By Terry Gibson

Recently, a buddy came into town from Georgia to fish with us, and on the first day we caught a pile of fish across numerous species fishing in the Indian River Lagoon, near Fort Pierce.

By noon, we had caught and released snook, which were out of season, kept a few speckled trout after releasing a bunch of undersized fish, and released an “over-slot” redfish. We were really after delicious pompano, and when he caught a small one I could not retrieve the minimum size limit from my memory.

“Just leave it in the water until I look it up,” I told Jake, reaching for my iPhone. I pulled up Fish Rules, a free application designed by Jupiter-based ecologist Albrey Arrington and his team.

This app gives you instant information about bag limits, size limits and seasons wherever you’re fishing in the Gulf of Mexico or South Atlantic. It works even if you’re out of cell range, because it keys in on the GPS in your phone or tablet.

Turns out that fish was 12 inches to the fork of the tail, an inch longer than required. It went on immediately into the icebox.

Jake later asked me how I keep all these rules and regulations straight, and if I’d ever made a mistake. I told him, “A lot of experience, plus these apps make it so easy to stay within the laws.”

Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World because state and adjacent federal waters support dozens and dozens of recreationally targeted species. Anywhere you have that kind of diversity you have species that naturally have very different biological characteristics, such as rates of maturation and fecundity. So the rules, although unavoidably complex, are designed to keep us as the world’s best sportfishing destination. You don’t need to memorize them. You just need an app to keep you legal.

To be clear, you are not required to download anything before fishing. But Fish Rules covers saltwater species in state and federal waters.

Federal waters begin three nautical miles offshore of the Atlantic Coast, and nine miles off the Gulf of Mexico coast. There are also apps designed by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management councils that give clear, up-to-date regulations to anglers fishing in federal waters. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission also provides information about saltwater fishing regulations.

In order to give a fish that you must throw back the best chances for survival, you should leave it in the water while you look up the rules. Tight lines!


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