Fishing with live bait is an extremely effective way of catching fish but is regulated differently from state to state. As I personally like fishing with live baitfish, I did some extensive research on all 50 states in the U.S.
Most states allow the use of live bait but have certain restrictions and rules concerning the possession and use of baitfish. Only a handful of states completely prohibit the use of live bait in their waters.
Read the article to find out whether or not live bait is legal in your home state.
Certain fish species can be legally used as live bait in the state of Alabama.
Minnows, shads, and certain sucker fish can legally be used as live bait in certain waters in Alabama. They shall be obtained by the use of cast nets, minnow jugs, minnow baskets, dip nets, or minnow seines.
It is illegal to use any species of game fish as bait, with the exception of bream.
All species of bream may be used as live bait as long as they are harvested legally and are not exceeding the daily creel limit.
For more detailed information, please visit Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest.
All use of live bait in freshwater is prohibited in Alaska but legal in saltwater.
Herring, whitefish, and other species that do not have any seasonal or harvest limits may be used as live baitfish for saltwater fishing.
Such bait may be possessed, transported, and released only in the saltwater areas in which it was taken.
For more information, please visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
It is legal to use live bait in certain areas in the state of Arizona.
Fathead minnow, threadfin shad, mosquitofish, golden shiner, and goldfish may be used as live bait in all waters of the legal areas where fishing with live bait is allowed.
It is legal to transport these species to the waters of the legal areas.
Sunfish species, tilapia, carp, and gizzard shad may only be used on-site in the identified legal areas and waters. It is illegal to transport these species to or from these waters.
For more detailed information on legal areas and the respective waters, please check the Arizona Game and Fish Fishing Regulations.
It is legal to use live bait in the state of Arkansas if it is caught in the same body of water where it is used.
Purchased farmed baitfish from a certified dealer may also be used as bait in any water of the state.
For more information, please visit the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
The state of California has approved several species of fish to be used as live or dead bait. However, regulations differ vastly from district to district.
For detailed information on district regulations and approved fish for use as bait, please visit California Freshwater Sportfishing Regulations.
Fishing with live bait is legal in Colorado but restricted to certain species and areas.
The following species, if legally caught by fishing, netting, seining, trapping, or dipping, can be used as both live and dead bait:
Minnows, bluegill, hybrid bluegill, carp, sunfish, gizzard shad, sculpin, white and longnose suckers, yellow perch, and rainbow smelt.
Statewide bag limits apply to the following species used as bait:
Sunfish, bluegill, hybrid bluegill, and yellow perch.
Possession and use of live bait are legal only in the following areas:
In all waters east of the Continental Divide and below 7,000 feet elevation, Live baitfish may only be used in the same body of water from which they were collected.
For more detailed information on bag limits and area regulations, please read the brochure Colorado Fishing 2020.
Possession and personal use of live bait are legal in the state of Connecticut.
The following species are legal to use as live or dead bait:
Common shiner, golden shiner, fallfish, creek chub, spottail shiner, bridle shiner, black nose dace, longnose dace, pearl dace, bluntnose minnow, fathead minnow, cutlip minnow, chub sucker, white sucker, killifish, mummichog, Atlantic, and tidewater silverside, sand lance, frogs (except northern leopard frog), crayfish, perch bugs, hellgrammites, and mayfly nymphs.
Legal methods of obtaining bait include the following:
Angling, seining, bait trapping, and scoop netting.
For more detailed information, please visit the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
It is legal to fish with live minnows in the state of Delaware.
For more information, please read the Delaware Fishing Guide.
Florida has a partial ban on fishing with live bait. The following fish are allowed as bait:
- Whole pickerel or panfish, such as bluegill, redear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, spotted sunfish, flier, warmouth, or parts thereof, may be used as bait for sportfishing by the angler who caught them
- Whole pickerel or bream or parts thereof may not be used as bait for trotlines or bush hooks or any method other than by rod and reel or pole and line.
- Panfish less than 4 inches in total length raised by a licensed aquaculture facility may be purchased and used for bait
The following fish are not allowed as bait in the state of Florida:
- Black bass, peacock bass, or any part thereof, may not be used as bait.
- No live non-native fish, except variable platys and fathead minnows, may be transported to or between waters for use as bait
- Live goldfish and carp may not be used as bait
For more detailed information, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
It is legal to use certain species as live bait in the state of Georgia.
The following species are legal to use as live bait:
Minnows, threadfin shad, gizzard shad, and blueback herring.
Game fish are also legal to use as live bait (where live bait is legal), if they are caught legally and do not exceed daily creel and possession limits.
Live bait may be obtained by using the following gear:
Seines, cast nets, and dip nets.
For more detailed information, please read the Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations.
The use of live bait is legal in the state of Hawaii but requires a baitfish license to both obtain, possess, and use baitfish for fishing purposes.
For more detailed information, please read the Hawaii Fishing Regulations.
In Idaho, fishing with live swimming bait is not legal.
Baits such as worms, nightcrawlers, maggots, wax worms, etc., are allowed to be used for fishing. Live crayfish can also be used for bait, but only were captured from the water in which you are fishing.
For more detailed information, please visit the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
The use of shad, minnows, and crayfish for live bait is legal in the state of Illinois.
All fishermen with a valid license may obtain such fish via the use of cast nets, shad scoops, and minnow seines and use them as bait.
For more detailed information on gear and size limits, check the Illinois Fishing Information.
In Indiana, any legally caught fish may be used as bait. This even includes live goldfish.
Fishermen who want to use fish as live bait must stay within the bag and size limits for the respective species.
It is, however, illegal to use the following fish as live bait:
- gizzard shad (can, however, be used as bait in certain districts and waters)
Live baitfish shall not be moved from one water body to another!
For more detailed information on certain district and water regulations, please visit the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
In Iowa, it is legal to use certain fish as live bait.
The following species can be used as live bait:
Minnows, green sunfish, orange-spotted sunfish, frogs, crayfish, salamanders, and mussels.
Gizzard shad may only be used as dead bait.
Fishermen with a valid fishing license may transport live minnow for personal use. It is also legal to use legally caught game fish as live bait on a hook and line.
Unused baitfish may not be dumped into the water body but shall be disposed of instead.
For more information, visit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
In Kansas, baitfish may be used as live bait for fishing.
The following species are legal to use as bait:
Minnow or carp family (Cyprinidae), sucker family (Catostomidae), top minnows or killifish family (Cyprinodontidae), shad family (Clupeidae), as well as sunfish family (Centrarchidae). These species can be obtained with a fish trap, cast net, fishing line, or seine.
Black bass and crappie may only be caught with a hook and line if used as live bait.
Baitfish size must not exceed 12 inches, and the daily possession limit is 500 fish per person.
For more information, please visit Kansas Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism.
Possession and use of native live baitfish are legal in Kentucky.
Licensed Anglers are allowed to possess a daily maximum of 500 baitfish, which must be nongame species only (except for redear sunfish less than 6 inches long).
This limit includes shad (except on lakes where possession or use of shad is prohibited) and herring.
The following species may only be used in the same waters from which they were collected:
Asian carp, herring, shad, mooneye, and goldeye.
The following gear shall be used to obtain live bait:
Dip nets, minnow traps, and cast nets.
For more detailed information, please visit the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The state of Louisiana allows the use of certain species for live bait.
Legal species for live bait include the following:
Minnows, crawfish, and shrimp.
It is illegal to use any game fish as bait.
The following gear shall be used to obtain live bait:
Cast nets, minnow traps, recreational trawls, dip nets, and bait seines.
For more detailed information, please read the Louisiana Fishing Regulations.
The state of Maine allows the use of the following species for bait:
Smelt, Lake chub, Eastern silvery minnow, Golden shiner, Emerald shiner, Bridle shiner, Common shiner, Blacknose shiner, Spottail shiner, Northern redbelly dace, finscale dace, Fathead minnow, Blacknose dace, Longnose dace, Creek chub, Fallfish, Pearl dace, Banded kill fish, Mummichog, Longnose sucker, White sucker, Creek chub sucker, American eel, Blackchain shiner.
However, the following species cannot be used as either live or dead bait:
any pickerel, goldfish, yellow perch, white perch, bass, sunfish, crappie, hornpout, carp, alewife, or any spiny-finned fish
For more detailed information, please visit Mainerec.com.
Generally, the use of minnows for live bait is legal in the state of Maryland.
However, there are certain regional restrictions to that law. Baitfish shall not be obtained in the following areas and waters:
- Put-and-Take Fishing Areas
- Special Trout Fisheries Management Areas
Additionally, the possession and use of minnows for live bait are illegal in Deer and Swan Creek in Harford County.
For more information, please visit Maryland Fishing and Crabbing.
The use of certain live baitfish is legal in the state of Massachusetts.
Baitfish may be caught by licensed anglers at any time for personal use if lawful methods for catching bait are applied.
The following species are legal to use as live or dead baitfish:
Banded Killifish, Fallfish, Fathead Minnow, Golden Shiner, Mummichog, Pumpkinseed, Rainbow Smelt*, Yellow Perch, White Sucker
*Smelt may be taken only by hook and line. Possession or use of smelt as bait in inland waters during any other time than the smelt season is illegal.
For detailed information on methods for obtaining baitfish, smelt season periods, and further regulations, visit Massachusetts Freshwater Fishing Regulations.
Any species, which has been caught legally, may be used as bait, with the exception of lampreys, carp, and goldfish.
Caught baitfish must only be used in the inland stream, lake, or Great Lake or in a connecting waterway where the fish were caught.
Commercial collection and sale of minnows, wigglers, and crayfish from the wild require a DNR license and monthly harvest reporting to the department.
For more information, please visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Minnesota allows the use of a variety of live and dead bait for fishing, including minnows.
For the use of live minnows, a number of special regulations apply:
- unused minnows cannot be released in Minnesota waters but must be killed and disposed
- minnows shall not be imported into Minnesota
- only a maximum of 12 dozen minnows shall be transported without a commercial minnow license
- with a valid fishing license, an unlimited amount of minnows can be obtained for personal use
It is illegal to use whole or parts of any game fish, goldfish, or carp for bait in the state of Minnesota.
For more detailed information, please read the Minnesota Fishing Regulations.
All game fish, nongame gross fish, goldfish, and minnows are legal to use for live bait in the state of Mississippi, as long as daily creel limits are kept, and they were caught legally.
Additionally, minnows, nongame gross fish, and nongame fish can be harvested for personal use as bait without the need for a valid commercial fishing license.
For more information, please visit the Mississippi Outdoor Digest.
Fishing with live bait is legal in the state of Missouri.
The following species may be used for live bait:
Crayfish, freshwater shrimp, southern leopard frogs, plains leopard frogs, cricket frogs, and nongame fish. Bullfrogs and green frogs taken under season limits and methods can also be used as live bait.
The following species are illegal to use for live bait:
- Bighead carp and silver carp (can, however, be used as dead or cut bait)
- game fish or their parts
In order to obtain live bait, traps, dip nets, cast nets, pole and line, or seines may be used.
Live bait taken from public waters in the state of Missouri may not be sold or transported to other states or waters.
For more detailed information, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The state of Montana has very strict laws for the use of live bait. With a few exceptions, it is illegal to use live fish as bait in this state.
In waters that allow the use of live bait, only nongame fish may be used for bait. Additionally, all import and export of live baitfish are prohibited.
On the other hand, all nongame fish can be used as dead bait if their heads and entrails have been removed or if they are preserved and frozen.
For more detailed information on the legal use of baitfish in the Central and Eastern Districts of the state, please visit Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
All sport fish may be used for bait if:
- they have been purchased from a licensed bait dealer
- they were caught with hook and line and are used in the same water they were captured from
There are special regulations for the following species:
- it is illegal to sell, transport, or offer for sale as bait any live carp, carpsucker, bullhead, buffalo, gar, quillback, gizzard shad, or alewife. Live fish of those species can be used for bait only in the same water they were legally caught in
- it is legal to transport dead carp, carpsucker, bullhead, buffalo, gar, quillback, gizzard shad, or alewife for use as bait
The state of Nebraska also has a long list of lakes that do not allow the use of live bait.
For detailed information, please read the Nebraska Fishing Regulations and Information.
The state of Nevada mostly prohibits the use of live bait. It does, however, list a few regional exceptions.
To get detailed regional information, please visit the Nevada Fishing Guide.
New Hampshire allows the following species to be possessed and used as live fish for bait in any of the state’s freshwater venues:
Rainbow smelt, Longnose dace, Blacknose dace, Northern redbelly dace, Lake chub, Creek chub, Fallfish, Golden shiner, Common shiner, Emerald shiner, Spottail shiner, Eastern silvery minnow, Eastern creek chubsucker, Longnose sucker, White sucker, Killifish/tomcod
For more detailed information, visit New Hampshire Fish and Game.
The state of New Jersey allows the use of live bait in all freshwater areas of the state. Any person with a valid fishing license may use live baitfish.
The following species are legal to use as baitfish:
American Eel, Banded Killifish, Creek Chub, Fallfish, Fathead Minnow, Gizzard Shad, Golden Shiner, Margined Madtom, Mummichog, and Tadpole Madtom. For Herring, Alewife, and Blueback.
The state does, however, have daily limits on the number of baitfish and some specific regional regulations.
For more detailed information, please visit New Jersey Freshwater Fishing Digest.
In New Mexico, minnows may be taken for personal use by licensed anglers or children of 11 years of age or younger. Methods permitted for taking minnows include angling, dip nets, cast nets, traps, and seines. However, the state has a wide range of species and regional restrictions and special regulations for the use of live bait.
In waters containing protected fish, the following species are illegal to use:
Live protected fish, gar, goldfish, common carp, river carpsucker, smallmouth buffalo, and bullfrogs or bullfrog tadpoles.
The following species are legal to use as dead bait only:
Bluegills and sunfish, common carp, river carpsucker, smallmouth buffalo, bullfrogs, or bullfrog tadpoles.
For more detailed information, please visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
New York State has strict regulations regarding the use of live baitfish.
- the use of personally collected baitfish is restricted to the water they were collected from
- it is prohibited to transport baitfish from such waters
- except for baitfish sold for use on the same water they were collected from, all baitfish must also be certified to be disease free
The following baitfish are the only species that can be purchased and used in any water body in New York where it is legal to use fish as bait:
|Golden shiner||Blacknose dace|
|Emerald shiner||Longnose dace|
|Common shiner||White sucker|
|Spottail shiner||Northern hogsucker|
|Banded killifish||Creek chub|
|Eastern silvery minnow|
|Tadpole madtom||Brindled madtom|
For more detailed information, visit New York Freshwater Fishing.
In North Carolina, inland game fish and nongame fish may be used as bait if they have been caught legally and within the creel limits and size of the respective waters.
For more detailed information on daily possession limits and further regulations, please visit North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting, and Trapping.
It is legal to use the following species for bait:
Leeches, native frog, salamander, and crayfish species, as well as the following fish species: fathead minnows, creek chubs, and sticklebacks.
Using game fish and parts thereof is illegal, except for yellow perch eyes and trout and salmon eggs.
The state has a long list of water areas in which the use of live bait is prohibited.
For more detailed information on those water areas and further regulations, please visit North Dakota Game and Fish.
Except for licensed bait dealers, anglers are prohibited from possessing more than 100 crayfish or, in combination, 500 crayfish, minnows, and other baitfish.
A bait dealer’s permit is required for persons buying or selling minnows, crayfish, and hellgrammites.
The release of baitfish or minnow into waters they did not originate from is also prohibited.
For more detailed information, please visit Ohio Fishing Regulations.
Any nongame fish can legally be used as bait in Oklahoma.
Fishermen can possess a daily maximum of 25 nongame fish for bait, except for shad, which has a maximum daily possession limit of 200 per.
The following gear shall be used to obtain live baitfish:
Seines, cast nets, trawls, and dip nets.
For more detailed information, visit Oklahoma Fishing.
All use of live minnows or any other live bait is illegal in Oregon.
For more detailed information, visit the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.
In Pennsylvania, fishing with live bait is legal.
All forms of minnows, such as suckers, chubs, fallfish, and lampreys, as well as all forms of darters, killifishes, and stonecats (except those listed as threatened or endangered species), are identified as baitfish and can hence be used for fishing.
Gamefish that have been caught legally may also be used as bait.
It is illegal to use as bait or possess the following species:
Round gobies, tubenose gobies, goldfish, comets, koi, and common carp.
For more information on possession limits and ways of catching baitfish, visit Pennsylvania Fishing Laws and Regulations.
It is legal to use all types of freshwater minnows as live bait. They shall only be caught using minnow traps, dip nets, and seines.
There are also special regulations for the use of alewife/blueback herring as bait.
The following activities are prohibited in Rhode Island:
- releasing any live bait into any freshwater of the state
- the use as bait of any variety of goldfish
For detailed information, please visit Rhode Island Freshwater Fishing.
The following minnow species are legal to use as bait in South Carolina:
Fathead minnows, golden shiners, and goldfish, including black salties.
Except for bream (excluding redbreast), no game fish may be used as bait. Trout may be used as bait only on certain lakes.
Any non-indigenous species is illegal to use as bait unless it is already established in the respective water body. It is also illegal to release any such species into the waters of this state.
For more information on daily creel limits and specific lake regulations for trout, visit South Carolina Hunting and Fishing.
In South Dakota, only bullhead and cleanings of baitfish are legal to use as bait while hook and line fishing.
The use of carp, goldfish, or any game fish for bait is illegal in this state.
For more detailed information, please visit South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks.
The following species are legal to use as live bait by licensed sport anglers, as well as imported, exported, or sold by licensed bait dealers:
Minnow, Golden Shiner, and Goldfish, Skipjack Herring, Gizzard Shad, Threadfin Shad, Fathead Minnow, Golden Shiner, Goldfish, Sunfishes, Rainbow Trout, Stonerollers, Creek Chub, Bluntnose Minnow, Bullhead Minnow.
Additionally, licensed bait dealers may also harvest the following species to be sold as dead bait:
Brook Silverside, Inland Silverside, Silver Carp, Bighead Carp, Black Carp, Grass Carp.
For detailed information on legal gear to obtain baitfish, as well as further regulations, please visit Tennessee Fishing Guide.
In Texas, all nongame fish are legal to use as bait.
The use of any game fish or part of any game fish as bait is prohibited in Texas.
Furthermore, the transport of live nongame fish taken from the following waters is prohibited:
- the Red River below Lake Texoma downstream to the Arkansas border
- Big Cypress Bayou downstream of Ferrell’s Bridge Dam on Lake O’the Pines (including the Texas waters of Caddo Lake)
- the Sulphur River downstream of the Lake Wright Patman dam
However, nongame fish caught in the above-mentioned waters can legally be used as live bait on the same water bodies where they were caught.
For more detailed information and special area restrictions, visit Outdoor Annual – Hunting, Fishing and Boating Regulations.
Fishing with live baitfish is illegal in the state of Utah! Furthermore, transporting live bait is also illegal, which is why fish will have to be killed prior to using them as dead bait.
The following fish are legal to use for dead bait in Utah:
Common Carp, Golden Shiner, Red-sided Shiner, Utah Chub, Utah Sucker
The following gamefish can be used for dead bait:
- White Bass (Utah Lake)
- Yellow Perch (on a few select waters)
For more detailed information, please visit Utah Fishing Information.
In Vermont, the use of live bait is legal and encouraged via special “baitfish zones”, which allow anglers to harvest live bait from most waters in the state and use them on other waters.
This newly approved regulation (effective January 1, 2020) will provide much more flexibility for anglers.
To learn more about Vermont’s regulations and the “baitfish zones”, please visit Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
In Virginia, all game and non-game fish may be used as bait when fished whole.
There are, however, certain area restrictions, possession limits, and length limits (for game fish) that must be considered.
For more detailed information, visit Freshwater Fishing and Boating in Virginia.
In the state of Washington, it is illegal to fish for any game fish with live bait.
For more information, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It is legal to use minnows as live bait in the state of West Virginia.
Seines, cast nets, and minnow traps may be used to obtain minnows. A person shall not possess more than 50 minnows at a time unless the live bait has been obtained from a licensed dealer and a bill of sale can be provided.
For more detailed information, please visit the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Minnows and other fish may be used as bait in the state of Wisconsin.
Most commonly, bluegills and perch are used as live bait in many waters.
It is important to remember that a species’ minimum length still applies and that all caught baitfish must be counted towards the daily bag limit.
Also, all baitfish can only be caught and used in one and the same water and shall not be transported to other water bodies of the state.
For more detailed information, visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
In Wyoming, the use of live baitfish is illegal in most areas and waters.
The provided reference below lists the specific areas and waters. In areas and waters where the use of live baitfish is legal, a seining and trapping license must be obtained.
For more information, please visit Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Disclaimer: strikeandcatch.com assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions of the presented information. The information contained in this article is provided on an “as is” basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness.
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