Treble hooks are very common on many fishing lures. There are no states that completely ban their use, but treble hooks are illegal to use in some states in certain situations. In those states, it is usually illegal to fish with treble hooks if you’re using live bait, fishing for trout in streams, or attempting to snag a fish. Further, while some states have laws regarding how many fishing hooks you can use at once, most states consider a treble hook to be a single “hook” in terms of hook regulations.
This article will discuss the various laws on the books for treble hooks throughout freshwater fisheries in the United States. Then, I’ll spend some time discussing frequently asked questions about treble hooks so you can better understand the “why” behind some of these state laws.
DISCLAIMER: Be aware that I am not an attorney nor does this constitute legal advice. This is simply my interpretation of the laws in the latest state guidebooks that I could find. Always double check (I’ve provided links for your convenience). When in doubt, reach out to a fish and game warden in your state.
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- What Are Treble Hooks?
- Are Treble Hooks Illegal?
- Are Treble Hooks Illegal In My State?
- Treble Hook FAQ
- Are Treble Hooks Good for Fishing?
- Are Treble Hooks Good for Bass?
- Can You Use Treble Hooks for Catfish?
- Can You Use Treble Hooks for Trout?
- Can You Put a Worm on a Treble Hook?
- Are Treble Hooks Bad for Fish?
- Are Treble Hooks Dangerous?
- Does a Treble Hook Count as One Hook?
- Should You Replace Treble Hooks?
- What Are the Best Treble Hooks?
- What Is Snagging Fish?
- Conclusion: Treble Hooks are Only Illegal Sometimes in Some Places
What Are Treble Hooks?
Treble hooks are a type of fishing hook that has three points attached to one shank. They are often found on crankbait, jerkbaits, and certain topwater fishing lures. They are one of the easier lures to hook a fish on, because their three points are always at the ready. However, it is often more difficult to keep fish attached, as thin treble hooks don’t penetrate as deep or securely as a single hook. Treble hooks are also far more susceptible to picking up weeds or other debris, and getting stuck and snagged on underwater obstructions.
Are Treble Hooks Illegal?
Laws vary from state to state (and sometimes waterbody to waterbody) as we’ll see, but the short answer is if you’re a bass angler fishing a lake or pond, you’re probably just fine to throw a crankbait, jerkbait, or other lure that has treble hooks. It gets far trickier once you start fishing in various trout streams as many states start regulating treble hooks in such waters, presumably in an effort to protect the trout.
While I’ve taken the time to make a handy chart for you a bit further down, here are some general guidelines to be aware of while fishing with treble hooks:
- There is no state I’m aware of that prohibits artificial lures that have treble hooks on all waters.
- There are multiple states that prohibit any type of treble hook on trout streams and rivers.
- Many states prohibit treble hooks while fishing with live bait, especially if you’re fishing for striped bass.
Basically, if you’re a bass angler fishing on a lake or pond, you’re more than likely fine to tie on that crankbait. But, if you find yourself near a river mouth or upstream, you should definitely check your local regulations as your state might not allow treble hooks in areas with more vulnerable trout.
Are Treble Hooks Illegal In My State?
It’s important to understand if it’s illegal to use treble hooks for the given state you’re fishing. In an effort to help, I’ve gone ahead and looked them up for you and created this handy chart. Bear in mind I’m no attorney and this is simply my interpretation. Always check your local regulations for yourself or call a wildlife officer if you have any questions.
Note that this list only contemplates freshwater regulations. Saltwater regulations are a whole other animal, and have federal regulations to contend with as well (for example, 50 CFR 635.21(f), which prohibits the use of any hook that isn’t a circle hook in billfish tournaments and while recreationally fishing for sharks).
|State||Are Treble Hooks Illegal?|
|Alabama||In Alabama, it is illegal to use treble hooks when used in the aid of grabbling, noodling, or hand fishing. Fine to use on fishing lures.|
|Alaska||Alaska breaks down their fishing regulations by different territories. The state is vast, and has fine fishing for salmon which are protected in multiple waters. Accordingly, many have regulations against treble hooks on particular waterbodies. You can find their detailed fishing regulations for Alaska here.|
|Arizona||In Arizona, in areas where a single-pointed barbless hook is required, treble hooks do not meet the definition.|
|Arkansas||In Arkansas, several trout streams require the use of a single-pointed barbless hook.|
|California||Multiple regulations (surprise, surprise). Search for “multiple hooks” as opposed to treble hooks. There are size restrictions for treble hooks as well as weight restrictions on the types of lures that can handle them. I definitely recommend going right to the source with this state as they love their ever-changing regulations and there’s no way anyone can keep up.|
|Colorado||Regulates how many treble hooks can be used for trotlines (three). When reading their regulations, search for “common hook,” which they describe as “any hook or multiple hooks having a common shank.” Check out their regulations brochures for more information.|
|Connecticut||Connecticut considers a treble hook to be a single hook per their angling guide. There are no restrictions on their use with the exception that treble hooks are prohibited while angling for striped bass with live bait.|
|Delaware||Treble hooks are illegal in Delaware while fishing for striped bass with live bait. A circle hook must be used instead.|
|Florida||No freshwater restrictions found in Florida. Note that there are several saltwater restrictions you should be aware of as it is unlawful to fish for multiple species while fishing live or dead bait. Be careful when fishing many of Florida’s brackish streams for this reason.|
|Georgia||Georgia restricts lures on several trout streams to those with single hooks and it does appear they mean a single point by this in many cases.|
|Hawaii||Treble hooks are illegal in Hawaii in the Kōke‘e Public Fishing Area.|
|Idaho||Treble hooks are illegal while fishing for salmon in the Clearwater River in South Fork, Idaho.|
|Illinois||Illinois has minor restrictions such as the size of treble hooks (maximum size of 5/0).|
|Indiana||In Indiana, double and treble hooks are allowed only on artificial lures and shall not exceed 3/8 inch from point to shank. Some rivers in Indiana only allow treble hooks on artificial lures.|
|Iowa||No restrictions in Iowa except when attempting to snag a fish. Then, “You cannot use a hook larger than a 5/0 treble hook or measuring more than 1 ¼ inches long when two of the hook points are placed on a ruler.”|
|Kansas||No restrictions on treble hooks in Kansas though they must be barbless if using them to snag for paddlefish.|
|Kentucky||While treble hooks aren’t illegal in most places in Kentucky, there are a few select catch and release brook trout streams that only allow lures with a single hook attached (Dog Fork – Wolfe County, Parched Corn Creek – Wolfe County, Shillalah Creek – Bell County, outside the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park|
|Louisiana||No freshwater restrictions against treble hooks found in Louisiana.|
|Maine||There are restrictions on multiple streams that don’t allow treble hooks. Note that Maine’s rules are quite confusing as “single baited hook” can be a treble hook per their definitions, however they distinguish between “single hook” and “treble hook” several times in their pamphlet. When in doubt, call a game warden.|
|Maryland||Treble hooks are illegal in Maryland in Trophy Trout Fishing Areas. Further, treble hooks are prohibited when targeting striped bass with live bait.|
|Massachusetts||Treble hooks are illegal in Massachusetts when fishing for striped bass with natural bait. No other restrictions found, though I note Mass has followed the “Boston Theory of Street Layout” and made it near-impossible to find a .pdf download of their angling guide.|
|Michigan||Multiple rivers and streams throughout Michigan prohibit the use of treble hooks. Additionally, there are size restrictions on treble hooks in general (3/8-inch or less from point to shank).|
|Minnesota||Minnesota prohibits treble hooks on Lake Superior tributary streams. If you’re fishing within 100 yards of the mouth of a Lake Superior tributary stream, you can only use one rod with a treble hook (so beware if you’re trolling). In addition, there are a few trout streams where you must use a lure with a single hook.|
|Mississippi||Treble hooks are illegal in several Mississippi spillways, but only if using live bait (one can use artificial lures with treble hooks on them lawfully).|
|Missouri||No freshwater restrictions against treble hooks found in Missouri.|
|Montana||Montana fishing regulations prohibit treble hooks on multiple sections of the Flathead river. They are also discouraged for anyone intended to practice catch and release.|
|Nebraska||No restrictions found, but then again Nebraska went all fancy instead of going for an easily-searchable .pdf – so call your game warden in case I missed something!|
|Nevada||In areas requiring a single barbless hook, treble hooks do not qualify, even if their barbs are pinched down per the Nevada fishing regulations.|
|New Hampshire||New Hampshire fishing regulations restrict the use of treble hooks in several instances. For example, during certain times of the year, treble hooks are prohibited while fishing with bait on certain lake trouts and salmon lakes. Additionally, there are some streams where only flies or single-hooked lures can be utilized.|
|New Jersey||New Jersey fishing regulations restrict the size of treble hooks that can be used while ice fishing. Though this is assuming that “burr” is New Jersey’s way of saying “shank.” Here’s exactly what it says: “or one burr of three hooks that measure not more than ½-inch from point to shaft.”|
|New Mexico||It’s illegal to use treble hooks on certain Special Trout Waters in New Mexico. These areas instead require a single barbless hook.|
|New York||Circle hooks required when fishing for striped bass with bait. Additionally, treble hooks are illegal in several streams and tributaries in New York.|
|North Carolina||Certain rivers and streams in North Carolina require the use of a single barbless hook. Additionally, several streams and rivers only allow a “single hook.” Note that in their regulations, North Carolina defines “single hook” as “a fish hook with only one point,” thus, treble hooks would be illegal.|
|North Dakota||No restrictions found. Also, props to North Dakota for having some of the more angler-friendly fishing regulations I’ve seen.|
|Ohio||Treble hooks are prohibited in several rivers as well as on set lines and float lines in Ohio.|
|Oklahoma||Oklahoma restricts treble hooks from certain sections of the Lower Illinois River however it seems if you’re targeting species besides trout, you’re OK? I’m not sure I’d chance it.|
|Oregon||Per Oregon’s Fishing Regulations, “Barbless hooks and or single point hooks may be required when angling for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or trout in certain waterbodies.” Check the link and angling guide for exactly which ones as they are extensive.|
|Pennsylvania||Pennsylvania prohibits the use of treble hooks while fishing for any species with live or cut bait in the Delaware River estuary.|
|Rhode Island||Portions of the Falls River in Rhode Island are “no kill” or “catch and release” and require the use of a single barbless hook.|
|South Carolina||Treble hooks are illegal in South Carolina on certain trout streams where artificial lures with a single hook are required.|
|South Dakota||No freshwater restrictions against treble hooks found in South Dakota.|
|Tennessee||Many trout streams in Tennessee require a single hook point for fishing. Additionally, single hooks are required when fishing with jugs.|
|Texas||No freshwater restrictions against treble hooks found in Texas.|
|Utah||No freshwater restrictions against treble hooks found in Utah.|
|Vermont||Vermont restricts treble hooks in Noyes Pond (Seyon Pond).|
|Virginia||Virginia prohibits treble hooks in several trout streams, however they do consider a treble hook that had 2 of its hook points removed to be a “single-point hook.”|
|Washington||Per Washington’s fishing regulations, “Single-point barbless hooks are required in areas designated as ‘fly fishing only’ or ‘selective gear rules.’”|
|West Virginia||West Virginia requires that treble hooks be barbless in catch and release waters.|
|Wisconsin||No freshwater restrictions against treble hooks found in Wisconsin.|
|Wyoming||No freshwater restrictions against treble hooks found in Wyoming.|
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, nor am I Nostradamus. This chart is based on my interpretation of laws and regulations I have gone and read. I have no way of knowing when any of the above states will change their laws, so I certainly advise that you double check with a fish and wildlife officer prior to getting in trouble. This chart does not absolve you of the responsibility of knowing your local laws. If you’re aware of a law that has changed, please email me and I’ll be happy to update this chart. Thank you.
Treble Hook FAQ
Now that I’ve explained what treble hooks are and what states prohibit them, let’s talk about some frequently asked questions regarding these little devil tridents.
Are Treble Hooks Good for Fishing?
Yes, treble hooks are good for fishing, so long as they’re used appropriately. Their thin wire hook points easily penetrate most species mouths which allows fish to be hooked more easily than with traditional j-style hooks. However, this same thin design does make it easier for the hooks to rip out of a fish’s mouth if they aren’t played carefully. Most treble hooks require a sweep set for this reason – if you try and set the hook with too much power you can easily rip it free from the fish’s mouth.
Are Treble Hooks Good for Bass?
Treble hooks are great for fishing for bass, and as a result treble hooks are featured on many bass lures such as crankbaits, jerkbaits, and topwater plugs. It can be easier to hook a bass with treble hooks because there are three points ready to connect and you don’t need as forceful of a hookset. Bass often hook themselves when they bite treble hooked lures as the mere act of chomping down and then turning their head is often enough to stick them.
Bass are also far easier to unhook a treble hook from than some other fish. Their wide mouths lack any real teeth, which enables you to get a good grip with one hand while you retrieve your lure with pliers held by the other. There’s no need for a mouth spreader or the like. Further, bass are fairly easy to subdue once hooked and held, so it is easier to remove a treble hook from their mouth than from a fish like a pickerel that wildly thrashes.
Can You Use Treble Hooks for Catfish?
There used to be many catfish stinkbait hooks and rigs that used treble hooks. While you can still find them, they aren’t as prevalent as I remember them being years ago. It’s easy to see why. Several states prohibit the use of treble hooks while fishing with live or cut bait. Both are routinely used for catfish. What good is a hook that you can’t use for the fishing technique you want to use?
In areas where it is legal to use a treble hook with cut or live bait, treble hooks are certainly great for catching catfish you intend to eat. I would steer clear of them if you intend to release the fish alive, as it will be very problematic if they swallow them. It’s hard enough to remove a regular hook from a fish after it swallows it, much less a treble hook.
Can You Use Treble Hooks for Trout?
Many states specifically prohibit the use of treble hooks for trout. In several states, treble hooks are fine everywhere except places where you are likely to catch a trout. This is to try and reduce mortality rates among this important, fragile, and economically important species. Even if a state does not specifically prohibit the use of treble hooks for trout, you should consider using a single hook instead.
Can You Put a Worm on a Treble Hook?
You can put a worm on a treble hook but you need to remember that a worm is “live bait”. It is illegal to fish with live bait on a treble hook in several states. Make sure that you check your local regulations before you try this. You would need to get a little creative with how you hooked the worm on a treble hook, but there’s no reason it can’t be done. Consider hooking it on 1-2 points for a more natural presentation. Leave a good length of the tail dangling free where it can wriggle and entice a fish to bite.
Are Treble Hooks Bad for Fish?
Judging by the overwhelming number of states that ban treble hooks when fishing with live bait for striped bass, when fishing in trout streams, or when fishing with cut bait, it’s safe to say that treble hooks are bad for fish. While there isn’t much harm in your crankbait having treble hooks, the reason so many states made it illegal to use treble hooks with any type of live or cut bait is because the instant that hook is swallowed, that fish’s chance of survival plummets.
This doesn’t matter if you’re after fish for table fare, but if you intend to practice catch and release, you should never use a treble hook with live bait. When swallowed, they are incredibly difficult to dislodge without killing the fish or causing it immense harm.
Are Treble Hooks Dangerous?
Because they will stand up rather than falling harmlessly flat, treble hooks are much more dangerous than regular hooks with only one point. To make matters worse, treble hooks tend to be thin and extremely sharp which makes it easier for them to penetrate flesh. While this is great for catching fish, it’s terrible if your fishing partner snags you. You are much more likely to be accidentally hooked by a crankbait than a spinnerbait.
For this reason, I have long-since railed against using treble hooks while fishing with children. Little kids don’t make the most accurate casts, and don’t have the best grasp of personal space (meaning they might sneak up into your cast). You’ll note that whenever I talk about safety tips for fishing with kids, I caution against treble hooks. This is because they are always a danger – whether they’re being cast or simply laying down, a hook is always exposed. In this way, they’re very much like a “rusty nail from hell” that can jab you at any moment!
Treble Hook Covers
If you’re worried about getting poked by a treble hook (or just want to have an easier time getting them out of your tackle box), you might consider buying some treble hook covers. These are little treble hook protectors meant to cover up the hook points so they don’t jab anything or anyone by accident. They’re an inexpensive option and while I trust most people aren’t at too much risk of hooking themselves with a treble hook while it’s still in their tackle box, these do make tackle organization much easier. Without a treble hook cover, I find that all my treble hook lures quickly become a tangled mess. These treble hook protectors fix that issue at least. You can click on the photo to check them out further on Amazon.
Barbless Treble Hooks
Another option is to pinch down the barbs on your treble hooks. As seen in the state guide above, some states are OK with treble hooks so long as they don’t have barbs. You can pinch them down yourself with some pliers, or you can buy barbless treble hooks directly from the store. Frankly, I’d recommend the latter. Treble hooks are very thin to begin with and you might damage them trying to pinch the barbs down. You’re better off just buying them from the store and not having to worry about damaging them by accident while trying to be compliant. You don’t have to worry about quality, either. You can buy rock solid barbless treble hooks like Mustad KVD Elite Triple Grips.
Does a Treble Hook Count as One Hook?
While multiple states limit the number of “hooks” that any angler can use, I’ve yet to find a state that doesn’t consider a single jerkbait to be “one” hook, despite the lure having as many as three. Rest assured, if there were states that didn’t allow bass anglers to throw crankbaits or jerkbaits because of the “one hook” rule, we’d all know about it.
With that said, it is a little confusing, apparently, so several legislatures have tried to clarify the matter. For example, in Colorado they define the term “common hook” to be “any hook or multiple hooks sharing a common shank.”
Other states apparently consider treble hooks “one hook” — until they don’t. Take Arizona for example. There’s nothing that says a treble hook isn’t “one” hook until you start looking at various trout streams that require a “single-pointed barbless hook.” But, here the “single-pointed” is the giveaway that treble hooks aren’t in compliance.
Should You Replace Treble Hooks?
If you are fishing with the intention of releasing the fish you catch, you should consider replacing your treble hooks with single hooks. Single hooks are far easier to remove from fish than treble hooks, so the mortality rate of the fish you catch will decrease. Single hooks are also much safer for fishing with children or other beginners who can’t cast accurately.
If you’re intent on replacing your treble hooks, you’ll need a good pair of split ring pliers. These are pliers that have a little knob on the end that catches in the middle of the split ring, allowing it to open. The photo below illustrates the knob well. This particular model comes with a line cutter and is saltwater resistant, making it a useful multitool.
What Are the Best Treble Hooks?
This is a difficult question to answer. The best treble hook is going to depend on what you need to use it for. Several states restrict the size of treble hooks, so there is that to consider. Also, you need to think about what lure you’re attaching it to. Some jerkbaits and especially topwater lures can have their action dramatically affected by a different size of treble hook. Therefore, if you want to go and buy some higher-quality treble hooks to replace what your gear came with, you should consider getting ones that are a similar size.
There are a few companies that have a great reputation for producing quality treble hooks.
- Trokar – A high-end division of Eagle Claw, Trokar is renowned for their surgically sharpened hooks. I like to buy Trokar fishing hooks whenever they go on sale. Here’s an example of a Trokar treble hook that works well.
- Mustad – Anything with the KVD branding is going to be quality. Mustad Ultrapoint KVD Elite Series treble hooks would make a great replacement hook.
- Gamakatsu – This is a trusted brand known to make high-end hardware. Several expensive fishing lures are so priced because they come with Gamakatsu hooks out of the package.
What Is Snagging Fish?
Ok, so we’ve talked about treble hooks. Now let’s talk about one of the more nefarious ways people use them. Snagging a fish is when you hook it outside of its mouth. Sometimes referred to as foul-hooking, it’s usually done by accident, often while fishing lures like jerkbaits that are retrieved with what basically amounts to a series of small, sharp hook sets.
However, there are some people who try to deliberately snag fish by using a weighted hook (and it’s almost always going to be a treble hook). These folks make a cast past a fish and try to set the hook into it to snag it. The most infamous person to do so was probably a gentleman once lauded as a big bass specialist but who has since fallen from grace. If you haven’t read that story, here’s the link to The Dark Secret of “American’s Big Bass Guru.” It’s truly a magnificent piece of journalism.
Is Snagging Fish Illegal?
According to an article at FishingDuo.com, snagging fish is illegal in most states. The overwhelming majority prohibit snagging gamefish in all but a select few waters. According to that article’s research, only Mississippi and Arkansas allow a “snagging free for all” without any caveat to where or how you can employ the technique.
That same article found that significantly more states allow you to attempt to snag “rough fish.” What exactly constitutes a rough fish is going to change state by state, but it often includes species like gar, carp, freshwater drum and the like. Make sure to check your local regulations before you go off trying to snag something (you could also read my article on the basic skills you need to take a kid fishing and go catch them the right way)!
What About Foul Hooked Fish? Can You Keep Them?
As mentioned earlier, most fish are snagged accidentally, usually while fishing some sort of lure that has a treble hook on it. Can you keep a fish that is foul hooked in such a way? Well, that depends on your state. The technical answer is going to be to follow your state’s snagging laws. If a snagging a fish is illegal in a state, then so is foul hooking, and you need to release the fish immediately.
Granted, it would take a very bored prosecutor to go after a guy who kept a fish that was snagged in the head, but outside the mouth. We know fish strike at lures and sometimes miss by inches. We also know that treble hooks are so good at hooking fish, that missing by inches is often close enough. Some states, like North Dakota, have attempted to rectify this and give anglers a break by stating, “for fish hooked by a lure with multiple hooks, the fish is not considered foul-hooked if at least one of the hooks is embedded from gill covers forward.” (see page 4 of their 2020-2022 angler guide). Not every state is so enlightened.
The bottom line is the law is the law. While B.A.S.S. is apparently lobbying to have certain laws regarding snagged fish changed, while they remain on the books they must be followed. If you keep a fish that didn’t take the lure in the mouth, and you’re fishing in a state or waterbody that prohibits this, you are breaking the law. Plain and simple.
Can You Keep a Foul Hooked Fish in a Tournament?
You can only keep a foul hooked fish in a tournament if both the state law and the tournament rules allow it. Remember that the state law is always going to take precedence over any tournament regulations. There are very few states that allow gamefish to be snagged or foul hooked in the first place, so chances are that you must release the fish.
Conclusion: Treble Hooks are Only Illegal Sometimes in Some Places
As seen, treble hooks are only illegal in some states and in certain conditions. By and large, there is nothing wrong with using a treble hook on most ponds or lakes while you’re fishing for bass. Instead, you’ll find yourself in trouble if you try using them on many trout streams. You should also make sure you know the local regulations when fishing with live or cut bait, as there are several state and federal laws that prohibit treble hooks while fishing live bait. You should also consider using a single hook vs. a treble hook when you’re fishing with kids, or if you’re just out to catch and release a bunch of fish. Treble hooks are more dangerous than single hooks for humans and fish, so use them sparingly.