How can catch and release fishing be legal in no-take waters?

Angler flyfishing catch and release on Hot Creek

Question: To allow catch and release fishing in no take waters is an interesting concept because it allows fishing after the limit is achieved. Under this philosophy an angler fishing a catch-and-release only water (zero limit) would never be able to catch a fish since they would be in momentary possession of an overlimit. Bass tournament fishermen routinely will have a limit in the livewell and cull to larger fish (legal or not). Most wardens I’ve talked to don’t like the idea of culling. They say you should stay one short of a limit, but they can’t justify that concept when compared to the zero limit waters. It would be interesting to have a judge’s perspective. Your thoughts? (Greg P.)

Answer: In waters where the bag limit for trout or salmon is zero, fish for which the bag limit is zero must be released unharmed, and should not be removed from the water.

Given this, if a fish is accidentally killed or dies in the process of catch and release fishing in these zero limit waters, a violation occurs. The fish must be released alive or in a condition where it will live or else it becomes a “take” and the angler can be cited (see page 27 in the 2010 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations booklet).

A zero bag limit means you may not retain any fish, but take with immediate release is still legal. In fisheries with number limits (e.g. bass with a five-fish limit), the limit is defined by a number of fish. “Take” is defined as the hunt, pursuit, catch, capture or killing of a fish or the attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill a fish. If the limit is five fish, and you have five and continue to fish, you are attempting to take more than five, which by law is considered “take” of an overlimit. It’s a subtle difference, but it is different. By allowing “zero take” fisheries, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is allowing angler opportunities where fishing may occur without the retention of any fish.

In regard to your comparison to bass fishing tournaments, a special allowance is made only for DFG-permitted bass tournaments to allow for culling once a limit is reached. The regulations covering tournaments prohibit the use of bait so that all fish, including those culled and those weighed, may be released alive. Most bass are hooked in the lip or mouth and have a good survival rate when released after capture and retention in a live well. Most states have similar laws allowing for culling only during authorized tournament events.

How to relocate gray foxes living in my backyard?
Question: I live in the Sacramento area and saw a family of gray foxes in my backyard living under a shed. There are two babies and a mother. Who should I call in order to have them relocated? Are there any particular things I should avoid doing in order not to provoke them? (Van N.)

Answer: Gray foxes are native to California and have been living in semi-urban backyards for many decades. According to DFG Associate Wildlife Biologist Dale Whitmore, they can be beneficial by reducing the rodent population and will keep to themselves if the landowner stays away from them. Make sure to remove any pet food and water bowls to discourage them from staying. Their survival depends upon each fox keeping its fear of people. If there is a problem, try calling the Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner.

Can I clean my crabs on the boat?
After crab fishing, it’s so nice to clean the crabs on our boat at the dock before heading home to drop them into the steamer. However, I was stopped by a DFG game warden at Half Moon Bay recently who said it was a violation since there was no way to tell if the crab was legal without the shell – similar to the requirements for abalone. I could not find anything in the regulations on this. Can we clean our crabs at the berth before taking them home? (George J., Half Moon Bay)

Answer: Crabs must be brought ashore in such a manner that the size and species can be determined (Fish and Game Code, sections 5508 and 5509). You may legally clean the crabs only after you remove them from the boat onto shore (including dock or pier) or after you haul the boat out of the water.

Using salmon roe for bait?
Question: Can fresh salmon roe be used to fish for salmon, rockfish or anything else off the coast?

Answer: Yes, it is legal to use roe from legally taken or possessed salmon as bait in ocean waters.

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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

One response to “How can catch and release fishing be legal in no-take waters?

  1. This issue is a fine line in the sport of catch and release fishing. Some may say it’s just better to fish somewhere else where the zero limit doesn’t play in to the day.

    Catfish Jack

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