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Carrie Wilson's Blog


DFG Q & A
WONews Column by Carrie Wilson

Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Contact her at cwilson@dfg.ca.gov.
How to find legal target shooting areas?
Question: A friend used to own property just outside the city limits and we were able to legally shoot our rifles on his property. Times have changed though and we now need a new place where we can we still legally shoot our rifles and shotguns for sport. We’re not hunters; we just practice target shooting. How do we go about finding places where we can legally shoot? (Gracie R., Carlsbad)

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TARGET SHOOTING IMPROVES one's shooting skills and accuracy. It is also a great way to introduce someone new to safe gun handling practices and the shooting sports. In this photo, Harry Morse practices his skills at the “Birds Landing Hunting Preserve and Sporting Clays Course” near Fairfield. PHOTO BY CARRIE WILSON

Answer: Your best bet is to contact the closest Sheriff’s Office that patrols the area where you want to target shoot. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) does not regulate target shooting nor keep track of all the potential target shooting areas available to the public. This issue basically comes down to county shooting ordinances and landowner permission. I think you will find most cities do not allow discharge of firearms within their city limits, so contact the local Sheriff’s Office to see what county areas may be open.


For public areas like U.S. Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property, contact the applicable regional station or headquarters that oversees the area. Some USFS or BLM lands may have designated target shooting or plinking areas. They may also have other areas on their properties where target shooting is allowed, but it’s always a good idea to check ahead of time to be sure it is legal with the applicable county as well.


Otherwise, for public and private gun clubs or shooting ranges in your area, you might try www.wheretoshoot.org from the National Shooting Sports Foundation website. I’ve used this site often and they make it easy to find a safe and licensed range in your local area to target shoot or to introduce someone new to the shooting sports.


How to prove the sex of a turkey?


Question: Since only tom turkeys are legal to take during the spring season, how do I prove the sex to an inquiring game warden? Must a wing be left on? A beard left on? Both left on? One or the other left on? (G.B.G.)


Answer: The regulations are intended to require that only tom turkeys may be taken during the spring season, but the law specifically states that the turkey must be “bearded” (a bearded turkey is one having a beard visible through the breast feathers). In most cases a beard will distinguish the animal as male, but in some rare incidents hens may also have them.


Keep the beard attached to the carcass until you return to your residence. You may pluck the bird in the field, but remember to keep the beard connected to the body.


Toms and hens can be easily determined by their significant head and wing color differences. If by chance you run across a rare bearded hen, even though the provisions of the law may allow you to take it, we strongly discourage it. Spring is the turkeys’ primary mating and nesting period so hens may not be harvested in order to protect their production


Catching fish with baited fish traps?


Question: Is it legal to use baited fish traps in Southern California? I see in the regulations where it refers to the use of baited traps to catch a variety of fish species in the San Francisco area (California Code of Regulations, section 28.75). Is this the only place where this method of take is allowed? (Corey)


Answer: Baited traps may not be used to take fish in ocean waters off Southern California. This is legal only in San Francisco and San Pablo bays, their tributaries, etc., and in the ocean and bays off of Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties for a few specified species of ocean fish. Only hook-and-line or hand may be used to take finfish (per Section 28.65) unless other, specific permissions are provided in regulations listed in the Gear Restrictions section (which begins on pg. 45 of the current California Ocean Sport Fishing regulations booklet).


Spearfishing without a license?


Question: I know it's legal to fish without a license off public piers, but is there anywhere to go spearfishing without a license? (Keith H., Santa Barbara)


Answer: No, there is usually no place you can spearfish without a license, but there are two free fishing days per year, usually around the Independence Day and Labor Day holidays. On those two days, spearfishing without a license is allowed (bag limits and other regulations still apply).


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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at Carrie.Wilson@wildlife.ca.gov.


Bow Hunting for Spring Turkeys?
Question: I am interested in bow hunting for turkeys this year but have some questions. Last week I saw a flock of hens and jakes on the side of a highway and I got to wondering if it’s legal to hunt off the side of a highway. I know we can’t shoot across a highway, but exactly how many yards or feet away does a bow hunter have to be? (Rafael O.)

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SPRING TOM TURKEYS in Northern California. PHOTO BY CARRIE WILSON

Answer: It is unlawful to discharge a firearm or release an arrow or crossbow bolt over or across any public road or other established way open to the public in an unsafe and reckless manner (Fish and Game Code, section 3004(b)). Definitions for road and roadway can be found in the California Vehicle Code, sections 527 and 530. In addition, most counties have ordinances setting the distance from a public roadway that one must be to lawfully discharge a firearm. Many counties require 150 feet, but this distance varies and you will have to check with the appropriate county’s sheriff’s department to determine the legal distance. It is always unlawful to negligently discharge a firearm, and the discharge of a firearm from or upon a public road or highway is prohibited (California Penal Code, section 374c).


Bringing a speargun into California


Question: I am coming to California from Australia for a diving holiday and wish to bring my own gear, including a spear gun. Do you know what the rules are about bringing one through U.S. customs? (Edward C.)


Answer: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) does not regulate the importation of dive gear, including spear guns. You should check with the Transportation Security Administration (www.tsa.gov) and U.S. Customs (www.cpb.gov) to see if they have any special provisions you must follow.


Live rodents as fishing bait?


Question: I have seen several videos about using live “feeder” mice and rats for bass and trout fishing and was wondering whether they are legal to fish with here in California. I wasn’t able to find any regulations talking about using live mice or rats. If not acceptable to use as a live bait, can they be used if dead/frozen? (Anonymous, Sacramento)


Answer: No. The freshwater fishing regulations do not list mammals as acceptable bait options, so rodents may not be used (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 4.00.)


Hunting Sandhill cranes?


Question: Does California have any type of hunting opportunities for Sandhill cranes? I have seen a couple of videos in which the hunters state that the meat is great and some say it tastes like steak. I tried to research any regulations for them but wasn’t able to come up with anything. Can you please let me know if they can be hunted here? (Jose G.)


Answer: While some states do authorize the take of Sandhill cranes during waterfowl season, there are currently no hunting opportunities for Sandhill cranes in California.


Kangaroo product ban?


Question: I am the owner of a store that sells kangaroo hide boots and other products made of kangaroo leather. I read in the news that California recently re-instated a ban on the import and sale of kangaroo products. Is this true and if so, what should retailers like me know about the ban? (Anonymous)


Answer: You are correct. The ban on kangaroo products went back into effect Jan. 1, 2016. California Penal Code section 653o prohibits the importation, possession with intent to sell, and sale of any parts of specified animals, including kangaroos. Some common retail products made from kangaroo leather are boots, belts, wallets and soccer cleats.


As you know, California retailers are responsible for knowing the laws and regulations of the state of California and must take the necessary efforts to ensure they do not possess kangaroo products with the intent to sell.


Penal Code section 653o may be enforced by any peace officer in the state, including police officers, sheriff deputies, and wildlife officers. A person who violates section 653o is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to a fine between $1,000 and $5,000 and up to six months in jail for each violation.


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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at Carrie.Wilson@wildlife.ca.gov.


Kage (Hawaiian Spear Gaff) — Spear or Gaff?
Question: Is a kage (Hawaiian spear gaff) legal in California waters? I live in Southern California and I use one to very quickly dispatch legal fish. A kage is easier than a regular gaff, especially since I’m fishing on a kayak. I’m strictly a kayak angler and use my kage more often than a conventional gaff. In case you are unfamiliar with a kage, here are a few links that might help: http://deepbluekayakfishing.com/products/ and www.scout.com/outdoors/fishing/story/1496518-kage-gaff. (Kevin M.)


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THE KAGE (Hawaiian spear gaff) is a popular East Coast fishing gaff used by offshore kayak fishermen to quickly dispatch their fish. Photos courtesy of Eric McDonald of Deep Blue Kayak Fishing


Answer: The kage would not be considered a gaff and thus not be legal to use as a gaff from a kayak. A gaff is defined as “… any hook with or without a handle used to assist in landing fish or to take fish in such a manner that the fish does not take the hook voluntarily in its mouth” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 28.65(d)).


A kage would be considered spearfishing gear and subject to the diving and spearfishing regulations (CCR Title 14, section 28.90). Under these regulations, you would be required to be floating or swimming in the water to use this device to take fin fish, other than those listed in this section.


It can also be considered a spear or harpoon, in which case (under CCR Title 14, section 28.95) if you were not in the water but on a kayak, boat or on the shoreline, it can only be used to take skates, rays and sharks (except white sharks). And the device can’t even be possessed on a boat when swordfish or marlin have been taken.


Where to buy a live largemouth bass?


Question: I rent a home on a property that has a pond with some quite large largemouth bass in it. The landlord lets people fish the pond on a catch-and-release basis. I caught one, easily 6-8 pounds, which managed to take the bait and large hook so deep that I could not remove the hook. I thought I had condemned the fish to a slow, painful death, so rather than let it suffer, I took the fish. The owner of the pond was very upset when I told him. He said if I had just cut the line the fish would have survived. Do you have any idea where I can buy a large bass to replace the one I killed? (Daniel C.)


Answer: Replacing a fish the size of the one you’ve described is highly unlikely. Most aquaculture facilities only keep black bass up to about three inches due to cannibalism. Regarding replacing the fish though, you can find a list of licensed aquaculturists with locations and products sold (limited to those who elected to be listed) on our website at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Aquaculture. Click on the link on the right that says “List of Aquaculturists (PDF).”


Duck blind partner with overlimits


Question: I have an issue with another hunter who was in my duck blind this year. I hunted in a four man blind with three other people. Two were great, but one was being an ass. He had been shooting overlimits of pintails and stuffing them in his backpack and pretending he still didn’t have a limit. If all four of us were in the blind and he shot overlimits of pintails, who would have gotten cited? We repeatedly told him not to do this. I shot and retrieved my own ducks, as did the other two hunters in the blind. We are working on trying to kick him out of the blind next year, but any suggestions on what we should have done this year? (Ken S.)


Answer: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has a dedicated program and phone number for exactly this reason. CalTIP (Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters) is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters.


CalTIP was introduced in California in 1981 in order to give Californians an opportunity to help protect the state’s fish and wildlife resources. The toll free telephone number operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You do not have to give your name. If you witness a poaching or polluting incident or any fish and wildlife violation, or have information about such a violation, immediately dial the toll free CalTIP number 1-888- 334-CALTIP (888 334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or you may submit anonymous tips using tip411. This is an Internet-based tool from CitizenObserver.com that enables the public to text message an anonymous tip to wildlife officers and lets the officers respond, creating an anonymous two-way conversation. Anyone with a cell phone may send an anonymous tip to CDFW by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).


If you were hunting on a private club, you can take the matter up with the club manager or owner to begin with. The club should have bylaws prohibiting this unlawful and unethical behavior. If an investigation determines your hunting blind buddy is solely responsible for taking or possessing overlimits, he alone will be cited for those violations.


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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at Carrie.Wilson@wildlife.ca.gov.


Clamming at Pismo Beach after 40 years
Question: I made a promise to my son 40 years ago to take him clamming at Pismo Beach, and I want to keep that promise. How are the conditions there now and when is the best time to plan a visit? (Jim S, Big Arm, Montana)

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PISMO CLAMS IN Ventura. Clamming is generally done from November to April during minus tide events. CDFW FILE PHOTO

Answer: Recent surveys at Pismo Beach indicate there are no legal sized clams there, although there has been some limited legal take of razor clams. I would really like to see you and your son have a successful trip, so there are some other locations further south where you should have luck. Rincon Beach in Santa Barbara County and La Conchita Beach in Ventura County have been producing good numbers of legal sized Pismo clams recently.


Clams that have a size limit and are not retained must be immediately reburied in the area from which dug (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.20 (d)). Clammers must do their share to help to maintain healthy populations of clams for future generations.


Clamming is generally done from November to April during minus tide events. Starting the month of May, potentially harmful plankton blooms can become an issue. The annual mussel shellfish quarantine is from May 1 to Oct. 31, and is in place to protect the public against Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning and domoic acid poisoning, also known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. The May through October quarantine period encompasses more than 99 percent of all Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning illnesses and deaths reported in California since 1927. Even though mussels are a different species, I recommend taking similar precautions and would not recommend harvesting Pismo clams during the annual mussel quarantine.


Please remember that any person 16 years of age or older who is participating in clamming is required to have a valid California sport fishing license. An Ocean Enhancement Stamp is also required for ocean fishing (including clamming) south of Point Arguello (northern Santa Barbara County) except when fishing with a one-day or two-day sport fishing license. The stamp is not required if you purchase a one- or two-day sport fishing license.


For regulations specific to Pismo clams, please go to section 29.40 in the current Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet available online or wherever fishing licenses and sold. Good luck!


Abandoned lobster traps and hoop nets


Question: I am a freediver who dives for lobsters along the Southern California coast. I have concerns about abandoned hoop nets and lobster traps. I can tell that they are abandoned and have been there for a while because some are rusted and old, the rope is frayed, and they are just floating underwater with no buoys attached. Numerous times I have seen these abandoned traps with lobsters and fish that have been trapped inside for days, some alive some dead. Am I allowed to open and free those trapped animals and clean up my dive spots of these abandoned traps? What can I do about those hoop nets that have been cut off/frayed and left under water? I am planning to round up a bunch of freedivers to do an underwater clean up. (Chester L.)


Answer: As long as the trap is clearly abandoned and there is no surface gear associated with it, you can legally both release the animals and remove the traps (you may not keep any lobsters found in the traps). The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommends and prefers that citizens and fishermen instead report the type and location of lost or abandoned fishing gear to the appropriate CDFW field office so that trained department personnel can retrieve the gear. For a list of CDFW Marine Region offices, please go to: www.wildlife.ca.gov/Regions/Marine/Contact.


If duck hasn’t built a nest yet, can I catch and eat it?


Question: Can I catch a mallard duck in my housing community, and eat it, if the duck hasn’t built a nest yet? I live in Huntington Beach. (E.J. Fudd)


Answer: No. Regardless of whether the duck is nesting, you must comply with the Fish and Game Code and all applicable local laws or ordinances. For example, you will need to have a valid hunting license, waterfowl season doesn’t open until October and to take a duck you would need to use a lawful method of take. Since you live in a housing community, firearms are likely not allowed and catching the duck by hand is not a legal method of take.


Fishing and trapping crayfish at the same time


Question: I am just wondering if while I am fishing, I can run my crayfish trap at the same time to catch crayfish. I only have one fishing permit and I don't have a second rod stamp. I just want to make sure I don’t break any laws. (Eric L.)


Answer: Yes, there are no prohibitions against doing this as long as you can closely monitor your fishing rod the entire time.


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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at Carrie.Wilson@wildlife.ca.gov.


Don’t Let Your Fowl Become Foul
Question: I hope you can answer my question about cleaning birds. My friends and I went quail hunting a few weeks ago, and it took us 45 minutes to hike into the area where we hunt. We flushed a large covey of birds, shot two and then continued to hunt singles for several hours. We picked up a few more birds for the day and hiked back out. By the time I was able to clean my birds, several hours had passed. The birds had been in my vest. Are they still safe to eat after being shot several hours before and then not cleaned right away? If not, how do you clean a bird and continue to hunt when you are so far from the truck and any ice chests? My friend says you can also freeze the birds before cleaning them, then thaw and clean them all at once. Is this safe? Can I do this with all birds such as pheasants, too? (Jim L., Santa Maria)

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PROPER CARE OF game in the field ensures your harvest can make it to the table with it’s full flavor intact. California valley quail – USFWS photo

Answer: As I’m sure you are aware, the most important thing to do with game is to keep it clean and dry, and to cool it down ASAP. I can't promise the birds in your vest are still safe to eat, but most of us spend several hours in a day out hunting and by the time we get our birds home, many hours have passed. If you refrigerate them as soon as you return from the field, and it’s the same day you are hunting, it is likely they will be fine and ok to consume. However, if they are left in the back of a truck in the heat, then you may be taking a chance. Small birds like quail will cool on their own (somewhat) much faster than a large goose will.


Since ideal handling is not always an option, preparing for the worst situation is always the best plan. Hunters should keep an ice chest with cold packs or sealed bags of ice handy to quickly cool down their game birds without adding moisture. Moisture and warm temperatures create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.


If you are concerned about the birds spoiling, you can always gut the birds immediately upon taking possession of them. This will allow them to cool quickly. Remember that you are responsible for proper game care, and letting the birds go to waste is a violation. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) advises that you do everything you can to cool your game quickly so you can enjoy your harvest.


Regulating dangerous fishing practices


Question: Does CDFW have any regulations restricting anglers from placing their fishing gear in an unsafe manner? For example, a person throws their line out into the water and then places their fishing rod back in a position to where the line stretching to the water runs across an area where runners and walkers using the same beach could become entangled. Does CDFW have jurisdiction over this? If not, can the practice of having active rods placed far back from the waterline be banned via a city ordinance, or is the region below the high tide line only covered by state regulations? If someone is seriously hurt by such a fishing practice, does the person fishing have any civil or criminal liability? (Len N.)


Answer: CDFW regulations do not address these issues.


Can dead farm-raised trout be used for bait in lakes and streams?


Question: Is it legal to use dead farm-raised trout for bait in inland waters? When I read the regulations it seems like only "live trout" is called out. Costco has farm-raised rainbow trout for sale at a great price and I was thinking it might make great catfish bait for my kids. (Marcus)


Answer: No. Trout may not be used for bait (California Code of Regulations Title 14, sections 4.00-4.30).


Number of hooks allowed for sand dabs vs. halibut?


Question: How many hooks can be used when fishing for sand dabs? I was planning on using a Sabiki rig. How many hooks can I have on such a rig? Also, how many hooks can I have on my line while fishing for halibut? Is there a limit to the number in either of these situations? (Chris J.)


Answer: There are no hook restrictions for sanddab or California halibut, but if Pacific halibut, salmon, rockfish, cabezon, lingcod, or greenlings of the genus Hexagrammos are onboard, then only two hooks on one line may be used. The gear restriction for Pacific halibut of one line with not more than two hooks is new this year (see pages 38-39 in the 2016-2017 Ocean Sport Fishing regulations booklet available online at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Sport-Fishing).


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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at Carrie.Wilson@wildlife.ca.gov.


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