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Fishing Laws and Definitions

Fishing Regulations Maine Freshwater Fishing

Advance Baiting:

It is unlawful to deposit any meat, bones, dead fish or other food material in inland waters for the purpose of luring fish. However, it is lawful to place food particles in a baitfish trap for the purpose of luring baitfish. (12657)

Alewives (migratory sea-run):

The term “alewives”, when used alone, means the same as River Herring or Blueback Herring. A licensed fisherman may take 25 alewives daily from inland waters by the use of a dip net or single hook and line for consumption by himself or members of his family, except that alewives may not be taken from waters where a municipality or individual has been granted exclusive rights under laws regulating marine resources. (12506 -5-A) Exclusive rights apply to the watershed above the municipality as well as all waters within the municipality.

Artificial Lure:

Any fishing lure constructed by humans as an imitation or substitute for natural bait or fish forage and includes, but is not limited to artificial flies, spinners, spoons, poppers, plugs, jigs and plastic, rubber or other artificial imitations of natural bait. An artificial lures only rule prohibits the use of any live, dead or chemically preserved natural or organic bait or food. (12655)

Bag Limit (All Fish):

Any fish, except baitfish and smelts, taken from inland waters shall be immediately released alive into the water from which it was taken, or killed at once. Any fish killed becomes part of the daily bag limit. (12611)

Bait Containers:

A person selling bait may not provide or sell the bait in containers composed in whole or in part of polystyrene foam plastic. This does not apply to baitfish. (12553-2)


The term “bass”, when used alone, includes largemouth and smallmouth.

Brook Trout:

The term “brook trout” includes brook trout, splake, and Arctic char (Sunapee trout and blueback trout).

Closed Waters:

All inland waters, including those in Indian Territory (See Waters Regulated by Tribes, are closed to ice fishing except those opened by rule.

County Lines:

Whenever county lines divide a body of water, the more liberal county rule applies to the entire body of water.

Cusk Lines:

All lines set through the ice at night (sunset to sunrise) for cusk must be checked at least once every hour by the person who set them. (12659-A-4)

Dip Net:

A device consisting of a rigid frame filled with netting, firmly attached to a rigid handle and manually operated by a single person.

Failure to Label Fish:

It is unlawful to keep bass, landlocked salmon, togue (lake trout) or trout at any sporting camp, hotel, public lodging place or any place other than a person’s residence without attaching the name and address of the person who caught the fish. (12608)


The area within 150 feet of any operational fishway is closed to fishing. For the purposes of this subsection “operational” means a fishway capable of fish passage whether or not it is allowing the passage of fish at any given time.

Exceptions to the above restriction are as follows:

  • At the following places, the fishway and the area within 75 feet of any part of the fishway are closed to fishing at all times:
    1. Grand Falls Powerhouse Dam on St. Croix River in Baileyville.
    2. Woodland Dam on the St. Croix River in Baileyville.
  • At the following places, the area within the fishway and within 75 feet of the downstream mouth of the fishway is closed to fishing at all times (fishing upstream from the dam at the top of the fishway is lawful):
    1. East Grand Lake Dam in Forest City Twp (T9 R4 NBPP.
    2. Spednic Lake Dam in Vanceboro
  • At the so-called ice control dam on the Narraguagus River in the Town of Cherryfield, the area within 100 feet of the dam is closed to fishing at all times.
  • At the East Outlet Dam on the outlet of Moosehead Lake in Sapling Twp. (T1 R7 BKP WKR) in Somerset County and in Big Moose Twp. (T2 R6 BKP EKR) in Piscataquis County, the fishway and the area within 50 feet of any part of the fishway is closed to fishing at all times.
  • At the following places, fishing is prohibited in or from the fishway; there are no distance restrictions when fishing near the fishway: Beaver Pond Dam in Seven Ponds Township in Franklin County, Chain of Ponds Dam in Chain of Ponds Township in Franklin County, Davis Pond Dam in Eddington in Penobscot County, Leonard’s Mills Dam on Blackman Stream in Bradley in Penobscot County, Little Island Pond Dam in Seven Ponds Township in Franklin County, Long Pond Dam in Seven Ponds Township in Franklin County, Pushaw Lake Dam in Hudson in Penobscot County, Sheepscot Lake Dam in the Town of Palermo in Waldo County, Souadabscook Stream Dam at Grist Mill Pond in Carmel in Penobscot County, and Webber Pond Dam in Vassalboro in Kennebec County.

(Note: These provisions do not restrict the taking of alewives and smelts in accordance with laws regulating marine resources.) (12457)

Fly (Artificial Fly):

A single-pointed hook dressed with feathers, hair, thread, tinsel, or any similar material to which no additional hook, spinner, spoon or similar device is added.

Fly Fishing:

Casting upon water and retrieving in a manner in which the weight of the fly line propels the fly. No more than 3 unbaited artificial flies individually attached to a line may be used. (12654-A) (NOTE: It is unlawful to troll a fly in waters restricted to fly fishing only.) (12658)

Free Family Fishing Days:

Will take place on February 13–14, 2016 and June 4–5, 2016. On these days, any person (except those whose license has been suspended or revoked) may fish without a license. All other laws and regulations apply on these days.

General Law:

General Law is defined as laws and rules that govern fishing in all water bodies unless there are other more specific regulations listed. More specifically, general law covers any legal terminal gear, daily bag and possession limits, season dates and species. The General Law provisions are located on General Law Information.


A single fish hook constructed with 1, 2 or 3 points.

Ice Fishing:

Taking freshwater fish during the ice fishing season through man-made openings in the ice by the use of ice fishing implements. It is unlawful to open water fish in inland waters while positioned on ice. (12601)

Ice Fishing Implement:

Any lawful fishing implement used to take fish through the ice including a trap (tip-up), jig stick, rod in hand or handline, except that a person engaged in taking smelts and baitfish may do so in accordance with the laws and rules governing these activities.

Ice Fishing Shack:

A person who owns any shack or temporary structure used for ice fishing:

  • Must remove, or cause to be removed, the shack or structure on the ice of any inland waters prior to ice out, or 3 days after the close of the ice fishing season.
  • Shall have painted on the outside of the shack or structure in 2-inch letters, the owner’s name and address when the shack or structure is on the ice of any inland waters. (12661)
  • A person may not leave a structure on another person’s land without permission of the landowner. (Title 17, §2263-A)

Ice Fishing Trap (Tip-Up):

An ice fishing implement for storing line, designed to be set through the ice and to indicate when something has disturbed the attached bait.

Illegal Implements, Use of:

  1. Except as otherwise provided, it is unlawful to possess any grapnel, trawl, weir, seine, gill net, trap, set line or drop net on or adjacent to any of the inland waters of this State.
  2. Except as otherwise provided, it is unlawful to fish with a grapnel, spear, spear gun, trawl, weir, gaff, seine, gill net, trap, or set lines. (12656)

Illegal Fishing:

Except as otherwise provided, it is unlawful to fish other than with a single baited hook and line, artificial flies or artificial lures and spinners.

Exception: This does not apply to hook and line smelt fishing. All other rules and regulations governing the taking of smelt apply. Use of a gaff is unlawful. (12654)

Illegal Use of Antifreeze:

Adding substances containing ethylene glycol or other antifreeze agents to waters of this State is illegal. (Title 38, §413)

Importation of Fish:

It is unlawful to import any live freshwater fish or eggs into this State without written permission from the Commissioner. (12556)

Lead Sinkers:

It is unlawful to sell, offer for sale, or use a lead sinker that weighs one ounce or less or measures 2.5 inches or less. This does not include artificial lures, or weighted line or lines, or jigs. NOTE: After September 1, 2016 the sale or offer for sale of an unpainted bare lead jig that weighs one ounce or less or measures 2.5 inches or less is prohibited and after September 1, 2017 the use of an unpainted bare lead jig that weighs one ounce or less or measures 2.5 inches or less is prohibited. (12663-B & 12664)

Line Restrictions:

Unless otherwise provided by rule, the number of lines an angler may fish at any one time is limited to two lines while open water fishing and five lines while ice fishing. At no time may an angler fish with more than five lines.


It is unlawful to dispose of litter (including abandoned ice fishing shacks) anywhere in this State, except in areas or receptacles designed for that purpose. Convicted violators face fines up to $500 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for subsequent offenses.

Marking Fish:

It is unlawful to tag, fin clip, or otherwise mark any fish to be released alive into the inland waters of the State without the written consent of the Commissioner. (12601)

Minimum Legal Length:

The total length of a fish measured from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail, with the lobes of the tail squeezed together.

Night Fishing:

Except as otherwise provided by rule, all waters open to fishing are open to fishing 24 hours a day. All lines must be under the immediate supervision of the person who set them. (Open Water Fishing – 12652, Ice Fishing – 12659-A)

Exception: All lines set through the ice at night for cusk must be checked at least once every hour by the person who set them. (12659-A-4)

Notice of Submerged Vehicle:

The owner of any motor vehicle, all terrain vehicle or snowmobile that becomes submerged, or partially submerged, in the waters of the State shall immediately notify the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife of the event and the location of the vehicle. The owner is legally liable for removal and to pay any damages resulting from the submersion or removal. Motor vehicles shall be removed within 30 days (same day if public water supply). Snowmobiles and ATVs shall be removed within 24 hours. (Title 17, §2267-A)

Open Water Fishing:

Taking freshwater fish during the open water fishing season by means of hook and line in hand, or attached to a rod, or by casting or trolling artificial flies, lures, or baited hooks, provided that the person angling does not take fish through a man made hole in the ice, from the ice or from any object supported by the ice. (12601)

Possessing Gift Fish:

A person who does not possess a valid fishing license issued under chapter 923 may not possess a fish or any part of a fish given to that person except a person may possess in that person’s domicile a gift fish that was lawfully caught and is plainly labeled with the name of the person who gave the fish and the year, month and day the fish was caught by that person. This section does not apply to baitfish. (12613)

Possession Limit (All Fish):

A person shall not possess at any time more fish than may lawfully be taken in one day. (12602-2)

Railroad Track Restrictions:

A person may not, without right, stand or walk on a railroad track or railroad bridge or pass over a railroad bridge except by railroad conveyance. For penalties see Title 23, Chapter 611, § 7007.

Removal of Bag Limits on Bass:

In waters where the bag limit on bass has been removed by special rule, the season on bass and the method of fishing for them is the same as for trout and landlocked salmon.

Removal of Heads and Tails:

It is unlawful to alter the length of landlocked salmon, trout, togue, lake whitefish, and bass unless the fish are being prepared for immediate cooking. It is unlawful to possess or transport fish dressed in such a manner that the species of fish cannot be identified; unless the fish are being prepared for immediate cooking (smoking does not constitute cooking). (12601)

Sale of Certain Fish Prohibited:

It is unlawful to buy or sell, directly or indirectly, trout, togue, landlocked salmon, bass, white perch, or pickerel (except fish which have been lawfully produced by commercial producers and skins of fish which have been preserved by taxidermy). (12609-A)


The term “Salmon.” when used alone, means the same as landlocked salmon.

Salmon Eggs As Bait:

Commercially prepared eggs from species that do not naturally occur in this State may be used for bait. (12553)

Season Dates:

All dates are inclusive.

Set Line:

A line extending into the water and rigged to catch fish that has one end secured to the shore, or to a fixed or buoyant object, that is not personally attended.

Exception: lines set through the ice for cusk at night.

Single-Baited Hook:

A single-baited apparatus designed to catch only one fish at a time.


A person holding a valid Maine fishing license may take smelts for recreational purposes only from the inland waters or portions of inland waters that are open to fishing and naturally free of ice with a dip net in the usual and ordinary way from noon to 2:00 a.m. in accordance with bag limits established by rule. Bag limits established by rule under this paragraph are for a 24-hour period, beginning at noon on a given day and ending at 11:59 a.m. the following day. A person may not take smelts with a dip net unless that dip net meets the requirements listed above. A dip net when used to take smelts in a tributary or within 100 feet of the mouth of a tributary must contain a rigid circular frame that is not more than 24 inches in diameter as measured at any point on the hoop and manually operated by a single person. (12456)

Note: An unlimited number of baited hooks may be used on your line while fishing for smelts.


To fish by manipulating a hook or hooks in such a manner as to pierce or snag the fish in a part of the body other than the mouth. It is unlawful to fish for any fish, except suckers, by snagging. (12651)

Special Bag Limit:

Whenever any waters have a special bag limit, no person shall possess more than one day’s bag limit taken from those waters.

Species Identification:

It is unlawful to possess or transport fish dressed in such a manner that the species of the fish cannot be identified unless the fish are being prepared for immediate cooking. (Smoking does not constitute cooking.) (12601)


Persons licensed, or otherwise entitled to fish, may take suckers for their own use between April 1st and June 30th from all rivers, streams and brooks open to fishing by use of a hand spear, bow and arrow or by snagging. (Note: If suckers are taken by bow and arrow, the arrow must have a barbed or pronged point and must be attached to the bow with a line.) (12506)

Supervision of Lines:

All lines must be under the immediate supervision of the person who set them. Exception: All lines set through the ice at night for cusk must be checked at least once every hour by the person who set them. (Open Water Fishing – 12652, Ice Fishing – 12659-A, Cusk Fishing – 12659-A)

Ten-Acre Ponds:

All ponds of 10 acres or less formed on rivers, streams and brooks are governed by the same fishing rule(s), unless specifically listed for the waterbody, that apply to the river, stream, or brook where the pond is situated, whether the pond is natural or artificial. (This does not apply to private ponds.)

Terminal Gear:

Tackle at the end of a line used to catch fish, including baited and unbaited hooks, artificial lures and baits, and artificial flies.


Waterways connecting lakes and/or ponds. The general fishing laws governing lakes and ponds also apply to thoroughfares (includes seasons, bag limits, length limits, etc.)

To Fish:

To take, catch, kill, molest or destroy any fish or to attempt to take, catch, kill or molest or destroy any fish.


The term “Togue” means the same as Lake Trout.


A river, stream, or brook flowing directly or indirectly into a lake, pond, or another river, stream, or brook. A lake or great pond shall not be construed to mean tributary. The tributary to a great pond shall not be considered a tributary to the outlet of that great pond.


To fish by trailing a line rigged to catch fish behind or in front of a watercraft being propelled by mechanical, wind or manual power. (Tandem flies are allowed when trolling.)


The term “trout” when used alone, includes brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, Arctic char (Sunapee trout and blueback trout), and splake. The term “brook trout” includes brook trout, splake and Arctic char (Sunapee trout and blueback trout).

Use of Explosive, Poisonous or Stupefying Substance:

It is unlawful to take or destroy any fish by use of an explosive, poisonous or stupefying substance. (12653)

Use of Fish (live or dead) as Bait:

See laws on Laws Pertaining to Baitfish Dealers and Use of Baitfish concerning the use of baitfish (live or dead).

Violation of Limits:

It is unlawful to fish for or possess fish in violation of the number, amount, or size limits of any rule adopted by the Commissioner. (12602)


How does your fishing license support Maine’s fisheries?

Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Program

The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program is a cooperative effort involving federal and state government agencies. This program was first established in 1950 by the Dingell-Johnson Act, and then expanded considerably in 1984 through the Wallop-Breaux Amendment. The program established a “User Pay/User Benefit” philosophy for funding States’ restoration and conservation efforts directed towards America’s fisheries resources. Revenues are collected from excise taxes on fishing tackle, motorboat fuel sales, and import duties on tackle and boats. These monies are then allocated to state fishery agencies for sport fisheries and boating access projects.

These funds support a wide array of projects in Maine including: fisheries population assessments, lake and stream habitat assessments and restoration, acquisition and maintenance of water access sites, aquatic education, and the development of long-range species management plans.