Bag Limit vs Possession Limit: Key Differences Explained

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Although it can be confusing, anglers should make sure they understand the difference between bag and possession limits to avoid breaking the law.

In this article we are going to explain clearly how both bag limits and possession limits work and include a few examples.

What are Bag and Possession Limits?

Lengths as well as numbers of fish often form part of bag limits

Bag Limits

Bag limits restrict the number of a particular species of fish and angler can take (ie kill) during a given period, usually a day. To give you an example, Wyoming has a 3-fish limit on “trout” (all species)  in rivers and streams, and a 6-fish limit on lakes and ponds.  This limit doesn’t apply to different species.

That’s a pretty straightforward example of a bag limit in practice.

Bag limits, also known as creel limits, can sometimes be a bit more complicated with different numbers of fish permissible in, say, rivers than lakes, or at different times of the year.

Bag limits also sometimes include a length too – for example, you can take five fish under 20 inches, or between certain lengths is another form of limit you see sometimes.

Possession limits

Possession limits restrict the number of fish you can have in your possession at any one time. The idea of a possession limit is

To take Colorado as an example, anglers are allowed to keep four trout under the bag limit and have eight in their possession under the possession limit.

Possession is defined as those on your person (ie in your bag), those in your vehicle in a cooler and those in your freezer at home.

Possession limits are often two or three times the bag limit.

It is worth noting for invasive species and fish that natural resources departments are trying to reduce in number, there are often no bag limits or possession limit in place.

State Laws on Bag Limits

Laws on bag limits and how they are apply differ a lot between states. It is important to check the fish and wildlife department site in your state to determine this.

For example:

  • Some states require you to stop fishing once you hit your bag limit, even if you are fishing catch and release beyond.
  • Other states and fine with you continuing to catch fish as long as you release all fish caught beyond the bag limit
  • There are also some complexities about limits when using live wells. Check your regulations or ask a local game warden to make sure fish in your live well haven’t counted towards your bag limit.

State Laws on Possession Limits

Fish in a cooler or in a household freezer generally count towards the possession limit

Possession limits can also differ a bit between states, particular in the specific definition of “possession.”

Wisconsin defines its possession limit as “the maximum number of a species that you can control, transport, etc., at any time. It is twice the total daily bag limit”.

Whereas Texas excludes fish in your keeping at home defining the possession limit as:

“The maximum number of fish a person may possess before returning to their residence. Possession limit is twice the daily bag on game and nongame fish, except as provided in this guide, and does not apply to fish in the possession of or stored by a person at their residence.”

What’s the Purpose of a Daily Bag Limit?

Limits are about conversing stocks of game fish such as trout

Both bag limits and possession limits are aimed at protecting fish resources. Having a daily bag limit keeps pressure from recreational anglers on fish stocks to a defined level helping to ensure populations are sustainable.

Daily bag limits are set and enforced by fish and game authorities in a give state. Information on them is usually provided to anglers when they buy a license and is easy enough to find on the department’s web sites.

Possession limits are a way of ensuring that there is not too much stockpiling of fish in freezers and people eat what they catch without it deteriorating.

Confusion On Bag and Possession Limits

While a daily bag limits are easy to understand, a possession limit is not as simple. Some states, including California, are moving to reduce confusion over how a possession limit is defined.

This has come about because anglers are confused as to whether:

  • Fish caught and stored from the previous season count to the possession limit for the current season
  • Whether an angler can legally “gift” their possession limit to a householder member
  • Whether fish that have been prepared for consumption but not yet cooked or eaten count towards the limit.

Final Thoughts On Bag And Possession Limits

These limits apply to both hunting and fishing and are an important part of conserving fish and animal stocks for all to enjoy. It is important to stay within your bag limit at all times and obeying all other fishing regulations including being properly licensed.

While it can take some time to study and understand these regulations, each limit is in place to protect particular fish species, wildlife and game animals in inland waters and coastal zones.

Make sure you are fishing legally and that your catch is within the daily bag limits in place in the water where you are fishing.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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