Fishing regs are in place for a reason, but who reads them? 

Fish Stocking

It happens every spring. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) stocking trucks, filled with fish, head out to plant fish at designated locations around the state. Many people associate this activity with the April 1 opening day of trout for the inland streams and lakes, and they should. However, there is a disconnect, a lack of understanding with what is also taking place at the same time in different waters.

Simultaneously, the Great Lakes streams are also receiving stockings of steelhead and domestic rainbows, brown trout, and Pacific salmon. The Great Lakes waters include lakes Erie and Ontario and the tributaries up to the first impassible barrier (such as a dam). Trout and salmon that are stocked as fingerlings and yearlings follow a certain protocol – meant for put, grow, and take. They are not meant to be taken immediately after they are stocked in the harbors and streams. Please take note that there are special distinctions between both areas.

For the Lake Ontario basin, the minimum size for browns, rainbows and Pacific salmon is 15 inches in length. Some people have been catching and keeping trout well under that size close to shore. There are certainly more regulations than just these (such as new rules in the tributaries for brown trout (1 per person) and rainbow/steelhead (1 per person with a minimum size of 25 inches) and it’s important to know them before you head out.

For the Lake Erie basin, the minimum size for browns and rainbows is 12 inches in length.

For the inland trout season that opened April 1, the rules are different from the Great Lakes. There is no minimum length for trout. You can keep fish being stocked up to a certain number. A total of 5 fish per person is the daily limit. However, some water bodies have special regulations and you should research them before you go fishing. Ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to the fishing regulations. For a complete list of fishing regulations, check out

So, what seems to be the problem? Why are things so difficult? When I bring it up to others, they say it is in the regulations, but no one seems to read them. Should reading some basic regulations be a requirement before you can obtain a fishing license, like the basic online Hunter Education Program?

I have always been an advocate for making it easier to get a fishing license, especially for those that are going to be taking a charter where everything is done for them – even knowing the regulations. I have even been a proponent of a captain’s or boat license where everyone on board would be covered, like what they do in Florida.

As the state’s tourism program begins to include sportfishing in its marketing efforts, they are not without fault either. As the April 1 inland trout opener was approaching this year, they were promoting the brown trout fishing in Lake Ontario as part of the I Love NY commercials right alongside the other popular inland waters. More confusion.

What really prompted this blog was a message from a fellow angler on social media. He had just seen a post of a father and son/daughter hitting the local harbor in Wilson and they had hauled in 22 nice brown trout for the frying pan. They had just been stocked by DEC hatchery trucks and Wilson is located on Lake Ontario. The response on Facebook was just as alarming.

“Good job!”

“Gonna be fun to eat!”

On a different social media site, there was discussion started over the guy who did this, but not even talking about what had really happened. He was referring more to being over the limit and what kind of message was this sending to his kids.

No, I do not have all the answers. However, the powers that be should put their heads together and try to figure out a possible solution. Maybe when someone attempts to obtain a fishing license online, they are asked where they are going to be fishing through a drop-down menu. When you click on an area, a one-page list of regulations shows up for that body of water, especially if there are new regulations that have recently gone into effect. Take 5 minutes and then sign off on them. Would that be too much to ask?

At a time when more people seem to be spending time outside due to COVID-19 effects that have resulted in more people out of work and kids out of school, it’s important to know the fishing regulations and understand that we are dealing with finite resources. Those resources are as much for today as they are for the future. Fishing regulations are there for a reason.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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