Fishing limits, size restrictions and catch and release
The rules for the size and legal number of fish you can catch and keep, and how to properly return fish to the water.
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By law, there are set limits and restrictions on the fish you can legally catch and keep in Ontario.
Open season dates and limits (and any restrictions) are different for each of Ontario’s twenty fisheries management zones.
Find seasons and limits:
- View the fisheries management zones overview map to identify the zone in which you want to fish.
- Open the file for that zone at the top of the Fishing Regulations Summary page and the information for that zone will be displayed, including seasons, limits and restrictions.
Each species has its own limits and restrictions for what you can keep, depending on:
- the fishing zone and waterbody
- the time of year
- size of the fish
- the type of fishing licence you bought (conservation or sport fishing)
There are 3 kinds of limits and restrictions on what you can catch and keep for a particular species:
- catch limits
- possession limits
- size restrictions
You must immediately release any fish that exceed the size restrictions and catch and possession limits.
It is against the law to destroy or allow fish suitable for food to spoil.
You can find a complete set of rules related to size, catch and possession limits in 2 sections of the Ontario Fishing Regulations Summary:
- Season and Limits section (for zone-wide limits)
- Exceptions to the Zone Regulations (exceptions for individual waterbodies)
View complete rules: Ontario Fishing Regulations Summary
Catch and possession limit
Catch and possession limits are set to:
- protect fish populations against overfishing
- give all anglers a fair share of the fisheries resources
The number of fish you can catch and keep in a day. It includes:
- fish you don’t release right away
- fish you eat
- fish you give away
Your daily catch limit counts towards your possession limit.
The total number of a species of fish that you can have in your possession at any time. It includes fish caught today and in the past, whether they are:
- freshly landed
- in your car or boat
- in your cooler
- at home in your fridge or freezer
Your possession limit does not include fish you have:
- given away
Unless stated otherwise in the fishing regulations summary, the catch limit and the possession limit are the same.
How to read the limits
S-4; none between 70-90 cm (27.6-35.4 in.) not more than 1 greater than 90 cm (35.4 in.)
- for anglers with a sport fishing licence
- catch and possession limit of 4
- only 1 fish can be longer than 90 cm
- immediately release any fish you catch between 70-90 cm long
C-1; any size
- for anglers with a conservation licence
- catch and possession limit of 1
- no size restriction
If the limit is 0, you may only practise catch and release. (You must immediately release any of this species back into the water without harming the fish.)
Restrictions on the size of fish that you can keep. They cover only the named species. Size restrictions may identify:
- fish longer or shorter than a specified length
- fish between or outside specified lengths (known as slot size)
Fisheries managers set size limits to:
- protect fish until they reach spawning size
- protect prime spawning size fish
- improve the size of fish in fish populations
How to measure a fish
To find the length of a fish:
- measure from the tip of the mouth with the jaws closed to the tip of the tail
- compress the tail fin lobes to give the maximum possible length
You need to release any fish you don’t want to eat or take home. You can only release fish that will survive. It is against the law to allow fish suitable for food to spoil.
If you catch a fish after you have already reached your daily catch or possession limit for that species, you must release it immediately. Any fish you do not release become part of your daily catch limit.
When you must release a fish
Some fish must be immediately released in the manner that causes the least harm to the fish. These include:
- fish caught during a closed season
- fish that exceed your limit
- fish that are restricted in size
- protected species
- fish hooked anywhere other than the mouth
Culling and livewells
Culling means swapping a fish you’ve already caught for a different one to maximize the size of your catch or to selectively harvest fish of a certain size.
In most cases, fish you do not release immediately become part of your daily catch limit.
Under certain conditions for certain species, anglers can cull (selectively hold and release) more fish than their daily limit:
- The fish must be held in a livewell, a tank used to keep fish alive. The livewell must meet these conditions:
- attached to or part of the boat
- holds at least 46 litres (10 gallons) of water
- capacity for water exchange
- mechanically aerates the water whenever it holds live fish
- drained before leaving the water body
- Culling is only allowed with these species:
- northern pike
- largemouth and smallmouth bass
- You may catch, hold in a livewell and release more than your daily limit for these species as long as:
- none of the fish exceed the size limits
- you never exceed your daily limit of northern pike or walleye, or 6 smallmouth and largemouth bass (in any combination), at one time
- any fish you release are likely to survive
Example: You are holding your daily catch limit of 6 bass in the livewell of your boat. You continue fishing, and catch a bass larger than 1 of the 6 you are holding in the livewell. You safely release the smaller fish, and put the larger bass in the livewell.
Catch and release guidelines
Harvesting ﬁsh is an important part of recreational ﬁshing.
With preparation, information and experience, catch and release ﬁshing can help maintain sustainable ﬁsh populations.
Anglers might practice catch and release voluntarily or because it is required by regulations (for example, when a ﬁsh is out of season or is not within size limits)
To eﬀectively catch and release ﬁsh, you should minimize stress and injury to the ﬁsh. A less stressed ﬁsh can recover faster and will be less likely to:
- develop infection
- be vulnerable to a predator
- suﬀer a more serious injury when returned to the water
Keep in mind:
- fish must be released in a manner that causes the least harm
- fish that cannot legally contribute to your limit must be released immediately to the waters where you caught the fish
It is unlawful to target a species during its closed season even if you intend to release it. Delaying the release of a fish for pictures or weighing is unlawful, unless the fish can be legally kept towards your limit.
Tips to increase fish survival
Plan your trip
Avoid catch and release ﬁshing in extreme hot or cold weather. This reduces stress on the ﬁsh.
Avoid targeting spiny-rayed species such as bass, walleye, or crappie in waters deeper than five to six metres if you plan to release ﬁsh. This will prevent harm to the fish caused by changes in water depth.
Familiarize yourself with the regulations and size restrictions ahead of time.
Choose the appropriate gear
Select appropriately sized rods, lines and hooks for your target species. To minimize the likelihood of deeply hooking a ﬁsh and causing injury, consider using either:
- barbless hooks
- circle hooks
Where possible, choose artiﬁcial baits over natural baits. Using the appropriate bait and hook for your target species is a simple way to reduce injury and increase survival if the fish is released.
Set the hook and catch the ﬁsh quickly
Pay close attention to your rod so that you can set the hook as quickly as possible.
Try to reduce the playing time on the line so that the ﬁsh is not exhausted by the time you catch it.
Both practices will help reduce stress to the ﬁsh.
Limit the time spent handling the ﬁsh and avoid touching the gills wherever possible.
Land by using a clean, wet hand or while wearing non-abrasive gloves.
To help reduce damage to the organs, avoid hanging the ﬁsh vertically or by the mouth if you are taking pictures or weighing the fish.
Whenever possible, unhook the ﬁsh when it is still in the water or use a large landing net with rubberized mesh.
Fish placed on a stringer are not good candidates for release. If you plan to release a ﬁsh, return it to the water as soon as possible.
Avoid keeping a ﬁsh in a live well or holding pen if you intend to release it.
Limit air exposure
Once you catch a fish, reduce the amount of time you keep the ﬁsh out of the water. Aim for 10 seconds of total air exposure from catch to release.
Always have your hook removal tools ready to use as soon as the ﬁsh is landed, so you can release the fish immediately.
Use tools to remove the hook. If the hook is too deep, cut the line instead of struggling to remove it.