Fishing License 101: Do You Need a Fishing License?
Every state in America requires fishing licenses for anglers, whether you’re fishing from your boat, you’ve decided to rent a fishing boat, or you’re standing on the shore. Although there are exceptions for certain individuals, the general answer to “Do I need a fishing license?” is yes.
- Why do you need a fishing license?
- How do I get a fishing license?
- How much does it cost to get a fishing license?
- Exceptions to the fishing license requirement
States have their own specific regulations, and sometimes particular waterways or species have additional licensing requirements. So before you go fishing, read this post for key information and sources to comply with the law wherever you’ll be fishing.
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Why do you need a fishing license?
Why should you need a license to go fishing in the first place? The first and most obvious answer is that it’s the law. Beyond that, however, fishing license revenues pay for fisheries enforcement agencies, restoration projects, stocking programs, and more.
Plus, in order to know how to best manage different fisheries, the authorities need to know how many people participate in them. So, there are good reasons for having fishing licenses, and anglers enjoy better fishing as a result.
Endorsements are a great example. In many states, anglers catching trout are required to spend a few extra dollars to purchase an additional “trout stamp” endorsement with their license.
In most cases, the funds those stamps generate go directly to trout hatcheries run by the state, where they raise thousands of fish that get released into the waterways for anglers like us to enjoy catching.
How do I get a fishing license?
Most states allow licenses to be sold by dealers at bait and tackle shops, but nowadays, it’s very easy to purchase one online.
A good resource is the Take Me Fishing Get a Fishing License page, which has state-by-state links to online license sales pages and a synopsis of the types of licenses needed and exemptions. You’ll generally need a form of ID and a credit card to purchase the license.
Remember, buying a fishing license isn’t paying a fee as much as it’s making a contribution to the fisheries. Without fishing licenses, there’s no doubt we’d all have a lot fewer fish to catch.
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How much does it cost to get a fishing license?
Just how much will a fishing license cost you? It will vary by state, as well as freshwater versus saltwater, and residents versus non-residents. Non-resident licenses are typically pricer, but temporary licenses are also offered at lower rates for short periods of time like one day, a week, or 10 days.
The least expensive state fishing license you’ll see is Hawaii’s, which costs $6 for an annual resident freshwater fishing license (versus $4 for a minor, $26 for a non-resident annual, or $11 for a non-resident seven-day license).
Hawaii doesn’t have a separate saltwater fishing license. At the other end of the spectrum, New Hampshire charges $45 for a resident’s annual freshwater fishing license and $63 for a non-resident but also offers one-day licenses at $10 and $15, respectively.
Saltwater licenses are a separate $11 purchase for either residents or non-residents. And some other states combine saltwater and freshwater into a single “sport fishing” license. In California, for example, residents can purchase a single annual license for $58.58 (non-residents $158.25), which covers both venues.
And to make things even more confusing, water bodies sometimes form the border between two states. Some states have license reciprocity in these cases, but others may not.
READ MORE: 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Fishing Trip When Renting a Boat
Exceptions to the fishing license requirement
In most states, kids under a certain age limit (commonly 16 or 18) don’t need to purchase a license, though, in others, they do. Many states also have exceptions for senior citizens and/or the disabled. Most also either don’t require a license or offer one at a reduced rate for active military and/or veterans.
It’s important to note that in some states, when an adult takes a kid fishing, he or she may not need a license of their own. As long as it’s the child who’s actively fishing, not the adult, the adult doesn’t have to get one.
However, if the adult participates by doing things like baiting the hook, casting the line, and removing the fish, they may enter something of a gray area.
Natural resources police and game wardens generally have some amount of discretion in deciding whether an adult is just helping a kid or is actively fishing themselves, so if you plan to participate at all, the safest move is to go ahead and get that license.
Many states also hold “free fishing” days. On those days, fishing licenses aren’t required, so you can cast a line without one!
In some cases, these are limited to specific waterways, but in others, they may apply state-wide. These are generally intended to give people who don’t fish the opportunity to try it out— and, hopefully, get hooked.
For more information on getting your fishing license, visit U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
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With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.