Expert Fishing Advice for Saltwater Anglers

Why You Need a Fishing License

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Do You Need a Fishing License to Fish?

Yes, under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (1997), it is illegal to fish without a license. You almost always need a fishing license to go fishing. There are some exceptions. It's a violation of fish and wildlife conservation laws if you fish in saltwater or freshwater without a valid license. Therefore, fishing license laws are strictly enforced and obeyed by most fishermen. The consequences of fishing without a license vary in different geographic regions; however, the policies and fines are pretty similar. You can even land yourself in jail if you do not follow the rules. 

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (1997)

The following are examples of rules within the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. If you fail to follow these laws (state and national laws), you could be fined and/or potentially jailed.

Without a License, you are not permitted to hunt or trap animals, birds, or fish, including parts of them, in any way or for any purpose. This includes:

  • Selling /purchasing, importing/ exporting any animal without the appropriate license/permit.
  • Hunting or trapping for any purpose.
  • Hunting or trapping migratory birds or fish without a valid license from the concerned department.
  • Hunting or trapping animals, birds, or fish for any purpose if the animal is wounded.

Caught Without a Fishing License?

Generally speaking, you will be given a ticket/citation that you must accept and sign when caught fishing without a license. You have 30 days from the ticket issue date to pay that fine, acknowledging your violation and your rights to a hearing. After that, the final verdict lies in the hands of the court. The court will determine if you are guilty of the violation, and if you are, the court will decide the dollar amount of your fine.

Typical Fines:

  • First Violation fines are always more than $50.
  • Subsequent violation fines range from $50 – $500.
  • If there is a constant violation, conservation officers are authorized to seize any property of yours that they deem reasonable. You will likely lose that personal property permanently (i.e., rods, reels…) and can be fined up to $25,000 and/or jailed for up to one year!  
  • If you fail to attend your hearing, do not pay your fine, or refuse the citation, your offense will escalate to a 2nd degree misdemeanor punishable by 60 days of jail time and/or a $500 fine.
  • If you have a license but did not have it with you when cited, you provide it to the court and may have to pay court fees (typically $10).

Do you need a license for catch and release?

The rules vary from state to state; however, most require a fishing license regardless of whether you intend to catch and release. Some National Parks require additional permits, and others do not require a license. Always research the rules and regulations before you start catching and releasing.

Examples of rules in different states:  

  • Florida – requires a license regardless of where you are fishing or fishing style (i.e., pier/surf/offshore…). If you are 16 years or older, you must have the appropriate Florida license for hunting, freshwater fishing, and saltwater fishing.
  • California – allows fishing from certain piers without a license.
  • Texas – does not require a license within state parks if you are “practicing” catch and release. 

Fishing License Requirement Exemptions

Some states have exemptions for fishing licenses. Anyone aged 16 or to 65 is not required to obtain a license. If you want to go fishing on someone’s private property, you are not required to have a license. 

A license may not be required for military personnel when fishing in your home county. However, before fishing, always research the rules and regulations for that area.

Popular Non-commercial Saltwater Fishing License Types

Sports fishing license: This license limits the species of fish you can legally catch. 

Conservation license: A license for fishermen who plan to release most of their catch. This license has restrictions on the types of species you can catch legally. The conservation license is less expensive than a sports fishing license and is better suited for those who fish less frequently.

Obtaining a License to Fish

First, research different license types to determine what type of license is best for you. 

Many bait and tackle shops and convenience stores sell fishing licenses. You can also purchase one from various official websites such as https://www.fws.gov/fishing/FishingLicense.html. Licenses can also be bought at wildlife and fishery offices.

  • Basic fishing license for freshwater is typically under $20 (usually valid for one year or less).              
  • An Onshore recreational fishing license is free in many regions, and with it, you are permitted to fish using live bait.

Some are scheduled to expire on a specific date – regardless of when you purchased them.   For example, your license might state that it expires on June 30th_ _ _ _ irrespective of if you bought it in July, January, May, or any other month.

  • Lifetime licenses are available for you, serious anglers, and typically range from $200 – $500.

Avoid fines and penalties by checking that your license is up-to-date before putting your line in. If you are caught fishing without a license, the fines and penalties can be significant!

  • Bottom Line: It is MANDATORY to have a fishing license if you are fishing unless you are legally exempt.

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Matt Spector


Over the last 25 years, Captain Matt Spector has established himself as an expert fisherman and Captain. He's taught thousands how to be safer, smarter, more efficient anglers! There's simply nothing more satisfying than sharing a lesson, recommendation or tip that helps another angler be able to yell...GottemonDood!

Captain Matt


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