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Fish and Game Laws
Ontario has strict rules and regulations in place to protect our natural resources to ensure that the “bounty of the water and land” will be enjoyed for generations to come.
One of the most important duties that a fishing or hunting guide has while hosting hunters and anglers, especially those from out of the province, is keeping them from unknowingly breaking any of the various fish or game laws. A person from Missouri, for example, cannot be expected to know all the fish and game laws of Ontario. Nor, should he or she need to since many of the laws won’t apply to the area that the fishing trip is taking place. Laws vary from one part of the province to the next and let me tell you, Ontario is one big province!
One of the reasons people pay to go on fishing or hunting vacations in the first place is due to the convenience and service of the trip. They expect their guide to know the local laws and therefore, keep them out of trouble. One of the worst possible situations is when a guest or “paying customer” on a fishing or hunting trip gets a fine and has his or her hunting or fishing equipment confiscated because they broke the law. That is not the kind of “word of mouth” advertising that Moccasin Trails Adventures wants. Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet in any of our camps and we want it to stay that way!
Treaty Rights for First Nations
It is true that People of the First Nations while hunting, fishing or gathering in his or her traditional treaty area (Treaty 9, first signed in 1905, in this case) may not necessarily have to follow all of the fish or game laws concerning daily limits, species restrictions, open seasons, etc. For example, the traditional goose hunt for First Nations takes place in the spring. There is no open season for spring goose hunting in Ontario for non-aboriginal people.
If you are a non-aboriginal person hunting for moose and have a valid tag for a bull moose, then you may shoot only a bull moose. If you shoot a cow, you are breaking the law. Your First Nations guide cannot and will not “claim the animal” for you.
An example of breaking a fishing law while with your First Nations guide, would be keeping more than your limit of fish. If your limit is four walleyes, for example, then you may have only four walleyes in your possession. Again, you cannot expect your guide to “claim the extra fish.” It is very important that, as a guest of our traditional hunting and fishing grounds, that you respect our treaty rights. We want you to enjoy your time with us “out on the land” but the laws must be followed at all times.
Your guide will ensure that you follow the fish and game laws for your protection and piece of mind. Sporting vacationers have indeed been fined “in the thousands of dollars” for breaking fish and or game laws while in various parts of Canada, and the vast majority of the time they were unaware of the fact that they broke the law in the first place.
There will be current Fishing and Hunting Regulations booklets in camp, should you be interested in learning the laws, or just curious as how they compare to those of your own home area. But, most of what you’ll read in the booklet won’t apply to you or the area that you’re fishing in. Again, your guide will keep you out of trouble. But, it’s always a good idea to know the basics. Below is a “run down” of the most common fishing and hunting laws in the area of Ontario where our camps are located. More simply put, these are the common laws that a Conservation Officer (CO) will automatically check you for.
Fishing Laws (Summary) Licences
Rule one – you must have your fishing and or hunting licence with you while you are fishing or hunting. Leaving it back at camp will get you a fine if you are stopped by a CO.
Regardless of whether you are a resident or a non-resident of Ontario, there are two different types of fishing licences you can buy. One is known as the “Conservation” licence. The cost for the 2012 season for an eight day licence is $28.84 CND. The only difference is that with this licence you may possess only half the number of fish (“half limits”) whereas the other, the “Sport Fishing” licence permits you to possess a full limit of fish. This one costs $50.15 CND. Both are good for eight consecutive calendar days, each day beginning midnight.
You are not required to wear a personal floatation device (we strongly recommend you do), but you must have one with you for each person in the boat. People under the age of 16 are not permitted to use the inflatable type of floatation vest. And, a boat cushion is not a legal PFD.
Each boat must be equipped with a so-called “Boat Safety Kit” consisting of one, fifty foot rope with a buoy at one end (or an actual floating rope), one flashlight, one whistle and one bailing can. We do supply these kits, but make sure it stays in the boat with you while you are on the lake.
You also must have two paddles or oars on board, and they too, will be supplied.
Using Game Fish for Bait
You may not use a game fish (one that is listed in the Fishing Regulations booklet that has possession limits and seasons) or a part of a game fish for bait. So, let’s say you catch an eight inch long perch and it is still very much alive. You may not use it for bait to try to catch a big pike, for example. If you catch a small sucker, you can, however. A sucker is not a “game fish.” It is considered a “coarse fish.”
The first thing to know regarding limits is that “possession limit” and “daily limit” mean the same thing.
Note – You may “catch and release” all day long without a limit.
When measuring the length of a fish, you must squeeze the tail fins to their full extension, then measure from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail fins. Bring a tape measure!
The “possession” law is sometimes misunderstood, even by residents of Ontario who fish all the time.
Here is a common scenario. Let’s say you have a “Conservation” licence (possession limit of 2 walleyes) and in the morning you catch some fish (walleyes for this purpose), you release a bunch, but, let’s say you keep two for shore lunch. If this is the case, you cannot keep (have in your possession) another walleye for the rest of that day (until midnight). Further, if you already have even one walleye back at camp, sitting in the freezer or refrigerator, you broke the law by killing two for your shore lunch.
Again, to clarify, your possession limit is the same as your daily limit. So, (with the “Conservation” licence) if you already have two in the freezer, packaged up, ready for the trip home, then you may not keep any that day or any other day until you eat the ones you have in the freezer. A simple solution is that if you love eating walleyes (who doesn’t eh?) and plan on taking a limit home with you, freeze and package those “home bound” fish on the last day of your trip. That way, you won’t be restricted to less than your possession limit during the other days of your trip. It’s common for vacationing fishermen to eat walleyes once a day in any of our camps.
Now, continuing with the same scenario, if you had only one walleye back at camp, you could in fact, keep one walleye for lunch, plus a couple northern… or a lake trout… or a whitefish or two. Each fish species has a separate and sometimes different possession limit.
Bringing a Limit Back Home
Bringing fish back home with you is easily done if you know the laws. First, you may only bring your possession limit of each fish species home with you. Next, they must be packaged in a way so that a CO or border patrol office can count them. If the fillets are frozen, they must be wrapped separately so they can be counted. The best way, is to wrap each individual fillet in plastic kitchen wrap, then put all of your fillets into one freezer type bag. This way, the fillets can be counted. If you just randomly toss all the fillets into a bag and freeze them, they cannot be counted. A CO will not sit there waiting for them to thaw…
The fish also must be identifiable. You must leave a minimum of one square inch of skin (with scales still attached) to the fillet. This way, they can be identified as walleye, lake trout or whatever the case may be. Again, see-through, plastic wrap will allow the CO to see the patch of skin. This “skin on” idea is the same principle as the rule that applies to the transportation of waterfowl. At least one wing must be left attached to the bird so it can be identified by a CO.
Bringing Moose Meat or Antlers Back Home
Export permits are required in order to cross the international border with wild game or the trophy. Your camp outfitter will have these in camp and assist you in filling it out properly. Crossing the border with moose meat or a set of antlers is easy and routine.
Alcohol on the Lake or in the Field
It is illegal to have any alcohol in the boat with you… or while sitting beside a beaver pond, waiting for a moose to appear. Conservation Officers and police officers here excuses all the time. “Honestly, officer, we just brought a few for shore lunch.” That excuse will get you a stiff fine. Hunters and anglers drown each year in Ontario because they made bad choices. Save the beer for back at camp, sitting by the campfire where you can’t drown. You might fall into the bonfire, but at least you can’t drown…
Walleye Possession Limits
With the “Conservation” licence: two fish, only one may be longer than 18.1 inches (46 cm)
With the “Sport Fishing” licence: four fish, only one may be longer than 18.1 inches (46 cm)
Pike are very tasty (just as good as walleyes according to many people), but they are quite bony, so they are normally not killed for consumption in lakes where walleyes are so easy to catch. It’s your call however.
Concerning pike, this rule is across the board in our area, as well as in most of northern Ontario – NO pike between 27.6 inches (70 cm) and 35.4 inches (90 cm) may be in your possession. If you catch a northern within this range, you MUST release it. If it dies while you are trying to resuscitate it, you must let it float away. It may seem like this is a sad waste of good fish, but if you try to explain to a CO that you tried to release it, but it died, you will get a fine. Besides, eagles, otters and turtles must eat too.
Here are the possession limits for northern pike:
With the “Conservation” licence: two fish, only one may be longer than 35.4 inches (46 cm)
With the “Sport Fishing” licence: four fish, only one may be longer than 35.4 inches (46 cm)
With the “Conservation” licence: one fish, any size
With the “Sport Fishing” licence: two fish, but between September 1 and September 30, only one may be longer than 22 inches (56 cm). No size limits for the rest of the season.
Brook Trout (Speckled Trout or “Specks”)
With the “Conservation” licence: two fish, only one may be longer than 11.8 inches (30 cm)
With the “Sport Fishing” licence: five fish, only one may be longer than 11.8 inches (30 cm)
** Important – Aggregate possession limits are in effect for all trout species. So, if you are fishing for both lake trout and brook trout, you must calculate one combined possession limit for the two species of trout.
Example – with the Sport Fishing licence, you may possess three brook trout (only one longer than 11.8 inches) and two lake trout (only one longer than 22 inches). It’s the same idea as for ruffed grouse and spruce grouse. In Ontario, they are both counted together on the same limit.
Also, if you like eating brook trout, your guide will gladly fry a couple of smaller ones up for you. But, we do ask you to please release the larger fish. These majestic fish are truly spectacular and we would like to see the next group of anglers have a shot at ‘em. They make lots of babies too. Much appreciated!
With the “Conservation” licence: six fish, no size limits
With the “Sport Fishing” licence: twelve fish, no size limits
You will likely catch a few of these little guys while jigging for walleyes. They are small, but delicious!
With the “Conservation” licence: twenty five, no size limits
With the “Sport Fishing” licence: fifty, no size limits
There is no open season for sturgeon in Ontario. You might unintentionally catch one, but if you do you must release it immediately. If it dies, let it float away… as sad as that must seem, do it. Follow the law and you won’t end up in trouble! Do not bring it back to camp and “give it to your Native camp attendant.”
It’s astonishing to see just how different some of the gun and hunting laws really are comparing those of Ontario to some of the states below the 49th parallel. For example, in Ontario, your firearm or bow must be kept in its case until legal shooting time begins. And, it must go into a case at the end of legal shooting time later that day. Example, if you are riding back to camp in your boat (after dark) your gun or bow must be encased.
So, carry a “gun sock” with you. This approach will satisfy any legal issues. It’s a lot more convenient than hauling your bulky gun case around with you! Legal shooting times are: 30 minutes before sun rise until 30 minutes after sunset. So, you must know exactly when the listed sun rises and sun sets are for your hunt. You can’t simply say, “Well, I could see pretty good.”
You may not shoot at a moose from the boat if there is a motor attached to the boat, even if the motor is not running or tipped up with the prop out of the water. So, yes, you can shoot from a canoe or row boat. By the way, using a canoe is a great way to sneak up on a moose!
Your guide will provide you with an adult moose tag, likely for a bull. You may shoot only what animal is listed on your tag. If you shoot a cow when you have a bull tag, you are breaking the law and your guide will be forced to turn you in the COs.
Wearing “hunter orange” (hat and vest covers the legal amount of inches required) is mandatory while hunting for moose during the firearms season. During the archery, it is not required.
You may not shoot at a moose if it is swimming. It can be standing in water, but not swimming.
The game seal (tag) must be attached the moose immediately upon recovery of the animal. There will be a simple graphic on the tag itself showing you wear to attach the tag to the animal. (Bull or cow). If you are on the way back to camp and have forgotten to tag the animal, it’s “big time fine time.”
Here is a link to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website. You may find some interesting rules and regulations within the pages of their “regs booklets” for hunting and angling.