Fishing Regs and Routinely Asked Questions

Author: NCWRC blogger/Friday, April 8, 2022/Categories: Blog, Conservation, Education, Fishing, Licensing, Regulations

NCWRC Staff Blog Post by Madeline David, Angler Engagement Coordinator

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s (NCWRC) regulations (AKA the law) for fishing can be intimidating. With countless fishing opportunities in our state, there’s a lot of fish and a lot of rules to remember. Between the creel limits – meaning how many fish you can keep per day – fish size limits and lure/bait restrictions, it’s quite a bit to think about when heading out for a day on the water.

That being said, we are here to help make sense of it all!

Let’s dig into what you need to know and where you can quickly find the information (hint: bookmark this article for later)! We’ll also touch on some of the most frequently asked questions our Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers receive about fishing in North Carolina.

It’s important to know that the NCWRC oversees licensing and regulations for inland fishing waters. The state’s marine resources in coastal fishing waters, including fish size and bag limits, are regulated by the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) – which is a separate state agency. Both agencies have licensing and regulatory authority in joint fishing waters, though. If you’re wondering how to differentiate between inland, joint, and coastal fishing waters, use the Fishing Access Map.

So, let’s focus on inland fishing regulations. Our website is a wealth of information. You can learn about inland game versus nongame fish, manner of taking, possession and use of game fish, seasons, special regulations for joint waters and how to measure a fish.

On the Warmwater Game Fish Regulations page, you’ll find the exact size and daily creel limits for inland game fish. For some species of fish, a specific body of water may have tighter regulations. For example, there’s no size or creel limit for Sunfish in North Carolina, unless you happen to be on, say, the Cape Fear River. In which case, you’re limited to taking 30 Sunfish and no more than 12 of them can be Redbreast Sunfish.

Nongame fish is anything not classified as a game fish and includes one of the most popular species in North Carolina: Channel Catfish! Although these are nongame fish, there could still be size and creel limits depending on where you’re fishing. For example, all of the NCWRC’s Community Fishing Program ponds and lakes, plus a few other waters, have a limitation on keeping ‘Cats.’

It gets a little trickier with trout – but don’t let that intimidate you! If you’re planning for a day or two in the Mountains, you’ll need to be aware of the time of year, where you’re fishing and the water designation. This will determine how many trout, if at all, you can keep and what kind of bait you can use. Once again, the Fishing Access Map is your friend by labeling the water designations. The trout section of the regulations will explain the restrictions of each designation.

So, who’s keeping anglers in check with all these rules and regulations? Our Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers! They’re spread out across the state to ensure people are doing the right thing – because the actions of wildlife law breakers threaten conservation efforts, which ultimately impact all of us.

If you ever have a questions about inland fishing regulations, Lt. Forrest Orr encourages you to reach out to your local Wildlife Law Enforcement Officer. “Their number can be found on the agency website under contacts, or by calling 1-800-662-7137 and asking for the number for the local officer,” he explained.

Another useful tip Lt. Orr offers is to pick up free hardcopy of the current year’s Regulations Digest. “That way anglers can review it while they are fishing, and they will have it available if they run across a situation they are unsure of while fishing,” Lt. Orr said. This is especially helpful advice when fishing in an area with poor cell service and limited access to the online version.

If you’re still confused and don’t want to break the law, don’t risk it. “It is always best to ‘Play it Safe’ if you are unsure about a regulation,” Lt. Orr said. “Releasing a few fish back into the water because you're not quite sure of the size, creel or possession restrictions of a certain fish is much better than receiving a warning or a citation from an officer.”

Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers often get asked the same questions when it comes to fishing rules and regulations. Here are the top 10 frequently asked questions and answers:

  1. At what age is a fishing license required?
    1. Anyone 16 and older needs a valid fishing license in North Carolina.
  2. Do I need a fishing license to take my child fishing?
    1. If you are going to actively participate in the fishing in any way, then YES!
  3. How long is my license good for?
    1. It depends on the license you purchased. Either 10 days, one year or a lifetime.
  4. Do I need a license to fish in a private pond?
    1. NO, but make sure you have the permission of the landowner.
  5. Do I need a license to fish in my home county with live bait?
    1. YES, the ‘Natural Bait Exemption Law’ was repealed in 2007.
  6. Which waters can I fish with my license?
    1. It depends on which license you purchased. For clarification, check out this blog.
  7. What is the size and limit for ____ species?
    1. It depends. Go here.
  8. How do I know if this is inland, joint, or coastal fishing waters?
    1. Check the water designation here. For a tutorial on how to use the Fishing Access Map, go here.
  9. Where can I purchase a fishing license?
    1. Online, by phone or at a designated seller.
  10. My question isn’t here. What do I do?
    1. Contact or call your local Wildlife Law Enforcement Officer.

      Helpful hint: Before heading out to fish, check the regulations online for the particular body of water you’ll be visiting. On your computer, use the Control + F (Windows) or Command + F (Mac) function on the game and nongame pages to search for the name of the water, then review the regulations for fish in those waters. You can do this on your phone as well (iPhone tutorial and Android instructions below).

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