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Is It Legal to Go Fishing Without a License?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Fishing is an incredibly relaxing and inexpensive way to spend a day off from work. But is it legal to go fishing without a license?

Whether you're fishing off a dock with a $10 Pokemon-themed pole or standing waist-deep in a river fly fishing, chances are you'll probably need a fishing license -- though there are a few exceptions.

To make things clear for future anglers out there, here are the reasons it is most likely not legal to go fishing without a license:

States Set Licensing Requirements

Similar to laws on hunting and trespassing, each state has slightly different variations on who, when, and how a person can legally fish within that state.

Most states will require adults who are fishing on publicly accessible land to obtain a fishing permit, even if you are only fishing for recreation. These licenses can vary in price based on their duration and the type of fishing you wish to pursue (e.g., salt or freshwater), and are often required by state fish, wildlife, or wild game laws.

Luckily, it is simple to find and purchase the appropriate license through third-party portals, like, which provide links and information on how to obtain state fishing licenses.

Some Anglers Are Exempt

Perhaps because fishing is a nostalgic pastime for children and the elderly, these groups are often exempt from the fishing license requirements of each state.

Florida, for example, does not require a fishing license if you are:

  • Under 16 years of age,
  • A Florida resident senior (65 years or older),
  • Permanently disabled,
  • A resident in active military service, or
  • Fishing with natural bait and no reel in your home county.

But compare Florida's rules to California: The Golden State doesn't require children under the age of 16 to purchase a fishing license, but it does for seniors. While California does offer seniors and veterans discounted fishing licenses, most adults will still need to pay for a license to fish.

What About Fishing on Private Land?

In many states, you will still need a license to fish on private land unless the water source is contained entirely on that land. For example, in Texas, anglers are required to obtain fishing licenses when fishing in lakes and rivers, but may not need one when fishing in a private pond.

Some states also allow property owners and members of their homestead to fish on their own land without a permit, as long as it isn't for commercial purposes.

Fortunately, most states have no-permit days or weekends to allow eager amateurs to fish for free, many of which coincide with National Fishing and Boating Week. Check with your state's fish and game department to find out if there's a "free fishing day" on the calendar where you live.

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