Live Bait Basics

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Published on: May. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 13, 2010

to exceed 11/2 inches by 18 inches.

  • All bluegill, green sunfish and bullheads more than 5 inches long and other species of nongame fish more than 12 inches long must be returned to the water immediately after being caught by any of the methods listed above except pole and line. The daily limits for nongame fish apply to the large fish taken by pole and line.
  • Bighead carp and silver carp may not be used as live bait but may be used as dead or cut bait.
  • There is no length limit on bighead carp, common carp, gizzard shad, goldfish, grass carp and silver carp when used as bait.
  • Live bait taken from public waters of Missouri may not be sold or transported from the state.

Seasons: Live bait may be taken throughout the year.

Daily Limit: The daily limit is 150 combined total for crayfish, freshwater shrimp and nongame fish. The daily limit is 5 each of the following amphibians: southern leopard frog, plains leopard frog and cricket frog. The daily limit is 8 bullfrogs or green frogs, combined total of both species. Bullfrogs and green frogs may be taken only from sunset June 30 through Oct. 31 (Check the Summary of Fishing Regulations for details). There is no daily limit on bighead carp, common carp, goldfish, grass carp and silver carp. Live bait, when purchased or obtained from a source other than the waters of the state or a licensed commercial fisherman, must be species on the Approved Aquatic Species List and may be possessed in any number as long as you carry a dated receipt for the fish.

Other species that may be used as bait include:

Nongame fish of any size, except bowfin, if taken according to the methods and seasons listed in the Summary of Fishing Regulations. Mussels and clams legally taken by sport fish methods.

Game fish or their parts may NOT be used as bait.

Avoiding Injury to Game Fish

Live bait has one drawback: Fish sometimes “swallow” the bait, and the hook lodges deep in the fish’s throat or gills. This is no problem unless you want to release a fish; usually it’s too injured to survive. Use forceps or needle-nosed pliers to gently remove hooks. If the hook is beyond reach, cut the line. There’s a good chance the hook will eventually work itself out. You can usually avoid having fish swallow the bait by setting the hook the moment you feel or see a strike.

Don’t Dump Bait!

It’s illegal to dump bait in Missouri waters.

Throw unused bait in the trash. Unwanted animals and plants can invade local water, damage habitat and ruin your fishing. To learn more about protecting Missouri’s streams, rivers and lakes from invasive species, visit the link listed below.

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