What You Need to Know About Fishing in the Biosphere

Fishing topwater as the sun comes up. Casting toward a weed line, anticipating a big hit. Jigging in your favourite (top secret) fishing hole until there’s barely enough light left to see the tip of your rod. Just thinking about these kinds of moments makes anglers giddy with excitement, eager for the open water season.

The spectacular waters in the biosphere region provide unparalleled fishing opportunities. To protect the fish populations that support recreational fishing, and all of the businesses that rely on it, it is important that anglers make every effort to fish responsibly. This month’s blog post takes a look at what you need to know to fish legally and conscientiously in the region, whether you are new to the pastime or a seasoned pro.

The Basics

Many people in Ontario are required to have a valid recreational fishing license in order to legally fish. Exceptions include Indigenous persons, children under the age of 18, and adults 65 and older (find complete fishing license information here). There are a number of times throughout the year when any Canadian resident can fish in Ontario, even without a license. In 2022 those dates are: February 19-21; May 7-8; June 18-19; and July 2-10.

The province is divided into 20 Fisheries Management Zones (FMZ). Each FMZ has its own regulations around open seasons, catch limits and restrictions, and size restrictions. Within an FMZ there can also be special regulations for specific areas, certain species, or both. Given these differences, it is extremely important to check the regulations for the area you plan to fish before you go out. For example, the Big Sound of Parry Sound has its own special regulations that differ from regulations in the rest of FMZ 14 (Georgian Bay and the North Channel). Check the regulations carefully to avoid unknowingly fishing illegally.

Even if you have been fishing in an area for a long time, regulations can change. It is a good idea to review the rules annually before you get out on the water to check for any changes. Click HERE for the 2022 recreational fishing regulations summary.

New Bait Management Regulations

Not only is where and when you fish important, what you fish with matters too. Baitfish and leeches can introduce invasive species to waters and spread diseases that threaten the health of native fisheries and aquatic ecosystems. To help mitigate these ecological risks, Ontario developed a new Sustainable Bait Management Strategy, effective January 2022, which provides specific guidelines on where you can catch, use, and transport bait. If you fish with live bait, it is important that you read all sections of this new strategy that apply to your situation. Listed below are just some of the highlights for recreational anglers (commercial bait harvesting is not covered here).

  • A valid fishing license is required to catch your own live baitfish, leeches, crayfish, and northern leopard frogs.
  • There are specific fish species that can and cannot be used as bait in Ontario.
  • Bait can only be caught in your home Bait Management Zone (BMZ) and cannot leave your BMZ.
  • Baitfish and leeches you catch cannot be sold unless you are a licensed dealer.
  • If you fish outside your home BMZ, you must buy your baitfish and leeches locally, keep a receipt, and use or dispose of your bait within two weeks of the purchase date.
  • The use of live bait is restricted on some bodies of water.

For complete details, refer to the Sustainable Bait Management Strategy.

Sustainable Fishing Practices

Fishing is part of the identity of this region. To help ensure that future generations can enjoy the same fishing opportunities that we have today, these tips and guidelines for your fishing practices are a good start.

  • Secure your trash and take it out with you so wildlife cannot eat or get caught up in it.
  • If you fish from a motorized boat, avoid fragile habitats and always fuel up carefully to prevent spills. Better yet, fish from a canoe or kayak.
  • Use eco-friendly fishing gear, such as:
    • Fishing lures made of biodegradable plastic rather than rubber.
    • Sinkers made of non-toxic, chip-resistant materials such as brass, steel, tungsten, or tin, rather than lead.
    • Biodegradable monofilament fishing line which breaks down faster than traditional fishing line.
    • Waders, bags, boxes, and other equipment made of recyclable materials.
  • Dispose of your gear responsibly. Some boat launches and marinas have special disposal bins meant for discarded fishing line.
  • Practice catch-and-release all or most of the time.

If you want to snap a photo of your fish before releasing it, be sure to have a camera ready beforehand. Keep the fish in the water until you are ready for the photo and handle the fish with wet hands or wet cloth gloves. Support heavy fish horizontally rather than by the jaw and never place your fingers in the eyes or through the gills. 

Catch-and-release dos and don’ts

Releasing your catch leaves more fish to mature, spawn, and carry out their role in the ecosystem. Here is a list of dos and don’ts to help improve your chances of releasing an uninjured fish back into the water. Learn more about catch-and-release handling HERE.

  • Get your fish off the hook and back into the water as fast as you can. Expose your catch to the air for as little time as possible.
  • Use fishing line that won’t break when you catch the species you are targeting, accompanied by a lure specific to that species. This prevents the fish from swimming away with a deeply embedded hook.
  • Rather than J-hooks, use barbless hooks or circle hooks, which minimize internal damage to the fish and can be removed quickly.
  • Use longnose pliers to get the hook out quickly.
  • Use unscented artificial bait, which the fish is less likely to ingest, rather than live or organic bait.
  • Don’t lock your line in place and walk away. Unattended lines can hook fish so deeply that they do not survive once released.
  • Don’t use meshed landing nets, which can damage fins and life-sustaining mucus on scales. Use rubber or knotless mesh nets, or mesh cradles strung between poles to land larger fish.
  • Don’t fish in deep water if you don’t have a thorough understanding of how temperature and pressure changes can affect the species you’re targeting.

Brag About Your Catch While Contributing to Science!

Just caught a fish? Report your catch of at-risk, rare, or common species to the Georgian Bay Biosphere iNaturalist project to help us learn more about fish populations in the region.

You can also use the app MyCatch by Angler’s Atlas to log fishing trips and share fishing data confidentially with biologists (without giving away your secret spot!).

Helen Kohl is a retired journalist and writer who is lucky enough to live in the Georgian Bay Biosphere region.

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