Getting a California Fishing License: A Simple Guide
Jan 11, 2021 | 5 minute read
Reading Time: 5 minutes

You don’t have to look far to find world-class fishing in California. From San Diego to Lake Tahoe, the Golden State offers a huge range of angling hotspots. What they all have in common is that you need a California fishing license to enjoy them. How much does a license cost? What types are there? And where do you even buy one? We’ll cover all this and more in this simple, jargon-free guide.

Who needs a sportfishing license in California?

Every angler age 16 or older needs to buy a California fishing license, which covers both freshwater and saltwater. This applies to state residents and non-residents alike, even if you’re fishing with a guide or aboard a for-hire charter boat. However, there are a few situations where you don’t need a license. Most importantly:

  • You don’t need a license to fish on public piers.
  • You don’t need a license on Free Fishing Days.
  • Anglers under 16 don’t need a license, but they do need a report card for some species (see below).

How much is a fishing license in California?

You can buy a license for anywhere from a single day to an entire year. One- and two-day licenses cost the same whether you’re a resident or not, but annual licenses are more expensive for out-of-staters. Non-residents do have the option to purchase a 10-day license, though.

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

Want to spend the rest of your life exploring these waters? We can’t blame you! CA state residents have the option of buying a Lifetime Fishing License. This means that you get a new annual fishing license each year, for as long as you want to keep fishing. You can only buy Lifetime Fishing Licenses 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 sportfishers who want it all can also purchase a Fishing Privilege Package for $380.25 (price subject to change). This includes an Ocean Enhancement Stamp, Second-Rod Stamp, North Coast Salmon Report Card, and Steelhead Report Card – all valid for your whole life.

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, simply 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 and Validations

Report Cards

Anglers fishing for Steelhead, Spiny Lobster, and Sturgeon in California must have the appropriate report cards. A North Coast Salmon report card is also mandatory when fishing for Salmon in the Klamath, Trinity, and Smith Rivers. You would also need a validation to take Abalone, but they’re currently closed for harvest, so these aren’t available at the moment.

Report Card TypeCost
Sturgeon
An illustration of a Sturgeon
$8.90
Salmon (Smith or Klamath-Trinity River Systems)
An illustration of a Salmon
$7.05
Steelhead
An illustration of a Rainbow Trout, also known as Steelhead
$7.82
Spiny Lobster
An illustration of a Lobster
$10.29

You always need a report card to target these species, even in situations where you don’t need a fishing license. For example, under-16s and anglers fishing from a public pier still need valid report cards.

Remember to return your report card to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife by January 31 of the following year, or by April 30 of the current year for Spiny Lobster. You can report your card online or mail it to the address 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). One- and two-day sportfishing licenses come with this included.

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 doesn’t apply to special waters where anglers can only use barbless hooks and artificial lures.

Where to Buy a California Fishing License

A sign on a wooden wall advertising a bait shop, a common place to buy a fishing license in California

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. Walmart, Big 5 Sporting Goods, local tackle shops, and other licensed retailers also sell sportfishing licenses. Be aware that CDFW offices don’t accept cash payments.

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, two-day, and 10-day licenses are valid from the date of purchase or from a date of your choice if you buy them ahead of time. Annual licenses are only valid during the calendar year of purchase. This means that your annual license will expire after December 31 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?

No. 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 tour local CDFW office and ask them directly. If not, find a local charter or just grab your rod and start fishing!

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