Fishing regulations —?the whys, whats, whens and wheres/Tom Rozich

Anglers often ask, “Why do we have fishing laws?” They also say the fishing regulations are so complicated that one has to be a “Philadelphia Lawyer” to understand them. We will attempt to address these issues in a clear, logical and concise way.

Basically, fishing regulations are biological or social, with some being a combination of both. Fishing laws need to be diverse, as one regulation for all species would not work because each species is different in its individual biology. In addition, streams and lakes are all different and can only produce so many fish per acre, much like a garden. Therefore to assure enough fish to keep fishermen happy, regulations are necessary. A perfect biological regulation system would be to have one for each individual lake or stream. Now that would be complicated, which is similar to what they have in Alaska.


The regulating of when you can or can’t fish for a certain kind of fish is done to protect them during their spawning season. Yes, we do defend motherhood even among our finny friends. Thus, a fall closure protects such species as brook and brown trout. A late winter/spring closure protects walleye, northern pike, rainbow trout, and large and smallmouth bass, for example. These are biological regulations.

Minimum Size Limits

This is also a biological based reg, which allows a species to grow to sexual maturity and reproduce/spawn at least once. Motherhood again! There is another type of size limit restriction, being a slot size limit. Under this type of regulation an angler must release all fish within the slot. The species which most frequently have slot limits are walleye and bass. An example would be the Province of Ontario, in which all walleye 18-23 inches must be released immediately. This protects most of the spawners, but allows the opportunity to keep a trophy fish. We have a similar type of regulation, where you may only keep fish in the slot, and is for lake trout in Lake Michigan in the Escanaba area, where the minimum size is 20 inches and the maximum is 23 inches, except one laker 34 inches or greater may be kept. Little Bay de Noc has a similar type rule, where only one walleye over 23 inches may be included in the daily bag limit.

Bag Limits

These regulations are designed to spread the catch among all anglers. They are set at a number where there is enough for a meal, while protecting the overall population. The old saying that 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish is mostly true. Yes, we are all in that 10 percent category, but some anglers do catch most of the fish. For the record, it is illegal to catch fish for another angler’s bag limit. We also have waters in Michigan where the rule is catch-and-release only and is primarily a social regulation, especially in our relatively non-productive waters.


There are many other regulations dealing with number of lines and hooks, size of hooks, type of tackle (bait, artificial lures, flies), bow and spear fishing, the taking of frogs and turtles, and specific water body rules. There are too many to deal with in one column, but let’s look at some.

In Michigan, we have four general stream regulations. Type 1’s are your common garden variety trout stream, of which there about 1,400 statewide. Type 2’s are very similar to Type 1, but have higher minimum sizes. There are 14 Type 2’s. Types 3 and 4 are streams that are open year-round to provide opportunities to fish for migratory trout and salmon and number 190.

Additionally, we have 20 sections of 12 rivers covering 200 miles of stream and are called gear restricted streams. On these, flies or artificial lures only may be used. No bait.

Some are no kill catch and release only. These regulations are mostly social.

We have six types of lakes with special rules that cover 249 individual water bodies. They have a variety of rules, most of which are social and are mainly stocked trout lakes. In our local area there are three such lakes in Baraga County, 10 in Gogebic, seven in Houghton, three in Keweenaw and four in Ontonagon. Statewide, Marquette County has the most with 35.

A few are regulated to produce trophy fish in a quiet peaceful setting. Clear and Perrault lakes in Houghton County and Lost Lake in Keweenaw County are three such local lakes.

If you have specific questions, please email the DMG and they will forward your inquiries. Any and all will be answered

Go Fish!