Baitfish and Smelt Information

On this page:

The term "baitfish" is defined in Maine Law and means only those species in the following list:

  • Lake chub, (Couesius plumbeus)
  • Eastern silvery minnow, (Hybognathus regius)
  • Golden shiner, (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
  • Common shiner, (Luxilus cornutus)
  • Northern redbelly dace, (Phoxinus eos)
  • Finescale dace, (Phoxinus neogaeus)
  • Fathead minnow, (Pimephales promelas)
  • Blacknose dace, (Rhinichthys atratulus)
  • Creek chub, (Semotilus atromaculatus)
  • Fallfish, (Semotilus corporalis)
  • Pearl dace, (Margariscus margarita)
  • Banded killifish, (Fundulus diaphanus)
  • Mummichog, (Fundulus heteroclitus)
  • Longnose sucker, (Catostomus catostomus)
  • White sucker, (Catostomus commersoni)
  • American eel, (Anquilla rostrata)

The term "baitfish" when used alone, includes only the species defined in law (§10001-6) and listed above.

Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) are not a "baitfish" (as defined) and specific harvest restrictions, bag limits, and water specifi goals and objectives are applied to this species.

Back to top

Legal Fish That may be Used as Bait (Live or Dead)

Baitfish (as defined) and rainbow smelt are the only fish species that may be used as bait (live or dead) for fishing in Maine's inland waters.

Note: Not all waters permit the use of live fish as bait (or dead fish as bait) – please review General Fishing Laws and Special Fishing Laws.

Back to top

Tips on Identifying Common Legal Baitfish And Smelt

images of baitfish to identify legal and illegal baitfish

Back to top

Harvesting Baitfish for Personal Use

All inland waters (including rivers, streams and brooks) are open to the taking of baitfish for personal use unless designated "closed to the taking of live baitfish" (see Special Fishing Laws), with the following conditions:

  • Fishing license required – You must have a valid Maine fishing license to harvest baitfish for personal use. Baitfish may not be sold or harvested with the intent to sell without a bait dealer's license.
  • Label and tend your traps – Baitfish traps and holding cages must be labeled with the owner's name and address, and must be tended at least once every 7 days by the person who set them. Baitfish traps may only be used to harvest baitfish species, as defined. All other fish must be immediately released alive into the water from which they were taken. Note: It is unlawful to harvest rainbow smelt with a baitfish trap.
  • Trap specifications apply – Baitfish traps may not exceed 50 cubic feet in volume and must be fitted with rigid entrance or exit holes.

Back to top

Harvesting Smelts for Personal Use

Unless closed by rule as indicated within the Special Fishing Laws, a person holding a valid Maine fishing license may:

  • Take rainbow smelt for recreational purposes by hook and line from inland waters that are open to fishing in accordance with bag limits established by rule.
  • Take rainbow smelt for recreational purposes only from the inland waters or portions of inland waters that are naturally free of ice with a dip net in the usual and ordinary way from noon to 2:00 a.m. in accordance with bag limits established by rule. Bag limits established by rule under this paragraph are for a 24-hour period, beginning at noon on a given day and ending at 11:59 a.m. the following day.

A person may not take rainbow smelt with a dip net unless it meets the requirements listed under the dip net definition (Title 12, §12456). A dip net when used to take rainbow smelt in a tributary or within 100 feet of the mouth of a tributary must contain a rigid circular frame that is not more than 24 inches in diameter as measured at any point on the hoop and manually operated by a single person (Title 12, §10001-12-A).

Fishing license required – You must have a valid Maine fishing license to harvest rainbow smelt for personal use. Rainbow smelt may not be sold or harvested with the intent to sell without a bait dealer's license.

Back to top

Importation of Fish Prohibited

It is unlawful to introduce, import, or transport any live fish or fish gametes (including baitfish or smelts) into the State of Maine without a permit ((§12509). This law helps keep Maine's waters healthy by limiting the introduction of foreign fish diseases and parasites, exotic fish species, invasive plants, and other undesirable aquatic life that can irreversibly damage Maine's natural resources. Do your part by only using locally caught legal baitfis species when fishing in Maine.

Back to top

Storing Live Baitfish and Smelts

You may not store or hold live baitfish or smelts in waters where the use or possession of live fish as bait is prohibited during the entire fishing season. This includes waters restricted to the use of artificial lures only, waters restricted to fly fishing, and waters where there are other prohibitions on the use of live fish as bait.

Back to top

Commercial Bait Dealer's License

In order to harvest live baitfish and smelts for sale, or to buy and resell them, you must possess a valid bait dealer’s license (Bait Retail License, Bait Wholesale License, or Smelt Wholesale License). For more information on license requirements or how to obtain a license, contact MDIFW at (207) 287-8000 or visit the Bait Dealer's License page.

Back to top

Trouble by the Bucketful

That's what the illegal introduction of exotic species brings to Maine's waters.

Some thoughtless individuals are attempting to destroy the future of Maine's native fisheries. These nonsportsmen illegally stock the type of fish they prefer to catch, without regard for the environmental havoc they inflict on the resource. Illegal stocking selfishly denies the people of Maine the right to decide what is best for our waters.

Please help fight this serious problem.

  • It is illegal to transport live fish without a permit except legal baitfish or smelts.
  • It is illegal to dump unused baitfish into any waterway.
  • There is a $10,000 fine for a conviction of illegal stocking.
  • Always keep your ears and eyes open for those who are committing these senseless acts.
  • If convicted, the license revocation has increased from 1 to 5 years.

To report information about an illegal introduction please call: 1-800-ALERTUS (253-7887)

Be on the Lookout for Aquatic Invaders

Maine Law prohibits the transport or possession of any invasive plant or plant parts on watercraft or equipment (including baitfish traps and nets) that could cause the plant or plant parts to enter waters of the state. It’s up to you to inspect boats and equipment and ensure Maine’s waters are free from all aquatic invaders, including invasive plants. Failure to clean your equipment between waters puts you subject to financial penalties and loss of equipment. Learn more!