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Is Snagging Fish Legal?

Written by: John B
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If you fish long enough, you’ll inevitably foul-hook a fish.

You’ll be ripping a crankbait, spoon, or in-line spinner through the water, and you’ll accidentally make contact with a fish somewhere on its body. That sharp hook will drive home, and you’ll end up with a fish that’s hooked in the head, body, or tail - but not the mouth.

It’s typically illegal to keep fish that have been foul-hooked, and most anglers consider it unethical as well.

Snagging is something entirely different.

It’s a practice of throwing a weighted treble hook - or more than one - and retrieving it with the purpose of snagging a fish. In other words, it’s an intentional method of foul-hooking, not an accident that will eventually happen if you fish enough.

Is snagging legal, and under what circumstances? 

Let’s take a closer look.

Foul-hooking vs. Snagging

foul-hooking is an accident

Foul-hooking is an accident.

Foul-hooking is almost inevitable. As fish are attracted to your lure, they may swim perilously close, and while working your lure, you can inadvertently hook them without them striking. Everywhere from the jaw to the body, the top of the head to the tail - I’ve seen it all.

Sharp treble hooks - often in pairs - are going to bite when a fish hits them with its body. That’s a fact.

foul-hooked fish

Fish enough, and eventually you’ll foul hook a fish.

In some places, foul-hooked fish may be kept; in others, they must be released. Most anglers I know release any foul-hooked fish they land as a matter of course, given that it’s unsporting.

Snagging, on the other hand, involves throwing a weighted treble hook and trying to foul-hook fish, often salmon.

snagging is intentional

Snagging is intentional.

Each state carefully regulates this practice, and most restrict it to non-game fish like gar, carp, buffalo, and suckers.

Is Snagging Legal?

Most states do not allow the snagging of game fish. That includes species like bluegill, perch, trouth, bass, salmon, walleye, muskie, and pike.

The exceptions are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah.

But even then there are typically restrictions.

In Alaska, snagging is only legal in saltwater. In Colorado, it’s only legal to snag kokanee salmon. Similarly, in Illinois, snagging is only legal for coho and chinook salmon. Kentucky forbids snagging anywhere other than the Tennessee River. New Mexico has a specific season for snagging kokanee. South Dakota allows salmon snagging on Lake Oahe, but forbids it elsewhere. And finally Utah allows this practice only for Bonneville Cisco on Bear Lake and other catch-and-kill areas.

State Game Fish Rough Fish
Alabama NO NO
Alaska YES YES
Arizona NO YES
Arkansas YES YES
California NO NO
Colorado YES NO
Connecticut NO YES
Delaware NO NO
Florida NO YES
Georgia NO NO
Hawaii NO NO
Idaho NO YES
Illinois YES YES
Indiana NO NO
Iowa NO YES
Kansas NO YES
Kentucky YES YES
Louisiana NO YES
Maine NO YES
Maryland NO NO
Massachusetts NO NO
Michigan NO NO
Minnesota NO NO
Mississippi YES YES
Missouri NO YES
Montana NO YES
Nebraska NO YES
Nevada ? ?
New Hampshire NO NO
New Jersey NO NO
New Mexico YES NO
New York NO YES
North Carolina NO NO
North Dakota NO YES
Ohio NO YES
Oklahoma NO YES
Oregon NO YES
Pennsylvania NO NO
Rhode Island NO NO
South Carolina NO NO
South Dakota YES YES
Tennessee NO YES
Texas NO NO
Utah YES NO
Vermont NO NO
Virginia NO YES
Washington NO NO
West Virginia NO YES
Wisconsin NO NO
Wyoming NO NO

More states are permissive of the snagging of rough species, especially carp and gar, but when in doubt, we recommend that you contact your local fish and game agency for a definitive ruling.

Why is Snagging So Often Illegal?

Beyond the ethics of snagging, it makes certain species remarkably easy to overfish.

A weighted treble hook is the snagging rig of choice

A weighted treble hook is the snagging rig of choice.

Salmon are a good example of this, especially in clear, shallow water where they’re easy to target. In Michigan, for instance, where the technique was made illegal in the 1990s, wildlife biologists were very clear that it was harming the species.

“Snagging [gave] anglers too much of an advantage and … lead to over-harvesting,” reports Paul Stowe, a biologist at the Platte River State Fish Hatchery. The “removal of so many fish was pretty detrimental to some of the fisheries and some of the locations that were popular, and so that practice was discontinued.”

Oregon and Washington, both states where snagging is outlawed, face similar problems.

"Snagging is a continual problem that is commonly reported to Oregon and Washington State Police by other fishermen who are upset about the practice," says Trooper Craig Gunderson. "It is definitely not very sporting. Snagging is very prevalent in the fall and is the lead source of the complaints that we receive."

And while some anglers complain that snagging should be legal during the salmon run, since the fish are just going to die post-spawn anyway, knowing which fish have already perpetuated the species is nearly impossible. As a result, snagging removes fish that have yet to mate, dramatically affecting salmon numbers in the years to come.

Why is Snagging Rough Fish More Tolerated?

The simple answer is that carp are non-native species that readily populate - and even overpopulate given half a chance.

Snagging carp is often seen as beneficial, as the removal of these fish from some state waters is necessary, and they can be notoriously tough to target directly.

References:

  • https://news.jrn.msu.edu/2021/10/push-on-to-legalize-snagging-salmon/
  • https://www.columbiagorgenews.com/archive/snagging-fish-violates-ethics-of-fair-chance/article_b06957c4-61cf-5af9-ab23-ad84c3378574.html
About The Author
John B
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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