All of the above methods of taking fish are considered sport fishing methods.
Number of poles and hooks
If you use more than three poles (or two poles on the Mississippi River) at any one time, the additional poles must be labeled with your full name and address or Conservation Number. Regardless of the method or number of poles, you may not use more than a total of 33 hooks at any one time; except on the Mississippi River the maximum is 50 hooks at one time. If fishing on the Mississippi River and on other Missouri waters at the same time, no more than 50 hooks may be used and not more than 33 on waters other than the Mississippi.
Hooks on trotlines must be staged at least 2 feet apart. Hooks on any type of line, as well as the line itself, must be attended every 24 hours or removed.
Prohibited fishing methods
No one may use any explosive, poison, chemical or electrical equipment to kill or stupefy fish. Such material or equipment may not be possessed on waters of the state or adjacent banks.
Spearguns may not be possessed on unimpounded waters or adjacent banks, and spears may not be propelled by explosives.
It also is illegal to attempt to take fish by hand, with or without a hook, and to intentionally leave or abandon any commonly edible portion of any fish.
Only live-bait traps are allowed
Fish traps, including slat and wire ones, may not be possessed on waters in Missouri or on adjacent banks. However, live-bait traps are allowed.
Labels required on traps and lines
You must place a tag of a durable material with your full name and address or your Conservation Number on live-bait traps, trotlines, throwlines, limb lines, bank lines, jug lines and live boxes.
Use of Lights
As an aid to fishing methods, an artificial light may be used only above the water surface. However, while fishing by pole and line only, underwater lights may be used to attract fish. Underwater lights also may be used when bowfishing on lakes, ponds and other impoundments.
Check Special Area Regulations
Special fishing restrictions exist for particular areas. Always check before you fish.
You may possess no more than the daily limit of any given species while you are on waters, or on the banks of waters, where daily limits for those species apply. Any species taken into actual possession, unless released unharmed immediately after being caught, shall continue to be included in the daily limit of the taker for the day.
Where only catch-and-release fishing is allowed, fish must be returned unharmed immediately to the water after being caught.
The possession limit is twice the statewide daily limit. Fish you take and possess must be kept separate or distinctly identifiable from fish taken by another person. If you are away from your catch, the device holding the fish must be plainly labeled with your full name and address.
A minimum length limit means that fish below a designated length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught.
A slot length limit or protected length range means that fish within a designated length range must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught.
A maximum length limit means that fish above a designated length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught.
Regardless of where taken, fish that are not of a legal length cannot be possessed on the waters or banks where length limits apply. The head and tail must remain attached to the fish while you are fishing on waters where length limits apply.
The fish you catch in Missouri, or elsewhere, may be possessed and transported as your personal baggage, if you have the required permit. Fish may be stored, preserved or refrigerated only at your home, camp, place of lodging or in a commercial establishment. Stored fish must be labeled with your full name, address, permit number, species of fish and the date placed in storage. Fish taken in another state by methods not permitted in Missouri may not be possessed on waters of the state.
Browse and search for live bait dealers throughout Missouri.
Do Not Harvest List
Fishes that appear on the state or federal threatened or endangered list, or fish that closely resemble a protected fish, should not be harvested. Help protect the species listed below. If you catch a fish on this list (or one that looks like it), do not harm it, and release it immediately.
Commercial Fishermen: Don't take shovelnose sturgeon!
Central Mudminnow Umbra limi
Mudminnows are a small family of only six species and are most closely related to the pikes. This is the only mudminnow that occurs in our state, and it is rare, occurring only in a few marshy locations near the Mississippi River.
Crystal Darter Crystallaria asprella
This pale, very slender darter is Endangered in Missouri. Formerly known from many river drainages in the east-central and southeastern parts of our state, it apparently now lives only in the Gasconade and Black rivers.
Cypress Minnow Hybognathus hayi
Missouri’s Bootheel lowlands are unlike any other place in the state, and many of the animals and plants that live there occur nowhere else within our borders. The cypress minnow, like the habitat it prefers, is in danger of vanishing from Missouri.
Flathead Chub Platygobio gracilis
This active, big-river fish formerly occurred along the entire length of the Missouri River. In the 1940s, it constituted 31 percent of all small fishes in the Missouri River! By the early 1980s, that figure was 1.1 percent. Today, it has all but vanished from our state.
Goldstripe Darter Etheostoma parvipinne
One of the rarest darters in our state, the endangered goldstripe has exacting habitat requirements: It needs small, shallow, shaded, spring-fed streams with clear water and a low to moderate gradient. What it doesn’t need is siltation, pollution, channel restriction and removal of the tree canopy above!
Grotto Sculpin Cottus specus
A rare fish adapted cave conditions, the grotto sculpin used to be considered simply a different form of banded sculpin. It has recently been designated an endangered species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It's found only in Perry County, Missouri.
Harlequin Darter Etheostoma histrio
In Missouri, this rare darter is found only in our southeastern lowlands. It lives in flowing streams and ditches with sandy bottoms among logs, sticks and other organic debris. It is State Endangered because its small numbers and limited range make it vulnerable to extirpation.
Lake Sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens
The largest of Missouri’s three sturgeons is rare and endangered in our state. One way to identify it is by its conical (not shovel-nosed) snout. And despite its name, in our state this fish is almost always found in big rivers—not lakes.
Longnose Darter Percina nasuta
The next time you are enjoying the waters of Table Rock Lake, remember the longnose darter, which used to inhabit the White River when it still flowed through that area. This is why it’s important to protect this Endangered darter’s few remaining streams from sedimentation and pollution.
Mountain Madtom Noturus eleutherus
This small catfish is rare and endangered in Missouri. It has been recorded from only a few locations in the southeastern portion of the state.
Neosho Madtom Noturus placidus
This endangered species is the smallest catfish in Missouri, where it lives under rocks in riffles or runs, in the clear water of Spring River in Jasper County.
Niangua Darter Etheostoma nianguae
Two small, jet-black spots at the base of the tail fin distinguish this small fish from the more than 30 other darters found in our state. Known from only a few tributaries of the Osage River, this dainty and colorful fish is a nationally threatened species.
Ozark Cavefish Amblyopsis rosae
This small, colorless, blind fish lives its entire life in springs, cave streams and underground waters. It has been declared Endangered in our state and as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Pallid Sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus
Similar to shovelnose sturgeon, but with a longer and more pointed snout. Bases of the inner barbels are weakly fringed, and the base of an inner barbel is less than half the width of the base of an outer barbel.
Redfin Darter Etheostoma whipplei
The redfin darter is of the rarest darters in Missouri and is endangered in our state. It is part of a highly distinctive fish community living in the lower Spring River and its North Fork, in Jasper and Barton counties.
Sabine Shiner Notropis sabinae
Missouri’s southeastern lowlands are home to a fantastic array of plants and animals found nowhere else in the state. The Sabine shiner is one of them—in Missouri, it’s known only from a short stretch of the Black River in Butler County.
Spring Cavefish Forbesichthys agassizi
This is the only cavefish in our state that has eyes, however small, and whose body is yellowish-brown or brown; our other cavefishes lack eyes entirely and are pale and nearly colorless.
Swamp Darter Etheostoma fusiforme
Darters usually prefer the swift, clear waters of streams and riffles, but this darter is different. True to its name, it prefers swamps and sloughs with no current at all. Rare in our state, it’s found only in a few southeast Missouri locations.
Taillight Shiner Notropis maculatus
One of the rarest Missouri minnows, the taillight shiner is known only from a few localities in Southeast Missouri—in habitats representing the last remnants of low-gradient streams and swamps that once characterized that region.
Topeka Shiner Notropis topeka
Currently found in only a few Missouri streams, the Topeka shiner is an endangered native minnow that has declined precipitously because of environmental pollution, siltation, and loss or alteration of habitat.
Manage your Missouri streams, ponds and wetlands to protect these endangered fish.
Fish Measuring and Identification
Learn to measure and identify the fish and other aquatic life you catch so you can abide by Missouri's seasons, daily limits, length limits, and other regulations. When in doubt a fish's identity or legal length, play it safe, and return the fish to the water unharmed immediately.
How to Measure a Fish
Total length is measured from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail, with the fish laid flat on the ruler, with the mouth closed and the tail lobes pressed together.
Measure a Paddlefish
Paddlefish are measured from the eye to the fork of the tail.
Measure a Shovelnose Sturgeon
Sturgeon are measured from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail. Only shovelnose sturgeon are legal to keep.
Missouri Game Fish
Click on a fish's name to view detailed information about it.
Some fishes in Missouri cannot be harvest due to being on the threatened or endangered list, or because they closely resemble a protected fish. Continue reading to learn about these fishes.
Porous-Soled Waders Ban
Didymo is an invasive alga that can lodge in porous-soled waders.
Porous-soled waders include shoes, boots, or waders with porous soles made of felt or any matted or woven fibrous material.
To keep didymo from invading trout waters, porous-soled waders are prohibited on the following waters:
Maramec Spring Park
Bennett Spring State Park
Montauk State Park
Roaring River State Park
Lakes and streams
Barren Fork Creek in Shannon County
Blue Springs Creek in Crawford County
Capps Creek in Barry and Newton counties
Crane Creek in Stone and Lawrence counties
Current River in Dent, Texas, and Shannon counties
Dry Fork Creek in Crawford and Phelps counties
Eleven Point River in Oregon County
Hickory Creek in Newton County
Lake Taneycomo and its tributaries in Taney County
Little Piney Creek in Phelps County
Meramec River in Crawford and Phelps counties
Mill Creek in Phelps County
Niangua River in Dallas and Laclede counties
North Fork of White River in Ozark County
Roaring River in Barry County
Roubidoux Creek in Pulaski County
Spring Creek in Phelps County
Stone Mill Spring Branch in Pulaski County
Live Bait Regulations
Live Bait Species
Live bait includes crayfish, freshwater shrimp, southern leopard frogs, plains leopard frogs, cricket frogs, and nongame fish. Bullfrogs and green frogs taken under season limits and methods also may be used as bait.
Bighead carp and silver carp may not be used as live bait but may be used as dead or cut bait.
Live bait taken from public waters of Missouri may not be sold or transported to other states.
Game fish or their parts may not be used as bait.
Live bait may be taken by trap, dip net, throw net, pole and line or seine.
Live-bait traps must have a throat opening not more than 1-1/2 inches in any dimension, and must be labeled with the user’s full name and address, or Conservation Number.
Traps must be removed if they cannot be checked at least once every 24 hours.
Seines must not be more than 20 feet long and 4 feet deep, with a mesh of not more than 1/2 inch bar measure.
Live bait, except fish, may be taken by hand.
Crayfish also may be taken by trap with an opening not to exceed 1-1/2 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 unharmed 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.
There is no length limit on bighead carp, common carp, gizzard shad, goldfish, grass carp and silver carp when used as bait.
Live bait may be taken throughout the year.
A combined total of 150 crayfish, freshwater shrimp and non-game fish.
5 each of southern leopard frog, plains leopard frog and cricket frog.
A combined total of 8 bullfrogs and green frogs. Bullfrogs and green frogs may be taken only from sunset June 30 through Oct. 31.
Any number of goldfish and bighead, common, grass and silver carp.
Any number of 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 angler must carry a dated receipt for the bait.
Mussels and clams legally taken by sport fish methods.
Alabama Rig Regulations
The Alabama, umbrella and similar rigs may be fished in Missouri so long as they use only three lures or baits. The remaining attachment points can include similar baits so long as their hooks have been removed or other hook-less attractors such as spinner blades are used. This rig is intended to be fished using a rod and reel.
The Alabama rigs we have seen have more than three wires and attachment points. These rigs may be used but only with up to three hooks. (Each bait or lure counts as a hook.) The additional wires and attachment points can be used. However, whatever is attached may not include a hook. You may also clip the extra wires and attachment points off or not use them at all.
Examples of allowed Alabama rigs
This is a standard Alabama rig “modified” to meet the Missouri Wildlife Code. Note that two of the baits have had the hook removed to meet the three-hook limit. Photo by: David Stonner
This rigging is consistent with the Wildlife Code. Each lure is considered one hook by Wildlife Code definition. Spinner blades were added as attractors to the “extra” attachment points. Photo by: David Stonner
This is a collection of hooks you typically find on the sporting good rack. Photo by: David Stonner
Any one of these lures used independently is considered "one hook" by definition in our Missouri Wildlife Code. Photo by: David Stonner
Examples of prohibited Alabama rigs
This rigging would NOT be legal in Missouri. You cannot fish five hooks on a pole and line. To comply with the Code, you would need to clip the hooks off two of the baits, OR remove and replace two of the hooked baits with hookless baits or attractors. Photo by: David Stonner
Maximum number of poles and hooks
Anglers must not have more than three 3 unlabeled poles and not more than 33 hooks in the aggregate, for any or all fishing methods.
On the Mississippi River, an angler may not have more than 2 unlabeled poles and not more than 50 hooks in the aggregate at one time. While fishing concurrently on the Mississippi River and other Missouri waters, not more than 50 hooks in the aggregate may be used and not more than 33 of those hooks may be used in waters other than the Mississippi River.
While the absolute total number of hooks is either 33 or 50, depending on whether you or not you are fishing on the Mississippi River, you may not use more than 3 hooks per pole.
Pole and line: Fishing methods using tackle normally held in the hand, such as a cane pole, casting rod, spinning rod, fly rod, or ice fishing tackle commonly known as a tip-up, to which not more than 3 hooks with bait or lures are attached. This fishing method does not include snagging, snaring, grabbing, or trotlines or other tackle normally attached in a fixed position (rule 3 CSR 10-20.805 (44) in the Wildlife Code).
Hook: Single- or multiple-pronged hooks and the ordinary artificial lures with attached single- or multiple-pronged hooks and dropper flies. A multiple-pronged hook or 2 or more hooks employed to hold a single bait, shall be considered a single hook in counting the allowable total in use (rule 3 CSR 10-20.805 (30) in the Wildlife Code).
Rule 3 CSR 10-6.410 (Fishing Methods) sets the number of poles and hooks.
The current interest in the use of Alabama rigs is noteworthy. Some of the conversations would lead one to believe they are always fish magnets. Time will tell. Plastic worms and electronic fish finders have not produced negative impacts to our bass populations. Fortunately, we have length and daily limits to protect such sport fisheries. We will continue to monitor the use of Alabama and similar rigs and will take action should it be warranted. In the meantime, we will appreciate the excitement this new rig has brought to fishing.
Jug Line Regulations
Check anchored jug lines daily, ensure the anchor is secure
Anchored jug lines may not be left unattended for more than 24 hours.
The anchor must be sufficient to render a jug immobile so that wind, current or large fish will not move the jug. A line that does not meet this standard is considered unanchored. Under normal fishing conditions, a 2-pound weight for a 2-liter soda bottle would be an appropriate anchor. Use a heavier weight to anchor larger floats or during times of high wind and current.
Closely attend unanchored jug lines
Keeping track of your unanchored jug lines reduces catfish waste and jug-line litter. Unanchored jug lines in streams must be personally attended at all times. Unanchored jug lines in lakes must be personally attended at least once per hour. Personally attended means that the angler whose name is labeled on the jug line:
Is in visual sight of and close proximity to the jug line
Can see the jug line bob and move when a fish is hooked and can retrieve it
Can see and talk to a conservation agent checking the line
Can get the attention of or deter anyone who is tampering with the jug line.
Anglers who cannot personally attend their jug lines can still enjoy jug fishing by using anchors.
Label your jug lines
You must place a tag of a durable material with your full name and address or Conservation Number on each jug line. Your Conservation Number in nine digits long and can be found on your fishing permit or on the back of your Heritage Card.
Any fish you catch is included in your daily limit unless you release it unharmed immediately. You may not replace smaller fish in your possession with larger ones caught later. You need to make a keep-or-release decision as soon as the fish is caught.
There is one exception: if, from September through June, you are a participant in a bona fide catch-and-release black bass tournament (one after which all bass are released alive) that requires entrants to have a boat livewell with adequate capacity and a pump constantly adding fresh or recirculating water, the black bass you release unharmed from the livewell need not be included in your daily limit. At no time may the daily limit be exceeded.
Reciprocal Fishing Privileges
Fishing privileges on boundary waters common to Missouri and an adjoining state are mutually agreed upon by the two states. It is your responsibility to know which state you are fishing in and the regulations that apply to the waters where you are fishing. You must be licensed in Missouri to fish in Missouri tributaries of the Mississippi, Missouri and St. Francis rivers. You may not fish in the tributaries of these rivers in a state where you are not licensed.
Reciprocal Fishing Privileges
Properly licensed or exempted anglers from Missouri:
Missouri River (Kansas, Nebraska)
Mississippi River (Illinois, Kentucky*, Tennessee)
St. Francis River (Arkansas)
Des Moines River (Iowa)
May fish in the flowing waters of either state.
May fish in either state’s adjacent backwaters and shared oxbow lakes
May fish from the bank or attach to the bank of either state.
Must abide by the regulations of the state in which you are fishing, regardless of where you are licensed.
Must abide by the regulations of the state where you are licensed, regardless of where you are fishing.
Must abide by the most restrictive of the two states’ regulations when fishing the other state’s waters.
* For the purposes of these reciprocal fishing privileges with Kentucky, the Mississippi River is defined as the main channel and immediate side or secondary channels or chutes. It does not include oxbow or floodplain lakes, or backwaters that extend onto the floodplain or up tributaries when the river level exceeds 33 feet at the Cairo, Illinois, gauging station.
For more information on adjacent states’ regulations and permits, contact:
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission: 800-364-4263
Illinois Department of Natural Resources: 217-782-6302
Iowa Department of Natural Resources: 515-281-5918
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks: 620-672-5911
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources: 800-858-1549
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission: 402-471-0641
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency: 615-781-6500
Why "No" to Noodling?
Science Shows Noodling Hurts Local Catfish Populations
Conservation Agent Eric Abbott nabbed four men handfishing and possessing this fish in the Tarkio River in Atchison County in August 2012. Abbott released the large flathead, topping 40 pounds, back into the river.
Q: What is noodling?
A: Noodling is a common term for hand-fishing.
This is the method of reaching underwater into natural cavities formed in riverbanks or by tree roots, logs, or rocks and capturing a catfish by hand. When the catfish bites onto the hand, the noodler pulls the fish off the nest and out of the water. This method is primarily used to catch flathead catfish and blue catfish in Missouri when these fish are spawning or nesting in small rivers or streams.
Q: How popular is noodling or hand-fishing?
A: The common estimate is about 2,000 people in Missouri hand-fish. That number could top almost 13,000 if the practice was legalized.
A Missouri Department of Conservation survey of Missouri anglers shows that about 4.6 percent of those surveyed would be “very likely” to participate in hand-fishing if it was legalized. Based on fishing permit sales, that number could amount to almost 13,000 noodlers statewide.
Q: If other states allow hand-fishing, why does the Conservation Commission of Missouri oppose it?
A: In Missouri, flathead and blue catfish are valued as a top game fish and are therefore regulated under the state’s Wildlife Code.
According to survey information from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, catfishing ranks second in Missouri in both number of anglers and days spent fishing. It contributes almost $157 million annually to the Missouri economy. While some other states allow hand-fishing for catfish, most classify one or more catfish species as non-game fish.
Q: How would legalizing hand-fishing hurt our catfish numbers?
A: Research shows that legalizing hand-fishing could severely deplete local catfish populations and put the abundance of a top Missouri game fish at risk.
Catfish are very vulnerable during the nesting season (June and July) because they lay their eggs in natural cavities and then do not leave the nest. If they’re taken away, their eggs quickly die. Catfish on the nest are not vulnerable to being caught by traditional sport-angling methods.
Our research shows that less than 25 percent of catfish migrate from large rivers to smaller tributaries. This degree of migration depends on seasonal water levels. Hand-fishers have easy access to these smaller wading streams and the nesting cover catfish use, making these catfish especially vulnerable. A survey of hand-fishers conducted by the University of Missouri–Columbia Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism reported that 90 percent of hand-fishers prefer to fish in smaller rivers or streams, which are most vulnerable to over harvesting.
Catfish are long-lived (reaching ages of 25 years or more), are relatively slow growing, and can reach weights exceeding 75 pounds. They also lay many fewer eggs than other sport fish.
In north and west-central Missouri, in particular, streams have been greatly altered over the past 100 years, reducing catfish habitat. Hand-fishing would place more pressure on these local catfish populations, which already have high harvest rates from current fishing practices.
Surveys show that hand-fishing tends to be highly successful. Because of its high success rate and focus on removing larger, older, sexually mature fish from their nests, hand-fishing could jeopardize local populations of this popular game fish.
According to a survey of hand-fishers conducted by the University of Missouri–Columbia Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, hand-fishers report being successful at capturing a catfish 60 percent of the time. That is an extremely high success rate compared to other angling methods.
Hand-fishers reported their average catch weighed approximately 20 pounds, which they considered to be a minimum-size catch. They preferred to catch larger, trophy-size, 50-pound flathead catfish.
Q: Has the Department of Conservation ever considered legalizing hand-fishing?
A: In responding to ongoing requests by hand-fishers to have the activity legalized, the Department of Conservation offered an experimental hand-fishing season in 2005 and 2006.
The experimental season was part of a larger, comprehensive research study of flathead catfish and blue catfish in segments of eight rivers in Missouri. It included the potential impact of hand-fishing on catfish populations. Hand-fishing was allowed in parts of three rivers in Missouri. Hand-fishers were required to purchase a special hand-fishing permit and complete a report of their activity at the end of each experimental season.
Based on research findings that showed hand-fishing could have a significant negative impact on catfish numbers, the Conservation Commission voted to end the experimental hand-fishing season in April 2007. Project results since 2007 have not provided evidence to alter the decision made by the Commission.
Q: What do fishing organizations think about hand-fishing?
A: Other Missouri conservation and fishing organizations are also opposed to hand fishing.
The Conservation Federation of Missouri — the state’s largest citizen conservation group — strongly opposes hand-fishing, and so do the Federation’s many affiliated fishing groups.
Blackjack (Veteran’s Mem. Park),
Fairgrounds Park, Fountain (Bellefontaine Park),
Horseshoe (Carondelet Park),
New Ballwin Park,
North (Willmore Park),
North Riverfront Park,
South (Willmore Park)
Boathouse (Carondelet Park),
Carp (Suson Park),
Island (Suson Park),
Jefferson (Forest Park),
MDC and Community Assistance Program (CAP) Lakes
Black Bass Daily Limit
Black Bass Length Limit Minimum
Flathead Catfish Length Limit Minimum
Catfish Combined Daily Limit
Crappie Daily Limit
Trout Daily Limit
All Others Combined Daily Limit
Bee Tree Park,
Sunfish (Spanish Lake Park)
Bluegill (Bellefontaine CA)
Creve Coeur Park,
Jarville (Queeny Park), Kluesner Moore,
Spanish Lake Park,