Anglers with Special Needs?

Question: My 11-year-old son is a special needs child. He has cerebral palsy and he’s developmentally delayed. He doesn’t really have the dexterity to reel up a fish on his own and often doesn’t have the attention span to stay with it until the fish is landed. He is very interested in fishing though and asks to go often.

Previously, he had always referred to the boat as “daddy’s boat” until I helped him with his first fish; he turned the reel handle just one or two times. After we took his picture he went to the front of the boat and sat down. I could see what he was thinking. I turned around and began to re-bait the hook and he ran up behind me and said, “Our boat.” For a kid who hardly talks this is remarkable. I had never heard him say “our” before.

If I help him reel up his fish, which could appear to be reeling it up for him, can we still keep two limits of fish?

I also know some adults who have special needs and of course my son is getting older all the time. Are there programs that will allow them to fish without a license or with reduced cost licenses? (Ron D., Valencia)

Answer: This is a tough one and one in which the answers are not completely black and white. Since I know from our previous conversations that you’re fishing in freshwater, I would say that if you are actively assisting your son and actually doing most of the fishing for him (casting, reeling and/or tending the gear), you should probably stick with retaining just one limit between you.

I understand and empathize with your situation as you describe it but from strictly a law enforcement standpoint, if you have taken one limit yourself, then in order to continue fishing and retain more your son must be able to clearly do most of his own fishing. Unfortunately, we do not have special provisions in the law right now to allow a parent or guardian to catch their own limits, and then to actively fish for another person (who is not physically able) so that the “special needs” person may then take their own limit.

There is one exception to this rule though if you two are fishing together from your boat in ocean waters. “Boat limits” under Fish & Game Code Section 27.60(c) will allow the two of you to take and possess two limits of fish regardless of which of you actually does most of the fishing and catching. Basically, boat limit totals are determined by multiplying the number of persons aboard a vessel who are licensed or otherwise authorized to sport fish in ocean waters off California by the individual daily bag limits authorized for a species or species group in those waters (there are some exceptions here, so please first read the entire section found on page 37 of the 2008-2009 Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.)

Regarding a fishing license, your son will not need his own until he turns 16. Once he does we do have free fishing licenses available to people with various disabilities that are good for five years, and it sounds like he should qualify. Please check out the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Web site at for a list of these licenses and the criteria necessary to apply for them.

Can a Bullet Really Start a Fire?
Question: I have been a hunter and target shooter for more than 50 years. I’ve heard different agencies blaming fires on sparks caused by bullets striking rocks. I was not aware that lead and copper would cause sparks. Am I missing something or is this more hype to discourage hunting and target shooting? (Charles M.)

Answer: It is not necessarily the bullet itself but the object contacted that can cause ignition. Fires caused from target shooting could be due either to bullets striking a rock with the geological potential to spark just right or shooting at metal targets that have the potential to start a fire.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

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