California Fishing License: Cost, Who Needs One & How to Buy

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California boasts some of the finest fishing in the world. We’ve put together this jargon-free guide to fishing licenses in California to help you enjoy fishing in the state with peace of mind.

The guide covers who needs a fishing license, who is exempt and what California fishing licenses cost, as well as what discounts and exemptions are available.

Before we go into the detail, here is a brief word about fishing in California.

Fishing in California

California has great freshwater and saltwater fishing. On the freshwater side, you warm water species such as bass, crappie and catfish, and cold water species such as trout and salmon, as well as sturgeon.

California’s super saltwater fishing gives anglers legitimate shots at striped bass, albacore, yellowtail, mahi mahi, sharks and various tuna species.

Who Needs a Fishing License In California?

Any angler who is 16 years of age or older must possess a valid sport fishing license when taking any fish, shell fish, reptile, or amphibian in California. It  covers both freshwater and saltwater. 

It is important to note that there are a few situations where you don’t need a license. These are:

  • If you’re fishing from a public pier in ocean waters
  • On Free Fishing Days 

Who is Exempt from Needing a Fishing License in California?

  • Mobility Impaired Persons
  • Blind or Developmentally Disabled Persons (check out article on discounts for disabled anglers in other states)
  • Low Income Native Americans
  • Anglers under 16 but they do need a report card for some species

Fishing License Types in California

California offers several options when it comes to getting a fishing license. These options depend on where you live and how many days you expect to fish.

One- and two-day licenses cost the same whether you’re a resident or not, but annual licenses are more expensive for non-residents. Non-residents however do have the option to purchase a 10-day license.

Cost: How Much is a Fishing License in California

Resident Sport Fishing Licenses

In California, a resident is someone who has resided continuously in the state for six months or more immediately prior to the date of their application for a license or permit, anyone on active military duty, or any person enrolled in the Job Corps.

California state residents have the option of buying a Lifetime Fishing License. This means that they get a new annual fishing license each year, for as long as they want to keep fishing. 

Fishing License Type (Resident)Cost
1-Day License$17.54
2-Day License$27.00
Annual License$54
0-9 Years Lifetime License$594.75
10-39 Years Lifetime License$972.50
40-61 Years Lifetime License$876.00
62+ Years Lifetime License$594.75
Fishing Privilege Package$402.00
Source: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Fishing

Non Resident Fishing Licenses

These licenses are applicable to all visitors to California who want to fish from other states or countries. 

Fishing License Type (Non resident)Cost
1-Day License$17.54
2-Day License$27.00
10-Day License$54.00
Annual License$145.80
Source: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Fishing

Validation and Report Cards for Sturgeon, Steelhead and Other Species

Report cards are required for any person fishing for steelhead, sturgeon, abalone, spiny lobster, or salmon (salmon in the Klamath, Trinity and Smith Rivers only). Every person fishing for these species must have an appropriate report card, including any person who is not required to have a sport fishing license, such as a child who is under 16 years of age, a person who is fishing from a public pier, and any person who is fishing on a free fishing day.

Report Card TypeCost
Sturgeon Fishing Report Card-Required for any persons taking sturgeon. Only one Sturgeon Fishing Report Card may be issued per person each year.$9.46
North Coast Salmon Report Card-Required for any person taking salmon in the Smith River System or Klamath-Trinity River System.$7.56
Steelhead Report Card-Required for any person taking steelhead in inland waters.$8.38
Spiny Lobster Report Card (valid for the entire lobster season).-Required for all persons taking spiny lobster. Report card holders who fail to return their Spiny Lobster Report Card or report their harvest online by April 30, will be assessed a $21.60 non-return fee when they purchase a spiny lobster report card for the following season.$10.80
Ocean Enhancement Validation-Required to fish in ocean waters south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County). An Ocean Enhancement Validation is not required when fishing under the authority of a One or Two-Day Sport Fishing License.$6.22
Second Rod Validation-Allows a person to fish with two rods or lines in inland waters, except for waters in which only artificial lures or barbless hooks may be used.$17.02
Recreational Crab Trap Validation-Beginning November 1, 2021, this validation is required for any person taking crabs with crab traps as defined in CCR, T14, Section 29.80(c). When taking crabs with hoop nets or crab loop traps, this validation is not required.$2.42
Colorado River Validation -Anglers who possess either a valid California sport fishing license or a valid Arizona sport fishing license can fish from either shore of the portion of the Colorado River that makes up the California-Arizona boundary.n/a
Abalone Report Card$25.92
Source: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Fishing

 

Who Can Purchase Discounted California Fishing Licenses?

Reduced-fee sport fishing licenses are available for low-income California residents, 65 years of age and older, who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Cash Assistance Program for Aged, Blind, and Disabled Legal Immigrants (CAPI). 

To apply for a reduced-fee license, simply fill in the appropriate form and submit it to the CDFW along with any necessary evidence. For example, disabled veterans will need a letter from the Veteran’s Administration stating that they were honorably discharged and have a service-connected disability rating of 50% or greater.

Fishing License TypeCost
Reduced-Fee Sport Fishing License – Disabled Veteran$8.24 at CDFW Offices
$8.64 from License Agents
Reduced-Fee Sport Fishing License – Recovering Service Member$8.24 at CDFW Offices
$8.64 from License Agents
Reduced Fee Sport Fishing License – Low Income Senior$8.24
Source: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Fishing

Special Fishing Licenses in California

California offers the following special licenses and programs:

Commercial Fishing Licenses

CDFW charges fees for commercial fishing licenses, commercial vessel registrations, Dungeness crab vessel permits, and herring gill net permits.

Click here to learn more about Commercial Fishing Licenses

Commercial Fish Business Licenses

Any person who engages in any business for profit involving fish shall obtain a Commercial Fish Business license. A Commercial Fish Business license is valid from January 1 through December 31, inclusive, or, if issued after the beginning of that term, for the remainder of the year thereof.

This page details more about Commercial Fish Business Licenses

California Endangered Species Act (CESA) Permits

The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) is a California environmental law that conserves and protects plant and animal species at risk of extinction.

Lake and Streambed Alteration (LSA) Agreements

Fish and Game Code section 1602 requires any person, state or local governmental agency, or public utility to notify CDFW prior to beginning any activity that may do one or more of the following:

Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act (HREA) Approvals

The Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act (HREA) of 2014 established a permitting process with CDFW for landowners, state and local governments, and conservation organizations seeking to implement small-scale, voluntary habitat restoration projects throughout California. Restoration and enhancement projects approved by CDFW, pursuant to HREA, do not require additional permits from CDFW, such as a Lake and Streambed Alteration agreement or California Endangered Species Act permit.

Where Can I Buy an California Fishing Licence?

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) 

Licenses may be purchased at a license agent located throughout the state or at one of the CDFW license sales offices.

In case your license is lost or destroyed, a license agent or CDFW license sales office can also help you obtain a duplicate sport fishing license.

Online

Any type of resident or nonresident fishing license can be purchased online through the CDFW website.

What Happens with California Fishing License Fees?

California fishing license fees goes to pay for lake and river surveys, fish stocking and hatchery programs, stream habitat improvements, educational programs, conservation officer budgets, infrastructure, and outreach programs.

Does California Have Reciprocal License arrangements with neighboring states?

Reciprocal arrangements exist for license holders from neighbouring states to fish the Colorado River and the various reservoirs and lakes of Arizona without having to obtain a California license.
The agreement between these states are as follows:

Any person taking fish or amphibia for purposes other than profit from or on a boat or other floating device on the waters of the Colorado River and on adjacent waters, except canals, drains, or ditches used to transport water used for irrigation or domestic purposes, shall have in his or her possession a valid sportfishing license issued by either the State of Arizona or State of California.
In addition to either of the licenses, a person taking fish or amphibia as indicated shall have in his or her possession a Colorado River special use validation. If he or she is a person having in his or her possession a valid California sportfishing license, he or she shall have an Arizona special use validation to fish legally the waters described above. If he or she is a person having in his or her possession a valid Arizona sportfishing license, he or she shall have a California special use validation to fish legally the waters described above.

A special use validation, when accompanied by the proper license, permits fishing in any portion of those waters, and permit fishermen to enter the waters from any point. The fee for a Colorado River special use validation is three dollars ($3).

Check out our state-by-state guides to fishing license costs, discounts for seniors and veterans and where to buy.

Does California offer Lifetime Fishing Licenses?

Yes. Lifetime Fishing Licenses are available to California state residents for between $400 and $600 (roughly) depending on age (it costs more the younger you are). Details available here: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Lifetime#773645-license-fees-and-application

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AUTHOR
Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water.