A Quick Guide to Purchasing Your California Fishing License
May 26, 2020 | 5 minute read
Reading Time: 5 minutes

You don’t have to look far to find world-class sportfishing in California, and it won’t take you long to find a great fishing charter, either. Rest assured a memorable catch is waiting for you, whether you’re heading to San Diego, Bodega Bay, or anywhere in between! There’s only one thing left to do before casting off: buy a California fishing license.

Who Needs a Sportfishing License in California

The California state flag flying with blue sky in the background

Any angler age 16 or older must buy a CA sportfishing license. This applies to state residents (anyone who has been living in CA continuously for six months or more) and non-residents. Licenses for residents and non-residents are sold separately.

A standard California sportfishing license is valid statewide, in both saltwater and freshwater. Every angler in your group must buy a license, even when fishing with a guide or on board a for-hire charter boat.

Exceptions to California Fishing License Requirements:

  • You do not need a fishing license when casting from a public pier.
  • You do not need a fishing license on designated Free Fishing Days.
  • Anglers under 16 years of age do not need a CA fishing license, but may be required to carry a permit for specific species (see below).

California Fishing License Prices

California state residents and non-residents can buy 1 or 2-day licenses for the same price, but the cost of an annual license varies. Non-residents have the option to purchase a 10-day license, as well. These licenses are valid in both fresh and saltwater.

License TypeResident CostNonresident Cost
1-Day License$16.46$16.46
2-Day License$25.66$25.66
10-Day LicenseN/A$51.02
Annual License$51.02$137.73

CA state residents who would like to indulge in a lifetime of local sportfishing can opt for a Lifetime Fishing License. Upon purchase, you will receive an annual fishing license each year. Lifetime Fishing Licenses must be purchased at a CDFW sales office, and the cost varies depending on the age of the angler:

License TypeLicense Cost
0-9 Years Lifetime License$562.25
10-39 Years Lifetime License$919.00
40-61 Years Lifetime License$828.00
62+ Years Lifetime License$562.25

Hardcore anglers who want it all can also purchase a Fishing Privilege Package for $380.25 (price subject to change). This includes an Ocean Enhancement Stamp, a Lifetime Second-Rod Stamp, a North Coast Salmon Report Card, and a Steelhead Report Card.

Reduced-Fee Fishing Licenses

Licenses are available at a reduced rate in a variety of situations. This includes anglers who are blind, developmentally disabled, or mobility impaired, as well as disabled or recovering veterans and low-income seniors. These discounted licenses are usually sold for around $8.

To apply for a reduced-fee license, you should fill in the appropriate form and submit it to the CDFW along with any necessary evidence. For example, disabled veterans will need a letter from the Veteran’s Administration stating that they were honorably discharged and have a service-connected disability rating of 50% or greater.

Additional Requirements

Report Cards

Anglers fishing for Steelhead, Spiny Lobster, and Sturgeon in California are required to purchase the appropriate report cards. A North Coast Salmon report card is also mandatory when fishing for Salmon in the Klamath, Trinity, and Smith Rivers.

Report Card TypeCost
An illustration of a Sturgeon
Salmon (Smith or Klamath-Trinity River Systems)
An illustration of a Salmon
An illustration of a Rainbow Trout, also known as Steelhead
Spiny Lobster
An illustration of a Lobster

*(This list also includes Abalone in years when it is legal to harvest).

All recreational anglers must carry report cards when fishing for these species, including those who are not required to buy a sport fishing license (such as anglers fishing from a public pier, people under 16 years old, etc.)

Note: Remember to return your report card to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife by January 31 of the following year (Spiny Lobster Report Cards must be reported after Lobster season closes, by April 30). You can report your card online or mail it to the address specified on the card.

Ocean Enhancement Validation

Anglers planning to fish in ocean waters south of Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County need to buy an Ocean Enhancement Validation ($5.66). If you already have a 1 or 2-day sportfishing license, this validation is not necessary.

Second Rod Validation

A Second Rod Validation ($15.94) allows an angler to use two rods or lines while fishing in inland waters. This validation does not apply to waters where anglers are required to use only barbless hooks and artificial lures.

Where to Buy a California Fishing License

A sign on a wooden wall advertising a bait shop

You can buy a CA sportfishing license directly from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, either online or at one of their license sales offices. Please note that CDFW offices do not accept payments in cash. Walmart, Big 5 Sporting Goods, local tackle shops, and other licensed retailers also sell sportfishing licenses.

Looking for information about how to become a licensed fishing guide in California? Read our post on how to become a CA fishing guide!

Replacing Lost Licenses

Misplaced your license? Not a problem! You can get a replacement online and in CDFW license sales offices.

Duplicate Sport Fishing Licenses cost $11.37, while replacement Ocean Enhancement and Second Rod Validations are $3.24. Replacement Sturgeon Report Cards are only available in CDFW license sales offices, and cost $16.22.

Common Questions about CA Fishing Licenses

Assorted fishing tackle on a wooden table, with a hook and sinker making a question mark in the middle

How long is my license valid?

Single-day, 2-day, and 10-day licenses are valid from the date of purchase or from the pre-selected date of your choice if you buy them ahead of time. An annual license is only valid during the calendar year of purchase. This means that your annual license will expire after December 31st of the current year, no matter when you buy it.

Can I fish interstate waters with a CA fishing license?

California shares a number of fishing spots with neighboring states, including Lake Tahoe, Topaz Lake, and the Colorado River. A CA sportfishing license is valid in all of these waters. You can also fish in Lake Tahoe or Topaz Lake while carrying a Nevada license, with a Trout stamp. Anglers fishing in the Colorado River along the California-Arizona border can carry either a California or Arizona fishing license.

Do I need to have my license visible while fishing?

No. In California, you no longer need to have your license visible. You just need to make sure you have it on you at all times.

Do I need a license if I’m not fishing?

If someone in your group is fishing, you don’t need a license as long as you’re just watching. However, if you participate in any way, you do need a valid license. For example, if you take your kids fishing, it’s a good idea to have a license in case you need to help bait hooks or set the drag.

We tried to cover all the basics of getting a fishing license in California. If you still have questions, we recommend you get in touch with the CDFW and ask directly. Hopefully, you’re now ready to buy your license and get back to the good stuff: fishing!

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