“Hey! I got something for you!” someone yelled across the daycare parking lot as I buckled my son, Bridger, into his car seat.
I recognized the voice and looked up to see my buddy, Chris Wentworth, walking toward me and holding what looked like several old magazines.
He handed them to me and smiled. “I figured you might enjoy these,” he said.
I thumbed through the pile, realizing the gift was something I truly would enjoy. There were three magazines, all in excellent condition: a January 1962 edition of Fur-Fish-Game and the May and October 1961 editions of Field and Stream. In addition, and even more appealing to me, there were two vintage pocket-sized pamphlets titled “Maine Inland Fishing Laws,” specifically, the 1951 and 1947-48 open water editions.
A few minutes later, I arrived home, handed the little fella off to his mother and without bothering to take off my boots or wool jacket, began thumbing through the older lawbook. Blueish-gray in color and measuring 4-by-6 inches, the pamphlet was in near-perfect condition and a real treasure.
On the first page was an explanatory message from Commissioner George J. Stobie of what the pamphlet contained. The second page was filled with illustrated cautionary advice from the department, urging anglers to always carry items such as extra food, matches, a map of the area, a compass, an ax and “a big, strong jack-knife.”
The next page included tips on what to do in the event you became lost, all of which are still sound today. I flipped to page 4, titled “More for the sportsman,” and was struck by the first paragraph, which read, “Fishing laws were first framed to answer the demands of the sportsmen. The laws and regulations will protect your rights and those of others and insure perpetual fishing. Obey them, and see that others do and report any violators to the proper authorities.” Basic and bold, I loved it.
As I read through the pamphlet, I found many of the definitions and general provisions to be much the same as they are today. However, possession limits were far more liberal and weren’t always limited to the number of fish but also pounds of fish caught.
For instance, the general daily bag limit for trout in lakes and ponds was 25 fish or 10 pounds, minimum 7-inch length. In rivers, brooks and streams, it was 25 fish or 7.5 pounds, minimum 6-inch length. There were similar regulations for salmon, togue, black bass and white perch, with only variations of minimum length requirements.
I was taken not only by the bag limits but also by the simple, straightforward regulations of that time, which greatly contrast today’s. Many special regulations for a specific body of water simply stated, “Fly fishing only. Possession limit 6 fish or 5 pounds,” absent any articulation of species. Even the most restrictive regulations were explained in two or three simple sentences.
These days, it seems a person needs to possess nothing less than a master’s degree in order to make sense of some of our fishing rules and regulations.
During my time as a Maine Game Warden, I was afforded a unique perspective and understanding of our state’s fish and wildlife laws. I understand, for the most part, the reasons behind them — most of which the general public never really has much exposure to.
Regardless, even as a warden, I always checked the regulations of each body of water before working it, sometimes spending considerable time deciphering the verbiage or even calling another warden to make sure I was reading it correctly. That was frustrating and often led to a much softer hand when enforcing measures while dealing with the average Joe. After all, I’d been schooled in its discipline for 12 weeks during the Warden Academy and if I had trouble understanding something, how could I expect the weekend angler to?
Now as a purely consumptive recreational user of the resource, I often spend several frustrating minutes reading, re-reading and flipping this page to that page in our lawbooks, trying to make sure I have things correct.
It’s not to say that today’s regulations aren’t warranted, necessary or applicable. It’s also not to say that they aren’t completely understandable to anyone if the proper amount of attention is paid. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has some of the best biological and enforcement staff in the nation. They work day in and day out to tailor appropriate regulatory measures to ensure we can enjoy our resources while maintaining their sustainability.
Regardless, I couldn’t help but lose myself while flipping through that old lawbook. I marveled at its simplicity and reveled in its appeal to a time where a license cost $1.15 and I could fill a creel with 25 trout so long as it didn’t weigh over 10 pounds.