Is Snagging Fish Illegal: Laws for All 50 States

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” as the old saying goes.  When fishing gets tough, someone along the line is going to try something to make it easier, hence the technique of snagging.

I have seen plenty of snagging happen on salmon rivers around my neck of the woods.  It is certainly frowned upon by many anglers but I always wondered if snagging fish was actually illegal or if any other states allowed it.  

So, is snagging fish illegal?  Most states, including California, Michigan and Texas, prohibit the use of all snagging methods to catch game fish.  However, snagging non-game (rough) fish is legal in many states across the country such as Florida and Illinois.

Every state has their own rules regarding snagging in fresh or saltwater.  Often there are restrictions that limit the techniques to certain areas, species and seasons.  As always, it is every angler’s responsibility to know lawful fishing methods in their state.  

To help figure out if snagging is legal where you live, we studied snagging rules for all 50 states and put the answer in an easy to read chart for your convenience.  

Snagging laws for all 50 states

StateIs snagging
game fish legal?
Is snagging
rough fish legal?
(See note 1)
(See note 2)
(See note 3)
(See note 4)
(See note 5)
(See note 6)
NevadaNo information foundNo information found
New HampshireNONO
New JerseyNONO
New MexicoYES
(See note 7)
(See note 8)
North CarolinaNONO
North DakotaNOYES
(See note 9)
Rhode IslandNONO
South CarolinaNONO
South DakotaYES
(See note 10)
(See note 11)
(See note 12)
West VirginiaNOYES
1) Permitted in saltwater (check local regulations) but not in freshwater.

2) Snagging is permitted in specific areas for kokanee salmon only.

3) Allowed for menhaden, alewives and blueback herring only.

4) Only coho and chinook salmon may be legally snagged.

5) Snagging permitted for game fish in Tennessee River only.

6) Suckers only.

7) Kokanee salmon during snagging season only.

8) For suckers only during specific dates.

9) Paddlefish only

10) Snagging of Salmon on Lake Oahe allowed.

11) Paddlefish only.

12) Bonneville Cisco in Bear Lake and areas with catch-and-kill.

*Keep in mind that we are not law experts and this chart was created based on our best interpretations of each state’s fishing regulations regarding snagging.  It is still your responsibility to review your local laws and confirm any doubts with a wildlife officer.  

What is snagging

Snagging, often referred to as snatching or foul-hooking, is a technique where anglers use a weighted hook or similar rig to hook a fish anywhere on the body without them voluntarily taking the hook in their mouth.

Blind snagging involves blindly casting a hook into the water and retrieving the hook with a jerking motion of the rod as you reel.  Multiple hooks, if allowed, increase the chance of hooking fish.  

You will more likely snag fish that form dense schools or are easily seen from the surface like carp.  Cast a lure or hook just beyond the fish and sharply pull it across the fish to hook it.  Sometimes colored beads or yarn is added just in front of the hook to help line everything up.

What kinds of fish can you legally snag

Most game fish species are off limits (with a few exceptions) to snagging but non-game fish, or rough fish, are usually allowed to be caught using by snagging.

Game fish are normally defined as bass, panfish, trout, salmon, walleye, catfish, muskie, northern pike, kokanee and whitefish.  It varies from one state to another but your local regulations should provide definitions that differentiate between game fish and rough fish.

There is not really a standard among states when classifying non-game fish species.  You therefore need to review your regulations to find out legal species for snagging.  

In general, common carp, gar, buffalo and suckers are the main species classified as rough fish.  These types of fish are not monitored by fish and wildlife as closely as the more desirable sport fish but limits and regulations for snagging do still apply.

One sought after fish in some western states, like Montana and the Dakotas, is the paddlefish.  This filter feeder eats only microscopic plankton and is impossible to hook in the mouth willingly.  Special snagging seasons and rules are set to allow catch limits of these prehistoric fish.  Additional fishing permits may be required to legally snag paddlefish.

Why is snagging illegal

The consensus among most anglers I talk to is that snagging harms game fish populations and gives people an unfair advantage over fish that would otherwise not strike a legal bait.  This leads to over fishing and physical harm or death to fish that break free of the hook or are released.  

Fishing is a sport taken very seriously by the majority of anglers and states with sensitive fish populations, like salmon, have pushed for legislation to ban any form of snagging that encourages abuse of fishery resources.

In a nut shell, snagging game fish is illegal in almost all states because fishing is viewed as a sport for dedicated anglers who value the challenge of developing skills to responsibly and fairly catch fish while perpetuating quality fisheries.

Can you keep a foul-hooked fish

Not all snagging is intentional and is a common occurrence for many anglers who spend enough time on the water.  Generally, if a fish is accidentally snagged using legal tackle and bait it is referred to as foul-hooking.  

It happens when a lure is jigged or trolled through a dense school of fish or even when a fish willingly strikes a lure, but misses, and is hooked elsewhere in the body.  In most states, a fish is considered foul-hooked if it’s hooked behind the gill plate on the body.

Most states require that any foul-hooked fish be released immediately.  Only fish hooked in the mouth and head are considered to be caught by fair chase.  

Can you keep fish snagged in the head

It would be challenging to prove that a fish intentionally snagged in the head or mouth area was not caught using fair chase practices.  Fish unintentionally snagged in the head are legal to keep.  As rules against snagging become more strict, the techniques to disguise the method are also advancing.

Case in point, salmon fishing in Pacific Northwest rivers saw the introduction of “flossing”.  This is a snagging technique by which you use a really long leader with a hook that has a corky or yarn tied to it and you “feel” the line as it passes downstream through the open mouths of swimming salmon.  Once the slightest resistance is felt, the hook is set.

Wildlife officers had a rough time telling the difference between fish caught by “flossing” and legal hook and line methods.  To combat this, anti-snagging rules were put in place that restrict leader lengths and hook types.  

Is snagging ethical

Ask any crowd of anglers if snagging is ethical and you may trigger a heated debate.  Some feel it violates the principles of “fair chase” while others see it as a legitimate way to obtain food for the table, especially if it is allowed by state laws.

Snagging usually gets a bad wrap because of the few who have used it to illegally poach salmon, steelhead and other game fish to the detriment of the species.  It is usually associated with un-sportsman-like conduct and over fishing.  

Anti-snagging sentiment usually maintains the idea that snagging does not require any skill or dedication to the sport and encourages other illegal behavior.  While this may be true in many cases, certain fish species like paddlefish or common carp are difficult or impossible to entice with bait, which is why it is legal in some places to intentionally snag them.  

I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you feel about snagging and whether you think it’s a legitimate way for anglers to catch fish.