With Idaho being home to more than 2,000 lakes and 8,941 streams and rivers, the state is rather adamant on protecting the wildlife in its waters. Moreover, as the weather warms up and people venture out to fish, the number of fishing citations also increase. Because our office has recently been asked a few questions regarding fishing citations, we want to address those questions in this post. Specifically, we want to discuss the most common fishing violations and the penalties associated those violations.
Fishing without a license
The most common fishing violation in Idaho is probably fishing without a license. According to Idaho Code 36-401, “No person shall hunt, trap, or fish for or take any wild animal, bird or fish of this state, without first having procured a license as hereinafter provided.” Now, what does this mean? Regardless of whether you are an Idaho resident or someone visiting the state for just one day, you must obtain a license before engaging in the act of fishing in Idaho.
- What if you didn't know you needed a license? Unfortunately, in the eyes of the law, it doesn't matter if you knew it was the law or not.
- What if you didn't actually catch a fish? The statute only requires that you engage in fishing. You don't have to catch a fish; merely holding a pole in a body of water is enough.
- I may not have had a license but what if I was fishing with my buddy who did have one? Each person who is fishing must have a license. You cannot "borrow" someone else's license under the law.
The harsh part about fishing without a license in Idaho is that it's considered a misdemeanor rather than an infraction. Therefore, it comes with some greater penalties. Under Idaho Code 36-1402, if you plead guilty or are convicted of fishing without a license, you can face a fine of up to $1,000 plus court costs, serve up to 6 months in jail, and/or have your fishing license rights revoked for up to 3 years. The court can impose one of these punishments or a combination of them.
Catching an illegal fish
Even if you obtain a fishing license, you can still receive a citation if you catch a certain type of fish that is prohibited in Idaho and fail to release it back into the water. Some of the fish precluded from being caught in Idaho include sturgeon, Chinook salmon, wild steelhead, and bull trout.
What makes complying with this law difficult is that some of these fish are widespread in Idaho, difficult to identify, and are actually legal to catch during certain times of the year. For example, while it's always illegal to catch and not release bull trout, you can catch and keep Chinook salmon if the season is open. Each body of water with Chinook salmon has a different opening and closing date, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game typically posts updates on its website indicating when you can fish for them.
In addition, like the citation for fishing without a license, it does not matter whether you knew it was illegal to catch the fish or not. If you catch and attempt to keep a prohibited fish, you can be charged with this crime.
The potential punishment for catching an illegal fish is the same as fishing without a license. It is a misdemeanor and you can be forced to pay a fine, serve jail time, and/or receive a revocation of your fishing license for up to 3 years. The only difference is that your fine will be $100 to $1,000 if you catch Chinook salmon, wild steelhead, or bull trout, and your fine will be $200 to $1,000 if you catch a sturgeon.
Because this law can be difficult to keep up with, as a general rule, it's recommended to always purchase a license before fishing and catch-and-release unless you know that the fish you caught is legal. In addition, we recommend that you consult with an attorney if you have already been cited for a fishing violation. The punishments associated with these charges are not something to take lightly and should be fought, if possible.
If you have any unanswered questions about these charges or any other fishing charges, feel free to call our office for a free 30-minute consultation.