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The Regulations Donít Mention Party Fishing, But Itís Still Illegal

by: David Coulson 1/23/2014

Shiverfix posed a series of dilemmas and agreed to me using them so the issues could be examined in a little more depth.  He posted the following:

ďBut say there are two of you fishing together. Do you keep five trout because your friend only caught three? You have kept ten kokanee but give a couple to a family that isnít having as good of luck. Do you keep two more after that?Ē

This is referred to as party fishing, where two or more anglers work in concert to fill their combined limits. If you check the Colorado regulations, party fishing or fishing as a group is never mentioned, not once.  However, it is still illegal, because the rules are specific as to how many fish an individual may keep.  Itís rather straightforward; you may only take one bag limit per day, even if you give them away.

Dig deeper and youíll find that if you give fish to another license holder (someone in your party), the fish you caught and gave away counts toward both daily bag limits. Figuring some might disagree with my unofficial interpretation of the law, I emailed Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) for an official one.  Hereís my question and CPWís response (both abridged and corrected for grammar).

The question:

ď. . . concerning party fishing, that being where two or more anglers work as a group to fill all limits regardless of who catches the fish.  Say the limit is 10, four anglers, forty fish. One person might kill 20, another 15, one 5 and one zero.  This is illegal, in that one person can't not catch more than their limit. Correct?  I also assume, if caught, the penalty for the ďcaught 20Ē person would be 10 fish over limit, so $35 for the first, and $10 each thereafter, 5 points for the first and 1 point for each fish thereafter.  Would everyone be cited in this case?  . . .Ē

The response was from Bob Thompson, Lead Wildlife Investigator, CPW:

ď. . . You are correct in that it is illegal for a person to catch more fish than their bag limit.  Although there is no legal definition of "party fishing" . . . an individual is only entitled to take the amount of wildlife that he/she is legally allowed to take and cannot take wildlife for another person (party).  You are also correct in that the penalty will be $35 for the first fish over the limit and $10 for each fish thereafter and 5 license suspension points for the first illegal fish and 1 point for each thereafter.  The person(s) receiving the illegally caught fish could be cited for unlawful possession of any fish that was caught illegally as well.Ē

OK, itís illegal to keep a limit and help fill someone elseís, but whatís the harm?  Itís a lot like driving over the speed limit, right?  Thatís one viewpoint.  Here is mine. 

First, breaking the law makes you an unethical angler, as typically the first rule in any listing of anglerís ethical conduct is: obey the law. Second, fish (wildlife) are public property.  They are held jointly by all of us and we have regulations to determine how game is harvested and moved from public to private domain.  From my view, anyone taking fish they donít have a right to is a thief. Unfortunately, we donít punish them the same as we do thieves. Steal private property and get convicted and your likely a felon, steal wildlife, itís a slap on the wrist at best.

Further, by taking more fish than youíre entitled to, youíre depleting the resource faster than it otherwise would have been.  While on the surface this may seem benign, the reality is if everyone takes the position that itís OK to harvest all we can to fill everyoneís limit (in the group/family) that puts greater the pressure on our resources, which, by some accounts, are already stressed enough.

Personally, my view on harvesting fish, which I do, is to only take what I need for a meal that day, and release the rest.  If you feel the group needs to fill all the limits, for whatever reason, then work on teaching those less successful anglers in the group how to catch their own fish, rather than doing it for them.

Blog content © David Coulson
Member comments
pikeNcolorado, CO   1/23/2014 7:40:51 AM
Good stuff Dave.
longdraw, CO   1/23/2014 10:31:14 AM
lewdog, CO   1/23/2014 10:36:32 AM
Thanks for sharing this blog. Great write up. Only one question.... when you fish in a tournament you are only allowed your limit but the two people "party fish" for them how is that legal?
opencage, CO   1/23/2014 10:40:44 AM
Uh oh Lew, you just gave him another blog :-)
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/23/2014 10:57:37 AM
Every team tournament that I've seen in Colorado sets the team limit the same as for one person. Example, the Centennial Bass Clubs Full Moon Open is a team tournament. The weigh in limit is 5 black bass, same as the lake limit for one person. So it's not an issue.
lewdog, CO   1/23/2014 11:04:03 AM
And do they allow culling? That means that fish you had in your livewell is part of your limit if you did not release it immediately. Right? Sorry I never fished no tourneys.
Abel1, CO   1/23/2014 11:13:06 AM
How is this different from hunting? You get your deer on the first day but there is a week left and your buddies have their tags to fill. Do you just go along for the rest of the week as a spectator? Do you leave your rifle at camp? What about the trophy hunter who comes across the spike his buddy is after for the meat. Do you shoot it for him because he is on the other end of the draw? We all know what is right and wrong but... I think it comes down to Integrity.
skiman, CO   1/23/2014 11:44:07 AM
Dave, In a perfect world, showing someone how catch their limit would be the thing to do, but you know as well as I do that's not always the case. Proving who actually caught a fish is not easy, and you are right, it does come down to a matter of what's ethically and morally correct. Most times, a guy donates the fish he catches so he can keep on fishing. I would rather see that happen, then to have a guy catch his limit and to keep on fishing, releasing those fish to,(perhaps) just die. It's like culling in a tournament...Does that increase the mortality rate? Good Blog Dave...leaves a lot to ponder. Good Fishing! Ski
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/23/2014 12:43:16 PM
On the culling aspect of tournament fishing, that is a stickler that CPW tends to overlook, as once in the live well the fish is part of your limit, but the intent is for all fish to be released. I do not have an answer for that. I do know that tournament rules are such that if a fish dies in your live well you cannot cull that fish. Party fishing is no different from party hunting and my original write-up included that point, but I removed it to reduce the blog length. Yes, some folks do give away their fish that day so they can continue to fish and kill, which is illegal. Yes, it is hard to prove, when a common stringer is check with 7 trout and two anglers as to which fish were caught by whom. Like many laws, we depend on the angler's integrity more than enforcement.
anglerwannabe, CO   1/23/2014 1:00:54 PM
In most tournaments, once someone reaches the limit they start culling. If you want to see blatant disregard for the slot limits, go to Monument.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/23/2014 2:26:10 PM
I guess on the tournament aspect I should have mentioned I was thinking just bass tournaments, as those are what I typically fish. I won't fish any tournament that requires I kill a fish. So my comments should be taken in that light and are not applicable to situations outside that.
opencage, CO   1/24/2014 6:31:18 AM
I remember talking about this with you Dave, and it was something I hadn't thought about in depth. I think many others here were the same. Thanks.
KingFisher13, CO   1/24/2014 6:41:01 AM
Good explanation of "party fishing" & even better reasoning on why not to do it. I hope this deters people from doing it in the future. Nice blog, thanks.
Doc, CO   1/24/2014 7:56:20 AM
I feel Bobs reponse is somewhat inconsistant....there is a differance between 'catch' and "take' in you can contiue to fish, and land fish if you have your just can't keep them, or give them to someone else, or cull. But if you hook one, and your friend 'lands the fish" on your rod..its his "catch" and could go toward his limit, not yours.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/24/2014 9:58:09 AM
Hooking a fish and handing off your rod so someone else can fill their limit may, and I say may be a way to skirt the intent of the law, which I see as being, you may keep a limit of fish you catch. Personally, I consider hooking to be catching, and if the fish you hooked is landed and kept with you holding a full limit, in my book you broke the intent, if not the law. Similarly if you're unlicensed and you take a child fishing and help them in any fashion while on the water, you're fishing and subject to being cited, even if you never hook or land a fish. It never ceases to amaze how many there are who look for ways to "cheat" the system, be it fishing, hunting, or something else
Doc, CO   1/24/2014 11:21:32 AM
good points, I personally believe hooking is hooking..and catching is landing..and yes if you have your limit and continue to catch and're breaking to law. I always amazes me how personal opinions affect one's perception of the law.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/24/2014 11:41:21 AM
If we didn't have personal perceptions of the law, as in everyone understood it exactly the same we'd have little need for lawyers, law officiers, and judges. And there would be far less to discuss on fishing forums and I'd have far less to blog about
shiverfix, CO   1/24/2014 1:24:06 PM
Doesn't that lead into another "gray area" of the law? Let's look at the scenario. You have a two rod stamp and have two lines in the water and a full bag. Your friend only has the license and NOT a double rod stamp, has a line in the water, and is short by a fish in his bag limit. Your second rod gets a fish and your friend reels it in, thereby filling his bag without exceeding yours. However, since he doesn't have a two rod stamp, isn't it illegal for him to reel in your line since he has one in the water?
KingFisher13, CO   1/24/2014 1:56:00 PM
"Hooking is hooking and landing is catching" I can just imagine hiring a fly fishing guide. Get to the river, and set up a chair. Tell the guide, "let me know when you hook one up for me to "land" yo! Better yet, I could hire an ice guide for the up-coming tournament. Show up, kick back wearing the number. The officials are like.. Um... I'd be like "relax, he's just hooking them for me G, I'll do the "landing" Hooking is hooking & landing is catching.. Lol
Doc, CO   1/24/2014 4:21:04 PM
lol..think about it..when you hook a fish and it comes you tell everyone you caught a fish? me is holding it in my hands, or its in the net. period.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/24/2014 4:29:40 PM
Actually I do have a fishing buddy who counts hook-ups, no matter how brief as catches. He releases everything, and actually prefers they get off after he sees them. In his view it's about fooling the fish into striking, not the landing. And in truth, there are many days I feel much the same.
David Coulson
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