Any real Aussie will tell you that there are some things that truly go together in this wide, brown land: pies and sauce, prawns and Christmas, tea and Tim Tams, Vegemite and cheese. However, if there is one pairing that just screams quintessential Aussie; it’s four-wheel driving and fishing. If there is any better way to experience the breathtaking best that this country has to offer, I’ve yet to find it. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a novice who just wants to take the kids to experience a bit of nature up close and personal, we’re blessed with some of the most exhilarating and spectacular fishing on the planet.

The thought of leaving all your cares at home, dropping or casting a line and then sitting back to soak in the scenery is enough to get many of us through our work weeks. However, before you check your stress glands in at the front door, it might be worth considering the impenetrable labyrinth of rules and regulations that govern recreational fishing in this country. Just trying to get your head around all the intricacies of bag, possession and size limits, protected species, permitted equipment and methods and the like is enough to give anyone a headache. What’s more, just as we learned in a previous blog about rules governing the installation of LED light bars, the law can vary considerably from state to state, as well as for fresh and saltwater fishing. And here you thought that you were going to have a nice, relaxing fishing trip!

Holy Mackerel!

Before you fling your rods down in disgust and take up darts as a safe and uncomplicated alternative, it’s probably worth keeping in mind that the rules and regulations surrounding recreational fishing are in place to preserve and protect finite aquatic resources so they can remain at viable levels for all to enjoy. Armed with this knowledge, we can at least approach the subject with a sense that it is a quagmire with a cause; and an acceptably noble one at that. Fishing should not and cannot be a free-for-all. Otherwise, there will be no fish left to catch, and then we’ll all be in a bit of a conundrum. Some fairly smart people have sat down, studied fish populations and determined the optimal number and sizes of fish that can be taken while allowing the stocks to naturally replenish themselves on an ongoing basis. As indicated above, the rules fall into a couple of broad categories. The categories themselves are straight-forward and intuitive enough. It’s just that the devil is in the detail. Let’s first have a look at the categories themselves and see if we can start making some sense from there:

  • Bag limits: The maximum number of fish from any species that an individual is permitted to take per day.
  • Possession Limits: The maximum number of fish from a particular species that an individual can have in their possession at any one time.
  • Size Limits: The minimum length a fish needs to be for an individual to keep it, rather than throw it back to fight another day. This ensures that fish have a chance to reproduce before being removed from the ecosystem.
  • Protected Species: Species whose fishing is limited or entirely prohibited due to their relative vulnerability or scarcity.
  • Permitted equipment/methods: Limitations on gear and techniques that can be used to avoid either catching too many fish at one time or excessive bycatch.

As you can see, all these measures make perfect sense from a sustainability perspective. Now let’s take a bit of a deeper dive (no pun intended) and explore a bit further:

Bag/Possession/Size Limits

Each state has detailed limitations on the size and number of fish from each species that you can take. These limits also vary according to the aquatic environment. Fish found in freshwater, or tidal waters closer to shore are, as a rule, more abundant and reproduce and mature faster. Therefore, limits are a bit more relaxed. Demersal fish (those that live and feed on or near the bottom of seas or lakes) tend to reproduce and mature more slowly, so you can usually take fewer of them. It gets a bit murky when you’re in deeper waters, as there are some species, known as pelagic fish, that like to hang out closer to the surface. These guys are less vulnerable than their mates that live below them but are typically larger, less prolific and slower to mature. If you’re fishing further from shore, you need to pay close attention to whether you’re catching Demersal or Pelagic as there can be distinct differences between how each is treated. This is especially true when it comes to mixed catch limits. That’s right, in addition to each individual species having its limit, there are also restrictions on the total numbers of fish of all species that you can pull in per day.

Let’s take a simple example to illustrate the complexity. Australian Salmon is a relatively abundant species, so most states allow fairly generous catches. Here’s how it stacks up state-by-state:

State Minimum Size Bag Limit Possession Limit
NSW None 5 20
QLD 40cm-60cm* N/A 5, 10 or 20*
SA 21cm 10 or 20** 30 or 60**
TAS 20cm 15 30
VIC 21cm 20 20
WA 30cm 4 16

*Depends on variety

** Numbers refer to fish lengths of 21-35cm and >35cm respectively

From this table, you can very quickly understand how complicated this whole business can be. A Crow Eater visiting WA can get him or herself in trouble for taking a fish that would be well within size limits back home, while Victorians crossing the Murray could find themselves in hot water for removing quantities of fish that would pass muster on their side of the river. Now extrapolate this level of complexity for every species and add in invertebrates and molluscs…Scary stuff!

The good news is that fisheries departments in every state have recognised the utter confusion that can ensue, and each of them has provided very easy to follow guides. Wherever you’re fishing, referring to these guides is an absolute must. Some of them even offer the information on a mobile app so that you can check it on your phone when you’re out of internet reception!

To give you a helping hand, here they are:

New South Wales
South Australia
Western Australia

Fly Fishing Australia

Image used with permission from George Apostolidis: Instagram: ga_photo

Permitted Equipment/Methods

Fortunately, there is a bit more consensus in this department. Put succinctly; you can’t use any method that will either land you an unacceptably large number of fish or kill indiscriminately, resulting in lots of other critters biting the dust along with whatever you’re hunting. Use common sense, and you will probably be OK. For those whose common sense might need a bit of a prod in the right direction, a good rule of thumb is:

  • No firearms or explosives
  • No drift lines
  • Don’t fish with excessive numbers of rods, hooks or lures at any one time.
  • If you’re fishing for invertebrates, use small nets, traps or baits that are designed for recreational use only.

If you stick to these guidelines, you should be safe no matter where in Australia you are!

Hopefully, this has helped make things clear for you. Do be sure to check whether you need a license in whichever state you’re fishing in, and pay the fee before your line hits the water. It’s usually only a few dollars, and in most cases, you can pay it online, at any tackle outlet or other convenient locations, such as service stations or local shops in fishing areas. In every