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Live Bait Regulations

Fishing Regulations Icon Tennessee Fishing

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, crayfish or salamanders be intentionally released into Tennessee waters away from the waters from which they were harvested.

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 one who engages in the business of capturing legal species of fish and other aquatic life for the purpose of sale, or one that sells any legal species of fish and other aquatic life for bait. 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 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) for both the waters from which fish are harvested for bait and for waters where they will be used as bait.

Trout harvested in the following waters shall only be used as bait in the water from which the trout were harvested.

  1. South Fork Holston River from South Holston Dam to Boone Dam;
  2. Watauga River from Watauga Dam to Boone Dam;
  3. Doe River (Carter Co.); and
  4. North River (Monroe Co.).

Class A Bait Fish

The following species may be:

  1. Harvested by licensed sport anglers for use as bait;
  2. Imported into Tennessee or exported from Tennessee as live or dead bait by licensed bait dealers and licensed sport anglers;
  3. Harvested and sold in Tennessee by licensed bait dealers. There is no possession limit for Gizzard Shad, Threadfin Shad, Fathead Minnow, Golden Shiner, and Goldfish.
    • Skipjack Herring*** (Alosa chrysochloris)(creel limit of 100 per day; possession limit is 200)
    • Gizzard Shad*** (Dorosoma cepedianum)
    • Threadfin Shad*** (Dorosoma petenenes)
    • Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas)
    • Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
    • Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
    • Sunfishes* (Lepomis spp.)
    • Rainbow Trout** (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

* All species in the Genus Lepomis 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.

** Bait dealers cannot harvest trout from public waters for sale as bait. 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).

*** Skipjack Herring, Gizzard Shad, and Threadfin Shad may not be transported away from the water alive from the Mississippi River and Barkley, Kentucky, and Pickwick reservoirs and any tributaries or oxbows of these waters. This restriction does not apply to the Duck River above Normandy Dam.

Class B Bait Fish

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 each of the following species:
    • Stonerollers (Campostoma spp.)
    • Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)
    • Bluntnose Minnow (Pimephales notatus)
    • Bullhead Minnow (Pimephales vigilax)

Class C Bait Fish

Bait fish that are not listed in Class A or B above and are not listed as endangered, threatened, or in need of management may be harvested by licensed sport anglers for use as bait with the following restrictions:

  1. Live specimens shall only be used in the water from which they were harvested;
  2. Live specimens shall not be possessed away from the waters from which they were harvested;
  3. Live specimens shall not be imported into Tennessee or exported from Tennessee by anyone;
  4. Live specimens shall not be sold.

Dead specimens harvested by sport anglers may be moved and used for bait, unless otherwise restricted. Daily creel limit of Class C bait fish is 50 fish in aggregate; 100 fish in aggregate possession limit for live and dead specimens.

Class D Bait Fish

In addition to the provisions of Class A, a licensed bait dealer may also harvest these species to be sold as dead specimens:

  • Brook Silverside (Labidesthes sicculus)
  • Inland Silverside (Menidia beryllina)
  • Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)
  • Bighead Carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis)
  • Black Carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus)
  • Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)

These carp species may be harvested without limit but cannot be kept alive by any means upon harvest.

A licensed bait dealer may possess and sell any fish species that is not native to Tennessee and is imported in a preserved state (e.g. frozen, salted, pickled, or dried).

Legal Gear for Harvest of Bait Fish

  • 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 3/8 inch on the square. Seines must be constantly attended, and may not be fished in a stationary manner.
  • Minnow/Crayfish Traps: A trap is hereby defined as a device used for the purpose of catching minnows and crayfish. All traps shall be clearly and legibly labeled with owners name and address, or TWRA identification number.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dip Net: A dip net is a net constructed from natural synthetic fibers, or metal/plastic mesh which is attached to a frame that is attached to a pole.
  • Angling: Use of line with a hook attached to a bait or lure.
  • Hand Collection: Use of hands or non-mechanized hand tools.

Amphibians and Crayfish

Only Northern Dusky and Spotted Dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus and Desmognathus conanti) and native crayfish species that are not listed as endangered, threatened, or in need of management may be harvested without limit by licensed sport anglers for use as bait. Crayfish and salamanders may be harvested with legal gear listed in Section VI.

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;
  • Long Fork, White Oak Creek, and Salt Lick Creek in Macon County. Garrett Creek, Little Trammel Creek, and Middle Fork Drakes Creek in Sumner County;
  • Shoal Creek system in Lawrence and Wayne counties;
  • Puncheon Branch in Giles County;
  • Cypress Creek system in Wayne County;
  • Gassaway Creek, Little Gassaway Creek, Laurel Creek, and Rogers Branch in Polk County;
  • Hiwassee River and tributaries upstream of Apalachia powerhouse in Polk County;
  • Conasauga River system in Bradley and Polk counties;
  • Big Brush Creek system in Sequatchie County;
  • Bullpen Branch in Cannon County;
  • Mountain Creek in Warren County;
  • Mill Creek, Fortyeight Creek upstream of Hwy. 64, Johnson Mill Branch, Chalk Creek, and Second Creek in Wayne County. Pompeys Branch, McKelvey Branch, and Holly Branch in Hardin County;
  • Blood River system in Henry County; and North Fork Obion River in Henry 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 outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Holston River and its tributaries
  • Clinch River and its tributaries
  • Clear Fork and its tributaries in Claiborne and Campbell counties; and
  • Big South Fork of the Cumberland River in Scott County.

Crayfish as Food

Crayfish may be taken from the wild according to rules of live bait for food. Wild caught crayfish may not be sold.

Tennessee First Fish Award—FREE!

The First Fish Award is designed to commemorate that special moment in every boy or girl’s life—the landing of their first fish.

The award is an 8.5 x 11 certificate, suitable for framing, identifying the child, the fish caught, and other details of that special moment. Size of the fish and age of the angler have no bearing, only that the fish is their first and that it was caught in Tennessee.

Visit www.tnwildlife.org or call
(615) 781-6575 for further information.