How are Black Bass Limits Regulated During Licensed Tournaments?

Angler Eric Aasen shows off a six-pound trophy class smallmouth at a club tournament at Pardee Reservoir, February 2008, CDFW photo by Kyle Murphy.

by Carrie Wilson

Question: Why are Pro Bass Tournament participants allowed to keep fishing when they have five fish in their possession? When they continue to fish and they boat their sixth fish, aren’t they in violation of the five-fish limit rule? I realize that they release the smallest fish, but for just a little while, they do have six fish in their possession. A rule is rule! (Craig)

Answer: Game fish tournaments are regulated by California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 230.  Your question is addressed in section 230(d)(1)(B): “Daily bag and possession limits for all permitted black bass contests, insofar that once the daily bag and possession limit has been reached by an individual angler, that same angler may continue to fish under the condition that each additional fish caught must immediately be returned to the water alive and in good condition, or be used to replace a fish being maintained alive and in good condition from the participant’s livewell or other suitable holding facility.”

Thus, this regulation provides an exemption for black bass anglers who are participating in a permitted black bass contest. They are allowed to continue fishing while in possession of five black bass, and temporarily possess the sixth fish while they are required to immediately release one from their boat’s livewell. Note: This exemption is only extended to active participants in permitted tournaments.

 OK to use lights for fishing at night?
 I have seen recent newspaper stories about how crappie fishing is heating up as we progress into spring. I know you cannot use lights for most hunting. Is it OK or is it not OK to use lights when fishing for crappie at night? (Anonymous)

Answer: You are correct that in most instances, it is unlawful to hunt while using lights. California Fish and Game Code (FGC), section 2005 states that (except as otherwise authorized) “it is unlawful to use an artificial light to assist in the taking of a game bird, game mammal, or game fish.” However, sport fishing in ocean waters or other waters where night fishing is permitted are examples of those exceptions.

If you are fishing in freshwater for crappie, it is legal to use lights as long as you are in a location where it is legal to fish at night.

There are additional considerations to keep in mind if you are planning to fish for crappie at night. Boating at night can be done safely, but there are inherent risks, particularly if you are not prepared or if you are unfamiliar with the water body or the changes in topography of a lake bottom as the lake level fluctuates. Find your favorite crappie fishing spots in the daylight and mark them on your GPS to help you navigate to them in the darkness. And, don’t forget to mark your boatramp on GPS as well. Once you start fishing, use of lights may help! Experiment with different color lights to see what works best and fish at different depths to see where the bite is best. Also, whether day or night, remember to always have your required safety gear (on your person and on board your vessel) in the case of a mishap. Always carry safety equipment such as personal floatation devices (life jackets), fire extinguishers, sound signaling devices and of course navigation lights. The California Division of Boating and Waterways has a detailed list of other required safety equipment based upon the type and size of your boat.

Crappie fishing when the bite is hot, especially at night, can be fast and furious. We encourage you to bring a person who is new to fishing along for the adventure! Rig up your fishing gear ahead of time so you’ll get right into the action when you arrive at your spot and you’re not fumbling around with it in the dark. If you bring that extra person along, involve them in this planning to get them vested in the effort. We wish you a successful venture of night crappie fishing!

Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at [email protected].

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