Is Fishing with Goldfish Illegal: Laws for All 50 States

Anglers are a creative bunch.  We can fashion wild lures from metal and plastic, build fishing rods for every species and figure out how to use any bait to entice a strike.  So it is no surprise that someone thought of using pet store goldfish as live bait.  I must admit, it is an intriguing idea but is it legal?

Well, is fishing with goldfish illegal?  In most states it is illegal to use live goldfish as fishing bait in order to prevent the release of invasive species that can damage native ecosystems.  However, there are some states that still allow the use of dead or living goldfish when fishing.

It takes a lot of time to find every bait restriction and fishing rule so we did the hard work for you.  If you have ever wondered if using goldfish for bait is legal, take a look at this chart for the answer.

Is it Legal to use Goldfish as Bait?

StateYesNoNo Reference
FloridaX (Dead only)
New HampshireX
New JerseyX
New MexicoX
New YorkX
North CarolinaX
North DakotaX (Dead only)
Rhode IslandX
South CarolinaX
South DakotaX
West VirginiaX (Dead only)

To determine the laws for each state regarding the use of goldfish as bait, we looked at all 50 freshwater fishing regulations that are currently posted.  Some states explicitly mention goldfish while others do not.  The chart reflects our best interpretations of the laws.  

Several states including Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana and North Carolina do not reference goldfish or define legal bait well enough for us to make an interpretation of the law.  In these cases, it is best to assume it is illegal.  

Beware, we are not experts of the law but as experienced anglers, we did our best to shed some light on the legality of using goldfish as bait.  However, it is your responsibility to be familiar with your local laws.

*Always review your local fishing regulations and call a wildlife officer if in doubt.  Even if the laws are confusing, it is best to do as the officer’s say since they are the ones writing the tickets. 

Why use goldfish for bait

I definitely can appreciate the appeal of using goldfish as bait.  I have heard about it for years so it must work for catching fish.  Let’s take a look at why people would use goldfish as bait.

  • They are easy to buy:  It is not always easy to find a good bait and tackle shop around your local area.  However, goldfish are readily available at most pet stores and even some Walmarts.  Most major cities have pet stores. 
  • They are affordable:  This one is debatable.  Live minnows for fishing usually average $3-$5 for two dozen.  Whereas feeder goldfish from a big box pet store are usually $3 for 12 fish.  I have seen them as low as 15 cents each.  It is still cheap but not any cheaper than other live bait.
  • Goldfish are hardy:  They can tolerate a lot of stress and will survive a long time in a bait bucket if you feed them.  They also last a long time on a hook.  Most other live minnow species commonly used rarely survive a few days of fishing.
  • Bright colors attract predators:  Just like artificial lures, the bright orange, yellow and white colors on goldfish make an enticing snack for big predators.  They also seem to provide good action on a hook just like other common bait minnows.

While the benefits of goldfish as bait may seem great, you need to ask yourself if it’s worth causing potential harm to the fishery you enjoy fishing.  Most dedicated anglers would agree that there are better options for bait.  

Are goldfish harmful to the environment

Even if goldfish make good bait, they do have serious potential to cause harm to native ecosystems in lakes and rivers.  

It seems unthinkable that a puny pet store goldfish could become the dominant species in a lake filled with predatory trout, walleye or bass, but it happens.  Goldfish breed multiple time each season, laying thousands of eggs, while at the same time devouring gobs of native fish eggs.  

When the conditions are just right, these overgrown goldfish (some reaching several pounds) can all but eliminate every gamefish until the lake resembles an overstuffed koi pond.  

That is why most states with intact wild fish populations have moved to ban using goldfish as bait.  It only takes a few goldfish slipping from a hook or carelessly released into the water to cause a major problem.  

Removing goldfish from an infested lake is all but impossible and in most cases, popular gamefish never recover without expensive intervention like mass netting, complete kill-offs with rotenone treatment or the draining of reservoirs.

Goldfish also harbor parasites and diseases that can wipe out other species not immune to them.  

Overall, even if it’s legal to fish with goldfish, it does not seem worth it.  It may be only slightly better to fish with dead goldfish.  In fact, Florida, North Dakota and West Virginia only permit goldfish as bait if they are dead.

What type of fish eat goldfish

For those of you who live in states that allow the use of goldfish as bait, you may be wondering what kind of fish are readily fooled into striking dime-store goldfish.

Well, pretty much any fish that preys on baitfish populations can be caught with goldfish.  Most goldfish are 2 to 3 inches long so large predatory fish are fair game.  

Here are the most popular species to target:

  • Bass (large and smallmouth)
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Trout
  • Walleye

Bait alternatives

There are plenty of alternatives to using goldfish as bait that catch fish just as well, if not better.  Take the time to improve your skills with other lures and bait options and you will out fish anyone else who uses goldfish.

Here are some of our favorite baits that outperform goldfish and will save you the hassle of bringing your pet to the lake.


Yep, the classic nightcrawler is the quintessential bait for catching all manners of fish.  It has been for generations and for good reason.  It never fails to catch loads of fish.  Almost every species (freshwater or saltwater) can be caught with worms.  

Use them under a bobber or tip the hook of your favorite lure with a worm to add some scent.  It is a fool proof bait and our first choice over goldfish any day.  To collect your own, read our popular article on Catching Nightcrawlers.


A close runner up to worms and the ideal choice for stocked trout anglers.  A multitude of colors, scents and styles help you find what works on any day of the week. 

Floating dough bait varieties are perfect for a Carolina rig style of fishing that keeps your bait right in the strike zone of cruising trout.


One of the cheapest and most effective baits you can find.  Corn is perfect for trout, panfish and kokanee.  It comes dye-cured with enticing scents or you can use regular canned corn.  Either way, plenty of fish will take the bait.  Some anglers chum with corn as well.

Want to see if fishing and chumming with corn is legal where you live?  Read our article about fishing with corn to learn everything you need to know.

Preserved emerald shiners

Live minnows are a challenge to keep fresh and lively.  Leave those difficulties behind and consider using preserved salted shiners.  They are great when jigging for walleye in  early spring and chunky smallmouth bass gobble them up.  Our only issue with them is their longevity on a hook.  The soft bodies fall apart after one or two fish strikes.

Goldfish imitations

Still convinced that goldfish are the hot ticket?  Try goldfish imitation lures.  You can find plenty of choices on Amazon and Al’s Original Goldfish Spoon is an excellent trout lure in both lakes and rivers.


Regardless of the laws, you should always think about the impacts of your bait choices.  Goldfish may seem like a great option but they pose a real danger to our favorite game fish fisheries.  

Use goldfish only where legal and when all else fails.  We recommend not using them at all but that is our opinion.  It’s just not worth the risk of introducing invasive species.  

There are loads of other bait options that work just as well, if not better, and you don’t have to worry about causing problems.  Remember, always check your local fishing regulations before using any type of bait.