Can You Legally Fish with Goldfish as Bait?

Can You Legally Fish with Goldfish as Bait?

Using goldfish as bait may be subject to regulations and restrictions in certain areas, meaning some U.S. states allow fishing with goldfish, while other do not.

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?

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? Also, is it legal to fish with goldfish as your bait?

Are Goldfish Good Fishing Bait?

Goldfish can be a very effective fishing bait for certain species of fish, particularly larger predatory fish.

What Fish Are Attracted to Goldfish as Bait?

Some of the fish species that are commonly attracted to live goldfish as bait include:

  1. Largemouth Bass
  2. Smallmouth Bass
  3. Pike
  4. Muskie
  5. Catfish
  6. Walleye

Where Do You Hook Goldfish for Bait?

One common approach is to hook the goldfish through its lips. Insert the hook point through the bottom lip and out through the top lip. This allows the goldfish to swim freely and naturally, providing enticing movement to attract predatory fish.

Another method is to hook the goldfish through its back, just behind the dorsal fin. Insert the hook point into the back of the goldfish, aiming to keep it securely attached without impeding its swimming ability.

Regardless of the method you choose, it’s important to ensure that the hook is secure but does not harm the goldfish excessively.

Hooking goldfish for catfish/bass bait

The 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’s 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
  • Virginia

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
  • Wyoming

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 bait. These states will only allow you to use goldfish as bait if they are not live. 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
  • West Virginia

This restricts the effectiveness of the goldfish, so it might be better to simply use other forms of live bait allowed in the area.


What Are the Benefits of Using Goldfish as Bait?

Why do some anglers prefer to use goldfish as their bait of choice? Here’s a list of potential benefits.

Availability and Price

For one, we know exactly where we can find live goldfish for quite a low price. Every pet store across America has goldfish for sale. You receive them in a batch, and they don’t cost much at all.

Attractiveness to Predatory Fish

Goldfish are known for their vibrant colors and active swimming patterns, which can make them highly attractive to predatory fish.

Durability of Bait

Compared to other types of live bait, goldfish can withstand the stress of being on a hook for extended periods.


Goldfish can be used in various fishing techniques, such as live bait rigging, float fishing, or trolling. Their versatility allows anglers to adapt their fishing approach to different conditions and preferences.

Why Many Anglers Shy Away from This Bait?

Danger to the Environment

Goldfish are not native to many water bodies and can pose a risk as an introduced species. Releasing goldfish into natural waterways, whether intentionally or accidentally, can disrupt the balance of ecosystems and harm native fish populations.

Regulations and restrictions on live bait species aim to prevent the spread of invasive species and protect the integrity of local ecosystems.

Ethical Considerations

Using live fish as bait raises ethical concerns about the treatment and welfare of the baitfish. Live baitfish can experience stress, injury, or mortality during handling and fishing.

Some anglers prefer alternative bait options or practice catch-and-release fishing to minimize harm to fish.

What Are Some Other Fish that Can Be Used as Bait?

Some anglers find much more success with earthworms, such as nightcrawlers or red wigglers. The classic form of bait that never fails as long as you know how to use it.

Small minnows, such as fathead minnows or shiners, are commonly used as live bait for a wide range of predatory fish, including bass, pike, and walleye.

Crickets and grasshoppers are excellent bait for freshwater fish, particularly trout and panfish species. They can be fished live or used as imitation bait in the form of artificial lures.

If you’re set on the effectiveness of goldfish and their shining scales, many lures are designed to mimic their look. Consider using lures such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, or soft plastics.

Continue reading: How to Safely Release Fish

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