May 1, 2023

Enjoy the Natural Resources Responsibly

Photos by the author.

As the snow begins to melt and the buds pop from the tips of the trees it’s often a reminder for us to revisit our lakes and streams and start enjoying open water fishing again. April 1 marks the day when your fishing license is renewed as many people forge out to enjoy the inland trout program offered across the state. Springtime brings many fishing opportunities, and from a law enforcement perspective it’s important that we share with you some fundamental concepts to keep your experience, safe, fun and lawful.

A conservation police officer wearing a tan shirt and dark green pants approaches two fisherman on the gravel shoreline of a waterway.

Your local conservation police officer has been tasked to protect the natural resources in Illinois waterways. Daily limits, license requirements and equipment regulations are all part of ensuring we have a healthy and sustainable fish resource for future generations. The laws surrounding the resource are carefully crafted to give each species the best chance for survival and provide a great deal of fishing enjoyment for the public. A great place to start for fishing information is, which give you a comprehensive list of places to enjoy fishing and the rules that come with them. Another great resource is your local fisheries biologist and conservation police officer. You can reach an officer by calling your local state police district and ask for the officer on duty.

When you’re ready to venture into the field and throw your first cast, here are some things to remember. A fishing license is required for those anglers age 16 and over. Applicable stamps for inland trout and lake Michigan salmon are also required if you participate in those activities. Youth under 16 and other exemptions from license requirements can be found in the annual Illinois Fishing Digest. Generally, most of the public is required to purchase and possess a license to display upon request from a law enforcement officer. Paper or digital licenses are acceptable but please remember some of your locations may not have cell coverage and it is the responsibility of the angler to display the license upon request (save a copy if possible).

A boy wearing a warm navy blue coat and sweatshirt holds a freshly caught speckled dark green and silver trout.

Know your local area fishing limits and regulations. Each area of the state has specific regulations to manage the local populations. There may be a size limit and daily catch limit on certain species, again the Illinois Fishing Digest has site specific regulations to help you. Also, certain times of the year some species are catch and release only during the spawning season. Its best to have that information available for each area you visit. Check for signs posted or refer back to the Digest. When in doubt, catch and release.

And let’s not forget methods of catch. Certain locations require two pole and line fishing only, others allow cast nets, and even bow fishing or snagging. Utilizing the proper methods for take is essential for fair chase and staying in the good graces of your local conservation police officer as well as other recreational anglers.

Each year Illinois provides a Free Fishing Days weekend in mid-June and this year it is on June 16-19, 2023. This gives citizens an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without the required license or stamp privileges. Free Fishing Days is a great opportunity to try fishing without the upfront cost of a license. Officers will still be checking for proper methods and daily limits during these times and perhaps provide a fishing pointer or two (we enjoy being outside as well). Late spring and early summer are great times to get out and share the passion of fishing with your family and friends. As a busy working game warden my wife has spent many days taking the kids fishing while I was out checking on the resource. Family time is what is best, fishing and sharing your experience with mother nature and the great Illinois outdoors.

A fisherman in camouflage gear holds up a freshly caught dark green and silver speckled trout. In the background are trees in early spring against a blue sky.

Over the years officers have found many anglers enjoying the natural resources responsibly. On occasion we find some unintentional violations and honestly some true conservation violations. Our efforts are to consider the violation type, participant, and impact on the resource and take enforcement action in an effort to best represent the protection of the resource. Being aware of the regulations and the negative impact on the resource is important to ensure a sustainable fishing for all anglers to enjoy.

Take time this season to venture out and feel the connection with nature as she tugs back on your line, pulling the bait deeper into the water as you hear the wonderful sound of your drag squealing away, challenging you to play it just right to land a fish and a memory.

Sergeant Steven Beltran has been an officer since 2000 and currently work in northwest Illinois. He welcomes your questions and loves to share in his passion for protecting Illinois resources. He can be reached at or (815) 218-4165.

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