Angling in WNY? Throw these fish back for now

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — That sweet sunshine we’ve been soaking up this spring has given anglers a reason to hit up some of Western New York’s best fishing spots.

Something important to remember though — like hunting, fishing also has seasons and limits for certain species.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) shared a few species that shouldn’t be sought until later in the year. If they’re caught, they must be let go, at least for now.

“Fish caught during the closed season must be unhooked and released immediately,” the DEC said. “They may not be handled for any other purpose.”

When a species’ season opens, certain restrictions are lifted. Let’s take a look at some of the fish that’ll be biting in Western New York waters.

Most panfish, like crappie, yellow perch and sunfish (bluegill, redbreast and pumpkinseed) are open for fishing year-round, but the minimum sizes and daily limits for these fish vary by the species.

crappie – 10 inches, 25-fish limit

yellow perch – no minimum size, 50-fish limit

sunfish – no minimum size, 25-fish limit

The seasons for walleye, pickerel and northern pike is from May 1 to March 15. Five of each may be caught in a day as long as they’re at least 15 inches (pickerel and walleye) or 18 inches (northern pike) long.

Muskellunge season is from June 15 to December 15 in Lake Erie and the Niagara River. There is a daily limit of one while fishing at either and they must be at least 54 inches long.

From June 15 to November 30, largemouth and smallmouth bass (black bass) fishing has a limit of five per day. They must be at least 12 inches long.

Outside of the June to November season, black bass should only be caught with artificial lures and they must be released right after being caught.

An exception is Lake Erie, where black bass caught between December 1 and June 14 can be harvested as long as they’re at least 20 inches long. There’s a limit of one per day in this circumstance.

There is no season for lake sturgeon. This threatened species should not be sought while fishing.

MORE | A full list of seasons for freshwater fish in New York can be found here.

Unfortunately, invasive species continue to hamper native populations of fish. One that the DEC takes note of is the sea lamprey.

“The sea lamprey is a parasitic jawless fish that feeds on other fish by attaching to them using a suction-disk mouth filled with rasping teeth and a file-like tongue,” the DEC said.

The DEC says there’s a 40-60 percent mortality rate for fish attacked by one of these, and the NOAA’s National Ocean Service says one can kill about 40 pounds of fish annually.

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According to the DEC, efforts by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to suppress the sea lamprey began in 1986 in order to help lake trout populations.

“The continued quality of Lake Erie’s excellent fishery depends heavily on the ability to apply this, and other management tools, to control lamprey populations,” the DEC said.

Since 1991, anyone in New York looking to fish without a license has had annual opportunities throughout the year, the next days of which are June 29 and 30.

“The Free Fishing Days program provides a great opportunity for aspiring anglers to try freshwater fishing for the first time or former anglers to reconnect with one of America’s favorite pastimes,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

A list of fishing spots in the Western New York and Finger Lakes regions can be found here. If you need to renew your license, click or tap here.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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