Fishing License 101: Rules, Costs, and Where to Buy

America is home to many amazing fisheries. From the gin-clear flats of the Florida Keys to the murky depths of the Great Lakes, every state has its fair share of fishing spots. The one thing they have in common? You need a fishing license to enjoy them. 

A happy man holding a large Striped Bass with ocean behind him

Fishing license rules can be complicated and downright confusing, especially when you get into specific species and spots. What’s more, each state has its own rules. That’s fine if you only fish in your home state, but what if you’re traveling, or taking a buddy from out of state?

To make things easier, we’ve written guides to getting a fishing license in states around the US. For each state, we cover the types of licenses, who needs them, and how and where to get one near you. We’ve also added some general pointers and common questions below. In short, here’s everything you need to know to get licensed and start fishing!

License Information by State

Common Questions and Useful Tips

Hopefully, we answered all your questions with our state-specific guides. If not, or if we haven't covered your state yet, don't worry. Below are some of the most common questions people have. Hopefully, they can point you in the right direction, and get you out on the water in no time.

Do I need a fishing license?

a wildlife officer checking a man's fishing license

You may be asking yourself if you even need a license to fish. Maybe you’re a senior, or you’re taking your kids out and want to know what age they need a license from. It varies by state, but in most places kids can fish license-free. Seniors normally get a discount, but often only in their home state. On top of that, you don't need a license at all when charter fishing in some states.

Another common question is whether you need a license for catch and release. The general answer is “Yes.” Your state may offer cheaper release-only fishing licenses. However, you'll still need a valid permit, even if you release all your fish.

One thing that all states have in common is a hefty fine for fishing without a license. No matter how expensive permits might be, they’re a lot cheaper (and less unpleasant) than getting a ticket from a Wildlife Officer. Besides, money from license sales helps protect and maintain local fisheries. You’re funding your own fun by buying one.

How much is a fishing license?

A school of fish made of folded dollar bills, representing the cost of getting a fishing license

How long is a piece of string? Seriously, costs vary so much that it’s impossible to put a ballpark figure on them. There are also lots of different types of licenses, lasting anywhere from one day to the rest of your life. Then you’ve got pricing for different ages, residents vs. non-residents – the list goes on!

What’s the point of us even telling you this? Well, it shows just how many options you’ve got to work with. If you fish regularly, annual or lifetime licenses could save you money in the long run. Just out for the one day? Look for a one-day permit. You might even be eligible for a reduced-fee license. It pays to know all your options!

Where to Get a Fishing License

A sign advertising fishing licenses for sale

You know you need a license. But where should you go to get one? Can you buy a license online, or do you need to head to a store or government office? In most places, you can do all three. The vast majority of states let you buy the standard range of licenses online, and it’s generally the easiest way to do so.

Prefer a good old-fashion paper license? Just head to your local tackle shop. These are usually approved vendors, as are chains like Walmart, Big 5, Academy, and many more. So if you need to pick up some tackle anyway, why not grab your license while you’re there?

Of course, there are a few exceptions. Some specialty licenses are only available at state wildlife offices or county clerk’s offices. As always, it varies with the state, but things like lifetime and reduced-fee permits are the most common culprits. You can find more detailed info in each state license guide above.

That's it! You should now be ready to get your license and enjoy a great day on the water. Want to make your trip even more special? Find a fishing spot near you and start reeling in that fish of a lifetime!