The summer months offer excellent fishing in Louisiana. It is the height of the fishing “season,” and many of us get out there and do our best to procure the main course for a fish fry. 

The vast majority of recreational fishermen will be bait casting, fly fishing or jig poling. 

A comparatively small number of fishermen will take a different approach and fish with hoop nets, slat traps or other gear more commonly associated with commercial fishing. 

They fish for catfish, crabs, crawfish or shrimp that we recognize as both commercial and recreational species. For some it is tradition passed down from dad or grandfather. Others are limited on time to spend on the water, and like the idea of having a net or trap doing the fishing for them. This group also includes retired commercial fishermen who held on to a few nets or traps and wish to continue fishing on a limited basis for their own table. 

A commercial fisherman’s license and commercial gear licenses authorize the sale of the catch and use of an unlimited number of nets or traps. But the LDWF and the Louisiana Legislature long ago recognized the need for licensing to accommodate people who wanted to use a small number of nets or traps for a recreational harvest with no desire to sell the catch — and recreational gear licenses fill the need nicely. 

A perfect example was a fellow I knew who had a camp at Hopedale. He spent a lot of time at the camp, and kept crab traps in Hopedale Lagoon. When the kids and grandkids arrived for the weekend, he would run the traps for a crab boil. When shrimp season opened in May, he would use a 16-foot trawl to catch shrimp for his family. A $15 recreational crab trap license allowed him to fish up to 10 crab traps. A $25 trawl license covered using the trawl. 

For the freshwater fisherman with a taste for fresh catfish, a $20 gear license authorizes the use of up to five slat traps, wire nets or hoop nets. The $15 recreational crawfish trap license is a really sweet deal, allowing the use of up to 35 traps. These prices are resident license fees. and non-resident amounts are higher — so check LDWF licensing at wlf.la.gov/licenses for more information. 

Recreational gear licenses are issued for one specific type of gear or tackle and are not transferable to different gear or another person. For example, a recreational gear license for hoop nets is for hoop nets only, and does not allow the holder to fish slat traps or a combination of traps and nets. 

Who needs a recreational gear license?

A gear license is required for anyone 16 years of age or older using recreational gear with no exceptions or exemptions. Residents born before June 1, 1940 are exempt from basic and saltwater licenses but must have the appropriate gear license. Any resident 60 years of age or older born after June 1, 1940 must have the senior hunting and fishing license and appropriate gear license when using any listed recreational gear. 

Remember that gear fishermen must abide by all sport fishing regulations. All game fish taken in any type gear must be returned immediately to the water from which taken without avoidable injury. Size and creel limits apply, and during open shrimp season shrimpers using trawls 16 feet in length or less are limited to 100 pounds (heads on) of shrimp per boat per day. Those using trawls greater than 16 feet to 25 feet are limited to 250 pounds (heads on) per boat per day.

Getting started

In Louisiana’s freshwater bayous, lakes and rivers, a couple of properly placed small hoop nets or wire traps will provide fresh fish for the table with a minimum amount of effort. The trick is to learn when and where to place them. Depth, current and geographic characteristics all play a part in gear fishing, just like with hook and line. As any good fisherman knows, each water body has its own hotspots where certain techniques, lure colors and presentations will put fish in the boat. You just have to figure out what works — and it’s not any different with gear fishing. 

Anyone interested in giving recreational gear a try should locate a fisherman with experience and find out what works locally. He may not want to reveal his best fishing spots, but most don’t mind sharing tips on what gear works best and what to look for when choosing a location for a set. He can also point out where to purchase legal traps or nets. Prices are generally reasonable, and properly maintained gear will last for years. 

Be sure to check state and local regulations for any gear restrictions on local lakes and reservoirs. LDWF’s Recreational Fishing Regulations booklet is an excellent source of information.