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Being a Responsible Angler

Being a steward to New York's fish can come in many forms. Check out the various ways you can be a more responsible angler and help keep fishing great in New York State.

Know the Regulations

From small headwater tributaries and ponds, to large rivers and lakes, New York offers plentiful fishing waters. To help ensure the state's fish populations remain healthy, DEC continually monitors the resource and employs a wide range of freshwater fishing regulations and saltwater fishing regulations that are frequently evaluated to ensure the best possible fish populations are maintained in the Empire State's diverse waters. You can help by knowing and understanding the regulations for the waters you will be fishing.

Use Non-toxic Sinkers and Jigs

The Concern: Lost sinkers, especially split shot, may be mistaken for food by waterbirds such as ducks, geese, swans, gulls, or loons. Toxic effects of even a single lead sinker can cause birds to sicken and increases the risk of death through predation, exposure, or lead poisoning.

How You Can Help: A trip to your favorite tackle shop will reveal a variety of alternatives to lead split shot, sinkers, and jig heads. By switching to non-toxic sinkers with your next purchase, you can assure that your fishing tackle choices are helping reduce the risk of lead poisoning to birds. Additionally, DEC has restricted the sale of lead fishing sinkers (including "split shot") weighing one-half ounce or less to help protect wildlife.

Properly Dispose of Litter and Fishing Line

The Concern: Unfortunately, some popular fishing spots end up littered with bait containers, lure packaging, and discarded fishing line. Fishing lures and monofilament line degrade slowly in the environment and can seriously harm wildlife. Animals may mistakenly ingest, become entangled in, or get accidentally hooked by fishing equipment carelessly left by anglers. Furthermore, when leaving garbage behind, you not only affect wildlife, but you also leave the impression that anglers are inconsiderate and don't care about the environment. This may cause affected landowners to potentially close the area to fishing.

How You Can Help: Replacing damaged line is a routine part of fishing, but any excess should be disposed of properly. So, be sure to remove any discarded or littered line before leaving your fishing spot, including those that got snagged in tree branches or on submerged vegetation or logs where possible. Follow the "Carry in, Carry Out" principles and dispose of waste properly. Try to leave the area you visit even cleaner than when you arrived.

Stop the Spread of Non-Native Plants and Animals

The Concern: Many waters in New York State have been affected by the unintentional introduction of non-native plants and animals such as zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil, water chestnut and round goby. Often, when species such as these are first introduced, there is an absence of natural mechanisms such as predators or diseases to control these new organisms and so their numbers can skyrocket out of control. The new invading species may rapidly displace native species by outcompeting them for resources such as food and growing space. As a result, the entire natural balance and species composition of the aquatic system can be seriously disrupted, including the fishery.

How You Can Help: Anglers can help maintain the state's great fishing by carefully following a few simple guidelines to prevent the spread of unwanted aquatic species.

  • Adhere to the "Clean.Drain.Dry" method to properly remove any invasive invaders from your boats, motors, trailers, and gear before departing from an access site.
  • Do not transport fish from one body of water to another.
  • Use baitfish responsibly.
  • Do not dispose of fish carcasses or by-products in any body of water.
  • Do not assume that a body of water is already contaminated and ignore protective measures.

Responsibly Use Fish as Bait

Baitfish logo

The Concern: Although using baitfish to fish can be very effective, careless use can cause irreparable harm to a fishery, including outcompeting native fish populations and spreading diseases as described in detail below.

Altering the ecosystem and native populations: Baitfish introduced to waters can completely change the dynamics of native fish populations. The Adirondacks once supported outstanding brook trout fisheries, but due to the introduction of competitive fish, brook trout have been pushed out of much of its original range (Learn more about these impacts and how DEC has been protecting Adirondack fish). Sometimes the introduction of these competitive fish is a result of anglers emptying their bait buckets into the water at the end of the day. In other cases, the introduction may be purposely done by an angler who feels that a bait species may provide beneficial forage for a particular species that he or she desires to catch. What is not understood is that a fish population in a pond, lake or stream is part of a stable community that has evolved over many years. Add a foreign fish to this community and the entire system can be thrown out of balance.

Introducing fish diseases: Baitfish can harm native fish communities by spreading disease. Just like a human with a cold can spread their illness to other humans, so can diseased fish. In fact, movement of baitfish from water to water by unknowing anglers is thought to be the primary mechanism by which viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) , a serious fish disease identified in New York, has spread from the Great Lakes to inland waters.

How You Can Help: To guard against these unwanted introductions, DEC places restrictions on the use of baitfish. Anglers can help by obeying these baitfish regulations and following the general principles below:

  • Never use baitfish in waters where their use is prohibited.
  • Never release live bait from your bait bucket into any of New York's waters.
  • Never move bait or other fish from one water to another.
  • Never stock any species of fish in any water without obtaining a free Fish Stocking Permit from your Regional Fisheries Office.
  • Only use certified disease-free bait purchased from a licensed dealer.
  • Always dispose of water from your bait bucket on land- never back into a water body.

Use Best Practices for Catching and Releasing Fish

The Concern: While a fresh fish dinner represents the ideal conclusion to a fishing trip for many people, an increasing number of anglers prefer to return their catch to the water. Unfortunately, improperly catching and handling fish can result in stress and injury to the fish that can greatly impact their survival.

How You Can Help: Releasing larger sportfish and panfish back to the water helps ensure that mature, healthy fish can spawn again, and helps to perpetuate a fit population of quality-size fish for future angling enjoyment. When practicing catch and release, anglers can take a few simple steps to help released fish survive:

  • Quickly play and land fish-- do not fight fish to exhaustion.
  • Handle fish as little as possible and release them quickly, minimizing their time out of water-- unhook fish in water if possible.
  • Handle fish carefully to avoid injury-- be sure to avoid contact with the gills, and do not squeeze fish or remove protective slime. Pike and walleyes shouldn't be gripped by the eye sockets.
  • Consider using only artificial lures-- their use is mandatory on some waters.
  • Use barbless hooks if you plan to release most of the fish you catch. When a fish is deeply hooked, do not try to remove the hook-- clip the leader instead.

Additional Catch and Release Guidance for Trout and Salmon

Refrain from fishing in warm water conditions: Since trout are cold-water species, it is important to pay attention to warming conditions if you plan to catch and release. Avoid fishing for trout during the warm summer months when stream temperatures are elevated. Likewise, avoid fishing in spring holes when water temperatures are in the mid-70s or higher. For additional details, check out Help Trout & Salmon Beat the Summer Heat (PDF).

Use care when fishing from depths greater than 30 feet: When catching fish from deep water, bring it to the surface slowly and steadily to avoid a distended swim bladder. If needed, "burp" to expel air from the fish's swim bladder and stimulate the fish to dive deeply. Details on performing these methods are provided below.

  • To burp the fish, hold it on its side and gently, but firmly, squeeze the belly from the vent toward the head. You will be able to hear the burp as air is expelled from the bladder. Do not squeeze the head and gill area, as that could damage vital organs.
  • Once burped, the fish should be able to dive down to the deep cold water. But it may require further assistance in getting it to dive. There are two methods that can be used to stimulate the fish to dive.
    1. Vigorously thrust the fish, headfirst, into the water. The slap of the water, and the plunge downward usually stimulates the fish to swim.
    2. Use the "release when recovered" method. Hold the fish gently at the middle of its body with its head pointed downward at a 45-degree angle. In that position a gentle side-to-side motion (or slow speed of the boat if trolling) can be used to move water into the mouth and over the gills. As the fish recovers, it will begin to kick, and slide out of your hand. When its tail passes through your hand, give the tail a quick squeeze. This seems to stimulate the fish's swimming action, causing to dive with more vigor.

Report Violations

If you observe someone violating the Environmental Conservation Law, or see the result of a violation, report it! Find out how to report an environmental violation or problem.

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