Can You Legally Fish with Goldfish as Bait?

Sometimes, it can be quite appealing to use a bait that’s readily available to you almost anywhere there’s a pet store. Some anglers have thought of a new method of bringing in their favorite table fare with a small species of fish that isn’t typically associated with fishing.

The goldfish has been a staple of pet stores across the world for decades and at one point, nearly everyone has had a pet goldfish in their life. But how might they fair as bait for your next big catch?

Live fishing is a popular trick that is not only legal, but highly promoted throughout the fishing community. Fishing with live bait is one of the most effective methods of reeling in a big catch, so what makes fishing with goldfish any different? They’re a species of fish that other species are interested in, they’re technically live bait, and they’re easy to come across. So this begs the question, is it legal to fish with goldfish as your bait?

The short answer is that it differs by state. Some states allow fishing with goldfish while others do not. You might find that your state has no specific legislation regarding the use of goldfish as bait – if this is the case, we recommend assuming it’s illegal. It’s better to be safe than sorry and there’s plenty of other bait options out there that will be just as effective as pet store goldfish. We’ve compiled a list of each state and their respective stance on fishing with goldfish as the bait.

Legality of Fishing with Goldfish By State

Each state has a different stance on fishing with goldfish. Some support it, others do not. We’ve compiled this list so you have an organized reference point by which you can see if it is legal to fish using goldfish as your bait. We do want to point out that some states are excluded from this list as they do not have any recorded stance on the matter. If your state is excluded from this list, it’s best to assume it to be illegal to fish using goldfish as your bait.

Where Is It Legal?

The states where it is legal are as follows, listed in alphabetical order:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Each of these states has specified legislation that states that it is completely legal to fish using live goldfish as bait. If you have a specific region you hope to fish in within any of these states, you will be within the law to use goldfish as your bait of choice.

Where Is It Not?

The states where it is illegal are as follows, listed in alphabetical order:

Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

It’s clear to see that most states do not allow legal fishing with goldfish as your bait. Most of the states on the illegal list host some of the largest bodies of water and look to avoid the use of goldfish as a bait. If you’re fishing in these areas, do not use goldfish as your bait of choice.

States with Specific Restrictions

There is a third category of states that host specific legislation regarding the use of goldfish as a bait. These states will only allow you to use goldfish as bait if they are not living. Typically, they do this as a way to prevent the infestation of the living species in their waters. These states are as follows:

Florida, North Dakota, and West Virginia

The only time you’re allowed to fish with goldfish as your bait in these states is if the bait is not living. This restricts the effectiveness of the goldfish so it might be better to simply use other forms of live bait allowed in the region.

Why Fishing with Goldfish is Appealing

For some, the thought of using a goldfish as bait can be quite alarming – after all, these were some of our first pets, so we still have attachments not found with other species of bait fish. Why might some anglers prefer to use goldfish as their bait of choice? Despite our early connections with the species, they do prove plenty of great fishing opportunities when legally used.

fishing with goldfish as bait

Easy to Purchase

For one, we know exactly where we can find a whole host of goldfish for quite the inexpensive price. Every pet store across America, large corporation or small mom-and-pop shop, has goldfish for sale. They are the staple of American pet shops and so if you’re looking, you’ll likely find plenty available at your nearest shop. You receive them in a batch, and they don’t cost much at all.

Alluring Colors and Shine

Many species of fish are brought in by the goldfish’s shining golden scales. They are easy to see in most waters and are a great way to reflect the sunlight from the surface to catch the attention of the surrounding fish. The goldfish acts as your own reflector so you don’t have to add one on to your line setup which can weigh down your line and make reeling in more difficult.

Some Species Love Goldfish

Any fish that goes for your typical bait fish will go for goldfish. They are similar in size and have more alluring features and will bring in most of your typical fare when using a species of bait fish. Bass, catfish, and trout are three of the most popular species you can expect to bring in. They don’t necessarily have a taste for goldfish, they just like anything small enough to snack on.

Why Many Anglers Shy Away from this Bait

That’s quite a few checks in the positive column towards the use of goldfish, so why don’t most states allow the use of them as live bait? They are simple to use, easy to find, and will bring in quite the yield when fishing in the right spots. Still, most states refuse to legalize the use of fishing with goldfish and for good reason too. While goldfish might be great at bringing in a catch, if it gets off of your line, you could wreak havoc on the local environment.

Dangerous to the Environment

Whenever a species that isn’t native to the local environment is released, it runs a high risk of becoming an invasive species and destroying the environment. Goldfish hold the exact features necessary to make them a destructive invasive species. For one, goldfish reproduce at alarming rates and lay thousands of eggs at a time. This alone is enough to introduce them as a majority species in the area which can throw off the balance found by native species.

Another issue that is presented by goldfish is the removal process. You can’t allow them to simply begin living there as this will hurt the environment more than the removal process, but this process is also quite damaging. It involves mass-netting, complete kill-offs, or the drainage of an entire body of water. This is an expensive process both for taxpayers and the lives of local fish. Rebuilding a native community can take years which will also have an effect on the local economy.

The use of goldfish as a bait is appealing as they are easy to come by, cheap, and can be quite effective in the right areas. However, the possible economic and environmental toll that can occur from one stray goldfish is quite costly and thus many states restrict the use of live goldfish as bait.

Different Types of Bait that Mimic Goldfish

Goldfish can be quite useful for some anglers, but with the right skills and technique, most other types of bait will end up being more effective than goldfish. The best alternative to goldfish are other types of bait fish that are local to the region. These fish will not become invasive species as they already inhabit the waters and are already within the appetites of the local fish. Using local bait fish brings out the best of goldfish and removes the possibility of environmental destruction.

Some anglers find much more success with the simple worms. The classic form of bait that never fails as long as you know how to use it. Using worms doesn’t run the risk of introducing an alien species into the waters and provides quite the appealing snack for your targeted fish. If you’re set on the effectiveness of goldfish and their shining scales, many lures are designed to mimic their look. You can purchase these and avoid having to use live bait all together.

If you’re ever set to go out fishing and have goldfish prepared as your bait of choice, first note if your state allows this practice. Most states don’t and it can be quite cumbersome to find yourself in legal trouble because you tried to fish using goldfish. Stay smart, and fish within the law.

Continue reading: How to Safely Release Fish

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