Welcome back for the third installation of the Fishing Ethics Series brought to you by Fat Tire… This time around we are focusing on how to responsibly harvest fish.

The act of “fishing” means many different things for many different people. For some, fishing is the pursuit of time spent outdoors— where the catching is just the bonus. For others, the catch is the sole purpose for setting up a rod and getting out there. No matter what your “why” is, it’s essential to understand how to responsibly harvest a fish when the time comes.

For this installment of Fishing Ethics, we took a trip to the Chesapeake Bay in search of some tasty bites and fun times with our culinary expert, Kirk Marks.

Fish eyes
The fish of the day, White Perch.

Check the Regs

Before lines hit the water, you need to familiarize yourself with the regulations. First and foremost, make sure your fishing license and stamps are up to date. Secondly, figuring out what species and sizes are legal for harvesting within that area. Before we hit the Chesapeake we checked the Maryland DNR website for all the info we needed.

Two people casting on a boat
Andrew Braker and Kirk Marks casting at sunrise.

Know Your Species

Having good identification skills is super important when it comes to deciding whether to harvest a fish. This is especially true with fish species that look very similar to one another. Whether you need to know the difference between a striper and a perch, or a brown trout and a brook trout, make sure your identification skills are dialed. Depending on the species, your harvest could be illegal.

Angler catching a striped bass
Striped bass bycatch

Size Requirements

Some size requirements are more complex than others. For example, in Maryland redfish have a slot limit for harvesting. Only fish between 18 in. and 27 in. are allowed to be kept. When it comes to white perch, anglers can keep any size and any amount as long as they’re fishing with hook and line (as opposed to a cast net). The moral of the story: look up the regs for your target species before you hit the water, because, as plenty of us find out one day, “I didn’t know” doesn’t go a very long way with your local law enforcement.

White perch fish
White Perch (Morone americana)

Target a Sustainable Population 

The goal of harvesting a species is to harvest in a way that allows for the species to continue to sustain its population over time. For example, if too many people are harvesting a certain species, the species may develop a risk of becoming endangered in that area.

While regulations are usually adjusted to guide the public towards the harvesting of more sustainable species, sometimes regulations are not as informed and time sensitive as the local knowledge found in the angling community. 

For example, the striped bass population is currently at an all time low. Even though anglers are technically allowed to keep stripped bass, turning your attention to perch is a more sustainable option.


Someone holding two white perch
White Perch – sustainable and perfect fish stick fillets

Consider the Local Culture

Sometimes there are situations where it may be legally appropriate to harvest a fish, but it is inappropriate according to the local fishing culture. For example, catching a 20 in. brown trout out of Madison is legal; however, that fish is so highly sought after as a sport fish that people would not take kindly to throwing that fish on a stringer. The best way to gauge this local knowledge is to head to the local fly shop. 

Oyster boat at sunrise
Chesapeake commercial fishing boat harvesting razor clams.

Native Versus Wild

“Native” species are those that have historically lived within a water body without being introduced by humans. “Wild” fish are those who were born within a given ecosystem, but their lineage is not from that area. At some point that wild species was introduced into that environment. You could say that we’re a little on the wild side…

Person doing a canon ball off a boat
An important reminder. When the fishing’s slow, get wet – not upset.

Harvesting Invasive Species

There are many invasive populations of fish that are taking over ecosystems around the globe. In an effort to mitigate these populations, harvesting these invasive species can help. For example, when snakeheads started to populate exponentially around the Chesapeake, people, and restaurants began demanding snakehead. Check out this Flavor on the Fly recipe.

Where things get interesting is when invasive species also happen to be great sport fishing species. Snakeheads are a fun species to catch, and people have caught onto that. When you have a species that is aggressive, hits top water, and fights hard, people start to gain an appreciation for these fish beyond their potential ecological harm. 

One thing to take into consideration when considering invasive species is that not all of them look like the toothy, abhorrent creatures whose appearance alone is enough to inspire a cult-classic, low-budget, 2004 horror film. For instance, in some states, the fly-favorite Rainbow Trout is so unwelcome to the ecosystem, there is an actual bounty on their heads – and fish and game will pay a cash reward for harvested fish. If that’s not an incentive to check local regulations, we don’t know what is.

Fly box, fat tire beer, and fly rods in a truck bed
Impressive fly selection brought to you by Jonathan Bland.

Using the Whole Fish

As any sportsperson who’s worth their salt can tell you, anytime you harvest your own food it is best to use everything and waste nothing. Sure, everyone collects the main fillets, but finding creative ways to utilize other parts of the fish is more sustainable, and leads to some fun opportunities. After filleting a few white perch we made sure to throw the leftovers in the crab pot in hopes of turning one man’s trash into another man’s treasure – or in this case, crab’s treasure.

Loading the crab trap


You could say it worked.

Person holding a blue crab
Chesapeake Blue Crab.

That is all for this installation of the Flylords Fishing Ethics Series, brought to you by: Fat Tire! Make sure to keep an eye out for a future “Beer Battered” Fish Recipe, using one of our favorite amber ales. Also, make sure to check out the rest of the series, below. Cheers!

Person under water, but holding a beer above water

Artwork design by: Sam Hawkins

Fishing Ethics: Navigating National Parks

Fishing Ethics: Float Fishing


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