North Carolina Fishing License Rules Explained
Jun 11, 2021 | 4 minute read
Reading Time: 4 minutes

A North Carolina fishing license is your ticket to some truly outstanding fishing. From the Outer Banks to the Blue Ridge Mountains, a world of huge hookups is waiting for you. All you need to enjoy it is a piece of paper. Simple, right? Not exactly.

The North Carolina state flag atop a flagpole with the sun shining through from behind

North Carolina’s varied fisheries have a mix of fishing regulations to match, with different licenses depending on where you fish. That’s why we’re cutting through the confusion and throwing out the jargon in this easy-to-understand guide. Get the essential info on NC fishing licenses so you can hit the water and start reeling in fish.

Looking for info on neighboring states, or around the US in general? Check out our full list of licensing guides here.

Who needs a North Carolina fishing license?

Every angler over 16 needs a fishing license when casting a line in NC waters. However, you don’t need a license to fish in private ponds on privately-owned land.

If you’re helping someone else fish, you also need a license, even if you don’t have your own rod. This includes something as basic as baiting hooks and setting the drag.

Who doesn’t need a license?

Children under 16 don’t need a fishing license. On top of that, you never need a license aboard a saltwater charter boat. Oh, and everybody can fish without a license on the 4th of July!

Other than that, the only exception is for NC residents on leave from the military, who can fish for up to 30 days without a license. If you’re home on furlough, make sure to carry your military ID and papers confirming your status when you’re fishing.

Types of NC Fishing License

You know that you need a license, but which one? There are two main types of licenses in North Carolina: Inland and Coastal. Inland includes all of North Carolina’s freshwater, while Coastal covers saltwater. These are available for anything from 10 days to an entire lifetime. More on that below.

An infographic showing the map of North Carolina with areas marked for inland licenses and coastal licenses

Areas where fresh and saltwater meet are called “joint waters.” These are usually covered by either license, but you should always check for the waters you’re fishing in. Luckily, the state made a series of helpful maps, which you can check out here.

As well as the basic license, you used to need a special Trout Stamp to take on NC’s various Trouts. However, from 2020, they’re included as standard with an Inland License.

North Carolina License Cost

Licenses vary in price based on how long they last and whether you’re a NC resident or not. Here’s a breakdown of how much each license costs.

Temporary Fishing Licenses

LicenseCost for ResidentCost for Non-Resident
3-Day Trout$8$8
10-Day Coastal$6$11
Annual Coastal$16$32
10-Day Inland$9$23
Annual Inland$25$45
Annual Unified$41N/A

Residents and non-residents are eligible for 10-day and annual passes. Even though Trout Stamps are no longer required, there is a special 3-day permit for people who want a few days of Trout fishing.

NC residents get a few special options, such as combined (or “Unified”) Inland and Coastal licenses. This saves the hassle of carrying both.

Lifetime Licenses

LicenseCost for ResidentsCost for Non-Residents
Inland (Adult)$265N/A
Inland (Senior)$16N/A
Coastal (under 1)$106$106
Coastal (1-11)$159$159
Coastal (12+)$265$530
Coastal (Senior)$16N/A
Unified$477N/A

If you’re a keen angler and plan on fishing as often as possible, it may be worth getting a lifetime license. Prices differ for residents and non-residents, but there are big benefits to starting young – especially in saltwater.

Infants can be born into a life of fishing from just $106. Senior residents (65 and over if born before August 1, 1953, or 70+ otherwise) get an even bigger discount. Coastal and Inland packages both cost just $16 – the same price as a normal annual resident license!

Free and Reduced-Fee Licenses

The State of North Carolina offers free Unified Lifetime Fishing Licenses to the following groups:

  • NC residents who rely on fishing for food.
  • NC residents who are legally blind.
  • Residents in NC care homes.

On top of this, Unified Lifetime Fishing Licenses are available at a discounted price of $11 plus $2 processing fee for people with physical disabilities:

  • Residents who are permanently and totally disabled.
  • Resident veterans who are 50% or more disabled.

Where to Get a North Carolina Fishing License

An infographic with the text "Buying a North Carolina Fishing License," and the North Carolina flag

You know what you need, now you’ve just got to get it. There are three easy ways to buy a NC fishing license:

  • Online. You can complete your application online using Visa or MasterCard. This comes with a $2 transaction fee, though.
  • By phone. Call 888-248-6834 to get your license over the phone. Working hours are 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. Monday through Friday.
  • In person. Visit a registered vendor to buy your license instantly! Many tackle shops and hardware stores sell them, as do chains like Walmart.

If you buy your license in person, you’ll receive it instantly. Otherwise, it will be mailed to you. You don’t need to hold off fishing, though. just bring your license number and a form of ID and you’re set. However, once your license arrives, you do need to carry it with you while fishing.

Bear in mind that youth, infant, and disabled lifetime licenses can’t be bought online. You need to call up or head to a local agent to get these.

What if I lose my license?

Can’t find your fishing license? No need to worry. Print and fill out this form and send it to:

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission License Section
1707 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC
27699-1707

Along with your application, include a check or proof of money order to cover the administrative fee – $1 for lifetime licenses, or $7 for everything else.

Common Questions about NC Fishing Licenses

Assorted fishing tackle on a wooden table, with a hook and sinker making a question mark in the middle
  1. Is my NC fishing license valid in other states?

    North Carolina has reciprocal agreements with all of its neighbors except South Carolina. This means that you can use your NC fishing license when fishing from a boat in the following places:

    Georgia: On the Chatuge Reservoir and all its tributaries that are accessible by boat.
    Tennessee: On Slick Rock Creek and Calderwood Reservoir when fishing by boat.
    Virginia: On Kerr and Gaston Reservoirs, as well as the Dan River and the confluence of the New and Little Rivers.

  2. What counts as a Resident?

    In terms of fishing licenses, a resident is anyone who has lived in North Carolina continually for the past 6 months. You can prove this with your social security number, driver’s license, and any other ID containing your address. Full-time students in NC can also get resident licenses.

  3. Does North Carolina have any “free fishing days”?

    Yes! Everyone can fish without a license on 4 July. This applies to both fresh and saltwater fishing. Even though you don't need a license, normal seasons, bag limits, and other regulations still apply.

  4. Can I buy a license and fish the same day?

    Yes! NC fishing licenses are valid from the day of purchase, so as soon as you’ve paid, you can go fishing. You only need to carry a form of government-issued ID when fishing, and wildlife enforcement officers will be able to confirm your purchase. Having your license number is also helpful.

  5. What happens if I fish without a license?

    You'll be charged with a misdemeanor and will receive a fine ranging anywhere from $35 to $500. You may also face up to 30 days in prison. Do the right thing and buy a license!

And that’s it. We’ve tried to cover everything you need. to know to get a NC fishing license. If you have any questions, it’s best to get in touch with your local NCWRC office. If not, find a charter in your area or just get out there and start fishing!

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