Can Violating the Fishing Laws Lead to Jail Time in Illinois?

Now that summer is upon us, enjoying the great outdoors is likely a pastime many Illinois residents will partake in.  Fishing is an activity many of us will do this summer, but like everything else it is regulated by the State.  There are licenses and fees and even a special enforcement agency tasked with policing waterways and wilderness.

The Department of Natural Resources is tasked with enforcing laws to do with fishing, referred to as Conservation Police. Under the Fish and Aquatic Life Code, Conservation Police are empowered to make issue citations and make arrests for violations of this statute.  Here are some laws and regulations you should be aware of before grabbing your pole and tackle box this year.

Permits and Licenses

Licenses are required for fishing in public waters within the state.  The type of license depends on what you are fishing for, how old you are, and for how long you want your license to be valid for.  There are different fee schedules for commercial fishers and private fishers.  There are also different fee schedules for seniors and youth, residents and nonresidents, and annual licenses versus a day pass.  There is also a different fee schedule for fishing trout and salmon.  The fee amounts and places to buy these licenses can be found at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Catch and Species Limitations

Under 515 ILCS 5/10, there are different species of fish have different seasons that you can fish for them and a limit on the number you can catch in a day.  Bass are restricted to 6 per day.  Trout and salmon are limited to 5.  Northern pike are limited to 3 and sauger and walleye are limited to 6 per day.  Of the sauger and walleye, you may take up to 6 in a day, but not 6 of both.  Bullfrogs are limited to 15 per day.

In addition to catch limits there are some limitations on how you can catch certain fish and size restrictions.  For example, you cannot take salmon or trout under 10 inches.  Northern pike cannot be kept if they are under 24 inches (except for those caught in the Mississippi River, which can be of any size).

Also, many species of fish have to be caught using the proper sportfishing equipment.  It is unlawful to use electricity, firearms, and snag lines or poles to catch any type of fish.

These are just some basic outline according to statute, but note DNR has established site-specific rules for different waterways within the state.


Fishing licenses are regulated much like a drivers license in that violations are managed under a point system.  For instance, petty offenses are worth 3 point, Class C misdemeanors are worth 6 point, Class B misdemeanors are worth 9 points, and Class A misdemeanors are worth 12 points.  For the type of offenses a private fisher might be charged with, if 13 or more points are accumulated within a 3 year period, their fishing license will be suspended one month for each point he has.  Certain egregious offenses can result in an administrative hearing for license suspension or revocation regardless of whether enough points have been accumulated.  Further, if the terms of a license suspension or revocation are violated, the penalty is a Class A misdemeanor carrying a possible jail sentence of up to 364 days and fines of up to $2500.

Summer is a time for fun and recreation.  Fishing is often a part of people’s summer festivities.  Don’t let an encounter with Conservation Police spoil your summer.  Contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney for information or representation today.

Practice Areas

Our Blog