Category Archives: Finfish

Properly Catching and Releasing Fish while Taking Photos?

(CDFW file photo by Roger Bloom, Heritage and Wild Trout Program)

Question: My friends and I are all fly fishermen who promote catch and release fishing rather than taking fish for consumption. Many other fishermen, fishing guides and lodges, as well as most fly fishing magazines also claim to share this philosophy but then publish untold numbers of photos of people holding the fish they’ve caught. Typically these photos reveal the fish being held for quite a few seconds out of water, and clearly their slime barrier is being broken by the clutching hands. I wonder how many fish handled in this way ultimately die from the stress of being caught, held out of water and having their protective coating compromised. While growing up, I was taught if you break the slime barrier, the fish will likely die. Is this true? Moreover, most anglers I know count successful days of fishing as catching (and releasing) as many fish as possible. If you consider the increased probability of a fish dying from being caught and held, multiplied by the number of fish caught, there could be a lot of mortality which goes directly against the point of catch and release. Can you please provide some information on this issue? (David W.)

Answer: While many photo layouts suggest prolonged time out of water, it can obviously vary greatly. According to Senior Environmental Scientist Jeff Weaver, a good rule of thumb is to hold your breath when you lift the fish and get it back into the water before you run out of breath. Wetting hands before handling fish is probably the most effective method to minimize damage to the slime coating. Handling fish with dry hands generally removes at least some areas of this protective barrier, subjecting the fish to increased risk of fungal or other infection (though not necessarily mortality). If extra time is needed to set up the photo or make adjustments to correct for lighting problems, etc. the fish should be retained under water in a net for as much time as possible.

Steelhead (Photo by Ken Oda)

There are four important practices that will help reduce mortality: 1) keep most of the body of the fish in the water while photographing it, particularly the opercula and gills so they remain oxygenated, 2) always hold the fish with wet hands underneath the pectoral fins (near the head) and at the caudal peduncle (narrow part just forward of the caudal or tail fin) to avoid injury to the vital organs in the belly, and 3) assuming you have a fishing partner that will serve as photographer, have them get the camera settings ready and set up the frame of the picture while the fish is retained underwater in a net. Quickly remove the fish from the water for a picture and return it to the net to rest and respirate for some time, then lift it again for another shot (only if necessary to get a good photo), and 4) always recover the fish before releasing it to the point that it can swim of its own accord and remain upright. If necessary, hold the fish with the mouth facing upstream in an area with adequate flow to ensure thorough oxygenation of the gills.


When transporting turkeys home, which parts are required for ID?
Question: What portions of a turkey is a hunter required to retain for identification purposes? I’m not sure that “plucking a turkey in the field but leaving the beard attached” is sufficient to stay legal when transporting. While keeping the beard would certainly help identify, I believe a fully feathered head or wing is the actual requirement. In fact, if a hunter chooses to pluck both wings and leave the “fully feathered head” attached, would that be enough proof for identification purposes? Please advise. (Blake D.)

Answer: Hunters are not required to retain the turkey’s beard. However, “all birds, including migratory game birds, possessed or transported within California must have a fully feathered wing or head attached until placed into a personal abode or commercial preservation facility or when being prepared for immediate consumption” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 251.7).

Since the law only authorizes the take of bearded turkeys during the spring season, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommends leaving the beard attached during the spring season (CCR Title 14, section 300).


How to properly preserve and transport Pacific halibut?
Question: I’m planning some trips this year to fish for Pacific Halibut. If we should happen to catch one of any size, what is the legal way to transport a fish if it won’t fit in a cooler? Could it be filleted, and if so, when could that be done? I’m very particular about preserving fresh fish properly as soon as it’s caught. (Ross B.)

Answer: You may not fillet your Pacific Halibut when on your boat or before you land the fish (Fish and Game Code sections 5508-5509). Once ashore, there are no restrictions on filleting your fish into the size and conformity you want.


Video recording crab traps?
Question: Are there any regulations or restrictions regarding using video cameras (GoPros) on crab traps or lobster hoop nets? (Josh F.)

Answer: No, there are no fishing regulations that prohibit use of a video camera while 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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Turkey Hunting with Lead or Nonlead Shot?

Nonlead shot is now required when turkey hunting in California (Photo courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation)

Question: Do I have to use nonlead shot when turkey hunting with a shotgun this spring? (Joe N., Sacramento)

Answer: Yes. Nonlead ammunition is now required statewide when hunting wild turkeys with a shotgun. This applies to both public and private lands (except for licensed game bird clubs), including all national forests, Bureau of Land Management properties and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) lands. Private landowners or anyone authorized to hunt on private land must also comply with these regulations.


Moving crab pots that have become navigational hazards?
Question: Can I pick up and remove a crab pot that is a navigational hazard and/or has significant line floating on the surface? (Daniel)

Answer: No, it is unlawful to “disturb, move or damage any trap that belongs to another person that is marked with a buoy identification number or unless the person has written permission in possession from the owner of the trap” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.80(a)(3) and Fish and Game Code, section 9002).

Instead, you are encouraged to report any crab pot creating a hazard to CDFW or the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has the authority to remove traps that are in violation of rule 9, which prohibits fishing that impedes the passage of a vessel that can only operate safely in a narrow channel or fairway. These are specifically designated by the sector of the coast guard that operates in that area.


Shooting too close to neighbors’ houses with permission?
Question: My neighbors and I each live on five-acre lots in Calaveras County that back up to open land with no buildings or dwellings. We all like to hunt and have dove and quail on the back sides of our properties that run in conjunction with each other. I noticed that our houses are between 100-140 yards from the area where we like to shoot which is facing away from our homes. We all allow each other to shoot with no problems, but based on of the language of Fish and Game Code, section 3004 it says we should be at least 150 yards away from our homes. Since we are all in agreement regarding shooting from this area, does this regulation make it illegal? (Brendon G.)

Answer: This regulation reads, “It is unlawful for a person, other than the owner, person in possession of the premises, or a person having the express permission of the owner or person in possession of the premises, while within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling house, residence or other building, or within 150 yards of a barn or other outbuilding used in connection with an occupied dwelling house, residence or other building, to either hunt or discharge a firearm or other deadly weapon while hunting” (FGC, section 3004). It appears you would not violate these provisions but you should also contact your local Sheriff’s Department to see if there are any local laws that may apply to your location.


Ocean finfish landing net size requirement?
Question: I understand that the following regulation applies to ocean-going kayaks. It says, “No person shall take finfish from any boat or other floating device in ocean waters without having a landing net in possession or available for immediate use to assist in landing undersize fish of species having minimum size limits; the opening of any such landing net shall be not less than eighteen inches in diameter” (CCR Title 14, section 28.65(d)).

My question has to do with how the diameter is measured on a net that isn’t round. Many nets that are aimed at small craft use are not round and meet the opening size in one direction, for example, 18 inches x 14 inches. Is that legally sufficient or must the minimum diameter at any point be no less than 18 inches? That would push the net size up considerably, and given the limited utility of a net (or a gaff for that matter) from a near-water craft like a kayak or float tube, I’d prefer to carry as little as possible. (Ariel C.)

Answer: The net need not feature a circular opening despite its reference to “diameter,” but the net must be a minimum of 18 inches at its narrowest part. Good luck and tight lines!

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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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Catching Crabs with a Chicken Leg?

Dungeness crabs (ODFW photo)

Dungeness crabs (ODFW photo)

Question: California regulations stipulate that taking crustaceans by “hook and line” is not a legal method of take. So what about a baited line with no hook (e.g. a chicken leg) with a hand line tied to it? As long as I use my hands to take the crab and not a net, is a baited line allowed to lure the crab within reach? (Patrick M.)

Answer: Ocean sport fishing regulations specify what gear may be used to take saltwater crustaceans, and any “nets, traps or other appliances” not specified in the following section are prohibited methods of take (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.80(a)(2)). A baited line without a hook is not a legal method of take, but here’s an idea … you could tie a chicken leg to a loop trap, or make the chicken leg into a loop trap by attaching up to six loops (slip knots) to the bait, and snare a crab this way. This method of a line attached to a chicken leg would be legal to use! Loop traps may not be used south of Point Arguello (CCR Title 14, section 29.80(e)).


Looking for sustainable and ethical wild game for restaurant
Question: I am a chef and we will open a new, very small, specialized Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles. I am looking for sustainable and ethical wild game. Could you please help me find a hunter that deals with restaurants like ours? (Ni L.)

Answer: It is illegal for anyone to buy, sell or trade any sport-taken wild game meat in California. There are businesses that import “exotic” meats, and they are inspected and regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the USDA, “Game meats that do not have a mark of inspection cannot be sold. This is the case for game meat harvested by a recreational hunter. The inspection and processing requirements will not be met and thus the meat cannot be sold.”


Lifetime licenses for a 3-year-old
Question: I just purchased a lifetime fishing license for my 3-year-old son and would like to purchase his lifetime hunting license as well. Do I have to wait until he is old enough to take and pass his hunters safety class first? (Anxious dad)

Answer: Great question! You will be able to purchase the lifetime hunting license now to lock in the price but he will not be able to use it until he completes his hunter safety class. Once you buy the license, our License and Revenue Branch will send you confirmation of your purchase. After your son takes the class (usually at nine years or older) and gives us the certificate showing that he has passed his test, like magic, his profile will show that he has an active lifetime hunting license and he will be able to use it.

Likewise, his lifetime fishing license may not show up in his profile until he turns 16 (when he will need to have a fishing license to fish). If you bought one of the add-on packages that include fishing report cards, he will have access to those before his 16th birthday because the report cards are necessary for anglers of all ages.

Good luck and I hope you have many happy years of hunting and fishing with your son!


Catching bait from the piers and bays
Question: What are the legal methods allowed for catching live bait? I have used sabiki type rigs when fishing for mackerels and sardines, but recently I’ve started fishing the bays. Is it legal to use homemade minnow traps in the bays (e.g. Mission Bay and San Diego Bay) to catch smelts to use for bait, or can I only use those bait nets available at local sport fishing retailers for catching bait fish? I am hoping to catch baits south of Point Conception. (Charles P.)

Answer: Baited traps are not authorized for the take of bait fish south of Point Conception. The only authorized methods of take for bait fish are using dip nets, baited hoop nets not greater than 36 inches in diameter, by hook and line or by hand. “Dip nets of any size and baited hoop nets not greater than 36 inches in diameter may be used to take herring, Pacific staghorn sculpin, shiner surfperch, surf smelt, topsmelt, anchovies, shrimp and squid. Hawaiian-type throw nets may be used north of Point Conception to take such species” (CCR Title 14, section 28.80). When taking other species of bait fish, your hand-held dip net must be not more than six feet in greatest diameter, excluding the handle (CCR Title 14, section 1.42).

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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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Scuba Diving through MPAs with Lobsters in Possession

California spiny lobster (CDFW photo by Derek Stein)

California spiny lobster (CDFW photo by Derek Stein)

Question: If a scuba diver legally enters an area for lobster, proceeds to catch lobster in that area but then is unable to exit the water safely, could they surface swim through a Marine Protected Area (MPA) zone with their catch and exit legally? (Tom)

Answer: Yes, the diver can swim through but should make sure they are clearly not actively hunting for lobsters. For example, if when kicking in on the surface and are right in close to the rocks, they then stop and shine their lights into holes or reach into holes, they may appear to be hunting for lobsters. If they have lobsters in their possession and a warden determines they are attempting to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill any lobster, they may be issued a citation for fishing in an MPA.

“Spear fishermen with or without catch shall be allowed to transit through MPAs and MMAs. While transiting MPAs and MMAs that prohibit spearfishing or while in possession of species not identified as allowed for take in the MPA or MMA being transited, spearfishing gear shall be in an unloaded condition, not carried in hand, and the diver shall remain at the surface” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 632(a)(8)).


Hunting with an Atlatl (spear thrower)?
Question: Is it legal to use an Atlatl, or spear thrower, to hunt game animals in California? If it is legal, what are the regulations for their use? (Charlie)

Answer: No, a spear thrower is not legal to use. Only methods defined in the 2016-2017 California Mammal Hunting Regulations booklet for the take of small game (CCR Title 14, section 311, on page 26) and for big game (CCR Title 14, section 353, beginning on page 27) may be used.


Personal limits vs boat limits?
Question: When on a boat with a group of fishermen, does the bag limit apply to the boat (as I believe I’ve read in the statutes and have seen on party boats) or does it mean that anyone catching their limit must stop fishing altogether?

I ask because we were ordered off the water when some wardens told us one of our friends could no longer be out there with us since his gear was still in the boat and he was considered to still be fishing. He was the only one with a limit.

Also, since fresh and saltwater regulations are slightly different, where in your regs are the lines of demarcation for San Francisco Bay? (Jerry Z.)

Answer: Boat limits apply to anyone fishing aboard a boat in ocean waters off California or in the San Francisco Bay (CCR Title 14, section 27.60(c)). Boat limits allow fishing by all licensed persons aboard until boat limits of finfish are taken and possessed aboard the vessel. Boat limits do not apply to sturgeon, shellfish or when fishing in inland waters.

“The San Francisco Bay is the waters of San Francisco and San Pablo bays, plus all their tidal bays, sloughs, estuaries and tidal portions of their rivers and streams between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge. For purposes of this section, waters downstream of the Trancas Bridge on the Napa River, downstream of Highway 121 Bridge on Sonoma Creek and downstream of the Payran Street Bridge on the Petaluma River are tidal portions of the Napa River, Sonoma Creek and Petaluma River, respectively” (CCR Title 14, section 27.00).

“Inland waters are all the fresh, brackish and inland saline waters of the state, including lagoons and tidewaters upstream from the mouths of coastal rivers and streams. Inland waters exclude the waters of San Francisco Bay and the waters of Elkhorn Slough, west of Elkhorn Road between Castroville and Watsonville” (CCR Title 14, section 1.53).

When fishing in inland waters, bag limits apply to each individual angler and not to the boat as a whole.


Bear skin rug and Alaskan whale bone carving for sale
Question: I have a bear skin rug, along with the head, that was the property of my mother-in-law. We also have a whale bone carving from an Alaskan artist. These are not things we wish to hold on to. Is there any way to sell these items in another state (outside of California) even though we live in California? What are the other options? (Kathy S.)

Answer: Regarding your bear skin rug, it is “unlawful to sell or purchase, or possess for sale, the meat, skin, hide, teeth, claws or other parts of any bear in this state (Fish and Game Code, section 4758). And as far as the whale bone carving, “it is unlawful to sell or purchase a bird or mammal found in the wild in California” (FGC, section 3039). So, if your carving comes from a whale that occurs in California waters, it may not be sold in the state. While neither of these laws apply to transactions taking place entirely outside of California, you are encouraged to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if any federal laws may 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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

“Butterflying” a Legal Alternative to Traditional Filleting?

Only certain ocean fish are allowed to be filleted at sea. Check section 27.65 (c) in the Ocean Fishing Regulations booklet

Only certain ocean fish are allowed to be filleted at sea. Check section 27.65 (c) in the Ocean Fishing Regulations booklet

Question: As an alternative to traditional filleting, some people will do what they call “butterflying.” This is where fish are filleted but the cut is not completed leaving the fillet connected to the skin and the skin attached to the carcass. Is that technique legal for striped bass and sharks? I believe it’s not permissible to fillet greenlings and cabezon at sea. That is where I have seen this done in the past by deckhands that want to be able to make a buck filleting onboard without violating the regs. The patron just pulls the pieces apart when dockside to separate the fillet from the remainder. I just want to see if perhaps further clarification directly to the individual might help them, should they be a deckhand checking to see if there is some means of cutting fish at sea. This might be worth running by a warden to be sure that the butterfly trick is legit. (John B.)

Answer: It is illegal to possess fish on a boat in such condition that the size and species cannot be determined (Fish and Game Code, sections 5508 and 5509). Fillet laws allow for the fillet of certain species as sea (under California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 27.65) consistent with identification requirements specified in the rule (such as retention of attached skin patches or the entire skin of a rockfish). Other than the provisions allowing for the fillet of certain species, no one should jeopardize the ability to identify the species and size of ocean fish. Striped bass, sharks, greenlings and cabezon may not be filleted at sea. So, if the person filleting your fish at sea, while rolling back and forth, makes a mistake and removes the whole piece of skin, you would be in violation. To be safe, the butterflying can occur once the fish are landed.


Determining when and where a gun is considered “loaded”?
Question: Please clarify the definition of “loaded” that you gave in your column: “Live round in the chamber.” Is it okay to have the clip or magazine loaded if there’s no round in the chamber? (Will B., Palmdale)

Answer: This is a classic example of the answer depending on where you are and what activity you are engaged in. Loaded gun laws applying to vehicles on roads open to the public have changed over the years, and there are differences in the definitions of loaded between the Fish and Game Code and the Penal Code. Long guns are considered to be loaded “when there is an unexpended cartridge or shell in the firing chamber but not when the only cartridges or shells are in the magazine” (FGC, section 2006). Under the Penal Code, a firearm is also considered to be loaded if there is a round in the magazine that can be loaded into the firing chamber with the firearm’s action.

So if you are in a vehicle along a public roadway while hunting, the Fish and Game Code does not prohibit rounds in the magazine of the rifle or shotgun, but rounds in the firing chamber would violate Fish and Game Code section 2006. The situation is different when you’re not hunting though. The Penal Code treats a firearm as loaded when a round is in the magazine, and Penal Code section 25850 provides that “a person is guilty of carrying a loaded firearm when the person carries a loaded firearm on the person or in a vehicle while in any public place or on any public street in an incorporated city or in any public place or on any public street in a prohibited area of unincorporated territory.”


Fishing with live minnows purchased at a bait shop?
Question: I know it’s illegal to move live finfish, so how can it be legal to use live minnows purchased from a bait shop for sport fishing in inland waters? (Mike R.)

Answer: It depends upon what area of the state the minnows are purchased in and where they are used. The term “minnow” often refers to many different species of small baitfish, some of which belong to the minnow family. Some lakes no longer allow the use of live bait due to possible water contamination (quagga or zebra mussels) in the water containing the bait fish. Depending upon where in the state you plan to use the minnows and, more specifically, which species of minnow (e.g. longjaw mudsucker, fathead minnow, Mississippi silverside, etc.), you will need to check the appropriate baitfish regulations that apply to the specific waters where you intend to fish. Please check sections 4.00 – 4.30 on pages 16-18 in the 2016-2017 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations handbook for these regulations.

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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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Waterfowl Hybrid Limits?

Pintail drake (USFWS photo)

Pintail drake (USFWS photo)

Question: When hunting waterfowl in California, how do hybrid ducks and geese count toward species limits? For example, the first duck of the day someone shoots looks like a cross between a pintail and a mallard. Would that hunter be within his/her limit to shoot another two pintail? Another example would be if a hunter was within the Special White Fronted Goose Zone and shot a goose with both Canada goose and White Front features. I’ve heard other hunters claim everything from you can consider it the more restricted species, to it’s an “other” duck on a refuge kill card/entry permit, to it’s the species with fewer restrictions. (Andy D.)

Answer: The bird will count towards your daily bag limit, and if it looks like a pintail, it will count towards your pintail limit. Always consider the most conservative approach to your limit even if you think you might have a hybrid. Your best bet would be to consider it the more restricted species.


Halibut fishing out of Tomales Bay during a groundfish closure?
Question: I want to fish for California halibut from a boat out of Tomales Bay near Bird Rock or Elephant Rock or go out of the Gate. I used to fish for them whenever herring, squid or anchovy would come in to spawn during the winter or spring. The halibut would lay in wait as the forage fish came through, usually from January through April or May.

I haven’t done this kind of fishing for a long time (years in fact) because no one wants to go out there in the wintertime when no one else is fishing and we are absolutely alone at sea. My fishing buddy wants to go but is worried that we would be cited for targeting lingcod or rockfish. I told him that as long as we were not keeping anything except the halibut, we would not be cited. We wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. But he repeated that he was worried that we would have no protection against being cited because we were out there during the closed groundfish season.

Can we be cited for targeting groundfish as long we do not keep any incidentally caught groundfish? Or, how about steelhead or Pacific halibut or canary cod or anything else that you are not allowed to keep? (Jerry Z.)

Answer: Warmer ocean water temperatures have made some interesting adjustments to the ocean and fish distribution in recent years. During the summer months when the water warms, more halibut move into Tomales Bay. You know that the sandy bottoms are where the halibut hang out. You indicated fishing the Bird and Elephant Rock areas, so keep in mind there are a lot of underwater rock croppings there. That’s where the rockfish and lingcod hang out.

According to local California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Lt. Jim Jones, incidental catch is not a violation. However, once you do catch a species that is prohibited, it’s recommended that you leave that area. If you continue to fish and catch fish you are not targeting, you could be cited.

If you are fishing during a closure (such as now) and start catching lingcod and rockfish, even if you are fishing catch and release, you could receive a citation for targeting those fish, depending on the situation.


Van Duzen River pikeminnow fishing regs?
Question: After a short 35-year hiatus, I have decided to return to sport fishing. I live within walking distance of the Van Duzen River and my friends tell me it is “infested” with pikeminnow, a non-native and destructive predator of salmonid eggs in this watershed. I have tried to read the regulations online but am confused as to the restrictions on this fish in my area. (Tony W.)

Answer: Welcome back! Sacramento pike are a California native species, and although they are natural predators of salmonids, they have coexisted in streams for many years.

For regulations on the Sacramento pikeminnow, please check section “5.95. OTHER SPECIES” on page 27 of the 2016-2017 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations handbook. Here it states that other species of fish not included in the species-specific regulations may be taken “in any number and at any time of the year by angling,” except for in the closures and restrictions listed under district special regulations. Specific regulations for the Van Duzen River can be found on page 42 of this regulations booklet (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 7.50(b)(63)(B)). Sacramento pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus grandis) are also referred to by some as Sacramento squawfish.


Selling skulls?
Question: Is it legal to sell skulls and bones from small mammals such as fox, skunk, raccoon, opossum, coyote, badger and bobcats? (Kayla M.)

Answer: No, it is “unlawful to sell or purchase a bird or mammal found in the wild in California” (Fish and Game Code, section 3039). However, “products or handicraft items made from furbearing mammals and nongame mammals lawfully taken under the authority of a trapping license may be purchased or sold at any 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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Can a Turkey’s Age be Determined by Beard and Spur?



Monterey Rio Turkeys_186_8661

Rio Grande turkeys from Monterey (photo by Carrie Wilson)

Turkey identification
Question: I am fairly new to turkey hunting and hear everyone always referring to their birds by their beards and spurs. Can wild turkeys be aged based on these trophy characteristics? (Jim C., Modesto)

Answer: Yes and no. There is no absolute standard for identifying a wild turkey’s age, but there are some general guidelines that can be used to provide fairly reliable estimates.

While precisely determining a turkey’s age in years may be difficult, there is a surefire method for distinguishing between adults and juveniles using the last two primary flight feathers. In juvenile birds the feathers will be sharp at the ends. By the time the bird reaches maturity at one year of age, it will molt and the two sharp feathers will be replaced by more rounded ones.

Beyond this, beard and spur length can be used to estimate a bird’s age, but unfortunately, it’s not an exact method. Variables such as subspecies, environmental conditions, and possibly nutrition can alter the length of both the beard and the spur, resulting in a misrepresentation of the bird’s age.

In terms of beards, the general rule of thumb is the longer the beard, the older the bird. But, while a jake (juvenile) will not have a 10-inch beard, a four-year-old turkey may have a short beard due to any number of conditions. If the turkey is in “rough” vegetation, the beard may wear away on the ground more easily when it grows long. If a turkey has long legs, the beard will be able to grow longer before it reaches the ground, where it will naturally face wear and tear. The fact that the beard may have been altered at any time by environmental or circumstantial conditions prevents biologists from using this method as an accurate way of measuring a turkey’s age.

Spur length can also be used to estimate a bird’s age although, like beards, spurs can also wear down. Spur length does tend to be slightly more reliable than beard length, however, because they do not wear as easily.

While both of these methods are not entirely precise, they can provide an approximate age range. These estimates are not reliable for turkeys older than about three or four years though.


Freediving for horseneck (gaper) clams?
Question: I’m an avid free diver and spear fisherman, as well as a frequent clammer. While diving for crabs recently, I noticed a number of enormous clam siphons in the silty mud bottom in 4-8 feet of water. Having previously dug for horseneck clams (Tresus capax) on a number of occasions, it was clear to me that these were horseneck siphons, or “shows”. These clams are all well below the low tide line and would thus be impossible to dig in the traditional way. Would it be legal for me to harvest these clams using a homemade PVC “clam gun” to excavate the mud in which they are encased? Looking at the regulations pertaining to horseneck clams, underwater harvest is neither specifically permitted nor forbidden. (Carter J.)

Answer: Yes, you can take clams underwater using a “clam gun” as long as you are free diving. The use of SCUBA is prohibited for the take of clams north of Yankee Point in Monterey County. SCUBA can be used south of Yankee Point. You don’t say where you plan to dive for clams, but you may like to know that there are gaper clams south of Yankee Point.

Here’s what the regulations say:

Invertebrates
29.05. GENERAL.
(d) In all ocean waters skin and Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) divers may take invertebrates as provided in this article except that in all ocean waters north of Yankee Point (Monterey Co.), SCUBA may be used only to take sea urchins, rock scallops and crabs of the genus Cancer. For the purpose of this section, breathing tubes (snorkels) are not SCUBA.

29.20. CLAMS GENERAL.
(a) Except as provided in this article, there are no closed seasons, bag limits or size limits on saltwater clams.
(b) Fishing hours: One-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
(c) Special gear provisions: Spades, shovels, hoes, rakes or other appliances operated by hand, except spears or gaff hooks, may be used to take clams. No instrument capable of being used to dig clams may be possessed between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise, on any beach of this state, except tools and implements used in the work of cleaning, repairing or maintaining such beach when possessed by a person authorized by appropriate authority to perform such work.


Motorized decoys for doves and upland game
Question: Can motorized decoys, such as Mojo be used on doves or other upland game birds?

Answer: Yes.


Catching live shad for bait using a cast net?
Question: I live in San Joaquin County and have two fishing questions. First, is it legal to fish with live shad? Second, is it legal to use a cast net/bait net to catch shad and minnows? (Justin)

Answer: A casting net or throw net is unlawful to use or possess in inland waters, but dip nets are authorized for taking certain species of fin fish that can be used as bait (see California Code of Regulations Title 14, sections 4.00 – 4.30 in the Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations available online or wherever licenses are sold). Live shad may be used in the Valley and South Central Districts (CCR Title 14, section 4.10) in waters where taken, but they must be taken with a legal dip net under certain provisions.


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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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Carrie is on vacation. This column was originally published Aug. 9, 2012.