Is Fishing with Goldfish Illegal? Answers for Your State

Fishing with live bait is advantageous as the texture and smell are very appealing to fish. You especially like to use goldfish as bait. A fishing buddy recently told you that in some states, goldfish are not legally allowed as bait. Is that true?

Indeed, in states like Utah, Maine, Colorado, and Georgia, you could face legal ramifications if you attempt to use goldfish as bait. Some states don’t have rules either way. Others allow goldfish as bait, such as Alaska, Missouri, Nevada, Virginia, and Texas.

This article will be your guide to fishing with goldfish legally. Ahead, we’ll present a full list of the states in which it’s legal and illegal to use the fish as live bait. We’ll also discuss what the punishment is for this crime, so keep reading!

It’s Legal to Fish with Goldfish in These States

Before we get into the states in which you can legally fish with goldfish, let’s talk about why so many states ban goldfish. These states have concerns that goldfish will become too prevalent in the local ecosystems, disrupting the natural food chain that has been established in these ecosystems.

Keeping that in mind, these states accept goldfish as bait. 


According to Outdoor Alabama, goldfish aren’t all that common in Alabama. That likely explains why you can legally use them as live fishing bait in this southern state. The best fishing locales in Alabama include Guntersville, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach. 


Already native to Alaska in areas such as Gustavus as well as Taku Lake, Cheney Lake, and Jewel Lake in Anchorage, Alaska has a small goldfish population. Usually, goldfish require water temperatures of 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, so the ones that can survive the very chilly temperatures of Alaska have adapted to the weather.

These goldfish may become invasive in the future, so get your goldfish fishing out of your system in Alaska while you still can. The above locations are great ones to visit for fishing in the state, as are Campbell Point Lake, Lowe River, Wosnesenksi River, Indian Creek, Cooper River, and Kodiak Island. 


Since goldfish are noninvasive in Arizona, the parks and recs association of the state’s rivers and lakes shouldn’t take umbrage with you using goldfish as live bait. The Theodore Roosevelt Lake, Lake Pleasant, Lake Havasu City, Bartlett Lake, and Canyon Lake are some great places to try fishing with goldfish! 


You are indeed legally allowed to use goldfish as live bait in Arkansas. Bring some bait as you visit beloved locations such as Beaver Lake, Lake Ouachita, Heber Springs, Bull Shoals, Greers Ferry Lake, or Buffalo National River. 


Like in Alaska, California has experienced its fair share of invasive goldfish, especially around Lake Tahoe’s Tahoe Keys. The goldfish were oversized compared to usual and seemed to be an especially major issue between 2013 and 2017. 

That said, as of this writing, it’s still legal to use goldfish as bait in this sunny southern state. Hit up Santa Catalina Island, Mammoth Lakes, Big Bear Lake, Bodega Bay, Long Beach, Morro Bay, and Dana Point for some awesome fishing. 


Another hot southern state that legally allows for goldfish as bait is Florida. However, the legality comes with a caveat. Any goldfish used for fishing must be dead. 

If you’re okay with that, then you might visit Key West, Lake Okeechobee, Boca Grande, Fort Myers, Key Largo, and Panama City to see what you could fish up in Florida! 


Indiana’s wildlife officials do legally allow for goldfish bait-fishing, but they’d prefer you send the fish to zoos, school museums, or pet stores instead. It’s your choice what you do with your goldfish, of course. 

Throughout Indiana, great fishing spots abound, including Patoka Lake, Monroe Lake, and Cedar Lake. 


You might be able to catch more walleye, trout, crappie, catfish, or bass using goldfish in such Kansas locations as Glen Elder, Cedar Bluff Lake, Clinton Lake, El Dorado Lake, Milford Lake, and Wilson Lake. It’s all perfectly legal, so have at it. 


In Mississippi, you can use game fish as live bait provided you captured them legally and you’re not over the daily creel limit for that species. The allowable game fish include goldfish. Don’t miss the great fishing experiences to be had at Sardis Lake, the Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Springs, Bay St. Louis, and Long Beach. 


It’s legal to fish using goldfish as bait in Missouri. The preferred locations for doing so are the Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Taneycomo, Lake Showme, Fleming Park, Forrest Lake at Thousand Hills State Park, the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, and Pomme de Terre Lake. 


With more than 100 unique species of fish native to the cold state of Nebraska, goldfish are legally acceptable here. However, you cannot take goldfish you caught in a lake or river and then fish with them as bait in another lake or river.

Once you’ve got the rules down pat, try fishing with goldfish at Nebraska’s McConaughy Lake, Sutherland, Big Alkali, and Winters Creek. 


The southern state of Nevada permits goldfish as bait for fishing in the Colorado River, Lake Mohave, and Lake Mead only. You must have legally bought the fish before you use them as bait. Outside of goldfish, you can also use threadfin shad, fathead minnow, and gold shiner fish as live bait in these waters. 

North Dakota 

North Dakota is another of those states that require any goldfish used as fish bait to be dead first. Bring your dead fish to Lake Oahe, the Central Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea, or the Upper Missouri River for a day of memorable fishing fun! 

South Carolina 

Usually, South Carolina bars nonindigenous fish from use as bait in its many of its lakes and rivers. Exceptions exist, such as goldfish, golden shiners, fathead minnows, and regular minnows. You’re free to enjoy time fishing at Myrtle Beach, Lake Murray, Hilton Head Island, Folly Beach, North Myrtle Beach, or Murrells Inlet with goldfish as live bait. 


Possession limits in Tennessee for live bait don’t apply to goldfish as well as golden shiners, fathead minnows, threadfin shad, or gizzard shad. The best places for fishing in this state are Douglas Lake, Percy Priest Lake, Cherokee Reservoir, Reelfoot Lake State Park, Old Hickory Lake, Norris Lake, Center Hill Lake, and Watauga Lake. 


In Texas’ Winkler, Ward, Val Verde, Upton, Terrell, Presidio, Pecos, Loving, Kinney, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, El Paso, Ector, Culberson, Crockett, Crane, and Brewster counties, only certain species of fish can be used as bait.

Those species include sunfish, silversides in the Atherinidae family, Rio Grande cichlid, Mexican tetra, goldfish, golden shiners, threadfin and gizzard shad, fathead minnows, and common carp. 


Getting nearly to the end of our list now, Virginia is another state where fishing with goldfish is legal. You’re allowed an unlimited possession limit, but keep in mind that’s not the case for other live bait. For instance, you can only bring 50 crayfish or chubs at a time.

Virginia is beloved for fishing locations such as Virginia Beach, Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, Cape Charles, and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. 

West Virginia

Last but certainly not least, West Virginia is the final state that–as of this writing–legally allows goldfish as bait. That said, only dead fish are permitted. Summersville Lake, Kanawha Falls, Camp Creek, and Alpine Lake are preferred fishing spots in this state. 

These States Have No Rules about Fishing with Goldfish

A select few states across the country have no word one way or the other about the (il)legalities of using goldfish as bait. They include Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Since you’re not explicitly told that you cannot, more than likely, fishing with goldfish as live bait is okay in these four states.

However, we would never tell you to assume anything. Get in touch with your local parks and rec association and quiz them about whether you can use goldfish. Be sure to ask if the fish should be alive or dead, as that’s important in some states! 

It’s Illegal to Fish with Goldfish in These States

For as many states that allow for fishing with goldfish, many more do not. These states have likely wrestled with goldfish as an invasive species over the years, so they’ve decided to ban the use of the fish species as bait.

This doesn’t mean that other live bait is disallowed as well, although it may be. Again, we can’t recommend enough calling the parks and rec association in your area so you can be clear on the current rules. 

Without further ado, here are the states where fishing with goldfish as live bait is illegal. 

  • 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 

What Happens If You Get Caught Fishing with Goldfish Illegally?

Some of the rules on fishing with live goldfish are rather ambiguous and others are confusing. Perhaps you went fishing before you read this article and you didn’t realize at the time that what you were doing is illegal. What is the punishment for the crime?

We couldn’t find exact figures, but the park rangers in the area could fine you. Maybe the first time, you’d get off with just a warning, but many parks and recs association take fishing with goldfish quite seriously.

As you’ll recall from the start of this guide, many states consider goldfish an invasive species. The fish force their way into the local ecosystem you introduce them to and then they interrupt the food chain. 

Wild goldfish will nosh on detritus, zooplankton, crustaceans, insects and their larvae, and plants. If other fish in the ecosystem rely on these food sources as well, then now they have to compete with the goldfish.

This can cause the other fish species to die out, which then interrupts a larger fish’s diet that eats those smaller fish to survive. Even though the goldfish mess with the ecosystem on a small level at first, the wreckage later runs its way up to the top of the food chain.

What makes it worse is that goldfish have no natural predators. They’re mostly pets, so no other fish or animals eat them except maybe cats or birds. 

You might think that one little goldfish won’t wreak quite as much havoc, and you’re right, maybe it won’t. But if every angler thinks the same way, then one by one, the goldfish population in that lake or river soon explodes. 

The toll your conscience takes knowing you disrupted the local ecosystem is hopefully more punishing than a fine! 

What Bait Can You Use Instead of Goldfish? 

As we mentioned, the walleye, trout, crappie, catfish, and smallmouth and bigmouth bass really bite for goldfish. That’s not the only type of bait you can use for these fish species. Try the following legal bait options instead.

Ham or Bacon

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a slice of deli ham or even cooked bacon, fish go wild for pork. Red-ear sunfish, bluegills, bass, trout, and carp are especially receptive. Uncooked bacon is better than cooked.

You don’t have to buy premium ham to use as fish bait. The cheap stuff you wouldn’t put in a sandwich will suffice. 

Chicken Skin

You don’t want the chicken skin anyway, right? Rather than throw it away, use some of it as bait. Catfish–a species that eats almost anything–will bite especially hardily for the fatty, greasy chicken skin. 


Here’s an interesting bait option to try. On your fishing hook, thread several kernels of corn (five or more, however many fit). Then lower the hook into the water and see what you catch! Trout, crappie, perch, and bluegill love corn. 

Hot Dogs

An angler’s best friend is a few chunks of hot dog on a fishing hook. And why not? Hot dogs are cheap, a little goes a long way, and lots of fish love the sausages. Those fish include bluegill (at times), northern pike, carp, and catfish.


From Danish blue cheese to blue stilton cheese and good, ol’ cheddar, cheese is as much a favorite of fish as it is yours. Many, many fish will bite for cheese, including chub, carp, tench, barbel, bluegill, trout, and bullheads. 

You can roll some cream cheese with bread to make a paste, break off chunks of hard cheese, or make a cheese ball with a soft-textured cheese.


Besides using bread to make a paste with cream cheese, it’s also a suitable bait option on its own. You only have to roll small bread balls and slip them onto your hook. Then fish such as crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed, common shiner, carp, and thicklip grey mullet are a lot likelier to bite. 


If you don’t mind sparing some pepperoni, it will do the trick for catching a variety of fish species. Those are brown bullheads, catfish, bluegill, and crappie. Allow the pepperoni to sink in the water for several minutes so its grease can disperse.

Dog Food

That’s right, dog food is a great option for fish bait if you can’t use goldfish bait legally. Although they’re not dogs, carp, bluegills, and catfish still find it hard to resist dry and wet dog food alike. Fun fact: cat food works as well!


We had to save arguably the weirdest one for last. Bar soap is a secret weapon that anglers reach for when the going gets tough, as they don’t want to get going. The soap should have no scent, and a chemical-free variety is preferable for the rest of the wildlife. 

Final Thoughts

In many states, it’s not legal to fish with goldfish as bait. The common pet fish has no natural predators and can quickly become an invasive species that disrupts entire preestablished ecosystems. Fortunately, you have plenty of other legal bait options to use instead.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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