The other day I was walking my beagle near the Alljoy Boat Landing in Bluffton and ran into a DNR officer as he was pulling his boat out and putting it on a trailer. He leaned down, petted my beagle and we started chatting about this and that, but there was one question in particular I was dying to ask.
Since I am known for blurting out whatever is in my mind at the moment, my question finally spilled out of my mouth, “Did you write any tickets today?” He looked at me for a second and finally answered “yes,” so I took it one step further, asking “any fish violations?”
Though he didn’t get specific, he did say they had made a number of cases for folks who didn’t have saltwater fishing licenses, others for keeping undersized fish, oversized fish, too many fish and even some for fishermen who tried to hide fish. His answer didn’t surprise me one bit, because many of the new boaters I guide have absolutely no idea what the regulations are regarding the size of the fish they can keep or how many fish they can have. So who is at fault for these problems?
On that front I have mixed opinions. Even with getting regular updates through my email, sometimes I find myself confused about the legal size of a particular fish, mostly offshore fish. Inshore I have down pat, but because more fishermen fish our inshore waters versus offshore waters, I am constantly surprised when people I am teaching to fish have no idea what the regulations are.
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The most commonly caught species inshore are redfish, trout, sheepshead, black drum and flounder. Occasionally you might nab a species not commonly found around here, but those five species are the ones you need to familiarize yourself with.
▪ Redfish: Between 15 inches and 23 inches TL, three per person per day
▪ Trout: 14 inches TL and over, 10 per person per day
▪ Sheepshead: 14 inches TL and over, 10 per person per day with a boat limit not to exceed 30 fish
▪ Flounder: 15 inches TL, 10 per person per day with a boat limit not to exceed 20 fish
▪ Black drum: 14 inches to 27 inches TL, 5 per person per day.
The “TL” means tail length, and just so you know, if checked by DNR they will squeeze the tail like you squeeze a lemon with two fingers.
My advice is if you squeeze the fish’s tail and it is the slightest bit past the legal length, release it. It’s sure better than being ticketed.
Then you have those who simply can’t help themselves. This group has two categories: The first is those who don’t fish much and either don’t know the regulations or are hell-bent and determined to have a fish fry that evening. The second group is those who know full well they are breaking the law and will go to any length to catch as many fish as possible, no matter what the size, and try to get back in without being caught.
I have seen this last group more times than I can count. In any sense of the definition they don’t qualify as sportsmen. I watch them catch undersize cobia, gaff them boat side and then drop them overboard to die. A few years back I watched one guy catch nearly 50 undersize redfish and put every one in his cooler. I hate being a tattletale, but it made me so angry I made the call. I am not sure how much his fine was, but it had to be way up there.
Ignorance may be bliss in many cases, but I feel DNR could do better educating anglers. A couple of things that might help are whenever a person purchases a saltwater license they also receive a list of the most commonly caught species with size and limit regulations on a business card so anglers can keep it in their wallet. Those same cards can also be distributed to any place that sells bait or tackle and are free to the public.
Another possibility is to post those same regulations at all state-maintained boat landings. I also think both of these should be bilingual. DNR already distributes long sticky-back rulers with the regs on them, but I seriously doubt many folks carry these in their pocket.
Lastly, here in South Carolina the cost of a saltwater license is a joke. A SC resident license is only $10 and that is good for fishing, shrimping, crabbing and shellfish harvesting 365 days of the year. Since I travel to Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, their licenses are double or even triple that cost.
I have talked to many of my angling friends and almost without exception we all would gladly pay twice the current annual fee if those funds were used to improve fish stocks, give the Waddell Mariculture Center the money it needs to run at peak efficiency and improve or add to our artificial reef program.
Maybe I’ll take on that project and try to get our state government in the 21st century.
My final suggestion is this: If you aren’t sure, let the fish go. If you don’t, you might just find yourself having a very expensive blue light special instead of that grand ol’ fish fry!