Before you even think about casting your rod, you should first familiarize yourself with your state’s fishing rules and regulations. Fish are a resource and in order to preserve them, there are rules and regulations put in place by your local Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife. Their goal is to maintain healthy and balanced fish populations so that we’ll all get to enjoy this resource but also ensuring that there will be enough fish for future generations.
This article is a brief and condensed summary, is not exhaustive nor does it substitute reading your State’s fishing regulations! It is in no way intended to alter content or statutory intent of those laws. If you have any questions regarding the rules, regulations and language used you can view your state’s Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife website.
The first thing you need to purchase before any other purchase is a fishing license. Nearly all states will require you to have a fishing license unless you’re fishing on private lakes (new jersey requires a license even if you’re fishing on privately owned lakes). Licenses are issued by the state and can be purchased on your state’s DFW or any big chain fishing stores.
States require licenses for anyone aged 16 or older to fish freshwater and saltwater. If you’re fishing in your state of residence your fishing license will be at a resident discounted rate. If you intend to fish out of state, you will need to purchase an out a non-resident fishing license for the state which is usually more expensive. Children under the age of 16 do not need a license if accompanied by an adult but their creel limit is applied and limited to the adult accompanying them. Senior citizens get a free or a discounted price on their license in most states.
Keep your fishing license out of the sun so that the text on it doesn't fade. Make sure to keep it in a plastic bag so that it doesn’t get wet. Keep a backup screenshot on your phone.
Fishing rules and regulations you have to adhere to:
Fishing season dates
Some states have closed seasons for certain species. During closed seasons you are prohibited to fish for certain species or in certain waters. Closed seasons typically occur during spawn. Reason being, most fish are easy to catch during the spawn and will strike at anything. By protecting fish during spawn it allows them to produce young therefore keeping the fish population healthy. Closed seasons differ for different states. States with larger fish populations might have year round with no closed seasons. Always make sure to check your state's regulations beforehand.
Fishing methods and equipment
There are regulations on the fishing methods you can use. Most states will require you to take fish by pole and line or equivalent (although sometimes alternative methods like spearfishing and the use of a crossbow are allowed).
Game fish should be hooked on the mouth or jaw or should be returned unharmed to the water unharmed.
There are also rules which differ from state to state on:
Creel was a basket used to carry fish. According to the Wyoming fishing regulations, creel means the total number of game fish a person may harvest and reduce to possession during any one (1) day or have in possession, regardless of the method or methods of harvest. So for example, if you’re fishing largemouth and smallmouth bass a creel limit might be put in where you’re allowed to have a specific number for each species e.g 4 largemouths and only 2 smallmouths.
Daily limits are the number of fish you’re allowed to catch and keep in one day. This is usually species-specific. You can not possess or exceed this daily limit while you’re on the waters of where these daily limits apply. Sunfish like bluegill and crappie usually have high limits. While other species like sauger and walleye will have a much lower limit.
Possession limits control the number of fish you can have in your possession at any one time. Most states will have a possession limit that is twice the daily limit or sometimes even 3 times the daily limit. Possession limits are beneficial to anglers on an extended fishing trip, as it allows them to keep a certain amount each day until they reach the total possession limit.
Minimum length limit
Means fish that are caught below a certain (usually set annually) length must be returned unharmed to the water immediately. Yellowfin Tuna have a minimum length requirement in order to protect them. Minimum length limit is the most common.
Maximum length limit
This means, fish that are caught above a certain length must be returned to the water immediately. Maximum length limits are usually put in place to protect fish that do not spawn until they’re very big.
Slot length limit
Means fish within a certain range must be returned to the water immediately. For example, there might be a slot limit of 12- 16 inches meaning fish between 12-16 inches must be returned to the water immediately, but fish under 12 inches and fish over 16 inches can be kept.
When you catch fish you have to immediately decide whether you’re going to catch and release or keep. If you decide to keep it, it is included in your daily limit. Culling is the act of replacing a smaller fish in your possession with a larger one that you caught later. Culling is prohibited is prohibited in some states and is species specific in other states.
The only exception to this rule is usually when you’re participating in some type of catch and release fishing tournament where you’re keeping fish in a boat live well.
The bottom line
This is a brief guide to some of the more common fishing rules and regulations but the list is not exhaustive. Always keep up to date with your local Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife rules & regulations before each season.
Following the rules and regulations can save you from a potential fine, but more importantly, it helps to keep healthy and balanced fish populations for the present and future generations.