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California Outdoors Q&As: Trout, Hunting Radios, Guide Licenses, Size Limits


California Outdoors Q&As: Trout, Hunting Radios, Guide Licenses, Size Limits

June 5, 2008

Question: I’ve just heard that it is against the law for us to keep trout alive in our boat’s livewell while we continue fishing. We’ve often done this in the past to keep the fish alive and healthy so that we can have the option of releasing them later if we are lucky enough to catch larger fish. Is this really not legal? (Jim B.)

Answer: This practice is illegal for a number of reasons, and over the years a lot of trout fishermen have been cited for doing just what you describe. Here’s what California law states on the matter: 1) “No trout may be maintained or possessed in a live condition in any container on or attached to any boat” (ref. Section 4.00[e].)

Once an angler has a limit of trout (or a limit of any species) in possession, the angler may not continue fishing for more in an attempt to trade larger fish caught with smaller fish already in possession or in their livewell. This practice would be called “upgrading” or “high grading” and is illegal everywhere.

Catch and release fishing for trout is also not allowed once the bag limit is filled. The primary reason for this is because to “… pursue, catch, capture or kill fish … or attempting to do so” is still defined as “take” (ref. Section 1.80). Also, there is no assurance that any returned fish will survive for the long-term following release, and this translates to over harvest. (ref. Section 7.00).

The only way for an angler to continue fishing at this point is if they change location, tactics, bait and/or gear to clearly target other species, such as bass or crappie. After doing all of this, if any trout are accidentally caught but then immediately released, there should be no violation.

Question: It seems to me that at every duck club where I’ve hunted, everybody has a two-way radio to communicate with each other. These guys will use these radios to advise their buddies in the next blind down the pond when a flock or a big “greenhead” is about to drop into their set of decoys. Is this legal? I have heard that it is not legal but would like to know the real scoop. (Jeff, Santa Cruz)

Answer: While many may argue that this practice is unethical and unsportsmanlike, according to Capt. Liz Schwall, there are no laws on the books against it. Although this practice may give the hunters doing it an unfair advantage over the game, a law banning this practice would be extremely difficult to enforce.

Question: Do I need a guide’s license if I take people out in the ocean in kayaks and show them where and how to fish?

Answer: If you are physically there and are charging the people for your service to show them where or how to fish and receiving any compensation at all, you must first secure a guide license from the Department of Fish and Game (DFG). The cost is $177.75 per year for a California resident.

The official definition of a “Guide” is, “Any person who is engaged in the business of packing or guiding, or who, for compensation, assists another person in taking or attempting to take any bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, or reptile. “Guide” also includes “Any person who, for profit, transports other persons, their equipment, or both to or from hunting or fishing areas.”

If you merely rent the kayaks to the people fishing, and point to an area or tell them where to go, then you are not GUIDING them and do not need a guide license.

Question: How does the DFG determine what the legal minimum size should be for those fish species that have size limits? Is the size based on reproductive maturity? (Henry G.)

Answer: Yes, in most cases the minimum size limit is based on size at maturity. The size limit is typically intended to allow fish to breed at least once before becoming available to the fishery.

Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. Her DFG-related question and answer column appears weekly at While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

Kevin Paulson

Kevin Paulson is the Founder and CEO of His passion for Hunting began at the age of 5 hunting alongside of his father. Kevin has followed his dreams through outfitting, conservation work, videography and hunting trips around the world.

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