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Exploring the Legality and Implications of Snag Fishing

Fishing is not the easiest hobby to have. You need to have the right timing, location, bait, and, most of all, patience to get the reward. But it does get rough out there if you’re a beginner and it tempts people to indulge in all sorts of practices including foul hooking or snagging despite the fact that it is illegal in many states. If you found yourself wondering, “why is snag fishing illegal?” Well, here’s the answer.

What Is Snag Fishing?

Typically, fish are hooked at their mouth when they come for the bait. But snagging or foul hooking is a process where the fish is hooked anywhere but the mouth. When it is done intentionally, the act is an illegal move.

But it happens accidentally too in which case you can argue your innocence. But, before we get into that, let’s look at the process to understand why it is illegal.

This process is also called jagging, snatching, and snatch fishing. Typically, the way to catch a fish is to dangle bait in the water and wait for the fish to come for it. When the bait is in its mouth, you pull the hook back.

Now, when you’re snagging, you want to get the hook anywhere on the fish’s body. So, you end up piercing the body of the fish instead of getting the hook in its mouth.

Author Note: So, why is snag fishing illegal? Well, this is considered to be a practice where the fish is being hunted without its consent (to whatever extent that can be applied in hunting terms).

A lot of fish fall prey to this practice because they might be allergic to your bait or because they only eat planktons. Paddlefish, for instance, are highly likely to be snagged for this reason.

When and Where Does Snag Fishing Happen?

Man fishing

Before we answer the question of why is snag fishing illegal, let’s look at the circumstances under which it is most likely to happen and why. Snag fishing can be done relatively easily in clear water bodies for the simple reason that the fish are easily spotted here.

Those who engage in this illegal practice deliberately are called snaggers. What they do is throw the hook into the water without any forethought. They wait till they see a fish and when they do, they move the hook closer to the bottom of the fish’s body.

This way, the hook is under the fish and if it tries to move quickly, the hook catches on to it, which gives the snagger the option to pull it quickly. A lot of them get weighted hooks and baits to increase their chances of catching fish. There are other ways to make it work, but we’re not going to give you that tutorial.

The Legal Point of View

Now, this process might make sense to a lot of people because it simply seems like a convenient way to catch more fish. That is one of the reasons it is appealing to many snaggers.

But anglers, who are people who fish with a line and a rod frown upon it. And it’s not just a hang-up among the purists. There is more than one answer to the question—why is snag fishing illegal? Let’s dive in!

It Causes Overfishing

The practice has been declared illegal in almost all 50 states of the US because for one, it has bad consequences for the population of fish in certain regions. Because it is an easy practice, it often leads to abuse of sources of fish and leads to what is commonly known as overfishing.

Many species are at the risk of falling prey to this practice in more places than they should be, which all eventually ties up to the problem of overfishing. Snag fishing is also considered to be an unsustainable way to fish because of the randomness of the process.

It’s Inhuman

Now, here’s the other aspect. Snag fishing is also not a humane process because when the fish do escape the hook, they still end up getting severely injured. And it’s not just about flesh wounds. They get extremely stressed out (yes, that’s a thing) and this eventually kills them.

Author Note: And if the hook gets caught at the tail area and is pulled backward, it might die because of lack of oxygen. Fishing whether as a hobby or for business is one thing. Killing fish by depriving them of oxygen as you catch them through an illegal process is just cruel.

It is also lethal if the hook catches the fish in its belly, gills, or eye. And in foul hooking, you can’t control where you catch the fish. So, there’s that.

Not Skillful for Sports

Casting fisherman

Then there is the sporting aspect of fishing. Snag fishing is also illegal for sporting purposes because this process neither has elegance nor does it require technique. That doesn’t need anyone to have any fishermen skills to win, which makes a competition unfair.

What to Do When It Happens Accidentally?

But as mentioned before, snag fishing can also happen accidentally. In fact, it tends to happen even to experienced fishers, in which case you have no reason to feel bad. Well, mostly. When it does happen, make sure you let the fish go immediately so that it does not get injured. It’s a part of the act of fishing.

So, you must focus your energy on learning the process only to know how to avoid it. 

Here’s what else you can do apart from hope and pray that you don’t accidentally foul hook a fish.

Check the laws in the region to see if the size of the fish you accidentally snagged is legal. In that case, you can:

  1. Get the fish out and knock it with a bat.
  2. Cut the gills so that the fish dies a quick and painless death.
  3. And finally, take the hook out.
  4. If the size of the fish exceeds the legal limit, see if you snagged it in a critical place like the belly, gills, or the eyes.
  5. If you haven’t, let it go as soon as you can.
  6. If you have, well then remove the hook and knock it out.
  7. Cut the gills so that it dies quickly and throw it back into the water.

More Tips for Dealing with a Snagged Fish

fisherman Get a big fish .

The damage is done and there’s nothing you could’ve done. If you don’t do this, you leave the fish in a lot of pain and to a fate of painful death. It might die slowly or be preyed on by another fish.

Author Note: In some states, the process of snag fishing is completely illegal, while some others make a few exceptions. But remember that it is inhuman everywhere. So, your best hope should be to get better at fishing so that you don’t accidentally get into trouble.

It is also advised that you check the legal parameters of fishing in the region you are targeting.

If you are a beginner who is worried about accidentally snagging a fish, you can try using barbless hooks. While they don’t actually reduce the chances of snag fishing, they do help avoid grave injuries to the fish. Barbless hooks also make it easy to remove the fish from the hook if you accidentally foul hook it.

Anglers who like a little catch and release often use these hooks. But you still need a little experience so that you don’t mishandle the way in which you reel the fish in or land them.


Q: Is It Illegal Even to Snag Non-game Fish?

A: While snagging game fish is illegal in many states in the US, non-game fish or rough fish can be snagged in many states like Illinois and Florida.

Q: What Kind of Exceptions Are Made?

A: Snagging can be a tricky practice. For instance, in the state of Alaska, it is legal to snag fish in saltwater. But you cannot do that with salmon, especially by foul hooking the back, side or tail of the fish. This is because in some seasons, there will be hordes of salmon in the water and it is very difficult to not accidentally snag them.

Q: Why Is Catch-and-Release Not Considered Inhuman?

A: The practice of catching and releasing fish is a hobby for many anglers. This is not considered inhuman because there is a belief that fish don’t actually feel pain when the hook only pierces certain parts of the body, like their lips or jaws. This is a hobby for experienced fishers, not novices.

Parting Thoughts

As mentioned in the beginning, fishing is a practice for those who have patience and perseverance. Snag fishing is for those who don’t have either of those qualities and like to take the shortcut.

If you get tempted to do that, remember that there is neither pride nor do you have permission to do this.

It is a type of animal cruelty because it tortures the fish and is abusive. It can also get you into trouble with Johnny Law in more ways than one.

Happy Hunting!


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