15 Fishing Rules Most People Don’t Know About

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Fishing is more than just a hobby; for many, it’s a beloved tradition and a way to connect with nature. However, even the most seasoned anglers can sometimes overlook important regulations designed to protect our waters and fish populations. While everyone knows the basics, certain rules frequently get ignored or forgotten. Breaking these rules can lead to serious consequences, not just for the individual but for the environment as well. So, what are these commonly broken fishing rules, and why do they matter so much?

Catch and Release Techniques


There are proper techniques for successful catch-and-release fishing. It happens when fishermen may not want to keep a fish and have to release it back into the water. Fish should be handled gently using wet hands or wet rubberized gloves so you won’t reduce their protective slime layer. Also, in the Florida Keys, where catch-and-release is common for species like tarpon and bonefish, proper techniques include using barbless hooks and releasing the fish quickly.

Barbless Hooks Requirement

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Certain areas of the US, like Washington, mandate using barbless hooks to reduce fish injuries. Washington state requires barbless hooks when fishing for steelhead, salmon, and sturgeon in the Columbia River and its tributaries. California mandates barbless hooks when fishing for salmon in inland waters like the Sacramento River. These hooks facilitate easier release with minimal harm.

Specific Bait Restrictions

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Some US regions have specific bait restrictions to prevent the spread of invasive species. For example, in Minnesota, live minnows are prohibited in designated infested waters such as Lake Minnetonka. Similarly, using live baitfish in certain waters, like the Colorado River in California, is illegal.

Seasonal Restrictions

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Fishing in specific areas may only be allowed during certain seasons to protect spawning fish. For example, snook fishing is closed in Panhandle, Big Bend, Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, and other regions from May 1 to August 31 and December 1 to the end of February to safeguard spawning fish.

Size and Bag Limits

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Size and bag limits for fishing vary significantly by species and location in the US. For example, Florida’s size limit for redfish is 18-27 inches, and the bag limit is one fish per person per day. On the other hand, Maine puts the size limit for striped bass at 28 inches or longer, with a bag limit of one fish per person per day.

Gear Limitations

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Regulations might limit the type and number of rods, lines, and hooks you can use simultaneously. California-based fishermen are restricted to using no more than two rods and lines in inland waters unless otherwise stated. However, using more than three rods, lines, or tip-ups in New York is prohibited when ice fishing on most waters.

Protected Areas

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Many water bodies or sections are completely off-limits to fishing to protect vulnerable species. The Dry Tortugas National Park is one such place in Florida. Another is the Point Reyes Headlands Marine Conservation Area in California, which is off-limits to fishing to protect the diverse marine species in the region.

Licensing Requirements

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A valid fishing license is typically required, with specific endorsements needed for certain types of fishing. Anglers in Texas need a freshwater or saltwater endorsement in addition to their basic fishing license. Alaskan fishermen require a special king salmon stamp for fishing for king salmon. These licenses and endorsements help manage and fund conservation efforts.

Reporting Catches

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Anglers must report their catches to help monitor fish populations. When you catch salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and halibut in Washington State, you must report it through a mandatory reporting system. You may have to report striped bass catches in Maryland in some seasons.

Fishing During Certain Weather Conditions

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Fishing during extreme weather conditions is restricted to ensure safety and protect the environment. In Florida, fishing is often restricted or closed during hurricanes and severe tropical storms to prevent harm to anglers and protect marine habitats from damage. Great Lakes region states like Michigan and Wisconsin may impose restrictions during high winds and severe storms to protect anglers and the aquatic environment.

Bycatch Rules

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These regulations are in place to minimize and properly handle bycatch, which refers to the incidental capture of non-target species during fishing activities. Gulf of Mexico regulations require shrimp trawlers to use bycatch reduction devices to reduce the capture of sea turtles and other non-target species. In the Pacific Northwest, fisheries are managed under strict guidelines to reduce the bycatch of endangered species such as salmon and marine mammals like dolphins and seals.

No-Fishing Zones Near Dams and Fish Ladders

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Specific areas near dams and fish ladders are designated as no-fishing zones to protect fish during their migration and spawning periods. No-fishing zones are enforced near fish ladders on the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington to facilitate safe passage for salmon and steelhead. Some areas in California near dam structures on rivers like the Sacramento and American Rivers are also restricted to protect fish during critical migration periods.

Waste Disposal


Florida’s popular fishing areas, including the Florida Keys, emphasize proper disposal and offer recycling programs for monofilament fishing lines. New York enforces regulations in places like the Adirondacks and along the Hudson River, providing disposal containers to maintain clean fishing areas. In Texas, popular spots like the Gulf Coast and various state parks mandate proper disposal of fishing lines and hooks to protect wildlife and habitats.

Transporting Live Fish

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Minnesota enforces strict regulations on transporting live fish between bodies of water to curb the spread of zebra mussels and spiny water fleas. Texas prohibits moving live fish from one lake to another to protect against the introduction of harmful species like the Asian carp. In areas such as the Everglades and the Gulf Coast, Florida has stringent rules to stop the development of non-native species that could damage local ecosystems.

Night Fishing Regulations


Night fishing regulations in California are particularly stringent in popular spots like the Channel Islands and along the Pacific Coast to minimize disturbances to marine life and other anglers. Texas has night fishing rules in places like Lake Fork and the Gulf Coast. In New York, areas such as the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes have similar guidelines.


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