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Most Common Baitfish

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 How to Identify Common Legal
(and Illegal) Baitfish



Fathead minnow:

  • First dorsal fin ray is short and thick
  • Distinctive fat/flattened head shape
  • Generally 2-2.5” in length

Sucker (White and Longnose):

  • Mouth points downward with thick lips
  • Large scales
  • Adults can be over 22” in length

Lake chub:

  • Similar in appearance to Creek Chub, but lacks a dot at the base of the dorsal fin
  • Mature adults may have bright orange/red spots where the pectoral fins meet the body

Creek chub:

  • Similar to Lake Chub but with a dark spot at base of dorsal fin
  • Upper jaw extends at least to below front of eye

Northern redbelly dace:

  • Two black lateral bands down body
  • Males may exhibit bright red coloration on bellies
  • Similar legal species include blacknose, longnose, pearl, and finescale dace

Golden shiner:

  • Deep flattened body with a strongly downward curving lateral line
  • Large scales
  • Sickle-shaped anal fin
  • Fleshy “keel” (lacks scales) between the pelvic fins and anal fin

Rainbow smelt:

  • Long, slender, and silvery
  • Adipose fin present

Emerald shiner:

  • Long, slender body with a blunt snout
  • Similar in appearance to rainbow smelt but adipose fin absent
  • Large scales
  • Front of dorsal fin completely behind middle of base of pelvic fins

Common shiner:

  • Deep bodies with a slightly downward curving lateral line (curved less deeply than the golden shiner)
  • Scales on sides near the front of the body are obviously taller than they are wide
  • Mature individuals may have red fins (also known as the “Redfin Shiner”)

Please note: These are not the only legal baitfish species, only the more common ones. For a complete list of which species are legal to use as bait and which species are not legal to use as bait, please see baitfish restrictions on Bait Dealers and Use of Bait Fish.


When in doubt or if it cannot be identified, don’t use it!

Stickleback_opt.pngStickleback (any species)

Pike-Muskie-Pickerel_opt.pngAnything in the pike, muskie, or pickerel family

Any species not listed as legal baitfish: including but not limited to carp, rudd, goldfish, walleye, alewives, and sculpin.


Brown bullhead (hornpout, catfish)


Spiny rayed fish: Including but not limited to any bass, sunfish, perch, crappie, or any other fish that has hard, spiny rays on their fins.

Any species not listed as legal baitfish: including but not limited to carp, rudd, goldfish, walleye, alewives, and sculpin.


Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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