Maine’s recreational fishing rules are too darned complicated


Dad with brookies from Sourdahunk Lake

Dad with brookies from Sourdahunk Lake

We studied the 300-page summary provided by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and were still confused. We think we could keep up to five brookies over six inches, from brooks and streams, except those which are part of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, in which case the trout had to be over twelve inches and we could keep only two fish, of which one could be over fourteen inches, and each must have a notch in the dorsal fin, unless there were at least thirty-five orange sports on each side of the fish, except for fish in streams crossing the American Realty Road, which must have no more than twenty-five orange spots on each side.

We think we obeyed the laws. My friend Barney has hired a lawyer to review the regulations and get back to us prior to next year’s trip.

We had a great time, and I’m hopeful we didn’t inadvertently poach any brookies with too few orange sports. To be safe, we ate them before they could become evidence.

This is one of many hilarious stories in a new book by Brian Daniels, titled Thoughts of an Average Joe and published by Islandport Press in Yarmouth.

While these stories are supposed to be fictional, they’re based on many of Brian’s outdoor experiences. And he certainly portrayed the state’s fishing rules accurately.

Emailed message

Not long ago, I received the following emailed message: George , how did the fishing laws get so complicated? I have had lots of people in the bait shop that have no idea what this new law book says or how to read it, and many young people who are considering giving up fishing because they cannot understand the new book – and I for one don’t know either. It is very sad to witness this. There seems to be a vast separation between the people in Augusta and the people who are outdoorsmen. Just wanted you to know – its amazing to hear what customers have to say about this book.


While working for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I organized a group, called the Pickering Commission, two times over a 15 year period to review the fishing laws and rules and suggest improvements and simplifications. We had little luck.

Once, a SAM bill directing Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to simplify the rules, was enacted by the legislature. When DIF&W reported back to the legislature two years later, they said it was impossible.

I heard recently that the department was actually working on simplification of fishing rues, so I asked for a report on their progress. Here’s the report I received last week from southern Maine’s Regional Fisheries Biologist Francis Brautigam:

Jim Pellerin from my office has been developing a regulations database to address a number of identified needs and interests.  One initial objective was to explore development of a tabular listing of the fishing rules similar to that used by the State of New York.  After a recent “mock” run of one county’s-worth of regulations in this new format and considering the limited benefits realized to the anglers in terms of improved understanding of the rules and improved navigation through the law book, it is my understanding this formatting plan will not be pursued. 

If pursued, the approach would create significant additional “depth” to the fishing law book and significantly higher costs to produce, as the tabular format would require use of considerably more text.  One benefit that would have been realized is the S-code designations would have been largely eliminated and replaced with actual text in the tabular format.  Hope this helps.  Francis

Well, Francis, no, this actually is not helpful. I do, of course, thank you for the quick response to my inquiry. But once again, those of us who yearn for simplified fishing rules have been disappointed.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.