Know Before You Go: Fishing Licenses
Last Updated: July 31st, 2023
By: Taira Jordan
If you’re ready to start your fishing season, you may find yourself wondering, “what fishing license do I really need and what are all these additional permits?” Simply put, a fishing license is required for any person attempting to take fish, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates or amphibians from any public fresh or saltwater body of water. Even if you do not catch fish, you still need to have a valid fishing license for the state in which you are fishing on you or in your immediate vicinity. Failure to do so could result in a fine and possibly other repercussions as dictated by state or local laws. For bodies of water shared by one or more states, such as Lake Tahoe, a fishing license from any of the bordering states will serve as a valid fishing license.
For your convenience, Big 5 stores in all states except for Arizona have in-store terminals connected to the state’s department that manages fishing licenses. These in-store terminals allow for easy in-store printing of fishing licenses by state residents and non-residents alike. You can simply choose and purchase your fishing license in-store, print it out at the terminal and be on the water in no time! Customers in Arizona are able to purchase their fishing licenses online directly through the Arizona Game & Fish Department.
When buying a fishing license, each state has a special price for their residents and a different, higher price for non-residents. As residency rules differ by state, check the state’s residency requirements to see if you can be considered a resident before purchasing your fishing license. You will need to provide your social security number and show your state issued ID or another acceptable form of identification such as a passport, green card, military ID or foreign ID when purchasing a fishing license. Children younger than the state specified minimum age for a fishing license do not need to buy a fishing license but may be required to buy additional permits or validations.
Once you have your fishing license (see further down for state specific regulations) be sure to familiarize yourself with the state and local laws regarding the following:
- The type of gear that is allowed in the body of water that you will be fishing and if any additional permits are required. Most states require an additional permit when using more than one rod.
- Research the type of bait that is permitted in the area that you will be fishing. Many fresh water areas do not allow the use of live bait and the transportation of bait fish from one body of water to another is usually prohibited.
- Know the daily bag and possession limits for specific species. The bag limit is the maximum number of a specific species that you may catch and keep in one 24 hour period. Once you catch a fish and do not release it, it is part of your daily bag limit regardless of whether you give it to someone else. The possession limit is the total amount you may legally possess at one time and is often double the daily bag limit.
- To promote sustainable fishing and protect certain species, some fish must be released immediately after being caught. All endangered species must be released and failure to do so could result in hefty fines and possible jail time. In some areas, length limits are enforced to protect juvenile fish.
Anyone older than 10 years old must have a valid fishing license when fishing in Arizona, except where permitted by law. Blind residents do not need a fishing license and complimentary licenses are available to residents who qualify as Pioneer, age 70 and older who have lived in Arizona for at least 25 years, or Disabled veterans who have at least a year of Arizona residency. Boy Scouts who have achieved Eagle Scout and Girl Scouts who have completed their Gold Award are eligible for a reduced fee license through the calendar year of their 20th birthday.
In Arizona, a fishing license can be bought on its own or as a combination hunting and fishing license. The licenses can be bought for a year, which are valid for one year from the date of purchase, or as a daily license. Those who buy the combination hunting and fishing license must adhere to Arizona’s hunting rules and regulations when hunting. In terms of fishing, special stamps are no longer needed to fish specific species or use two fishing poles; the privileges of the former stamps are now bundled together in the Arizona fishing license.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Arizona please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
In California, individuals over the age of 16 need to have a valid sport fishing license but reduced fee and free licenses are available to certain individuals. All disabled veterans and recovering service members, regardless of their California residency, and low-income California resident seniors are eligible to apply for a reduced fee sport fishing license. Low income Native Americans as well as the blind, developmentally disabled and mobility impaired can receive a free sport fishing license.
Annual licenses are valid for 365 days from the date of purchase and are less expensive for residents compared to non-residents. Conversely, the one and two-day fishing licenses are the same price for residents and non-residents. Lifetime fishing licenses are available for those who intend to fish year after year. The fee for lifetime fishing licenses is variable based on age, with the youngest and oldest paying the least for their fishing licenses.
Before fishing in California, check to see if you need to purchase any additional Report Cards or validations for your gear or the species you intend to fish. Report Cards, which are additional permits in California, are needed to fish steelhead, sturgeon, abalone, spiny lobster and salmon in certain areas. Additionally, you need an Ocean Enhancement Validation to fish ocean waters south of Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County or a Second Rod Validation to use two rods in inland waters. Any additional validations or report cards can be purchased at your local Big 5 store in addition to fishing licenses.
Report Cards have specific instructions independent of fishing licenses that must be followed to avoid additional penalties and fees. There are fishing seasons for Report Card fish and during these fishing seasons, you must tag and report all abalone and sturgeon catches and report all spiny lobster catches. This reporting of catches helps fisheries management track catches and maintain sustainable fishing conditions. All report cards, except for spiny lobster, must be mailed in with a report of your season catches, if applicable, by January 31st of the following year and spiny lobster report cards must be mailed in by April 30th. Failure to return your report card will incur a fee that will be collected the next time you apply for a report card. A report card is sometimes needed even when a fishing license is not. Children under 16 years old do not need a fishing license but they do need a valid report card if they fish a restricted specifies. Additionally, a fishing license is not needed for fishing off a public ocean pier but a spiny lobster report card is needed if fishing for spiny lobster off of an ocean pier.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in California please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
Anglers ages 16 and older must have a valid fishing license when fishing in Colorado. Youth under 16 may take a full bag or up to the full possession limit without a fishing license. Fishing licenses are available to residents and non-residents as annual, valid April 1st to March 31st the following year, or daily licenses. Non-residents can also purchase a 5-day fishing license. Each fishing license includes a small fee that goes towards search-and-rescue efforts and the Wildlife Management Public Education Fund. A Habitat Stamp must be purchased once a year and is required by everyone between the ages of 18 and 64. Single day fishing licenses do not need a Habitat Stamp but anyone fishing more than one additional day will need to purchase a Habitat Stamp.
As some Colorado residents are eligible for fee exemptions or free fishing licenses, check to see if you may qualify. Colorado resident seniors age 64 and older can obtain a reduced fee fishing license; this license only requires seniors to pay the search-and-rescue and Wildlife Management Public Education Fund fee. Free lifetime low-income fishing licenses are available to eligible seniors over 64 years old. Residents currently in the armed forces may fish for free up to 30 days a year while on temporary leave in Colorado. These active duty residents do not need any form of fishing license but instead must carry their official leave papers while fishing. Disabled veterans and permanently disabled residents are also eligible for free fishing licenses.
A Colorado fishing license entitles you to use one fishing rod and a Second Rod Stamp must be obtained to use two rods. This Second Rod Stamp must be purchased each season that you plan to use two rods, is non-transferable and does not increase your bag limit. Individuals, including youths under 16 and seniors over 64, on free or reduced fee fishing licenses must often buy a Second Rod Stamp, so make sure you know the rules before you go fishing.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Colorado please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
Idaho requires all individuals 14 years and older to have a valid fishing license but the rules relating to youth anglers are different for residents and non-residents. Youth residents under the age of 14 do not need a fishing license and have their own daily bag limit of fish. Non-resident youth must fish with an adult who has a valid fishing license and their kept fish are included in the adult’s daily bag limit of fish. If a non-resident youth wishes to have their own bag limit of fish, they must purchase their own fishing license. Reduced fee licenses are available to resident juniors under the age of 18, seniors over the age of 65, disabled American Veterans, disabled persons and Idaho residents currently on a military furlough.
In 2018, Idaho raised the price of fishing licenses by 20% but residents can still buy their fishing licenses at the lower 2017 rates through the Price Lock program. The Price Lock program allows anglers who purchased a fishing license in 2017 to renew their fishing license in 2018 and the next five years or until the Price Lock program expires, at the 2017 rates. Those who did not buy a 2017 fishing license, can buy a 3-year fishing license in 2018 and pay the 2017 rate for the three years of their license.
In addition to annual and 3-year fishing licenses, daily fishing licenses and combination fishing and hunting licenses are available. The standard combination license does not include any additional hunting or fishing permits, while the Sportsman’s Combination Package includes tags for salmon, steelhead, bear, deer, elk and other larger game. If you purchase a combination license, you must also follow Idaho’s hunting rules and regulations. Those who purchase an adult annual hunting or fishing license will pay a Depredation Management/Access Fee, which will be in addition to their license fee. This fee helps to improve hunting and fishing access, while providing more resources to manage big game and impacts of depredation.
Anglers will need an additional permit when using two poles or fishing for salmon or steelhead. Youth under the age of 14 do not need a salmon or steelhead permit if fishing with a salmon or steelhead permit holder. Before fishing for salmon or steelhead, be sure you understand the rules and regulations. Many salmon species are threatened or endangered and must be released if caught. Length limits apply to certain salmon species and you must be able to tell the difference between young salmon, that cannot be harvested, and young trout, which may look alike the untrained eye.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Idaho please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
Any angler 12 years and older needs a fishing license to fish in Nevada. Non-resident youth under the age of 12 do not need a fishing license but they must fish with an adult who possesses a valid fishing license and non-resident youth may take less than 50% of the daily bag limit. Fishing licenses can be bought as annual licenses, daily permits or annual in combination with hunting licenses. Non-residents who intend to fish bodies of water that Nevada shares with other states can purchase an Interstate Boundary Water License, which is cheaper than the regular non-resident license. Nevada does not have any additional fishing permits as trout, second rod and Colorado River permissions are included in the purchase of a Nevada fishing license.
When purchasing a combination license, check to see if you need any additional game tags or permits and follow Nevada’s hunting rules and regulations while hunting. While Nevada does not offer sole reduced fee fishing licenses, reduced fee Specialty Combination licenses are available to certain individuals. Those eligible for a Specialty Combination license include Nevada resident youth under 18, seniors over 65 who have at least 5 years of Nevada residency, Native Americans, servicemen, disabled veterans and the severely disabled.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Nevada please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
While fishing in New Mexico, anglers 12 years and older need to have a valid fishing license. Reduced fee fishing licenses are available to resident and non-resident juniors younger than 18, residents with a permanent physical disability and resident seniors age 65-69. Resident seniors 70 years and older in addition to disabled veterans are eligible for a free fishing license. Free fishing licenses are not available to non-residents. Fishing licenses can be bought as annual, 1-day or 5-day licenses or in combination with a game hunting license. The combination license permits the hunting of squirrels and game birds but not turkey. When hunting in New Mexico, be sure to know and follow the state’s hunting rules and regulations. All annual licenses are valid for one year from April 1st through March 31st the following year.
Before fishing in New Mexico, check to see if you need any additional stamps or permits. In addition to a fishing license, anglers must purchase a Habitat Management and Access Validation once a year. This validation is not necessary for juniors under 18 or anyone on a free fishing license. If you plan to fish on U.S. Forest Service or BLM land, you will need a Habitat Stamp. Funds from the sale of this stamp are used for improvement and maintenance projects. The Second Rod Validation permits you to fish with two rods but does not change any bag or possession limits. Three rods may never be used. The Second Rod Validation as well as Habitat Stamp are not needed for youths under 12 years old or anyone on a free fishing license. A Gila Trout Permit is needed to fish Gila Trout in certain areas, but it is free and can be obtained at Big 5 when you buy your fishing license.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in New Mexico please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
In Oregon, everyone over the age of 12 needs to have a valid fishing license. Unlike other states, Oregon separately licenses angling and shellfish. Annual licenses can be purchased for angling, shellfish, combination angling and hunting or as a Sports Pac. The Sports Pac includes licenses for angling, shellfish and hunting as well as tags and validations for protected fish and game. For those who only plan to fish a little a year, daily fishing licenses are available. These 1-day, 2-day, 3-day or 7-day angling licenses are the same price for residents and non-residents. The price for a 3-day fishing license is more than an annual resident angling license so if you as a resident plans to fish for more than two days a year, it makes more financial sense to purchase a resident annual license.
Some Oregon anglers are eligible for reduced fee or free fishing licenses. Youths under 18 can purchase a reduced fee license, that includes angling, hunting, shellfish and the Columbia River Basin Endorsement, or a Youth Sports Pac. Senior Oregon residents who are 70 years of age and have lived in Oregon for at least five years are qualified for a Senior Angling or Combination license. For those Oregon seniors who are 65 years or older and have lived in Oregon for at least 50 years, the Pioneer license is deeply discounted and includes angling, hunting and the Columbia River Endorsement. Free licenses are available to permanently disabled Oregon residents, uniformed servicemembers and disabled veterans.
As Oregon has additional tags and endorsements to fish specific species and locales, make sure you have all required permits before you go fishing. All anglers, regardless of their age, need a Combined Angling Tag to fish for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut. Each wild salmon or steelhead that is caught must be recorded on your Combined Angling Tag and your total catches for these two species cannot exceed twenty fish in a calendar year. The angler who keeps the fish, not the one who hooks the fish, must record the catch on their tag. Hatchery salmon and steelhead must be recorded on either a Combined Angling Tag or a Hatchery Harvest Tag. Only hatchery fish may be recorded on a Hatchery Harvest Tag and this tag is included, free of charge, with any annual or daily angling license. If you plan to fish for salmon, steelhead or sturgeon in the Columbia River, the Columbia River Basin Endorsement permits you to fish in the Columbia River and all its river tributaries. Permits to harvest abalone and scallops are available free of charge and can be obtained when you purchase your fishing license.
To fish with more than one line, the Two-Rod Validation permits anglers to use two lines in certain bodies of water. You may use the Two-Rod Validation to fish in standing bodies of water such as lakes, ponds and reservoirs and it is allowed, only when authorized, in certain streams. When ice fishing, this validation permits anglers to use up to five lives. More than one line may never be used in ocean waters within three miles of the shore or in the Columbia River Basin. As there are very specific rules relating to the use of this validation, it is always best to check local laws before fishing with more than one line.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Oregon please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
Anyone 17 years or older needs a fishing license when fishing in Texas. A valid fishing license is required to take all aquatic species except for turtles or frogs, which require a valid hunting license. When buying a fishing license, decide whether you will be fishing in freshwater, saltwater or both. The state sells freshwater, saltwater, all-water and combination fishing and hunting licenses. For a basic combination license, the Combo License package is available to residents and has a variable price based on which type of water you choose for fishing. The Super Combo Hunting and All-Water Fishing Package is also for residents and includes hunting, fishing and all five state endorsement tags for fishing. If you are a resident who plans to fish in Texas year after year, the Lifetime Fishing or Lifetime Combination License can be purchased with a one-time fee and will provide state endorsement tags, free of charge, every year. When using a combination license, you must understand and follow Texas’ hunting rules and regulations in addition to Texas’ fishing laws.
Prior to fishing, make sure you have all licenses and endorsements necessary for your intended activities. Fishing licenses can be bought as an annual license valid from the date of sale through August 31st, as an annual resident license valid for a year from the date of purchase or as a daily license. All fishing licenses include at least one endorsement, freshwater or saltwater, and additional endorsements can be bought at any time. A Red Drum Tag is included in the purchase of a saltwater fishing license and permits an angler to take one red drum over the maximum length per license year. Saltwater anglers also have the option of buying a Saltwater Trotline Tag or an Individual Bait Shrimp Trawl Tag.
Some Texas residents are eligible for free or reduced fee fishing licenses. Texas senior residents who are 65 years and older can get a reduced fee license. Free fishing licenses up to and including the Super Combo Fishing and Hunting Package are available to active duty Texas residents currently on temporarily military leave and disabled veterans. Additionally, residents who are mentally disabled do not need a fishing license while fishing if they are participating in fishing as an approved therapy and they are in the company of a caregiver.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Texas please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
The state of Utah requires all anglers 12 years and older to have a valid fishing license. Reduced fee licenses are available to Utah residents under the age of 18, over the age of 65 or disabled veterans. Anglers have the option of purchasing a year, multi-year, 3-day or 7-day fishing license. Combination hunting and fishing licenses are also available that combine a basic hunting license with a fishing license. Basic hunting licenses do not include any big game permissions and those who purchase a combination license must adhere to Utah’s hunting rules and regulations while hunting.
While Utah does not have additional permits to fish specific species, be sure to check state and local laws before fishing. A Utah fishing license allows you to use up to two poles at no additional charge, but you must still adhere to the daily bag limit as using a second pole does not double your bag limit. If you are using a setline, or poles anchored to a non-moving object that is not a fishing pole, you must buy a setline permit in addition to your fishing license. Additionally, you may take brine shrimp from the Great Salt Lake without a fishing license.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Utah please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
Washington requires everyone 15 years and older to have a valid fishing license while fishing except when taking common carp, crawfish, bullfrogs, smelt or shells. Fishing licenses are sold by the state as freshwater, saltwater, shellfish/seaweed or combination, which includes all four state licenses. The Razor Clam license can be purchased on its own but is also included in the combination and shellfish/seaweed licenses. Residents and non-residents have the option of purchasing each as an annual license which includes a Vehicle Access Pass or a permit to park on WDFW land. The Vehicle Access Pass is transferable between two vehicles but can only be used by one car at a time. Reduced fee annual resident licenses are available to youths who are 15 years old, seniors 70 years and older, disabled veterans and the permanently disabled. The combination license can be bought as a 1-day, 2-day or 3-day pass. If more than one day license is bought at a time, for example a 2-day license, the license must be used on consecutive days.
When fishing in Washington, be sure you understand all state and local laws. As Washington shares a border with Canada, you should always have a sense of what side of the border you are on and never take a fish from international waters unless you know Canada’s fishing rules. Bag limits are in effect on both sides of the border and you may never keep both a Washington and Canadian bag limit in one day. Additionally, some fish are protected and must be recorded on the Catch Record Card that is included in the purchase of an annual or daily license. All sturgeon, steelhead, salmon, halibut and Puget Sound Dungeness Crab that are caught and kept must be recorded on your Catch Record Card. Even if you do not catch any of these protected species, your Catch Record Card must be returned by April 30th. The Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Report Card must be returned by the date on the card.
Some fish species and fishing techniques require additional state endorsements. The Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Endorsement can be added to the combination or shellfish/seaweed license, while the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement can be added to the freshwater fishing license. Youths under 15 years old do not need either of these endorsements but they still must fill out and complete a Catch Record Card. The Two-Pole Endorsement allows you to use two poles on most freshwater lakes, ponds, sections of some rivers and in a few ocean waters. As this endorsement is accepted in some water but not in others, it is always best to check the local two-pole laws before you go fishing. All ages must have this endorsement to use two poles, but it is not necessary during the annual Free Fishing Weekend.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Washington please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.
In Wyoming, anglers age 14 years and older need to have a valid fishing license. Non-resident youths under 14 years do not need a fishing license when fishing with a licensed adult but the non-resident youth and adult must share one daily bag limit of fish. Resident anglers have the option of purchasing annual and daily fishing licenses, while non-residents can buy annual, daily and 5-day fishing licenses. Lifetime licenses are also available to residents and as the fee is not variable based on age, it is best to buy this license as soon as you know you will be fishing in Wyoming year after year. Reduced fee fishing licenses are available to resident and non-resident youth under 18, resident seniors and disabled veterans. Pioneer residents who are 65 years and older and have lived in Wyoming continuously for at least the last 30 years are eligible for a free combination bird, fish and small game license.
Be sure to follow all rules and regulations when fishing or hunting in Wyoming. Everyone who purchases an annual Wyoming fishing or hunting license must also buy a Conservation stamp that is valid for the calendar year. This stamp must be your possession at all times while fishing or hunting. Those who fish on a daily or disabled veteran license do not need to purchase a Conservation Stamp. With your fishing license, you may use up to two rods at a time, but you can never use more than three hooks attached to each fishing pole.
For a complete list of rules and regulations for fishing in Wyoming please consult their Department of Fish and Game website.