Fishing License Basics You Should Know

In many ways, your fishing license is the key to becoming a fishing expert. Without one, there are very few states that allow you to catch certain fish, or even cast a line at all. Each state establishes its own rules for licensing and fishing practices, which means you’ll need to prepare no matter where you plan to fish. With a license to fish, you can catch a variety of large and small fish species from both saltwater and freshwater spots.

“Where can I get a fishing license near me and how do I know which type of credential I need?” you may wonder. Honestly, the type of license you need often depends on several factors, from your age to the type of fishing you plan to do. So if you want to catch all of the fish species on your bucket list, you’ll need to invest in the right license or permit. Read on to learn more about these licenses below.

Types of Fishing License for Sportsmen and Sportswomen

Since fishing license laws vary from state to state, there are many different types of license to choose from depending on where you plan to fish. While fishing locally, you’ll most likely need a resident license. On the other hand, if you want to fish outside of your home state you may need to apply for a non-resident license or temporary permit.

Within the categories of residential and out-of-state fishing licenses, there are often a few subtypes to choose from as well. It can honestly get a little confusing to figure out, especially if you’re traveling to another state. However, there are a few types that are common across the U.S., including:

  • The freshwater license. If you wish to take fish from rivers, lakes and streams, you may need to purchase a freshwater license. Unless you plan to fish in a state that also sells saltwater licenses, your fishing credential will automatically provide you with freshwater sport fishing privileges.
  • The saltwater fishing license. If you’re after marlin and other saltwater game fish, most states offer a saltwater-specific license. In some cases, you may be able to purchase a license with both saltwater and freshwater privileges, particularly if you’re a resident.
  • The lifetime fishing license. While most licenses eventually expire and require renewal, some states offer lifetime options to residents. Depending on the state in which you live, your lifetime license may include additional stamps and/or permits as well.
  • The combination license. If you feel extra adventurous, you may want to consider a combination hunting and fishing license. Depending on where you live, your combination license can allow you to hunt for small game and catch freshwater or saltwater fish species.
  • The junior or senior fishing license. In some states, you can apply for junior or senior fishing privileges if you meet the age requirements. These licenses are often available at a reduced rate.
  • Temporary licenses. If you only plan to fish for a few days out of the year, or you’re taking a trip to another state, it may not be worth it to invest in a full license. Temporary licenses typically provide you with one to five days of fishing privileges depending on the state.

Now that you know about the types of fishing licenses that may be available to you, download our beginner’s fishing guide to learn about choosing between saltwater and freshwater fishing.

Fishing License Discounts

Many states also offer discounted or free fishing license credentials to certain groups. These come in several different varieties as well, for seniors, residents with disabilities and even veterans or current military members. In some states, specialty licenses are also offered to residents who are:

  • Blind
  • Native American
  • Low-income

In order to get one of these specialty licenses, you’ll need to meet certain qualifications. For instance, you can’t get a veteran fishing license in Minnesota unless you’re a resident who received an honorable discharge or a Purple Heart.

Did You Know?

    To qualify for a free or reduced-cost license, you typically need to present proof of your eligibility, such as a certification from your physician.

Fishing License Renewal

Most fishing licenses expire after 365 days, or at the end of each year unless it is a lifetime or temporary license. In other words, you most likely need to renew your fishing privileges regularly. For some states, this is as easy as renewing your current license after it expires, while others require you to get an entirely new license. Even in states like Connecticut where you can get a free license if you are 65, you still need to renew your fishing privileges annually.

Where can I get a fishing license near me?

Where you purchase your fresh or salt water fishing license largely depends on your state. Many times, you can simply visit the website of your state’s Division of Wildlife, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Natural Resources or another similar state agency. You may also have the option to apply over the phone or by mail.

To obtain fishing license privileges in Florida, for instance, you may purchase a license online, by telephone or in person at your local tax collector’s office. Since lifetime and combination license work a little differently, you may need to visit an agency office in person to apply for these.

Did you know?

    You can also get a Walmart fishing license at participating store locations. Other authorized license vendors include sporting goods stores, bait and tackle shops and participating gas stations. Keep in mind that these third-party license vendors often charge an additional fee for their services.

Fishing License Laws and Other Regulations

Once you have your fishing license, you need to make sure you follow all other local fishing regulations in order to keep it. Just like with driver’s licenses, if you commit frequent fishing violations you can easily lose your privileges. In addition to licensing laws, most states enforce length and bat limits, age restrictions and even fishing equipment regulations.

In Wisconsin, Kansas and New Hampshire, for example, you can fish without a license if you are younger than 16 years of age. In other states such as Oregon, you need a youth license to fish once you turn 12 years of age. In Idaho, you can fish without a license until you turn 14 years of age.


    If you’re new to fishing, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific laws and regulations. Fishing license rules can change regularly, so you may wish to review these regulations at the beginning of each new fishing season.

As far as fishing license regulations for equipment go, the use of your traditional line and pole are widely accepted. Other types of equipment are heavily regulated from state to state. For example, quite a few states do not allow hand fishing at all. Some techniques may be limited to certain bodies of water or particular times during the year.

Download our beginner’s guide on fishing for advice on the best fishing rods and other helpful tips.