New fishing regs take effect

Several years ago, the Ministry of Natural Resources developed zones across the province based on geographical location and similarities in characteristics of water, which they use to manage our fisheries.
In Northwestern Ontario, there are three zones across the southern part of the region, stretching from the Manitoba border to the Thunder Bay area (Zones 4, 5, and 6).
Zone 5 covers the western section of the region, including areas around Kenora and Fort Frances, while Zone 4 covers the central part.
Both Zone 4 and 5 have some new fishing regulations for 2014 that anglers should be aware of. These cover most waters throughout the region, with the exception of some specially-designated waters (SDWs), which have their own specific set of regulations.
These are bigger, diverse fisheries that may have unique characteristics or fish populations. Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Lac Seul, and Red Lake all are examples of SDWs—and there are several others.
The 2014 Fisheries Regulations Summary has a listing of all the SDWs across Northwestern Ontario.
In Zone 4, only a few changes were made for 2014. One involves lake trout. The catch-and-possession limit remains unchanged at two, but only one fish can be greater than 22 inches (56 cm).
The season also remains unchanged—open from Jan. 1-Sept. 30.
In an effort to streamline regulations, all fishing sanctuaries are closed from April 1- June 14 across the zone. This is notable because there were some sanctuaries that only were closed until May 31, which now will be closed for an extra two weeks.
In Zone 5, there are a few more changes that anglers should know about when they hit the lakes this week.
The northern pike catch-and-possession limit remains unchanged at four fish for a sport license and the season remains open year-round. But only pike 29.5 inches (75 cm) and smaller may be harvested.
I’m all for protecting large fish and this regulation surely will help to increase the number of large pike in all of our waters. But I’m a little bit unimpressed because the MNR is vague on what the rules are around taking photos of large pike, which now must be released.
Common sense would suggest that it is fine to catch a big pike, take a picture, and release the fish. But under this new regulation, I’m not sure if that is okay.
There has been talk of a law from MNR that would allow for a photo of a slot-protected fish during an open season to be okay, so hopefully we’ll hear about that in the near future.
Until we do, I’m not supportive of regulations that don’t allow anglers to take a photo of a trophy fish during an open season.
There also is the issue of incidentally hooking a fish in a way that could cause it to die (fish over 29.5 inches may not be kept for any reason).
For bass, the limit is now four for a sport license year-round. But from Jan. 1-June 30, only bass 13.8 inches (35 cm) may be kept.
This size restriction protects larger fish from harvest during the spring spawn period when they make nests and are very easy to catch.
Previously, anglers were allowed to keep two bass in this size range during this period.
There also were some minor changes to the walleye regulations in Zone 5. Some sanctuaries have been eliminated, where they no longer are considered necessary, and the remaining spring sanctuary dates have been harmonized to all close from April 1-June 14.
The final change to Zone 5 fishing regulations is one that I’m very happy to hear about. The new catch-and-possession limit for crappie has changed to 10 fish, down from 15.
Those of you who fish for crappie likely have seen a fishery that was very good become over-fished because too many people were filling a bucket full of fish when they went out.
When they become over-harvested, the overall size of fish that you see goes down, as do the numbers of fish. Ten crappies is at least a couple of meals for somebody and is a good number, I believe.
It also should be noted that the SDWs in the region, including Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, have reduced crappie limits, as well, to be consistent with the new zone limits.
Before you go fishing in the New Year, make sure you have a valid 2014 fishing licence.
Also get yourself a copy of the new 2014 Recreational Fishing Regulations and look them over before you head out.