Is Snagging Fish Illegal? [Regulations in Each State]

Snagging fish is a fishing practice that is frowned upon in the angling and conservation community for several reasons. Why is snagging seen as unethical, and what are the legalities in your US state?

In most states, snagging fish is considered inhumane and deemed illegal. In some states, snagging is allowed for certain fish species, while it is only allowed under certain circumstances, such as accidental snagging in other states. Most ethical anglers look down on the practice.

Many laws govern fishing practices to keep the activity ethical and to protect fish populations. Snagging is one such fishing practice that is regulated by legislation in each state. We have compiled the crucial information you need to know about snagging and how it affects you as an angler.

What Are The Legalities Of Snagging Fish?

Snagging fish is a problematic method of fishing that results in several problems for the environment and pushes the boundaries of cruelty to animals.

The practice is described as the intentional snagging of fish with a hook or hooks anywhere in the body, other than the mouth. If the hook does not end up in the fish’s mouth, the assumption is that the fish was not interested in the bait.

Snagging is dragging a hooked line, sometimes with multiple hooks, over a fish or groups of fish with the express intention of hooking the fish anywhere where the hooks make contact with the fish.

This type of fishing has several issues associated with it.

  • Severe injury to the fish. If the fish frees itself from the hooks, it will most likely be mortally injured and will suffer a long and painful death.
  • Over-fishing. Snagging is less like fishing and more like harvesting. This practice can result in overfishing since the fish does not have to take the bait, but it gets caught anyway. If snagging is allowed, populations of fish can be decimated in a very short time since the fish does not have a chance.
  • Violates the “fair chance” principle. Hunting and fishing are activities that require ethics to give the animal being hunted a chance to outwit the hunter or angler and escape. Snagging violates this principle since the angler does not need skill and knowledge to catch the fish.

As a result of these ethical and conservation issues, snagging has been declared as an illegal fishing method in most states. Consequently, if you consider snagging illegal where ever you are fishing, you won’t fall foul of the law.

There are some states where snagging is allowed for certain species of fish and under very specific circumstances.

Where Is Snagging Outlawed Completely?

The majority of US states ban the practice of snagging completely, with no exceptions. This causes anglers to be more careful about their fishing practices, making fishermen better and protecting the state waters from overfishing.

Snagging is considered illegal under any circumstances in the following states.

  • Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Where Is Snagging Illegal But With Exceptions?

Some states outlaw snagging in general but have some exceptions related to the species of fish and the time of year.

The species of fish where snagging is allowed as a fishing method is most commonly the paddlefish which are unlikely to take an angler’s bait because their diet constitutes zooplankton primarily.

States which prohibit snagging but have some exceptions include the following.

These states have generally outlawed snagging but allow it at certain times of the year and for certain fish species. You will need to investigate the regulations for your state to find out which species you can catch this way and in which season.

States Where Snagging Is Legal

Some states allow snagging as a means of fishing within their boundaries. However, even in these states, certain waters and fish species are protected, and you are not allowed to use snagging in these locations or to catch these species.

  • Hawaii. Snagging is legal in Hawaii, but certain areas do not allow the practice.
  • Mississippi
  • South Carolina. Snagging is allowed but prohibited in certain sensitive areas.
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois. Snagging is legal for certain species at specific times of the year
  • Iowa
  • Kansas. Paddlefish are the only species that can be caught by snagging.
  • Kentucky. Only legal for some species in the Tennessee River only.
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia. Snagging allowed for certain fish species.

What Happens If You Snag A Fish By Accident

Fishing is similar to hunting in that the results can not always be perfect or predictable. As in hunting, there are occasions where you make a less than perfect shot, and the animal suffers, so too is it possible to snag a fish accidentally.

While it is difficult to prove whether a fish was snagged intentionally or accidentally, if you have more than one fish in your possession that has been caught by snagging, then it is no accident.

Most anglers are not in favor of snagging as a fishing method and, in most cases, try to avoid this eventuality.

Accidentally snagging a fish happens periodically, even with experienced anglers. So what should you do when you snag a fish? Your actions after snagging a fish will depend on the laws in the state, the size of the fish, and the extent of the damage to the fish.

Can You Release A Snagged Fish?

A snagged fish can be released if the injuries inflicted on the fish are not severe enough to threaten the fish’s survival.

Releasing a mortally injured fish to suffer and die is not what ethical angling is all about, but what do you do if snagging is illegal and the fish is injured or not a legal keeping size?

If you are in a state where snagging is legal and the fish is of legal size, you can keep the fish. If the fish is not of legal keeping size, you should put the fish out of its misery and return the fish to the water.

If snagging is not legal in the state and the fish is badly injured, you can dispatch the fish and keep it as part of your catch for the day, as long as it is the only fish showing evidence of snagging.

If the fish is too small to legally keep, it should be released if its injuries are not severe. If the injury incapacitates it, the fish should be killed by hitting it on the head and cutting the arteries in the gills so it can bleed out. The carcass can then be returned to the water to become part of the food chain in the environment.

Even if the fish is not badly injured, the stress of being caught in this way has been known to cause the fish to die. After being snagged, any fish returned alive to the water should be carefully evaluated before releasing.


Snagging is a fishing practice that is illegal or restricted across the majority of the states in the USA. The onus is on the individual fisherman to establish the rules and regulations in the area where they are fishing. Even the states that allow snagging have certain areas where snagging is not allowed.

While snagging is generally frowned upon by the angling community, it is sometimes the only fishing method that can be used to control the numbers of certain fish species.

Aaron Warner

Aaron Warner is an avid angler with over 15 years of experience. He has participated and won fishing tournaments all over the country and enjoys fishing for bass, trout, walleye and other species.

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