salmon isn't the last or necessarily the hardest part of fishing.

Correctly filling out your salmon-steelhead harvest card, which commonly is called the salmon tag, is the critical last step sport-anglers must do properly as part of their salmon-fishing experience.

And those who don't may end up with a &

36;299 lesson.

Probably one out of five people, if not more, are filling out their tags wrong, says Janelle McFarland, an Oregon State Police trooper in the Fish and Wildlife Division. Most people aren't doing it purposefully. They just don't know how to do it.

State laws require that salmon-steelhead tags be filled out at the proper time and in the proper way, and failure to do so can land anglers tickets that carry with them &

36;299 bails.

The tags can be confusing and no mistakes are allowed ' nor excuses accepted.

Just like it's their responsibility to know the regulations before they go fishing, it's their responsibility to know how to fill out their tag, McFarland said.

So McFarland is offering anglers a lesson in tagging a salmon now in hopes that a pre-trip primer can get more anglers in compliance with some basic requirements for legally keeping salmon or steelhead.

Most anglers know they must have a valid tag to fish for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or halibut. All four species are covered in one &

36;16.50 tag.

After catching a salmon or steelhead that is not released, anglers are required to fill out their tag immediately. Immediately does not mean instantly, but the general rule of thumb is fill it out before you start fishing again.

If your fish is safe, your rod's safe and it's rigged to go, fill out your tag, McFarland said. When you get back to your vehicle is not the appropriate time to fill it out.

And who tags the fish is just as important. The person who lands the fish is the one who must tag it. It is illegal to tag someone else's salmon.

Then the issue becomes exactly how to chronicle your catch on the tag. The tag asks for anglers to list species, location, length, month and day ' all with specific information that must be written there.

Anglers must do all the steps correctly the first time, because any corrections and erasures are illegal.

Lots of people get so excited and so keyed up that they forget how to fill out their tag correctly, McFarland said. I always tell people you have to stop and think about what you're going to write before you do it.

And all the boxes must be filled out in pen. As of this year, filling out a tag in pencil is illegal.

SPECIES '

Many anglers incorrectly write SA for salmon or ST for steelhead in this box, McFarland said. But the box is really meant for a specific number that corresponds to a specific fish.

A chinook salmon is listed as 1, while coho is 2 and any other salmon (such as a wayward pink, chum or sockeye) is 3. The number 4 is for jack salmon (which is not required to be listed) and 6 is for fin-clipped steelhead. The number 5 used to indicate a wild steelhead, but the letter W is used now.

LOCATION '

Numbers are used to denote which river and where on that particular river you are when you catch and tag your fish. For the upper Rogue upstream of Gold Ray Dam, the code number is 228; from Gold Ray Dam downstream to Grave Creek, the code is 227. The Applegate River is 24.

It's important to get the location correct because the different rivers, and even locations on those rivers, can have different bag limits and regulations, McFarland said.

LENGTH '

The length box is the most misunderstood part of the tag. People will go to great extremes to measure their fish, afraid that missing it by an inch or two could get them in trouble later.

But the length box legally does not have to be filled out at all. It is there for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists to use as part of surveys done from the expired tags people send to the ODFW.

MONTH AND DAY '

These must be exact or troopers like McFarland will write you a ticket. Since there is a two-salmon daily limit, fudging the day or date on their tag is how some poachers try to sidestep harvest limits.

Any erasures or over-writing here can land you a &

36;299 ticket for possessing an altered tag, so be careful to make sure you get the proper day and month.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail