Using Baitfish FAQs

Have questions about the new baitfish regulation and using baitfish? Check the FAQs organized by topic below for answers to the most common inquiries.

Red belly dace male

Personal Baitfish Harvest and Use

Can I catch my own baitfish and use them in different waters around the state?

Anglers may now harvest baitfish from most waters in the state, and use them on other waters within specifically defined geographic areas, or “Baitfish Zones”. For baitfish use, the state is split into East and West Baitfish Zones. Within those zones, some additional waters are specified as “Black-List Waters”. An angler must have a Wild Baitfish Endorsement added to their fishing or combination license in order to transport personally-harvested baitfish away from a waterbody. To learn more about catching and using your own wild baitfish visit the Personal Baitfish Harvest page.

What sort of gear am I allowed to use to harvest baitfish?

Anglers are restricted to the following methods for personal baitfish harvest: 1) minnow traps no longer than eighteen inches with an entrance for fish not exceeding one inch in diameter, 2) dip nets, cast nets, and umbrella nets not exceeding a total of 51 square feet of mesh, or a seine net not exceeding 25 feet in length, 3) hook-and-line.

Are there places where I cannot collect baitfish?

Most waters are open to baitfish harvest, but there are some restrictions on certain waters. In “Seasonally Closed Waters”, baitfish may only be harvested during the open trout season (Second Saturday in April through October 31), and only minnow traps or hook-and-line may be used on these waters. All streams in the state are considered “Seasonally Closed Waters”, in addition to a list of lakes and ponds that can be found in Section 7.0 of §122. Fish Management Regulation.

What is a Wild Baitfish Endorsement, why do I need one, and how do I get it?

Anglers who want to catch their own baitfish in one waterbody and use them as bait on another waterbody must first obtain a Wild Baitfish Endorsement. The Wild Baitfish Endorsement is an important educational tool that teaches anglers about the risks involved with moving live baitfish, such as spreading aquatic invasive species and fish diseases, and how to reduce these risks. To obtain the Wild Baitfish Endorsement, an angler must review educational materials provided on the department website and then successfully pass a test. The Wild Baitfish Endorsement tag can then be added AT NO COST to your regular fishing or combination license. More information is provided on the Wild Baitfish Endorsement page.

How long is a Wild Baitfish Endorsement valid for?

Wild Baitfish Endorsements will expire on a fixed two-year basis with a first expiration date being 12/31/2022. This means anglers who take it now will be able to harvest and use wild baitfish through the end of 2022 without having to retake the test.

Do I need a Wild Baitfish Endorsement to buy baitfish at a baitshop?

No. You do not need to have a Wild Baitfish Endorsement in order to buy and use baitfish purchased from a commercial baitshop. See the Commercially Purchased Baitfish section below.

Can I personally-harvest and import baitfish from another state into Vermont

No. Baitfish harvested outside of Vermont waters may not be transported into the state.

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Baitfish Zones, Black-List Waters and Other Restrictions

What are Baitfish Zones and how do they affect my ability to use wild harvested or store-bought baitfish?

Baitfish zones determine where an angler can harvest and move wild baitfish, or move and use commercially purchased baitfish. For baitfish use, the state is split into East and West zones. Wild harvested baitfish can be used on multiple waterbodies within the same Baitfish Zone as where they were harvested, as long as they were not harvested from or used on a Black-List Water. Store-bought baitfish can be used on multiple waterbodies within the same Baitfish Zone designated on the Baitfish Transportation Receipt for a period of 10 days, as long as the baitfish were not used on a Black-List Water.

Where is the East-West Baitfish Zone line?

The line between the East Baitfish Zone and the West Baitfish Zone matches the Wildlife Management Unit boundaries for the eastern edge of WMUs C, G, I, L and P. For a map and detailed description of the Baitfish Zone boundaries, visit the Baitfish Zone Map and Description page.

Can I use baitfish I catch on waters that cross the East-West Baitfish Zone line in both zones?

No, while there are a limited number of waters (mostly streams or rivers) that cross the boundary line between the East and the West baitfish zones, anglers may not transport and use baitfish across the line. While it’s understood that in these few cases fish can freely swim back and forth between zones, the Baitfish Zone line was developed by using easily identifiable road systems as boundaries to help anglers understand where the division is. For the most part, the East and West Baitfish Zones separate the Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River watersheds, and will help reduce the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species and fish diseases between these watersheds.

What does a “Black-List Water” mean?

A Black-List Water is a lake, pond, river or stream that is considered to be a high-risk source of aquatic invasive species or fish pathogens because of the presence of one or more of these threats. Because of the risk of spreading invasive species or fish diseases from these waterbodies to other waters of the state, anglers may not harvest baitfish from these waters for use on other waterbodies. See the Black-List Waters page for more information.

Can I use baitfish on a Black-List Water?

Yes, but certain restrictions apply depending on where the baitfish came from. Baitfish harvested from a Black-List Water may only be used on that same Black-List Water and may not be transported away from that waterbody. Baitfish harvested from an East or West Zone waterbody may be transported to and used on a Black-List Water within the same zone, but may not be transported away from the Black-List Water after use. Baitfish purchased from a baitshop and sold with an East or West Zone Baitfish Transportation Receipt and then used on a Black-List Water may not be taken off the Black-List Water. Baitfish purchased from a baitshop and sold with a Black-List Water Baitfish Transportation Receipt may be transported away from the Black-List Water and stored in an isolated closed container not connected to state waters, and reused only on the same Black-List Water listed on the receipt, within 10 days of sale.

What state waters are Black-List Waters?

Black-List Waters currently include: Connecticut River, Lake Champlain, Lake Bomoseen, Lake Carmi, Lake Memphremagog, Lake St. Catherine and the Batten Kill River. Tributaries and connected waterways are also included. For a full description, please visit the Black-List Waters page.

Are there any waterbodies where baitfish cannot be used as a bait?

The use of live or dead fish as bait is prohibited on small ponds that support natural reproduction of brook trout. Pond-dwelling brook trout are very vulnerable to competition with other fish species, which could potentially be introduced by anglers using fish as bait. Also, all live bait is prohibited on certain portions of a few rivers around the state. See the Fishing Regulation law book for details.

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Sale of Personally-Harvested Baitfish

Can I sell baitfish that I’ve harvested myself?

It is illegal for an angler to sell baitfish they have personally-harvested, with two exceptions: 1) an angler may sell personally-harvested baitfish to another angler while on the same waterbody where the baitfish were harvested, and 2) an angler who has a valid Wild Baitfish Endorsement on their fishing or combination license may sell personally-harvested rainbow smelt taken from a non-Black-List Water to a licensed commercial baitfish dealer. The baitshop must have a Commercial Baitfish Dealer’s permit that is valid for the same Baitfish Zone where the rainbow smelt were harvested, and the Commercial Baitfish Dealer must record the transaction to track rainbow smelt purchases.

Can I harvest rainbow smelt and sell them to a baitshop?

An angler who has a valid Wild Baitfish Endorsement on their fishing/combination license may sell personally-harvested rainbow smelt taken from a non-Black-List Water to a licensed commercial baitfish dealer. However, the Commercial Baitfish Dealer must be permitted for the same baitfish zone the rainbow smelt were harvested in. The angler must complete and sign an affidavit (provided by the Commercial Bait Dealer) specifying the waterbody where the personally-harvested rainbow smelt were harvested.

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Commercially Purchased Baitfish Use

Do I still need a Baitfish Receipt when I buy minnows from a baitshop?

Yes, a baitfish transportation receipt is still required. One of two receipt types will be provided to you when purchasing baitfish: 1) East/West Zone receipt indicating which Baitfish Zone you will be fishing, or 2) Black-List Water receipt indicating what specific Black-List Water you will be fishing.

How long can I keep and use store-bought baitfish?

Baitfish transportation receipts are now valid for 10 days instead of 4 days. The receipt authorizes you to transport unused baitfish away from state waters and store them at home for later reuse on waters in the same Baitfish Zone as indicated on the receipt. If the receipt is for a Black-List Water, you may re-use the baitfish only on that Black-List Water indicated on the receipt. If you store baitfish on a specific water for use on that water, there is no time limit for storage.

Can baitfish I buy for the East Baitfish Zone be used in the West Baitfish Zone or vice versa?

No. Baitfish cannot be used in a Baitfish Zone other than the one indicated on the receipt.

Can baitfish I buy for the East or West Baitfish Zone be used on a Black-List Water?

When an angler purchases baitfish from an approved Vermont-certified baitshop, the angler will be issued a Vermont Baitfish Transportation Receipt that indicates the Baitfish Zone or Black-List Water the baitfish are valid for. Baitfish purchased for the East Zone or West Zone may also be used on a Black-List Water within that designated zone, but may not be transported away from the Black-List Water after use. Baitfish purchased for a specific Black-List Water may be transported away from that water for later use on the same Black-List Water, however the baitfish must be stored in an isolated, closed container not connected to state waters.

Can I purchase and use baitfish from New York in Vermont waters?

An angler can buy baitfish from a New York baitshop for use in the Lake Champlain Black-List Water, provided that the baitshop is Vermont-licensed, and that the baitfish are accompanied by a Vermont-issued baitfish transportation receipt. Baitfish purchased from approved NY baitshops may not be used on any Vermont water other than Lake Champlain.

Can I purchase and use baitfish from New Hampshire in Vermont waters?

An angler may purchase baitfish from a New Hampshire baitshop for use in the Connecticut River black-list water, provided the baitshop is Vermont-licensed, and the baitfish are accompanied by a Vermont-issued baitfish transportation receipt. Baitfish purchased from approved NH baitshops may not be used on any Vermont water other than the Connecticut River.

Will Arkansas baitfish still be sold in Vermont now that the regulations have changed?

Yes, baitfish (golden shiners and fathead minnows) reared on Arkansas farms will continue to be imported and sold at commercial baitshops. Baitfish from these farms are raised under the guidance and regulatory oversight of the Arkansas Agriculture Department and are tested multiple times per year for fish pathogens, and the ponds are inspected for invasive species. Only certified farms receive permits from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department to import their baitfish into the state for sale. Hatchery-reared golden shiners and fathead minnows from Arkansas have been imported and sold in Vermont for decades to supplement wild baitfish harvested from Vermont waters.

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Baitfish Storage and Disposal

Can I store personally harvested baitfish at home?

Anglers who possess a valid Wild Baitfish Endorsement may transport and hold personally harvested baitfish in any non-Black-List Water within the Baitfish Zone they were harvested in provided the baitfish did not come in contact with a Black-List Water.

Can I store commercially-purchased or personally-harvested baitfish on state waterbodies?

Anglers may hold commercially purchased baitfish beyond the 10-period as long as they remain on the same waterbody and stored in a pen or bait box 25 cubic feet or less in volume. All traps, nets, bait boxes or other holding receptacles capable of taking, holding or keeping live baitfish in public waters must be marked with the name, address, and telephone number of the owner and user. Anglers may not store baitfish in waters where baitfish use is prohibited.

Can I store personally-harvested baitfish collected in one Baitfish Zone in a different Baitfish Zone?

Personally-harvested baitfish can only be stored in a different Baitfish Zone if the baitfish are kept in an isolated, closed container not connected to state waters. Personally-harvested baitfish cannot be stored in waters of a different Baitfish Zone from where it was harvested. We recommend keeping baitfish cool in an insulated bait bucket or tub. Battery operated aerators or aquarium bubblers will also help keep your baitfish alive between fishing trips.

What should I do with my leftover bait if I don’t want to keep it?

Anglers should discard unwanted baitfish in an appropriate location on land or in the trash. Any water in your boat, motor, bilge, live wells, and bait bucket should be drained prior to leaving a waterbody.

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Approved Fish Species for Use as Bait

What fish species can I catch and use as bait?

There are 16 different fish species that are approved for use as bait in Vermont. Anglers are required to know how to correctly identify these species prior to harvesting and using them for fishing. In addition, rock bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, rainbow smelt, white perch, and alewife can be used as bait, but have extra restrictions on their use. Please visit the Approved Baitfish Species page for further information.

Can I harvest rainbow smelt in one waterbody and use them for bait in another waterbody?

Yes, anglers may personally-harvest rainbow smelt and use them as bait. Personally-harvested rainbow smelt may be transported and used as bait on other waters within the same Baitfish Zone they were harvested in, provided they were not harvested from a Black-List Water. Rainbow smelt harvested from a Black-List Water may be used as bait on that same waterbody, but cannot be transported off that water for use as bait. Rainbow smelt harvested from a non-Black-List Water but then used on a Black-List Water within the same zone may not be transported away from the Black-List Water after use. It’s important to know that rainbow smelt can only be taken using hook-and-line and may not be collected with other baitfish harvest gear such as cast nets, seine nets, minnow traps etc.

Can I use fresh fish eggs as bait?

The new baitfish regulation changes do not affect existing restrictions on using fish eggs collected from wild fish. Fish eggs may be collected from fish legally harvested from a Vermont water and used immediately as bait on that water unless that waterbody is closed to baitfish collection. Personally-harvested fish eggs must not be transported and used in any other waterbody. It is illegal to transport fish eggs back and forth from the same waterbody for use as bait unless they have been processed in a manner approved by the Department. Please click here for approved methods for curing fish eggs for use as bait.

Can I use preserved baitfish or fish eggs? Are there any restrictions on these?

Commercially prepared and preserved baitfish and fish eggs available from retail stores may be purchased and used as bait, taken home, and kept for later use provided they are retained in the original packaging at all times.

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Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife
Commissioner Louis Porter

1 National Life Drive
Fish & Wildlife LogoDavis 2
Montpelier, VT 05620-3702
802-828-1000
fwinformation@vermont.gov

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