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Stay Out of Jail - How to Properly Measure your Catch to Determine Its Size

Homosassa fishing charters explain how you’re supposed to measure your fish to determine whether it meets minimum size requirements

Don’t worry – if you have a fish that doesn’t meet its specific size requirements, you won’t be thrown in jail. However, you could be facing a fine if you are caught with a fish that’s too small or too big to keep.

Size limits and how you measure them will vary by species. Rules for state (Florida) waters, or within 9 nautical miles of the Gulf of Mexico coast and all inshore bays and estuaries, are developed and enforced by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

These rules are developed through careful research of a particular fish’s population, breeding and other parameters. They are also constantly changing year to year, which is why you should always check with the FWC or this site before setting out on your next fishing trip in Homosassa or anywhere along Florida’s 1,350 miles of coastline.

Fishing charters in Homosassa and throughout Florida will measure a fish’s total length, its fork length or its lower jaw fork length

Before diving into the specific methods though, you should understand that measuring along the curvature of the fish’s body with a tape measure will yield an incorrect measurement. Most fishing charters will have the proper measuring tools on board for you to get a “straight line length.” If you have your own boat though, a measuring board is not too expensive. Many newer boats in fact will have the ruler built into the boat’s gunwales.

How you measure a fish can be broken down into three methods and depends on the species. Continue reading for a brief summary of each method, including a list of species that fall under each one.

  1. Total Length – This method measures the fish from the most forward tip of its head (mouth closed) to the extreme tip of its tail. To measure, the fish must be lying on its side and the tail must be compressed or squeezed. The total length method applies to species with a “fan tail,” and include:
  • All Snappers and Groupers
  • Red Drum (Redfish)
  • Black Drum
  • Snook
  • Spotted Seatrout
  • Bonefish
  • Sheepshead
  • Flounder
Stay Out of Jail - How to Properly Measure your Catch to Determine Its Size

Image courtesy of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

  1. Fork Length – This method applies to fish species with “forked” tails and measures the fish from the most forward tip of its jaw or snout (mouth closed) to the center part of its tail’s fork. You don’t have to compress or squeeze the tail like you do for total length, but you do need to have the fish lying on its side to ensure an accurate measurement. Fork tail species can include the following:
  • Amberjack
  • Hogfish
  • Dolphin
  • Mullet
  • King/Spanish Mackerel
  • Permit
  • Bluefish
  • Pompano
Stay Out of Jail - How to Properly Measure your Catch to Determine Its Size

Image courtesy of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

  1. Lower Jaw Fork Length Measurement – There are certain species, specifically ones with a long bill at the front, who cannot be measured using one of the methods listed above. For these fishes, you will need to measure straight from the front tip of the lower jaw to the center part of the tail’s fork. In other words, you do NOT measure from the tip of the bill. Species covered by the measuring method include:
  • Sailfish
  • White Marlin
  • Blue Marlin
Stay Out of Jail - How to Properly Measure your Catch to Determine Its Size

Image courtesy of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

If you’re not too familiar with fish species found in Homosassa and around Florida, that’s okay. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission publishes guides that will help you identify the fish and which method you need to use.

Generally speaking though, you will be able to tell by the tail. If the fish has a full tail that looks like one of those old paddle fans, then you will use the total length method. If the tail is split, you will use the fork tail method. If you’re fishing the flats around Homosassa, you should only run into species covered by the first two methods.

These measurement methods were developed through extensive research and coordination between different coastal states and the U.S. Marine Fisheries Service, or the federal agency that governs saltwater fish. Making rules similar to other coastal states like Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina ensures that anglers are not confused on what standards to follow.

Properly measuring any fish you catch is important to ensuring your day on the water isn’t ruined by a citation from the authorities

If you’re using one of many fishing charters in Homosassa and throughout Florida, you shouldn’t need to worry about taking measurements of your fish. The captain and crew on-board will automatically know which method to use and will have the tools to determine if your fish meets minimum size requirements per Florida law.

Southern Slam Outfitters provides guided fishing charters around the inshore (flats) waters near Homosassa, Crystal River and the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Visit SouthernSlamOutfitters.com for more information on rates, or contact Capt. Carey Gibson to schedule your fishing charter today!

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