North Carolina Fishing License: The Complete Guide

Aug 23, 2023 | 5 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 5 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.

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 an NC resident or not. Here’s a breakdown of how much each license costs.

Temporary Fishing Licenses

LicenseCost for ResidentCost for Non-Resident
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. Trout Stamps are no longer required, as the Inland fishing license allows anglers to fish in Public Mountain Trout Waters.

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

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 for 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

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

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!

Comments (4)


Aug 23, 2023

There will be four Adults on a boat, I’m the one period does everyone have to have a Li sense?

Leave a reply
NameRequired *
Your comment Required *

  • Reply icon


    Aug 23, 2023

    Hi Denise,

    Thank you for reading our blog and reaching out.
    We’re glad to see you’ll be fishing in NC soon.
    If you’re angling aboard a saltwater charter boat, you don’t have to worry about your fishing license as it will be provided by an operator. Feel free to get in touch with your captain and confirm everything and prepare for the trip. Should you plan on fishing on your own, then each person who plans on fishing and is 16 and older must have a valid fishing license.
    Hope this helped.
    Let us know how it went.
    Tight lines!

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

Jeff Cottrell

Aug 10, 2022

It’s just a still a rip off tax this tex that.. tax everything you can you try to get everybody’s poor people money and people that’s residents should get free or if you’re fishing onshore not on a boat should be free because we’re not disturbing nothing you get on a boat you’re disturbing everything but I think it’s just a plain ass rip off… But North Carolina won’t take everybodys money even when they don’t have money being a low income families the shit too expensive here

Leave a reply
NameRequired *
Your comment Required *

  • Reply icon


    Aug 10, 2022

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for reading and for sharing your opinion with us. While I understand your frustration, it’s important to remember why licenses are required. The funds raised help towards conservation efforts and repopulation, while making sure that people have a license helps protect against illegal anglers who may try to take more than the limit. The reason people can fish on a charter for free is that the captain will have already purchased a license for all on board. It’s up to them whether they pass that saving onto the customer or not. I hope this helps.

    Tight lines,

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

Leave a reply
NameRequired *
Your comment Required *