Freshwater fishing seasons and laws

Before you drop a line in a pond or river, make sure you know the rules. Massachusetts has different fishing seasons and regulations to help keep fish populations healthy.

Overview

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) has regulations in place to protect fish species and habitats. You need to understand season dates, catch limits, and other rules before you head out for a relaxing afternoon of fishing. Even if you’re familiar with the laws, it’s important to brush up on them from time to time because regulations can and do change.

What you need to know

Most people need a freshwater fishing license to cast a line in Massachusetts lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Make sure you buy a freshwater fishing license if you need to.

Seasons, catch limits, and lengths

Check open season dates, size limits, and catch limits before you head to the water. You can legally catch most freshwater game fish in Massachusetts year-round, but seasons can change. Catch (creel) limits — the number of fish you can keep in 1 day — vary by species. You must release fish back into the water if they don’t meet the minimum length for that species.   

Bait and lures

There are fishing regulations related to bait and lures that all anglers should know. Keep in mind these 2 important freshwater fishing rules:

  • Legal baitfish you catch are for personal use. They can’t be resold.
  • You can only use artificial lures in catch-and-release areas.

Protected fish

You can’t keep some species of freshwater fish if you catch them. Remove the hook or cut line and return the fish to water immediately — do not pose for photographs, place on a stringer, hold in a net, or delay in any way the immediate return and release of these fish:

  • Sturgeon (all species)
  • American brook lamprey
  • Bridle shiner
  • Eastern silvery minnow
  • Lake chub
  • Longnose sucker
  • Northern redbelly dance

What not to do

The following are prohibited while freshwater fishing in Massachusetts:

  • More than 2 hooks for fishing open water or more than five hooks when ice fishing. A hook is defined as an angling device attached to a fishing line that is designed to take one fish at a time but is not limited to devices commonly called spinners, spoons, bait harnesses, jigs, or plugs.
  • The taking of any fish from the inland waters of the Commonwealth for the purposes of sale.
  • Lead sinkers, lead weights, and lead jigs weighing less than 1 oz. Any sinker or weight made from lead that weighs less than 1 ounce, and any lead jig (meaning any lead-weighted hook) that weighs less than 1 ounce, is prohibited for use in all inland waters of the Commonwealth. The term lead sinker shall not include   any other sinkers, weights, fishing lures or fishing tackle including, but not limited to, artificial lures, hooks, weighted flies, and lead-core or other weighted fishing lines.
  • Releasing fish or spawn into inland waters, except by permit.
  • Transporting live fish (except bait for personal use) without a permit
  • Jug, toggle, or trot line fishing
  • Snagging
  • Poisons, explosives
  • Littering in inland waters

More information

When you’ve made a great catch, it’s a cause for celebration. But before you eat the fish you catch, keep in mind that some people should steer clear of any freshwater fish unless it’s been stocked by MassWildlife. These groups include:

  • Pregnant women or women who plan to become pregnant
  • Women who are nursing
  • Kids under age 12

Environmental factors can affect fish from certain locations. Before you go fishing, check the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) fish consumption advisories to see if there are any areas with advisories or types of fish you shouldn’t eat.

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