Fish Busters’ Bulletin – New Rules for Florida’s Freshwater Fisheries

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Cast nets with 1\" or smaller mesh may be used throughout the state to take minnows, but any size cast net may be used to take nongame fish, such as tilapia in some areas. - (FWC photo)Florida earned the title “Fishing Capital of the World” by coupling its great resources with responsible management of those resources by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Relentlessly driving home the message of how people can and must be responsible stewards falls under the purview of the FWC as well.

The FWC gathers public input through meetings and surveys that create science- and social-based rules, using solid research and local impact to ensure a bright future for Florida’s resources and anglers. Several new freshwater fisheries rules go into effect beginning July 1. These rules are designed for the long term to prevent constant alteration.

“The FWC remains flexible to changing environmental and social situations,” said Dale Jones, the coordinator of the changes for the FWC, “so we can adapt to evolving needs and provide quality, safe and sustainable opportunities.”

Rae Waddell, Joe Budd Aquatic Education Center director, provides tips on the proper use of spinning gear. - (FWC photo)The following is a summary of the new rules that will be included in the next printed rules and online at MyFWC.com/Fishing/Rules.html.

To be consistent with other firearm regulations, the FWC passed a rule making it legal for someone to possess a legal firearm on an FWC fish management area (FMA).

Lakes Lorna Doone, Richmond and Kirkman Pond, all in Orange County, and Lake Dot in Seminole County have been removed from the FMA system. The new rule also prohibits possession of cast nets in lakes Ivanhoe and Santiago in Orange County.

The Joe Budd Pond FMA in Gadsden County opens to public fishing only when established by executive order. This year, the pond will be open to the public during daylight hours on weekends between July 4 and Sept. 2, including Independence and Labor Day holiday weekends.

At Tenoroc FMA in Polk County, a new rule exempts permitted alligator hunters from entering the FMA at designated entry points. The rule also renamed lakes East Pasture and West Pasture to Pine Lakes. Other changes at Tenoroc include limiting discharge of firearms to the firing range or during FWC-sponsored events and requiring dogs to be leashed, unless authorized by the FWC. 

A statewide rule change redefined species that may be taken for use as bait with a dip net, cast net (1-inch maximum stretched mesh), trap or minnow seine. Those species now include golden shiners of any size and other freshwater nongame fish (including catfish) less than 8 inches total length, unless specifically prohibited.

Nongame freshwater fish of any size also may be harvested with cast nets (no mesh or net size limit) in the South and Northeast regions, in Citrus and Glades counties, and in most of the Southwest Region. An exception makes possession or use of cast nets in waters adjoining Saddle Creek FMA in Polk County illegal. This removes the size limit on cast nets in the South Region, making it consistent with other regions where they are allowed.

Fishing gear used by recreational or commercial fishermen must be marked clearly and legibly with the fisherman’s name and address.

The most significant rule changes concern Lake Okeechobee to enhance the fishery’s recovery from recent environmental setbacks. The black bass length regulation on Lake Okeechobee moved from a 13- to 18-inch slot limit to an 18-inch minimum length limit. Also, a new rule establishes a 10-inch length for black crappie on the lake. In addition, the boundary definition for Lake Okeechobee now includes the C-41-A Canal from the intersection of the C-38 Canal upstream to the S-84 structure.

On Lake Trafford in Collier County, there is now  a five-fish bag limit on black bass, which must be 18 inches or longer, with only one bass 22 inches or more in total length.

Feel free to contact the FWC and complete a survey (see MyFWC.com/Fishing and scroll down in the right column to “Take the Survey”). Purchasing a five-year freshwater fishing license helps conservation efforts and saves you money. There is a special offer going on right now where you get free stuff in the mail when you buy one (see MyFWC.com/Fishing/5yr-2008.html).

Additional information is available at MyFWC.com/Fishing/Roundtable. Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356).

Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing/Updates for more Fish Busters’ columns.