How to Get a Fishing License in US

Almost all states require you to have some type of fishing license in public waters; these licenses may seem a trivial nuisance, but they actually serve a number of important purposes.

They primarily help inform and bolster conservation efforts and prevent over-fishing, and a majority of the revenue generated by these licenses goes towards the maintenance of public fishing areas and local aquatic populations.

Many states often require separate licenses for certain types of fishing; for example, the licenses required for freshwater, salt water, and catch and release can all be different. Some states also require species or area-specific licenses, as is the case when fishing in protected areas or for highly sought-after species, such as sturgeon, trout, or salmon. To complicate matters even further, each state has its own licensing procedures and regulations, meaning that a license issued in one state will likely not be honored in another.

To help simplify the process, we have compiled information about the licensing procedures in some of the top fishing destinations in the United States; the list below outlines licensing requirements and information for the top ten fishing states. If you’re looking for a state that’s not listed, try checking with their Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources, or Wildlife and Game.

Alaska Fishing License           

The state of Alaska requires residents over the age of 18 and non-residents over the age of 16 to purchase an Alaska fishing license for commercial, personal, and sport fishing. When sport fishing for species that have a seasonal or annual limit, everyone is required to record their catches on the Sport Fishing Harvest Record Card, which can be downloaded for free from the Department of Fish and Game’s website. Additionally, those who plan to sport fish for King Salmon will need to purchase the King Salmon stamp separately.

An Alaska fishing license can be purchased online, and fees differ for certain groups; state residents over the age of 60 and disabled veterans can get one free of charge after completing the application, and blind state residents can get their sport fishing license for $0.50. For non-military, non-impaired state residents, sport fishing licenses can be purchased for $29.00, and non-residents must pay $145.00. All resident licenses are good for one calendar year, and non-resident licenses are good for a set amount of days, not to exceed two weeks.

Washington State Fishing License 

Washington State boasts a huge variety of fish and marine life in its many miles of estuaries, rivers, lakes, sounds, and shoreline. As such, they have a lot of different fishing licenses and endorsements, so it is important to decide what and where you will be fishing for before you get started. If you plan on needing more than one license, there are some bundled or combination licenses that will cover more than one area or species and will save you money in the long run.

A Washington State fishing license can be bought online from the Department of Fish and Wildlife; youths under 15, disabled residents, and non-resident disabled veterans can purchase a special combination license at a discounted price. Aside from the combo license, there are separate freshwater, saltwater, shellfish, razor clam, and Columbia River Salmon licenses. Fishers can buy daily or annual licenses, with prices being lower for state residents.

Texas Fishing License

With hundreds of miles of shoreline and the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas has a lot of unique fishing opportunities for both salt and freshwater fishing. A Texas fishing license is required with a specific fresh or saltwater endorsement for anyone over the age of 17 to remove any aquatic life from public waters. There are separate licenses for fishing in border and federal waters.

Texas is unique in that it also has many free fishing opportunities; the first Saturday of every June is a statewide free fishing day, and all state parks have free fishing all year round.

The state offers combo license packages as well as special discount licenses for seniors, the blind, and active duty military members and their families. Residents and non-residents may buy day pass licenses, which come with a free red drum tag. State residents may also purchase a yearlong license, which is good for the next 12 calendar months. Those wishing to fish in both the Oklahoma and Texas waters of Lake Texoma only need to buy the Lake Texoma License, which is valid until December 31.

Colorado Fishing License

Since Colorado is a landlocked state, it only has freshwater fishing. Luckily, this means the licensing process in this state is therefore generally more straightforward than in others. Individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 must have a Colorado fishing license, and those over the age of 18 must also purchase a Habitat Stamp with the first license purchase of the year. Stamps are $10 apiece, and only need to be bought once a year.

Residents and non-residents have the choice of an annual or one day license, and non-residents have the additional option to buy a 5-day pass. The license year runs from April 1st to March 31st of the following year, and fishers may purchase their licenses online, over the phone, or in any Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife office.

North Carolina Fishing License

North Carolina is one of the most popular fishing destinations on the east coast thanks to its wide variety of aquatic ecosystems. The string of barrier islands off its coast – The Outer Banks – creates a lot of saltwater marshes and sounds between the islands and the mainland that are perfect for fishing. They also provide easy access to the open ocean for those interested in saltwater fishing. The state also has many freshwater fishing spots in the mountains and low-lying areas further inland.

The state requires all anglers over the age of 16 to purchase a North Carolina fishing license, which can be bought online, over the phone, or from select wildlife service agents. It should be noted that for certain locations and species, you may need to purchase an additional “privilege” along with the basic annual or short-term license. For example, if you wished to fish in designated trout waters, you would need to purchase the trout privilege. Both residents and non-residents can choose from a short-term, annual, or a lifetime North Carolina fishing license, and there are cheaper licenses available for the disabled and seniors.

Montana Fishing License          

Montana requires a license to fish in any state waters, and often requires anglers to buy three licenses: a conservation license, the AIS Prevention Pass, and a Montana fishing license.

The conservation license is required before one is able to purchase a fishing license, and the funds are put towards some of Montana’s many conservation efforts, including some in Yellowstone National Park. The funds from the AIS Prevention Pass go towards the fight against invasive aquatic species, which have flourished in Montana in recent years and threaten many native species. Once you have the conservation license and AIS Prevention Pass, you can purchase a Montana fishing license which will be valid from March 1st to the last day of February the following year.

Both resident and non-resident licenses can be purchased online or from any Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) office or official FWP provider. Non-residents have the option to choose between a 2 day, 10 day, or whole season license, and resident licenses are valid for one year. Anglers must also purchase species specific tags if they plan to fish for Bull Trout or Paddlefish and must report their catches on game cards.

Wisconsin Fishing License

With all the Great Lake shoreline on the state’s north and eastern borders, Wisconsin is a great place to go fishing. The state is a big supporter of the recreational fishing industry and offers many incentives for people to fish in their waters.

For example, children under the age of 15 and seniors born before 1927 do not need any license, and neither do active duty military members who are state residents. There is also a reward program for residents that gives them points every time they refer someone new to purchase a Wisconsin fishing license. These points can be put towards the cost of any license of their choice.

Licenses can be purchased from most Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource offices, as well as online from Go Wild. Anglers who wish to fish for sturgeon, trout, or Great Lake Salmon must purchase an additional species or area specific stamp, but those are the only additional licenses that one might require. Stamps can be bought individually or in combination packages. The state also offers discounted licenses for seniors, veterans, and the disabled.

Illinois Fishing License          

With the Mississippi river valley in the south and the Great Lakes in the north, it is little wonder that Illinois is such a popular fishing destination. The state is well known for their salmon populations in Lake Michigan, as well their inland trout fishing spots. They are also a major source of mussels, minnows, and roe – as such, they have a variety of licenses to cover everything that one might need. Illinois requires anglers to purchase separate stamps for fishing in waters designated for Inland Trout and Lake Michigan Salmon.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a very helpful chart on their website that lays out all the different licenses available, as well as their costs and where they can be purchased. They offer many combination licenses as well as discounted rates for the elderly, disabled, active duty military, and veterans. An Illinois fishing license can be purchased online, although some commercial licenses do have paper applications. Residents can purchase annual or lifetime licenses, and non-residents have the option to a 1 day, 3 day, or annual pass.

Oregon Fishing License

There are many fantastic fishing spots all along the Oregon coast, as well as in the lakes and streams of the mountains further inland. The state of Oregon requires all anglers over the age of 12 to have a license, although there is a special youth license for those between the ages of 12 and 17. Because hunting is also very popular in the state, they offer many combination packages for hunting and fishing including one that also comes with the Columbia River Basin Endorsement, which is needed for hunting or fishing in any part of the Columbia River Basin.

The state also requires anglers to purchase species specific tags, and again offers many combination packages. Tags are required for any shellfish – including clam digging – salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, halibut, or to remove fish from any hatchery. They offer 1, 2, 3, and 7-day licenses, as well as the regular annual license, and discounted rates for the elderly, disabled, and veterans. They also offer discounts to anyone in the uniformed services, not just exclusively the active duty members. Oregon will be rolling out an online licensing system in 2019 that allows anglers to purchase them through secure apps, but for now, an Oregon fishing license can be purchased online or in any Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office.

Arizona Fishing License

Arizona might seem like a strange fishing destination at first thought, with its endless deserts and arid landscapes. However, it is actually home many large national forests and one of the largest lakes in the southwestern United States: Lake Mead. Then of course, there is also the Colorado River that flows through the Grand Canyon in the northern part of the state; both bodies of water offer excellent fishing for anglers of all skill levels.

Arizona requires all anglers over the age of 10 – except those who are blind – to have a license. They do not require any special species-specific tags and have many combination packages for both hunting and fishing licenses. The licenses are good from July 1st to June 30th of the following year, or for the agreed upon period, if purchasing a short-term license. Short-term licenses can be bought for $15 a day for state residents, and $20 a day for non-residents. An Arizona fishing license can be purchased online or in any Department of Game and Fish office.

Michael Holding
 

Michael is an outdoor adventurer and a kayaking enthusiast who loves to share his experiences with others. He is the Chief Editor at XgearHub.

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