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According to the law, of course, there is no argument here: There are no exceptions for undersized fish. Ethically, however, there is at least room for discussion.

I've caught undersized fish that were injured due to my own negligence. I mishandled the fish, dropping it on the shore or on the deck of a boat; I used too small a hook or waited too long before setting the hook, allowing the fish to swallow it; I used too much force in removing the hook or lure from the fish's mouth. In all those cases the fault was mine, and I took steps to decrease the chances of it happening again by handling fish carefully, using a larger hook, striking quickly, and taking my time unhooking.

But quite a few times I've brought in undersized fish that were bleeding profusely from the gills because it struck a bait too hard, or because a trailing hook became caught beneath the gill plate. These fish had no chances of surviving, through no error or miscalculation on my part.

It boils down to this: Is it worth the risk of a finegenerally $50 to $100to keep a small fish? Conversely, is it ethical to put a basically dead fish back in the water, although it's the lawful thing to do?

I hope that state fish departments one day recognize that imperfection in fishing laws and institute some type of regulation that would allow the possession of, say, one undersized fish. It would be considered part of the daily creel limit, so that the angler won't kill yet another fish to fill his limit.

In the meantime, the decision is up to the individual angler. And I've already made mine. The Least You Need to Know

You must buy a state fishing license to fish for freshwater and some saltwater species. There are resident, nonresident, junior, and senior licenses available.

Minimum size refers to how long a fish must be in order to be kept. Creel limit or daily limit means how many of a certain species you may keep per day. The season refers to when during the year you may fish for a particular species.

Fish are measured in different ways according to the rules the state sets: from either the open or closed mouth to either the fork or the tip of the tail.

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Fish Recipes

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