Fishing regs changes eyed

Albany — A list of “candidates” for fishing regulations changes includes an earlier opener for the muskellunge season and an increase in the minimum size limit for muskies.

The potential regulatory changes – DEC is currently seeking some early public comment before moving ahead with any changes – also would alter ice fishing rules to allow anglers seven lines of any kind – tip-ups, tip-downs or jigging rods – in the water at one time.

A proposal to establish a two-mile stretch of “no kill” trout water on Nine Mile Creek in Onondaga County is also under consideration, as is a move to re-establish sauger – a walleye-type fish – in New York waters by prohibiting their harvest and at some point initiating a stocking program.

DEC fisheries bureau chief Phil Hulbert said the proposals are the result of input from anglers, fisheries biologists and managers over the past year, and the announcement before the regulatory package moves forward “provides for a little more input and feedback on the ideas that have bubbled up to this point.”

Those proposals that move forward would be part of DEC’s rulemaking package later this year or early in 2014, with the new regulations effective Oct. 1, 2014.

Many of the proposals involve eliminating special regulations “that did not achieve their intended purpose,” DEC officials said in a news release.

Others include increasing year-round trout fishing opportunities on some streams, adjusting daily creel limits and minimum size limits on some trout waters to help distribute larger size trout among anglers, and establishing catch and release fishing on other trout waters.

The muskie season change, from the current third Saturday in June to the last Saturday in May, is under consideration because the current opening date is “very late for the purpose of protecting spawning fish,” DEC’s proposal indicated.

“We’re still being pretty conservative by having that (40-inch) size limit but providing for an early opener based on information on when these fish are actually spawning,” Hulbert said.

New York’s current muskie opener is the latest among four northern latitude states (New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota).

There are currently 33 muskie waters in New York, 18 of which already have minimum size limits of 40 inches or more.

“This proposal would bring more statewide consistency to muskellunge minimum size limits and add protection to allow muskellunge to increase their trophy potential in 14 waters,” DEC’s proposal read.

The ice fishing regulations proposal would allow for a total of seven lines, “including, but not limited to hand line, tip-up, tip down, rod and reel, etc.”

On waters with existing special regulations, such as Lake Champlain, rules would specify “ice fishing devices” instead of addressing the number of lines and tip-ups allowed.

“We’re trying to make it easier for folks to just go ice fishing, and focus a little more on size and creel limits,” Hulbert said. “Anglers could have seven lines that they’re putting through the ice – whatever you want to call them, we don’t care. Have a good time.”

The no-kill proposal for a stretch of Nine Mile Creek in Onondaga County involves a section of the lower creek that has previously been off limits to the public.

“This area currently supports both resident and lake-run brown trout which attain ‘trophy’ size,” DEC’s proposal read.

The county’s federation of sportsmen clubs has thus far stopped short of taking a position on the proposal, which Hulbert said was “suggested by angling groups and can be prompted by feedback our regional biologists receive.”

DEC’s proposal to re-establish sauger will include a management plan that will likely be out for public review later this year, Hulbert said.

“They’re an extremely rare fish,” he said of the walleye-type fish, “with no protection now except on Lake Champlain. We would like to make them less rare and we’re thinking we would probably need to jumpstart them with a stocking program in the Allegheny River watershed.”

There have also been recent anecdotal reports from anglers in Lake Erie and the lower Niagara River that sauger are occasionally being caught. DEC’s proposal would change existing statewide regulations and prohibit their take and possession. Saugeye, a hybrid of walleye and sauger which are often found where those species coexist, would be managed under statewide walleye regulations.

Other potential regulatory proposals include:

  • Clarifying the definition of “catch and release,” as well as the handling of non-targeted and incidentally caught fish. Measuring, weighing and photographing of the fish would be permitted as long as the fish is not removed from the water for an extended period or handled in a manner that could harm it.
  • adding madtoms (also known as stonecats or tonnies) to the approved baitfish list. Madtoms are popular bait in Southern Tier rivers and there have been unconfirmed reports that they’re being sold in some circles.
  • allowing the use of gill nets in the Finger Lakes for collecting alewives for personal use as bait.
  • increasing the size limit for walleye in Honeoye Lake from 15 inches to 18 inches.
  • including Old Seneca Lake Inlet in the southeast corner of Seneca Lake upstream of Route 414 in the “Stream sections for which additional tributary regulations do not apply” Finger Lakes and tributary regulations.
  •  re-instating a prohibition on large landing nets in Finger Lakes tributaries.
  • extending the ending date of the catch and release fishing for Fall Creek (from the downstream edge of the railroad bridge below Route 13 to Ithaca Falls) from March 15 to March 31 for brown trout, rainbow trout, lake trout and landlocked salmon.
  • eliminating the current disparity in Finger Lakes smelt regulations by applying the regulations used in the five western Finger Lakes to both Cayuga and Owasco lakes.
  • deleting the special regulation of a daily creel limit of 50 for sunfish and yellow perch at Cumberland Bay of Lake Champlain, and reverting to “any number” daily limit that applies to the rest of the lake.
  • increasing the minimum size limit for muskellunge in the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to 54 inches.
  • replacing the word “night,” as used to describe a period when fishing is prohibited in the Great Lakes tributary regulations, to “one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.”
  • with the exception of the Salmon River, permitting the use of floating lures with multiple hooks with multiple hook points on all Lake Ontario tributaries.
  • clarifying the language for the definition of floating lures on Lake Ontario tributaries to: “A floating lure is a lure that floats while at rest in water with or without any weight attached to the line, leader, or lure.”
  • allowing for the use of jigs 1⁄8 ounce or less in Great Lake tributaries.
  • extending the prohibition of weight added to the line, leader, swivels, artificial fly or lures to all Lake Ontario tributaries (i.e., beyond a limited group of tributaries) from Sept. 1 through March 31 of the following year.
  • deleting the St. Lawrence River from those Great Lakes tributaries subject to “Additional special fishing regulations for Great Lakes tributaries.”
  • applying Great Lakes special regulations to the section of the Genesee River (in Monroe County) from the State Route 104 Bridge upstream to the Lower Falls.
  • eliminate the 9-inch minimum for brown trout, rainbow trout, and coho salmon and Pink salmon on Irondequoit Creek, Lindsey Creek, Skinner Creek (Oswego County and Jefferson County) and the Black River (Jefferson County) and applying the Great Lake tributary regulations for these species (15-inch minimum size limit, except 21 inches for rainbow trout).
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