Do You Need A Fishing License If You Catch And Release?

When You want to fish, it can be hard waiting until you get your license, so you may think that it is okay to fish catch and release and not need one. Even though it may sound like you only need a fishing license if you are going to eat the fish, you might be gravely mistaken. Sometimes we might even think we can outsmart the game wardens because most of the time we never see them, and that too is a huge mistake.

I love to fish, but rarely do I ever take them home to eat, so I am big on catch and release. Do you really need to have a license if you are giving all the fish back to the water after you have caught them? Do you really need to pay all that money just to catch something and release it back? If you live in an area that is close to multiple states, can you just buy one license and be okay in the other? Let’s tackle some of these questions and help you get up to speed on the can and cannot’s of fishing licenses.

Yes, you have to have a license to fish in any state, even if you are releasing what you catch. Just because you are giving the fish back into the body of water, it is a state law that you have a valid fishing license. There are a couple of instances where you might not need one, but it is always good to check with your local fish and game website or give them a call if you have any questions before you do any fishing without the proper license for it.

What About Private Property

Usually, if you are fishing on private property, there is no fishing license required because you, or someone you know owns the property. Make sure if you are not the owner, that you get permission first though. Even though a pond or lake might be behind a fence and it looks like someone’s private property, does not mean that it is not owned by the state, and everyone is allowed to fish there. Most states allow private property fishing without a license, and that includes private communities with lakes or ponds.

Private communities, and some privately owned campgrounds with lakes, will also not require you to have a fishing license because they are not patrolled or governed by fish and game. These types of places have to control the fishing privately and will usually have security patrolling the area, so don’t get any fun ideas of sneaking into fish. I lived in a private community with lakes, and the security would call the Sheriff’s office and you would be ticketed or taken to jail for trespassing. Never forget, Permission, Permission, Permission!

Will My Fishing License Work In Any State

No, you cannot obtain a fishing license in Nevada, and use it in California or Utah if you go there for a vacation. Because each fish and game office is different in each state, you have to obtain a license in each state you want to fish in. Always check in with the local fish and game office in every state that you visit and may want to fish because they might have a pass you can buy that is cheaper.

Are Salt Water And Freshwater Fishing Licenses The Same

Unfortunately, when you buy a freshwater license, it is not going to be endorsed for saltwater, so you are going to need to go on your local fish and game and get one for both. If you live in a place that has both fresh and saltwater fishing areas, please make sure you get one of each if you plan on doing both. If you are traveling out of the state or country to fish, check with the local agency or fishing guides for help.

Do Children Need A Fishing License

Good news, for most states you are not required to have a fishing license until you are over the age of 16, but each state varies so you will want to do a quick web search to make sure that your state allows it. Fish and game are out so they may stop and ask for you to verify your age if you look older than the required law, so keep your ID handy.

Do Seniors Need A License

Most states will not require people 65 years of age or older to obtain a state fishing license, so you might be in good shape if your state abides by this law. This is a very common practice for almost all states, but its good to give them a call and check before you go out. Just like with under age fishing, a game warden can, and most likely will stop you and check your age if they don’t think you are over the legal age limit.

Where Can I Get A License

Depending on where you fish, you can get fishing licenses from your states fish and game website, or local offices, but you don’t have to go there. Many of the big name stores that still have a sporting goods department like Walmart also have them and even some grocery stores still sell them as well.

In the past, lots of stores used to carry these types of things, but have become less and less since the online age. You can purchase and print out a fishing license straight from fish and game if you want. Some other lakes might have fishing “passes” that you can purchase if it is a private lake or resort area, so be sure to check in with them if you are on the road camping.

What About A Day Pass & Free Fishing Days

Lot’s of states have a pass that you can purchase that is good for one or a few days if you don’t need an annual fishing license. If it is getting close to the end of the year, or you are just going to visit a place for a few days camping, this might be your best option. Some states, California for example, will have two or three free fishing days a year, so if you just want to get out and relax for a day or two, check the website for the free fishing days!

fishing line

There are a lot of families that like to take trips out of state during the summer, and don’t necessarily need a whole year pass for fishing, so this might be just what you need for your vacation. Most fish and game websites are very easy to navigate and are very helpful when you call, so don’t be afraid of having to hold for an hour like the DMV.

Do I Still Need To Have My License Out On Display

Some states in the past have required that you keep your fishing license worn on display for fish and game wardens to see from a distance, and so if they could see you and didn’t see your license, they would stop you. In California however, that law has ended, so some of us are in good luck. It is still good to check with law enforcement, but the days of pinning your license to your hat are going away, and most of the states already have.


Fishing without a license can be a very costly mistake to make, so it is NEVER a good idea to go fishing without one, but there are some exceptions to this rule. Always check for your free fishing days, and make sure if you live in a private community, you can fish without a license.

If you are under 17 or over 65, you are a very lucky person because chances are you can fish for free (minus the cost of gear of course), so I cannot stress enough that you should check with your local fish and game to find this information. We have collected all of the states fish and game websites and put them in one easy place you can find HERE. If you need any help, leave us a comment and we can try to help point you in the right direction.

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