Fishing & Boating

Make sure you know your fishing laws

Hopefully, this keeps us out of trouble. As confusing as regulations can be, it’s sometimes easy to find ourselves paying money for a violation simply because we didn’t understand a rule.

So here’s an attempt to clear up such confusion.

n Circle hooks, a de-hooking device and a venting tool are required for anglers fishing with natural baits for Gulf reef fish species (snappers, groupers, seabass, amberjack, grey triggerfish, hogfish, red porgy and golden tilefish).

Say you’re fishing in 40 feet of water in the Gulf, targeting non-reef species such as sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, kingfish and permit. You also may catch grouper, snapper or any of the above reef species. Are circle hooks still required?

Tom Ware, FWC Division of Law Enforcement lieutenant, said an officer would take into consideration what species is being targeted. So, it’s OK not to use a circle hook, as long as it’s evident (by the fish in your cooler, your rig, etc.) that you’re not targeting reef fish. Also, the circle hook cannot be off-set. Off-set circle hooks should be bent to be straight in line with the shank.

This reef fish equipment requirement only applies to anglers fishing in a vessel. Furthermore, it only applies to natural bait fishers. For example, if an angler is trolling a plug in the Skyway shipping channel for grouper, the equipment rule does not apply.

And although it doesn’t make sense to carry a venting tool in less than 50 feet of water where a grouper isn’t likely to have an inflated swim bladder after it’s released, anglers still must carry one for this type of fishing.

n A quick reminder that the recreational harvest of black and red grouper in federal waters (past 9 nautical miles offshore) re-opens Sunday. The gag grouper season in all waters is closed through March.

Now, let’s say in the next four days you head to federal waters and catch some legal red grouper (bag limit is one red in federal waters; two in state waters). To avoid being caught with the red grouper in state waters, where the harvest of red grouper is not legal, Ware said anglers have to head directly to the boat ramp so there is no confusion. Ware said if an FWC officer catches an angler who is stopped in state waters with red grouper, a violation is likely.

n Finally, let’s clear up a couple fishing license questions.

The shoreline exception allows Florida residents to fish saltwater from a shoreline, pier, dock or seawall without a license. This does not apply to non-residents.

In freshwater, residents can fish all freshwater bodies except Lake Manatee (because it’s a Fish Management Area and the only one in Manatee and Sarasota counties) without a freshwater license if they’re using a cane pole, which exists of a pole and no reel. This does not apply to Florida non-residents, who must have a freshwater license to fish any freshwater, in any style. On the Manatee River, the cut-off between saltwater and freshwater as it applies to which license you must have to fish those areas, is the Fort Hamer boat ramp.

Until next time, keep the fish, forget the tickets.