Rules for Taking Baitfish and Food Fish

Most of us like to think of the oceans, lakes and rivers that surround us as resources that we have a right to access as we please. Many of us grew up on these waters and have been good stewards to the water its living organisms. But, we do have an elected government that we must heed from time-to-time regarding what we can and cannot do on these bodies of water, and with the marine animals that live there.


As witnessed on our forums at The Online Fisherman, many anglers have muscular opinions regarding rules and regulations that are thrust upon us by various governmental bodies and their appendages. Nonetheless, violating the law is not the proper way to voice your displeasure with what you may consider restrictive laws or rules.

black-bassNo part of a Black Bass may be used as bait.

Many avenues exist for anglers to voice their opinions and make a statement about proposed changes to laws. The best way to address these grievances are through attending the meetings where decisions are made and policy is rendered. Writing letters or op-eds is another great and powerful tool to affect these issues and to gain solidarity from other anglers who feel the same way you do. Use our Forums at The Online Fisherman and bounce your ideas off other anglers who will give you feedback -- that's a great way to measure where you are at with your thinking -- from a "boatfull" of your peers, so to speak.

In the meantime, please be aware of the rules and laws that govern the bodies of water that we all fish in, and stay abreast of what fish you may or may not take home, including baitfish, which are often not considered by some fisherman as fish that are protected – but some of them are. It would be wise to know which ones have restrictions. For those anglers who may be unaware of current regulations, we have provided a brief overview with links to the full regulations. When in doubt, please check current regulations at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Methods of Taking Bait

Freshwater shrimp and golden shiners of any size, or other freshwater non-game fish, including catfish-- less than 8-inches total length may be taken for bait -- unless specifically prohibited, by the following methods:

Cast nets having a stretched mesh size not greater than 1 inch in fresh waters of the state unless specifically prohibited. Minnow dip nets not more than 4 feet in diameter. Minnow seines having a stretched mesh size not greater than 1 inch, a length not more than 20 feet, and a depth not more than 4 feet. Minnow traps not more than 24 inches in length and 12 inches in diameter, with a funnel entrance not more than 1 inch in spread. Any gamefish taken by these methods must be released immediately. Taking of bait for the purpose of sale requires a commercial fishing license.

Pilchard Sardines (Whitebait) also have restrictions on catching with nets.

Use of Fish for Bait

Black bass, peacock bass or any part thereof may not be used as bait. Live non-native fishes (including goldfish and carp) may not be used as bait, except for variable platys and fathead minnows. Whole pickerel or panfish (e.g., bluegill, red-ear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, spotted sunfish, flier, warmouth) or parts thereof may be used as bait for sportfishing by the angler who caught them. Whole pickerel or bream or parts thereof may not be used as bait for trotlines or bush hooks or any method other than by rod and reel or pole and line. Panfish less than 4 inches in total length raised by a licensed aquaculture facility may be purchased and used for bait.

Game fish may only be taken with pole and line or rod and reel. There is no limit on the number of rods an angler may use. Freshwater fish may not be taken by use of any free-floating, unattached device, or by taking of fish or wildlife with firearms, explosives, electricity, spear gun, poison or other chemicals. The taking of fish by underwater swimming or diving is prohibited. It is unlawful to sell, offer for sale or transport out of the state any freshwater game fish unless specifically permitted by the FWC, except that licensed anglers may transport two days' bag limit of legally harvested game fish.

It is illegal to possess any freshwater fish along with gear that cannot legally be used to take freshwater fish, including gear types listed above and below for taking nongame fish or bait. * An exception is game fish may be possessed together with cast nets having a stretched mesh size not greater than 1 inch; minnow dip nets not more than 4 feet in diameter; minnow seines having a stretched mesh size not greater than 1 inch, a length not more than 20 feet and a depth not more than 4 feet; and minnow traps not more than 24 inches in length and 12 inches in diameter, with a funnel entrance not more than 1 inch in spread.

Black bass, striped bass and white bass or their hybrids, peacock bass, or crappie and panfish (for crappie and panfish, only in waters where minimum-length or slot-size limits for these fish apply) may not be filleted, nor their head or tail fin removed, until you are done fishing for the day.

14-03-04-smlPeacock Bass may not be used as bait nor cut up until you're done fishing. 

*NOTE: Statutory provisions of (790.025(3)(h), F.S.) state it is lawful for persons to own, possess, and lawfully use firearms and other weapons, ammunition, and supplies for lawful purposes while fishing, camping, or lawfully hunting or going to or returning from a fishing, camping, or lawful hunting expedition. Consequently, although firearms may not be used to take fish, they can be in possession of someone with legally taken fish.

Non-Game Fish May be Taken

With pole and line or rod and reel and by bush hook, setline or trotline baited with cut bait or other substance; but not including live game fish or any part of any game fish; bush hooks, setlines or trotlines (limited to 25 hooks total) are permitted for taking nongame fish for personal use, but only in those areas where trotlines may be lawfully used in accordance with the Wildlife Code of the State of Florida. Refer to the "Commercial Freshwater Fisheries Rules and Regulations Summary."

Bush hooks, setlines and trotlines must be clearly and legibly marked with the harvester's name and address while being used or possessed in or upon the waters of the state. At night by bow and arrow and gigs. During daylight hours by manually operated spears, gigs, snatch hooks, crossbow or bow and arrow from a boat or from shore except at the spillways of the Eureka and Rodman dams on the Oklawaha River or on the spillway of the Jim Woodruff Dam on the Apalachicola River or in Dade County canals south of the C-4 and east of the L-31N and L-31W canals inclusively. By the use of cast nets in the South and Northeast regions, in Citrus County, and in the Southwest Region, except that possession or use of cast nets in waters adjoining Saddle Creek Fish Management Area, Polk County, confined by Morgan Combee Road, U.S. Highway 92 and Fish Hatchery Road are prohibited. Using a bow and light at night. Night bowfishing tournaments do not require a permit in the Northwest Region.

By netting and impounding at night from Sept. 1 to May 1 in specified waters of Northwest Florida. Nets used to take nongame fish (typically suckers) in these specified waters must be less than 100 feet in length, have a minimum 3-inch stretched mesh and shall be continuously attended to ensure immediate release of any trapped game fish. Contact the Northwest Regional office for details.  For personal use by any person possessing a valid freshwater fishing license by the use of not more than one slat basket or one wire trap, made as specified in Rule 68A-23.003, FAC, and used only in those waters where use of wire traps or slat baskets is permitted for commercial purposes. Refer to the "Commercial Freshwater Fisheries Rules and Regulation Summary." Passive fishing gear such as slat baskets or wire baskets must be clearly and legibly marked with the harvester's name and address while being used or possessed in or upon waters of the state.

Game and Non-Game Freshwater Fish

Game Fish -- Black bass, crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, warmouth, redbreast sunfish, spotted sunfish, flier, mud sunfish, longear sunfish, shadow bass, peacock bass, white bass, striped bass and sunshine bass.

Nongame Fish -- All freshwater fish are defined as non-game fish, except grass carp and fish defined as freshwater game fish. Note: Alligator gar require a scientific collector's permit to take.

thumb SCOTT-MOSES-SPEARFISHNG-2Sorry, but no spearfishing allowed for freshwater species in Florida.

Spearfishing: Use of any hand or mechanically propelled, single or multi-pronged spear or lance, barbed or barbless, to harvest or attempt to harvest any marine species while diving in freshwater is prohibited. Spearfishing for mullet in fresh water is prohibited.

Report compiled by The Online Fisherman.com with data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

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