Hunting and Fishing Regulations, Know Before You Go

As I walked down the ramp at my favorite trout lake I greeted the ripened fisherman standing in the water by asking how the fishing had been. He beamed and answered that he had caught a beautiful rainbow of 18” as he pointed to the stringer attached to a poplar tree at the edge of the lake.

Not one to hesitate in protecting a healthy fish population I informed him of the special regulation that required all fish under 21” in this lake be released unharmed, immediately. The fishermen’s excitement quickly turned to disappointment, genuine disappointment. The now downtrodden fisherman went on to apologize and try to revive the now dead trout to no avail.

I explained, while trying not to seem to fatherly toward the gentleman, who was old enough to be my father, that he should always make it a habit to check fishing regulations before heading out. As I launched my float tube into the lake I bid him a good day but it was obvious his day was now circling the drain. Had he just checked the fishing regulations or read the sign posted 50 feet from where he was fishing his embarrassment and disappointment may have been spared.

It Is Not as Hard as It Seems

Fisher on a boat at sunset

The task of deciphering hunting and/or fishing regulations may seem daunting, especially when visiting another state. Picking up a 25-100 page booklet when you purchase a license can be intimidating and discouraging. Who wants to spend hours poring over a raft of dryly written regulations? Nobody, the truth is if you’re only going to hunt or fish a particular area the entire publication doesn’t pertain to your activities.

Every state I’ve ever hunted or fished in has an almost identical format for writing regulations. By using a 1, 2, 3 process you will be able to discern all that you need to know, usually within 30 minutes or less. This can be done online by checking the website for the fish and game agency of the state you plan to visit. Personally I like spending the time as it is a perfect way to get psyched up about a hunting or fishing trip. I also like to have a paper booklet nearby when I’m in the field in case plans change due to unforeseen circumstances. These booklets can be obtained where ever you purchase a license.

For the sake of examination I’ll use the fishing regulations for Wyoming. Wyoming fishing regulations are pretty much average in detail and comprehension effort.

Step 1: Examine the General Regulations

From state to state the general regulations are very similar but check them to make sure. Here are the things that should always be checked.

  • Review the methods of take and unlawful practices. Look for details such as the number of rods that can be used, snagging rules and definitions of game and nongame fish.
  • Methods of take can vary. Be sure you understand the methods in regard to flies only, flies and lures only or even the number of hooks on a line.
  • Check creel (daily catch and keep) limits and possession limits for each species you may encounter not just the ones you are targeting.
  • Check for size limits of each species you may encounter and the proper measuring method. Some states require a fish be measured with the tail spread others require the tail be compressed.
  • Be sure you understand how to identify similar species of fish. The regulations can vary greatly from specie to specie.
  • Check for live bait restrictions such as the use of live minnows. Some states have very strict rules concerning this.
  • Check for seasonal closures statewide, area wide or for particular bodies of water. Some states close fishing during spawning seasons to protect stocks. These closures can vary greatly.

Step 2: Check For Region or Area Regulations

Hunter sitting at a dock

Most states are divided into multiple sections, drainages or regions usually described as areas. These areas are determined by the state agency based on different criteria. Be sure you understand the boundaries and any special rules that may apply to the area you will be recreating in.

Wyoming for instance is divided into 5 major river drainages as well as Yellowstone National Park and Wind River Indian Reservation which are governed by different agencies and are under different regulations. Be sure you know all boundaries whether state, federal or Indian owned.

Coastal states have at least some variance between inland and ocean waters. Check of any regulation variances.

Step 3: Individual Body of Water Regulations

Once you have determined what body of water you wish to fish check for special regulations. Don’t assume it falls under general regulations. Chances are if you have heard of a lake, river or stream three states away it has some type of special regulation(s).

Determine the geographical location of your intended destination on a map and match that location with the correct regulation area. Listed in alphabetical order you will find bodies of water within that area. If you are uncertain of the area check adjacent areas to determine whether your destination is listed. When a particular body of water is not listed by name then the area wide or statewide regulations apply.

As fishing pressure grows throughout the country certain bodies of water take a disproportionate amount of that pressure. Others may hold native species which need special protections in order to sustain geographically separated populations. Still others may need protections during spawning seasons. State agencies are forced to place special restrictions on such waters. Be sure you know these regulations. Not only may you save yourself possible embarrassment you can avoid a costly citation.

Step 4: Don’t Forget a License

Just like any other hunting or fishing regulation a license is mandatory. Whether you’re in your state of residence or visiting another, the dollars spent on hunting and fishing licenses help to ensure the fish and game we are after is there. Through stocking and relocation programs, biological research and population surveys our fish and game agencies are able to work toward providing a better outdoor experience. All political debate aside the dollars we spend on hunting and fishing licenses are what make our hunting and fishing experiences possible but that’s an analysis to be made at another time.