August 19, 2020 at 2:06 pm
I’m sure many of you have hit the road at the crack of dawn to start a fishing trip and realized you didn’t have your fishing lawbook. Did you go out of your way to stop by a gas station or town office hoping they’d be open and have a copy? Or turn around to head home and waste even more of your precious fishing time? To me, neither of those options are ideal, and I’d rather not worry about remembering the lawbook along with my fishing gear, life jackets, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray…the list seems endless. I guess I could put a copy in my boat that never leaves the boat and remains in pristine condition? Yeah right! Hmm…what do I almost always bring with me in addition to fishing gear when I’m headed to a fishing spot? Three things: my keys, wallet, and phone. You may be thinking “Where’s he going with this and how would one of those things help me know what fishing laws are in effect?”...A keychain lawbook?... A get out of jail free card?...A 1-800 number?... How about a mapping application that can be opened on your phone that displays the fishing laws throughout the state! If this sounds too good to be true, it isn’t, but it is time for you to meet “FLOAT” (aka Fishing Laws Online Angling Tool). I’ve found it’s the perfect companion to the digital lawbook and legally valid digital fishing license that I’ve already downloaded onto my phone.
Traditionally, once fishing lawbooks were updated each year, a certain number were printed and distributed to strategic locations throughout the state. In 2016 alone, MDIFW printed over 700,000 lawbooks (including hunting and trapping). That’s a lot of paper and a lot of money diverted from Maine’s fish and wildlife
This probably isn’t a surprise to many people that have seen stacks of old lawbooks laying around, but we found that a significant portion of the printed books were never used, and this pattern seemed to increase over time. Lawbooks have been, and will continue to be, an important resource for anglers, however the media format is slowly shifting in the digital direction. For some, there’s a nostalgia associated with the fishing lawbook, where each year they eagerly await the new printing and make hand-written notes on waters they’ve visited or plan to visit each year. For others, the lawbook is little more than outhouse reading material. We understand there’s a variety of preferences out there, and we aren’t putting a complete halt to printing; however, we’d like you to at least give some of the alternative options a try, and I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you do. By being more strategic when thinking about how many fishing lawbooks we print, we’re able to reduce waste and put the funds to better use. Just think, if someone told you 10 years ago that you could function without a phone book, you probably would have thought that was an absurd idea, but I don’t know the last time I flipped through one for contact info. Instead it’s right to the computer, phone, or even watch (though I’ll admit, I don’t think I’ll have a smartwatch anytime soon!).
The FLOAT tool is free to use and can be opened with an internet connection on your computer or mobile device. If you’re reading this, you have access to the tool (click here for more info). You may be wondering, “What’s the best way to use this thing?” Well everyone has their own preferences, but I’ll share some of the basics of how I use FLOAT. First off, it’s helpful to have a general understanding of how we regulate fisheries in the state. The state’s freshwater angling laws can be divided into two main categories: General laws, and Special laws. General laws apply to all public waters within the state, whereas Special laws apply a higher level of detail to a subset of those waters and are applied in addition to or in lieu of General laws. With that in mind, one of the first filters an angler must apply when looking up fishing laws for a given water is: “Is this water regulated under General or Special Laws?”. There are two easy ways to get at this using FLOAT.
- The first approach is a visual one. If you’re familiar with the location of the waterbody, pan around the map, then zoom in and locate the waterbody to see if it’s shaded blue or red (see Image 1). If the waterbody is shaded red, it’s regulated with Special laws that can be viewed by simply clicking/tapping within the red shaded area. If it’s blue, it’s regulated under General Law only. To find out what the General Laws are, zoom out until the entire map around the waterbody of interest turns green (North Zone) or blue (South Zone) to see which Zone the waterbody of interest is in (see Image 2). From there you can use the “Resources” tab to see the General Laws for the appropriate Zone (see Image 3).
- The other approach is by using the “Search” tab. The Search ONLY RETURNS WATERS THAT HAVE SPECIAL REGULATIONS. Enter the waterbody name into the search bar and if you see “Water name not found” it’s likely regulated under General Law. However, many of the state’s waters have the same or similar water names, and many have several common names that may be different than what is listed in the lawbook. In addition, it’s easy to misspell a water or have the name wrong altogether, so it’s good practice to double-check by using the map (if you know where the waterbody is located) to make sure the waterbody doesn’t show up red which would mean it has Special laws. If the search feature does return the waterbody you’re interested in, that means it has Special laws, so click/tap that record and the map will pan to that waterbody and a window with the Special fishing laws specific to that water will appear (see Image 4). If you’re confident it isn’t showing up in the Search and/or have identified it as a General law on the map, then reference the associated General law (North/South Zone) in the “Resources” tab.
With this basic understanding, you can quickly find the freshwater fishing laws for any of the state’s inland waters. I also encourage you to click the “Take the Tour” button and explore the navigation pane tabs (Intro, Search, Legend, Resources) to learn more about how to use the FLOAT (see Image 3). Due to the large amount of data driving it, FLOAT is currently only available with an internet or data connection, so unfortunately you won’t be able to use it in areas without coverage (yet…). However, you can save a digital copy of the lawbook to your phone and/or even download the fishing laws of particular waters by clicking “Save or print PDF of these laws” in FLOAT at the bottom of the popup window that appears for each water with Special laws (see Image 4). When in doubt, reference the printed or digital lawbook, or call a MDIFW Fisheries Biologists at one of our Regional offices.
I hope you have a great time fishing, and hopefully have one less thing to forget when heading to your next fishing destination!