Regulations on Bait Species Harvest and Use

The regulations outlined below detail the permissible use of certain species as bait, along with guidelines for their harvest, sale, and transportation within Tennessee waters. It is strictly prohibited to release live fish, crayfish, or salamanders into Tennessee waters if they were harvested elsewhere.


  • Sport Angler: Defined as any individual attempting to take, kill, injure, capture, or catch any sport fish, along with any acts of assistance thereof.
  • Bait Dealer: Defined as an individual engaged in capturing legal species of fish and other aquatic life for sale purposes, or one selling any legal species of fish and other aquatic life for bait. Bait dealers are required to obtain an annual type 118 (resident) or 116 (nonresident) license and fulfill reporting requirements to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).
  • Commercial Fishing: The harvest and use of bait fish by commercial fishers are regulated under the commercial fishing proclamation.

Harvest and Use of Game Fish as Bait

  • Licensed sport anglers, equipped with all necessary licenses and permits, are permitted to harvest game fish (including rainbow trout and sunfish) for bait using legal sport fishing methods.
  • All restrictions outlined in the sport fishing proclamation apply when harvesting game fish for bait. This includes adherence to creel and length limits, seasonal regulations, and license requirements. These regulations apply both to the waters where fish are harvested for bait and where they will be used as bait.

Specific Restrictions on Trout Use as Bait

  • Trout harvested in certain waters can only be used as bait within the same water body from which they were harvested. These waters include:
    • South Fork Holston River from South Holston Dam to Boone Dam.
    • Watauga River from Watauga Dam to Boone Dam.
    • Doe River in Carter County.
    • North River in Monroe County.

Class A Bait Fish Regulations

The following species, categorized as Class A Bait Fish, are subject to specific regulations regarding their harvest, import, export, sale, and use as bait:

Harvest and Use

  • Licensed sport anglers are permitted to harvest these species for use as bait.
  • Licensed bait dealers and sport anglers can import or export these species as live or dead bait.
  • Bait dealers are authorized to harvest and sell these species within Tennessee.

Possession Limits

  • Skipjack Herring: Creel limit of 100 per day; possession limit is 200.
  • Gizzard Shad, Threadfin Shad, Fathead Minnow, Golden Shiner, and Goldfish: No possession limit.

Transport Restrictions

  • Skipjack Herring, Gizzard Shad, and Threadfin Shad harvested from the Mississippi River, Barkley, Kentucky, and Pickwick reservoirs, and tributaries cannot be transported away alive. An exception applies to the Duck River above Normandy Dam.


  • All species in the Genus Lepomis may be bought and/or sold for bait purposes only.
  • Sold sunfish must not exceed four (4) inches in length.
  • Sunfish must be lawfully taken from privately owned lakes and/or ponds. Sale of sunfish from streams or public lakes is prohibited.

Rainbow Trout

  • Bait dealers cannot harvest trout from public waters for sale as bait.
  • Sport anglers may possess rainbow trout 8 inches or less in length without limit for bait if purchased from a licensed bait dealer. An invoice from the dealer, including specific details, must accompany the trout.
  • Rainbow trout larger than 8 inches may be purchased by sport anglers for bait, following all sport fishing regulations of the respective waters.

Class B Bait Fish Regulations

Class B Bait Fish include several species that are subject to specific regulations regarding their harvest, import, export, and use as bait:

Eligible Species

The following species are classified as Class B Bait Fish:

  • Stonerollers (Campostoma spp.)
  • Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)
  • Bluntnose Minnow (Pimephales notatus)
  • Bullhead Minnow (Pimephales vigilax)

Harvest and Use

  • Licensed sport anglers are authorized to harvest these species for use as bait.

Import and Export

  • Licensed sport anglers can import these species into Tennessee or export them from Tennessee for use as bait.
  • These species cannot be sold.

Possession Limits

  • A licensed sport angler may possess no more than 100 of each of the listed species.

Class C Bait Fish Regulations

Class C Bait Fish encompass species not classified in Class A or B and are not considered endangered, threatened, or in need of management. Licensed sport anglers can harvest these species for bait under specific regulations:

Use of Live Specimens

  • Live specimens can only be utilized in the water from which they were harvested.
  • Possession of live specimens away from their source waters is prohibited.
  • Importing or exporting live specimens into or from Tennessee is prohibited.
  • Selling live specimens is prohibited.

Use of Dead Specimens

  • Dead specimens harvested by sport anglers can be transported and used for bait, unless otherwise specified.

Creel and Possession Limits

  • The daily creel limit for Class C bait fish is 50 fish in aggregate.
  • A possession limit of 100 fish in aggregate applies for both live and dead specimens.

Class D Bait Fish Regulations

In addition to the regulations outlined for Class A Bait Fish, licensed bait dealers are permitted to harvest and sell the following species as dead specimens:

Harvest and Sale of Species

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

Harvest Limits

  • Carp species may be harvested without limit.
  • Carp species cannot be kept alive by any means upon harvest.

Possession and Sale of Non-Native Species

  • Licensed bait dealers are authorized to possess and sell any fish species not native to Tennessee when imported in a preserved state (e.g., frozen, salted, pickled, or dried).

Legal Gear for Harvest of Bait Fish

Various methods are permitted for the harvest of bait fish in Tennessee, each subject to specific regulations to ensure sustainable practices and environmental conservation. Below are the approved methods:

1. Angling

  • Description: Use of line with a hook attached to a bait or lure.
  • Regulations: Angling is the only approved method for harvesting game fish for use as bait (e.g., sunfish and trout).

2. Minnow Seine

  • Description: Consists of a float and lead line to which netting is attached, with a maximum length of 10 feet and mesh size not exceeding 3/8 inch on the square.
  • Regulations:
    • Seines must be constantly attended.
    • Prohibited from being fished in a stationary manner.

3. Minnow/Crayfish Traps

  • Description: Devices used for catching minnows and crayfish, labeled with the owner's name and address or TWRA identification number.
  • Regulations: Must be clearly and legibly labeled.

4. Cast Net

  • Description: A net with a maximum radius of 10 feet and mesh size ranging from ¼ inch to 1 inch on the square.
  • Regulations: Must adhere to specified mesh size limits.

5. Shad Trawl

  • Description: A trawl with a mesh size no larger than 1 inch, hoop diameter no larger than 48 inches, and net length no larger than 72 inches, specifically for threadfin or gizzard shad.
  • Regulations: Prohibited within 1,000 yards below any dam.

6. Dip Net

  • Description: A net attached to a frame, which is in turn attached to a pole, constructed from natural synthetic fibers, or metal/plastic mesh.
  • Regulations: No specific regulations mentioned.

7. Hand Collection

  • Description: Use of hands or non-mechanized hand tools.
  • Regulations: No specific regulations mentioned.

Amphibians and Crayfish Regulations

Harvest and Use

  • Licensed sport anglers may harvest Northern Dusky and Spotted Dusky salamanders and native crayfish species without limit for use as bait.
  • Harvesting of amphibians and crayfish is permitted with legal gear as listed in the regulations.

Sale and Purchase

  • Prohibition: Amphibians and crayfish species shall not be sold or purchased for bait.
  • Import/Export: Importing into or exporting from Tennessee for bait purposes is prohibited.

Prohibited Areas

  • Streams and Tributaries: Harvest, use, and possession of crayfish are prohibited in specific streams, their tributaries, and adjacent banks listed in the regulations.
    • Prohibited areas include Mill Creek, East Fork Stones River, Hurricane Creek, Roaring Paunch Creek, South Chickamauga Creek, Caney Fork River, and others.

Transport Restrictions

  • Restricted Possession: Crayfish harvested from specified streams and tributaries shall not be possessed away from the watershed of origin.
    • Restricted areas include the French Broad River, Holston River, Clinch River, Clear Fork, Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, and others.

Crayfish as Food

Wild Advisor Pro


The legal advice provided on Wild Advisor Pro is intended as a summary of the hunting, camping, hiking, and fishing laws and regulations and does not constitute legal language or professional advice. We make every effort to ensure the information is accurate and up to date, but it should not be relied upon as legal authority. For the most current and comprehensive explanation of the laws and regulations, please consult the official government websites or a qualified legal professional. Wild Advisor Pro is not responsible for any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the information presented and shall not be held liable for any losses, damages, or legal disputes arising from the use of this summary information. Always check with the appropriate governmental authorities for the latest information regarding outdoor regulations and compliance.