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Knowing the laws of fishing

June 2, 2012
By TODD REED , Times-Republican

I have had the chance to fish on 12 public bodies of water this year. Each time out, the adventure is always a new one, whether it is a small lake like Lower Pine Lake or the miles upon miles of the Mississippi River. Each time out on the water I find myself enjoying the sport of fishing and the nature that surrounds it.

It is not very often, and it should be, that I step back and think, "How are all these fishing opportunities available for me to fish?" A large reason is the Department of Natural Resources, or the DNR. They are the governing body who oversee the smallest lakes and the largest rivers in Iowa. They are there to protect what cannot protect themselves, nature and its creatures. The DNR are also responsible for creating the laws that are passed by government to protect our waters and the fish that swim. The DNR goes to great lengths to help people know these rules and regulations too. They offer a free 44-page booklet that lists all the common fishing rules to obey. These are available online at the DNR website or anywhere you purchase bait or a license. These rules are put into place to protect the natural resource, the water and the species that live in or near the water.

In my many adventures this spring I have had the chance to fish with many people that care about the outdoors as much as I do. I have, unfortunately come across a couple individuals or groups that do not share this feeling. On one occasion I came across a group of three young anglers, probably around the age of twelve. These three boys were having a good time catching fish at a public lake, as were my young boy and I. It was a great day to be out fishing, however the mood changed quickly as I was about to leave the lake. The boys were walking towards me as we were packing things up and I noticed they were carrying a fish. I thought, wow, that must be a big crappie. Well, now I wish that fish was a crappie, because it wasn't, it was a bass. On all area Marshalltown lakes the legal length limit for bass is fifteen inches. This fish was about twelve or thirteen inches. I asked the boys if they knew the rules of the lake, and they said yes. However, they were totally ignorant of the fifteen inch legal length limit for bass species. They knew it was a bass, as they were quite boastful about catching a nice fish when they began talking to me. However, when I told them the "rules" or laws of the lake, particularly about the length of the bass, they got very quiet. I still do not know today, whether they actually knew the law or not, but I made sure they did know the law. They returned the fish back into the lake and I hope they learned a valuable lesson. I did explain to them that the laws apply to everyone fishing, not just adults and that the laws are put into place so everyone can enjoy a healthy lake.

After this little incident, which I hope these kids learned something I felt bad for the lake and the boys that broke a law. Again, I am not sure these boys knew of the bass length law, or not, but whomever let them go to the lake that responsibility falls on them. I guess I am blaming the parents for not telling the boys the laws of fishing. If a DNR officer would have visited that lake that day, those boys and their families would have had a large fine to pay. If you have young boys and girls please take a moment to discuss the rules of fishing and obeying them will lead to better fishing opportunities for everyone.

The second incident that I encountered this year involved a mother and two boys. Once again I was out fishing with my young boy catching bluegills and bass at a public lake. The group of three came right over to us and began to ask about the fishing. We said we had caught a few. They started fishing right next to us. The series of events that happened next was unbelievable. The boys and mother started to catch fish as we were doing. They were really excited, as it sounded like they didn't have much if any success in past fishing trips. I ended up helping them take some hooks out of bluegills, as they didn't have pliers with them. Then one of the boys caught a bass. He was so excited, as it was two or three times the size of the bluegills they were catching, probably ten inches. I again helped take the hook out of the mouth. Then boy put in it a cooler full of water. I immediately told them that it was too small to keep. The boy was angry and pleaded with his mom to keep it. She said it was fine to keep. Right then I had two choices, I could call the DNR officer that governs Marshall County, or I could just try and teach this group about the laws. I choose the second option. I talked with the mom and told her the regulation of catching bass, the fifteen inch rule. They released it without too much fuss. Then she admitted she didn't know it was a bass, and she didn't know the fifteen inch rule. I then told her there was a sign that she walked past stating this rule. She said it should have had a picture of a bass on it. Another excuse was that she didn't carry a ruler around with her everyday. At this point, I paused and though, why didn't I just call the DNR officer and let him take care of it? Well, I guess I wanted to give this family, who was just trying to enjoy nature. Just as I was trying to take a break from the situation, another bass was caught, this time it was near twelve inches. Again, the mom was convinced by the boy, who couldn't have been over 10 years of age to put it in the cooler. At this point, my teaching was over, I had explained the rules, described what all bass look like, and informed her of the lake rules; it was time to step it up a notch. I quickly said, that is illegal, and big fines are handed out for doing that. I told her the fine for keeping illegally sized fish was around $100, and the penalty of fishing without a license was even higher. She quickly got the point, and the bass went into the water again.

I started to pick up our things and as my boy and I left, I said enjoy the fishing and please obey the laws of the lake so everyone can enjoy it. She said they would and said thanks as I left. I guess things ended positively for this group and I hope they will obey all rules in the future.

My point this week is to bring awareness of the two most commonly ticketed items by a DNR officer on public lakes; keeping fish under the length limits and fishing without a license. I called a good friend of mine who is a DNR county officer and he informed me of the fines for these two situations. Fishing without a license is a $100.50 fine, and keeping an illegal fish is an $87.00 fine. Pretty hefty penalties for not obeying the laws. Please help inform people, especially youngsters what the regulation of fishing are and please encourage anyone sixteen years of age and older to buy a fishing license. People will break the law, sometimes they know they are, sometimes they don't know they are. Educate those who need it, and help those understand that the rules are for our benefit and the species of the water. (Just a few of the DNR rules were discussed in this article, please refer to the DNR website or their 2012 Fishing Regulations booklet for full details of the lake or river you are fishing)

Enjoy the outdoors!


Contact Todd Reed at



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