By angelamontana

Posted: May 24, 2021

HELENA – With fishing season in full swing across Montana, anglers need to keep in mind some important regulations pertaining to live bait. Regulations differ across fishing districts; anglers should make sure to understand the regulations for the area and waterbody they are fishing.

For all districts —Western, Central and Eastern — the following regulations apply:

  • Live animals such as meal worms, red worms, night crawlers, leeches, maggots, crayfish, reptiles, amphibians and insects may be used as bait on all waters not restricted to artificial lures only.
  • Leeches may only be imported into Montana from FWP-approved leech dealers. Anglers who import leeches must have in their possession a receipt from the approved out-of-state leech dealer when fishing with leeches in Montana. A list of approved out-of-state leech dealers may be obtained from FWP by calling 406-452-6181.

Additionally, it’s important to note live bait fish can’t be imported into Montana, except by permit for use in Bighorn Lake and Afterbay Reservoir.

In the Central and Eastern fishing districts, non-game fish species that may be collected, possessed and used as live bait include only the following:

  • fathead minnow
  • flathead chub
  • western silvery minnow
  • plains minnow
  • emerald shiner
  • longnose dace
  • lake chub
  • creek chub
  • longnose sucker
  • white sucker

All other non-game fish must be released immediately at the collection site or killed prior to transporting away from the collection site.

Be proactive! Bait fish that cannot be positively identified should not be used as live bait.

Also, all anglers should practice clean, drain, dry habits to protect Montana’s waters from aquatic invasive species. Never release unwanted/unused bait fish into water; dispose of them in the trash. And, never transport surface water; live bait must be transferred to “well” water before transporting. For more information on protecting Montana’s waterways, please see

For complete live bait regulations please refer to the 2021 fishing regulations. Particularly pages 22, 51 and 78. For bait fish species identification, please see pages 94-95. It is up to the angler to know and follow Montana fishing regulations.

Here is breakdown, by district, of key live bait regulations.

Western District

  • No fish species may be used as live bait in the Western Fishing District.

Central District

Bait fish collected in the Bighorn River drainage of Wyoming may be imported under a permit issued by FWP for use only in Bighorn Lake. For a permit, contact the FWP in Billings at 406-247-2940.

The non-game fish species listed above may be used as live fish bait ONLY in the following waters:

  • Bighorn Lake and Afterbay Reservoir
  • Bighorn River – Afterbay Dam to the cable 600 feet downstream, and downstream from the Bighorn FAS
  • Clarks Fork Yellowstone River and tributaries, except the Rock Creek drainage—downstream from the bridge at Bridger
  • Marias River and tributaries downstream from I-15
  • Missouri River downstream from Morony Dam
  • Muddy Creek Drainage near Vaughn, including all streams and drainage canals
  • Teton River and tributaries downstream from I-15
  • Tiber Reservoir (Lake Elwell), Toole and Liberty counties
  • Yellowstone River and all streams and ditches in the drainage downstream from the mouth of the Clarks Fork (except the section of the Bighorn River between the cable 600 feet downstream from Afterbay Dam and the Bighorn FAS).

Eastern District

The non-game fish species listed above may be used as live bait ONLY in the following lakes, reservoirs and ponds listed by counties:

  • Big Horn: – Tongue River Reservoir
  • Blaine: Cow Creek Reservoir, Dry Fork Reservoir, Anita Reservoir, Reser Reservoir
  • Carter: Doug Gardner #2 Reservoir, Talcott Pond
  • Custer: Spotted Eagle Pond, Haughan Pond
  • Daniels: Whitetail Reservoir
  • Dawson: Hollecker Pond, Johnson Reservoir, Lindsey Reservoir
  • Fallon: Baker Lake, South Sandstone Reservoir
  • Garfield: Fort Peck Reservoir, Whiteside Reservoir
  • Hill: Beaver Creek Reservoir, Bailey Reservoir
  • McCone: Flat Lake, Fort Peck Reservoir, Hedstrom Reservoir
  • Petroleum: Fort Peck Reservoir, Petrolia Reservoir
  • Prairie: Grants Reservoir, Homestead Reservoir
  • Phillips: Bison Bone Reservoir, Big McNeil Slough, Cole Ponds, Ester Reservoir, Fort Peck Reservoir, Frenchman Reservoir, Little Warm Reservoir, McChesney Reservoir, Nelson Reservoir, Wildhorse Reservoir
  • Richland: Buxbaum West Reservoir, Gartside Reservoir, Kuester Reservoir
  • Roosevelt: Bainville Railroad Ponds
  • Rosebud: Castle Rock Lake, Lee Pond
  • Sheridan: Box Elder Reservoir, Engstrom Reservoir, Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Raymond Reservoir
  • Valley: Fort Peck Dredge Cut Trout Pond, Fort Peck Reservoir, Grub Reservoir, Gut Shot Reservoir, Shoot Reservoir, Triple Crossing Reservoir, Valley Reservoir, VR2 Reservoir, Wards Reservoir, and all BLM reservoirs in the Willow Creek drainage
  • Wibaux: Wibaux Pond

Non-game fish can be used in all rivers and streams in the Eastern Fishing District, except the following:

  • Milk River and its tributaries upstream from Fresno Dam in Hill County
  • Beaver Creek upstream from Beaver Creek Reservoir in Hill County

Anglers should check the 2021 Fishing Regulations for further information, including a bait fish identification table.


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