Is it Legal to Fish with A Casting Net


Cast-Net or Throw Net fishing is one of the more sustainable methods of recreational or sport fishing. A cast net is usually small enough to be operated by one person. It is round or oval, and can be thrown, or cast, over a large area. Weights on the side of the net help it sinks, catching any sea creatures inside. Is it Legal to Fish With A Casting Net?

Using a Cast Net is legal in most Saltwater coastline areas for most species
Using a Cast Net is legal in most Freshwater areas of the US with conditions

  • Permit
  • The Fish is a Non-game Fish
  • Limited on Amount & Size
  • The Cast Nets used must meet the conditions specified for each State
  • Net Size
  • Mesh Size

Casting nets are one of the oldest and most efficient ways to catch large amounts of small non-game baitfish fish. Except for Saltwater, there are some laws and regulations throughout the United States but they center on just a few.

Cast Net Fishing


A Throw Net or sometimes called Cast Net is a type of fishing net that is a circular net with small weights distributed around its edge. The net is cast or thrown by hand in such a manner that it spreads out while it’s in the air before it sinks into the water. Standard Nets use a radius of 4-12 feet but recreational nets that you find in Bait and Tackle Shops.

Throw Nets work best when the radius of the Net is approximately as deep as the water you fishing in. Their use goes back centuries back to ancient Rome and even further back to Greece. Cast nets are used to catch baitfish, shrimp, and pan-sized fish. Cast nets are very popular with commercial fishermen as well as sport and weekend fishermen.

The technique when using them is called net casting or net throwing. Fish are caught as the net is hauled back in. This simple device is particularly effective for catching small baitfish or what is called Forage fish which are prey fish, the type of fish that are naturally preyed on by larger predator fish and have been in use, with various modifications, for thousands of years. These types of fish live in schools for protection and move along the coastline of all aquatic bodies.

Types of Cast Nets



For the average-size fisherman, a 6 ft Net is a practical and comfortable size for fishing from the shoreline. If you’re fishing from a boat or a dock you could use a bigger 7 ft size. A  5 ft person or a person throwing from a sitting position as you would from a boat, should always buy a smaller one according to where you will throw from. The size of the baitfish you are after will dictate the size of the mesh you’ll need on the Net.

The smaller the baitfish the smaller the mesh. Also, the mesh size will affect the sink rate of the Net. The smaller the mesh the slower the sink rate.

If the Net sinks too slowly then this allows more fish to escape. Modern nets are typically constructed from synthetic fibers, such as monofilament nylon for gillnets, and multiple twisted or braided polymer filaments for seine and trawl nets.

So You need a Net that has a mesh size small enough to catch your baitfish and big enough so it won’t affect how fast your Nets sink.

Botton Pocket Cast Net- is the most common type and is used by most people. They are used in the shallow water of beaches and shorelines. These are two of the more common methods for trapping a lot of bait. Cast Nets are designed to be thrown over a school of baitfish. With weights around their perimeter, the edges of these nets quickly drop.

To trap bait, the throw line is retrieved. Cast net mesh may be treated to help it keep its shape when thrown and to ensure a quick and even opening. Look for reinforced stitching, adequately secured weights, and well-constructed mesh to ensure you get a quality cast net.

How to Throw a Cast Net Video


Check out the video that explains the technique used to use the Cast Net. It’s easier than you think with a little bit of instruction you’ll get the idea. The best way to explain is to show it.



Do You Need a License to Fish a Cast Net 


Since all states in America have their own laws on Hunting and Fishing, it’s very important to check with the Authorities in your State or Country to find out what they are and how they pertain to what, when, and how you are fishing for. It’s easy to do like I’ve done here for Cast Netting for fish in my area. I’ve learned that the size of the Net and its Mesh size matter. Of course, the amount is the other parameter. The punishment can be hefty so double-check.

In Pennsylvania where I live:

Sometimes separate permits are issued to different waterways or areas in a State by the Directors of the Authorities in charge so they might be different in numerous areas within the State. This is the reason you need to check. The use of a cast net or throwing the net in any other Commonwealth waters is a violation of the Fish and Boat Code and is punishable by a fine and may result in the loss of fishing privileges.

Cast nets or throw nets shall not exceed 10 feet in radius or 20 feet in diameter and possess a mesh size of at least 3/8 inches. Like these Ochoos 7.2m American Style Cast Net Saltwater Baitcasting Strong Nylon Fishing Line with Sinker – Tools & Equipment – Nets & Buckets

The holder of the cast net or throw net permit may take, catch, kill, or possess a daily creel limit of 100 gizzard shad and alewife (combined species). The holder of the permit shall carry the permit on his/her person while using the net or while possessing more than 50 gizzard shad or alewife (combined species). The permit shall be available for inspection by a waterways conservation officer. These are a few PA laws that are all freshwater but can be complicated.

It is unlawful to:

  • To use a Cast Net in waterways specifically listed on the State website so look for them
  • To use a Cast Net except for the ones they specifically list at the time you read the Fishing Rules & Regulation. These rules and laws can change regularly
  • To use a Cast Net to catch any type of fish species that is smaller than a specified size which may change year to year
  • To use  specific Cast Net fish that was taken under the required permit as live bait in any water other than the water from which it was taken (I think I got it)
  • Use a Cast Net or Trow Net without a fishing license


In certain states like Texas where I don’t live:

  • It is legal only for non-game fish just as it is in PA. The keyword is Non-game fish
  • Some aquatic life like shrimp can be taken all year and as much as you want as long as you are not selling them.
  • The Net Size can’t be more than 14 ft. in diameter
  • In Saltwater-nongame fish may be taken for bait purposes only.

In New Jersey Ocean Water

No license is required for the taking of baitfish for personal use with the following gear:

  1. Dip nets 24 inches in diameter or less for the taking of Atlantic herring only (does not include river herring — alewife and blueback herring) for live bait. The taking or possession of river herring is prohibited.
  2. Bait seines 50 feet long or less.
  3. Cast nets 20 feet in diameter or less.
  4. Lift or umbrella nets four feet square or less.
  5. Not more than five killipots.
  6. Know the limits for the taking of eels for bait.

Fish taken in this manner may not be sold or used for barter unless the angler is in possession of a commercial bait net license.

As you can see just by a few examples like these the laws for Cast Netting can be strange (probably pretty old) difficult and numerous. There are the Cast Net types of laws that are similar and easy to follow like these:

  • One is the Net diameter. It would advantageous that if you do fish when traveling keep a few sizes of Net with you
  • Another important feature of your Cast Net is The Mesh Size 


Cast Net Fishing For Bait Fish


Non-game fish means different things to different people, but essentially it includes any fish that is not listed as a sportfish or as a threatened or endangered species. This would include the fish we use as bait, fish that we have found are not particularly appetizing and do not put up a big fight, and fish we simply choose not to fish for.

By far, the largest group is this latter group that includes fishes that we deem too small to bother with. While often small and insignificant, these fishes play vital roles in our environment they live by being a part of the food chain.

Types of baitfish- They are an important part of the environment they live in and the species that compete for food in that environment. in fact, most times if you are Bass fishing you will use the baitfish that lives and breathes in the area that the Bass does. It’s the same with most Sport Fishing. All species of fish need to be protected, not just Game fish that live in the ocean or lake.

That’s one reason they are protected and restricted to permits in some States especially for netting huge numbers. This has to do with problems when they are used in different environments. For one reason it could increase the risk of unwanted species. So some States require restrictions. Another risk is spreading diseases to other locations. This would have lots of negative damage.

Non-game freshwater fish can be Perch, minnow, shinners, and Suckers Carp, and the Game Fish Trout, Bass Large, and Smallmouth along with others like Muskie are considered Game Fish.  Know the difference and what fish is on that protection list no matter how small it is. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Examples of baitfish caught with a Cast Net or Throw Net are spot, American eel, anchovies, gudgeon, halfbeaks such as ballyhoo, and scad.


All States have their own rules and Regulations Please make sure you find out what is safe and legal! and the season to do it in.




JimGalloway Author/Editor



References: PA Fish Commission

Florida Fish & Wildlife



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