A few East Texas anglers obviously knew they were breaking the law because they ran from the law.
They were fishing last March along Gladewater Lake’s public fishing piers, but they bolted when a Gregg County game warden appeared.
Gladewater police, however, were also on patrol and stopped one man when, according to the warden’s report, he “unwittingly ran directly toward their patrol vehicle.”
His backpack held a mess of undersized crappie, but that wasn’t his only problem.
The game warden said, “Collectively, charges filed included no fishing license, possession of undersized crappie, possession of drug paraphernalia, failure to (identify) as a fugitive, and arrest on other agency warrants. Charges are pending.”
This case and many more fishing violations are some of the highlights reported in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Warden Field Notes. But many breaches of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code aren’t as deliberate as the Gladewater incident.
A lot of people get citations for just forgetting to bring their fishing licenses. Others fail to heed the bag and size limits of a particular body of water; what’s legal in one county may not be so in another county, and Texas has 254 of them.
“It’s a big state,” said Gordon Cooper, an Independent Program Attorney for Texas Law Shield. “Many regulations are quite uniform, like the license requirement. But fisheries management plans can result in various bag limits.”
Penalties range from Class C misdemeanors, with fines from $25-$500; Class B, $200-$2,000; Class A, $500-$4,000; or State Jail Felony, $1,500-$10,000 fine. Jail time may be assessed for Class B misdemeanors and above.
Depending on the severity, you could face suspension or even revocation of your license for up to five years, and forfeit the fishing tackle used to commit the violation.
“You can avoid hefty fines by taking the time to study up on where you’re fishing—and that goes for freshwater and coastal spots,” said Cooper.
Start by reading the TPWD Outdoor Annual, but make sure you’re reading the most recent edition. Changes are likely to have occurred since the previous one.
FISHING WITHOUT A LICENSE
Stretching a line with no fishing license is a Class C Parks and Wildlife Code misdemeanor.
Is everyone required to have a license, regardless of age? The answer is “no.” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department waives this obligation for anyone under 17 years old, a nice incentive to get kids fishing early.
Also, senior citizens born before Jan. 1, 1931 are exempt, as are people with mental disabilities participating in a medically approved therapeutic fishing program, or while accompanying a family member or friend who has a fishing license.
There’s an annual “Free Fishing Day” for everyone held on the first Saturday of each June. Also, the state waives fishing (and hunting) license fees for resident active duty military personnel, resident members of the National Guard, State Guard, and reserves, as well as for disabled veterans.
But check this nuance: One does not need a license to fish on privately owned lakes or ponds, although people standing on private property, but casting into public water like a river or municipal reservoir do need a license.
“See what we mean about the differences?” Cooper said. “It’s worth your time to understand them. Remember, that Class C misdemeanor carries a fine of $25 to $500.”
LEGAL MEANS AND METHODS
Humanity has mastered all sorts of fishing techniques, with a head start made by primitive cultures struggling to feed the tribe. Nets are prevalent in the Bible, but there’s also proof of fishing rods in ancient China, Greece, Egypt, and Rome.
Of course, rods and fishnets are legal today, but in Texas there are restrictions. You can fish with multiple rods, but in fresh water, “there is a limit of 100 hooks on all devices combined,” according to the Code.
A cast net, like those described in the Bible, can be hand-thrown over an area, but they’re only legal for taking nongame fish, crabs, crayfish, and shrimp. And, in salt water, nongame species “may be taken for bait purposes only,” TPWD says.
The Code also addresses juglines, trotlines (for both fresh and saltwater), spears, spear guns, archery equipment, and gigs, just to name a few.
“Again, the Outdoor Annual describes these methods in detail,” Cooper said. “For example, a trotline in saltwater must include a special tag, sold by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, on each 300 feet of mainline. You also need a gear tag attached with your name, address, and the date you installed the line.”
BAG LIMITS/LEGAL SIZES
Here’s where a lot of people make mistakes. Bag limits vary among species, and Texas has a lot of them—different types of bass, panfish, and catfish in freshwater, and speckled trout, redfish, snook and many others in the Gulf of Mexico.
So, don’t assume that since you can take 25 crappies each day that you can take that many largemouth bass. The daily combined bag limit for any combination of bass—largemouth, smallmouth, Guadalupe and spotted bass—is five fish per day, according to the Code.
White bass are like crappie (white, black or hybrid); your daily limit is 25. But all these fish must be at least 10 inches long.
Many fishing spots have exceptions to statewide freshwater harvest regulations, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department lists them by lake. Also, there may be special stamps or endorsements required to fish waters shared by another state, like Lake Texoma on the border of Texas and Oklahoma.
Other variances relate to “slot limits.”
According to the Outdoor Annual, these are special length rules for bass in certain lakes to improve fishing.
Cooper explained, “On a lake with a 14-to-18-inch slot length, you can’t keep any bass between 14 and 18 inches long. Those fish have to go back into the water—immediately.”
For coastal fishing, let’s look at a couple of the most popular saltwater species. The daily bag limit for red drum (redfish) is three, and they must not be between 20 and 28 inches long.
A lot of people get tickets for keeping oversized “reds,” but you’re allowed to keep one over the maximum length limit each year if you have the special Red Drum Tag, and another with the Bonus Red Drum Tag.
For speckled sea trout, you can keep 10 if you caught them north of Farm Road 457 in Matagorda County. South of Farm Road 457, the daily limit is five. All trout caught on the coast must be 15 to 25 inches long.
These are just some examples of the myriad of regulations anglers are responsible to know.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
Usually, it’s illegal to clean your catch until the fish “is finally landed on the mainland (not including piers or jetties) and no longer transported by boat,” the Code says.
A whole fish, with head and tail, can be measured by a game warden to ensure it’s the legal size. However, there are some exceptions.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “grass carp, tilapia and other fish listed as harmful or potentially harmful should have the intestines removed immediately after being caught—unless you are fishing on a body of water that has a Triploid Grass Carp permit in effect, in which case grass carp should be released alive and unharmed.”
Do you fish from a boat? Water safety requirements are numerous, but the most basic ones involve “personal flotation devices,” or PFDs. They’re not optional for kids under age 13, and they must be U.S. Coast Guard approved.
Other requirements deal with lighting, warning devices like horns, mirrors, and fire extinguishers. Your education begins here. Also, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, who wants to operate boats or other vessels on the public waterways of Texas must take a boater education course. Follow this link for information.
Finally, we want you to remember that in addition to fines, anglers who break the law potentially face “civil restitution.”
Simply stated, restitution “is what a judge orders you to repay the State of Texas for the wildlife resource you took illegally,” Cooper said.
“Texas is blessed with abundant freshwater and coastal fishing opportunities,” Cooper said. “Don’t limit your access to them with costly legal issues.”
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