Skip to Main Content Skip to Main Navigation

Live Bait

The following sections explain which species can be used for bait, and how they can be harvested, sold and transported. Under no circumstance shall live fish or crayfish be intentionally released into Tennessee waters away from the waters from which they were harvested. These regulations do not apply to bait that is dead. Dead bait can be sold, transported, and used without restrictions.

For the purposes of these rules, a sport angler shall be defined as anyone who attempts to take, kill, injure, capture, or catch any sport fish and every act of assistance thereof. A bait dealer shall be defined as anyone engaged in the business of selling or offering for sale any legal species of live bait fish. All bait dealers must purchase a type 118 (resident) or 116 (nonresident) license annually, and make all necessary reports as required to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The harvest and use of bait fish by commercial fishers shall be regulated in the commercial fishing proclamation.

A licensed sport angler (with all required licenses, and permits) can harvest game fish (including rainbow trout and sunfish) for use as bait from the wild using legal sport fishing methods. When harvesting game fish, all restrictions in the sport fishing proclamation apply (including creel and length limits, seasons, and license requirements).

Section I—Class A Bait Fish


Rainbow trout


Skipjack herring


Gizzard shad


Threadfin shad


Golden shiner




Fathead minnow


Sunfishes (Bluegill, e.g.)

The following species may be 1) harvested by licensed sport anglers for use as bait; 2) imported into Tennessee or exported from Tennessee by licensed bait dealers and licensed sport anglers; 3) sold in Tennessee by licensed bait dealers. There is no possession limit for Skipjack Herring, Gizzard Shad, Threadfin Shad, Fathead Minnow, Golden Shiner, and Goldfish.

  • Skipjack herring (Rafinesque)
  • Gizzard shad (Lesueur)
  • Threadfin shad (Guenether)
  • Fathead minnow (Rafinesque)
  • Golden shiner (Mitchill)
  • Goldfish (Linnaeus)
  • Sunfishes* spp. (Rafinesque)
  • Rainbow trout** (Walbaum)

* All species in the Genus may be bought and/or sold subject to the following conditions:

  1. Such fish may be bought and/or sold for bait purposes only.
  2. Such fish bought and/or sold must not be more than four (4) inches in length.
  3. Such fish must have been lawfully taken from privately owned lakes and/or ponds.
  4. Nothing contained herein shall be construed as legalizing the sale of bream taken from any stream or public lake.

** A licensed sport angler may possess rainbow trout 8 inches or less in length without limit for use as bait if purchased from a licensed bait dealer and accompanied by an invoice that was issued by the licensed bait dealer. Such invoices shall be consecutively numbered and must contain the name, license number, and location of the licensed bait dealer, the date of sale or delivery, the number of rainbow trout bought or delivered, and the name and address of the person receiving the rainbow trout. Any person transporting or possessing rainbow trout obtained from a licensed bait dealer for bait must have a copy of this invoice on their person. Rainbow trout larger than 8 inches in length may be purchased by sport anglers and used for bait provided compliance with all sport fishing regulations on the waters being fished (including creel and length limits, seasons, and license requirements).

Section II—Class B Bait Fish


Creek chub




Bluntnose minnow


Bullhead minnow

The following species may be: 1) harvested by licensed sport anglers for use as bait; 2) imported into Tennessee or exported from Tennessee by licensed sport anglers for use as bait. These species shall not be sold. A licensed sport angler shall possess no more than 100 of each of the bait fish species listed in this section.

  • Stonerollers spp.
  • Creek Chub (Rafinesque)
  • Bluntnose minnow (Rafinesque)
  • Bullhead minnow (Baird and Girard)

Section III—Class C Bait Fish

Bait fish that are not listed in Section I or II above and are not listed by proclamation as endangered, threatened, or in need of management may be harvested by licensed sport anglers for use as bait with the following restrictions: 1) they shall only be used in the water from which they were harvested; 2) they shall not be possessed away from the waters from which they were harvested; 3) they shall not be imported into Tennessee or exported from Tennessee by anyone; 4) they shall not be sold.

Section IV—Amphibians and Crayfish


Dusky Salamander

Only northern dusky and spotted salamanders and native crayfish species that are not listed by proclamation as endangered, threatened, or in need of management may be harvested without limit by licensed sport anglers for use as bait.

Amphibians and crayfish species shall not be sold or purchased for bait. Amphibians and crayfish shall not be imported into Tennessee or exported from Tennessee by anyone for bait.

The harvest, use, and possession of crayfish is prohibited in the following streams, in all of their tributaries, and on all adjacent banks:

  • Mill Creek in Davidson and Williamson counties
  • East Fork Stones River in Cannon County
  • Hurricane Creek in Cumberland, Fentress, Overton, and Putnam counties
  • Roaring Paunch Creek in Scott County
  • South Chickamauga Creek in Hamilton County
  • Caney Fork River in Cumberland County
  • Robinson Creek, Beason Creek (upstream of confluence of North Fork and South Fork), and Owl Creek (upstream of Highway 142) in Hardin and McNairy counties
  • Flint River in Lincoln County

Crayfish harvested from the following streams and their tributaries shall not be possessed away from the watershed from which they were harvested:

  • French Broad River and its tributaries
  • Holston River and its tributaries
  • Clinch River and its tributaries

Section V— Legal Gear for Bait Harvest

Legal gear types for bait harvest are minnow seines, minnow traps, cast nets, shad trawls, and dip nets.

  1. Minnow Seine: A minnow seine consists of a float and lead line to which netting is attached. A minnow seine shall not be longer than 10 feet and the mesh size shall not exceed ⅜ inch on the square. Seines must be constantly attended, and may not be fished in a stationary manner.
  2. Minnow Traps: A minnow trap is hereby defined as a device used for the purpose of catching minnows. The mouth opening or openings shall not exceed 1½ inches in diameter. All minnow traps shall be clearly and legibly labeled with owners name and address.
  3. Cast Net: A cast net is defined as a net having a maximum radius of 10 feet and a mesh (square measure) of not less than ¼ inch and not greater than 1 inch on the square. Sunfish and trout may not be taken with a cast net.
  4. Shad Trawl: A shad trawl is one having a mesh size no larger than 1 inch, a hoop diameter no larger than 48 inches, and a net length no larger than 72 inches. Only threadfin or gizzard shad shall be taken with a shad trawl and shad trawling is not allowed within 1,000 yards below any dam.
  5. Dip Net: A dip net is a net constructed from natural or synthetic fibers, which is attached to a frame that is attached to a pole.

Gear types listed above are legal for licensed sport anglers to harvest bait fish (as defined in first paragraph) and crayfish (provided compliance with Section IV) for personal use.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

Return to the home page
Conservation Partner Advertisements: The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency allows appropriate advertising in its annual regulation guides in print and online, in order to defray or eliminate expenses to the state, and support enhanced communications with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Constituents. Through a unique partnership with J.F.Griffin Publishing, LLC &, ‘Conservation Partners’ have been established that pay for advertising in support of the regulations both in print and online. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency neither endorses products or services listed or claims made; nor accepts any liability arising from the use of products or services listed. Advertisers interested in the Conservation Partners program should contact J.F.Griffin/ directly at 413-884-1001,
This is not the full law. Consult the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for further details. All persons are reminded that the statutes, code and regulations are the legal authorities.
J.F. Griffin reaches 20 million sportsmen every year through our print and digital publications. We produce 47 hunting and fishing regulation guides for 22 state agencies.
For advertising information, please visit: