Can You Be Arrested for Fishing Without a License?

If you’re planning a fishing trip, you must carry a valid fishing license with you at all times. If you forget your license you can get in trouble with the law, get a ticket, and face penalties. 

But, can you be arrested for fishing without a license? In most cases, you probably won’t get arrested for fishing without a license. Unless in extremely extenuating circumstances, most people don’t serve any time for fishing without a license but receive a monetary fine. When paying a fine, you’re also accepting violation points on your license. 

Keep reading to learn what happens when people get caught fishing without a fishing license. This article will also tell you what are the different types of fishing licenses and how much is the fine for being caught fishing without a permit. 

How Many Types of Fishing License are There?

A fishing license is a legal mechanism used by local governments to regulate fishing. Although fishing regulations vary slightly from one state to the next, all adult persons must carry a valid fishing license. In some states, even children ages 12 and older must possess a current fishing license when fishing.

There are several types of fishing licenses, depending on the type of fish you want to catch and the location you’re fishing in. The most common types of fishing licenses are:

  • Sport Fishing License: Is required for any person trying to catch fish, mollusks, invertebrates, crustaceans, amphibians, or reptiles in inland or ocean waters. In certain areas and for certain species, additional validations are required
  • Combination License: This type of license allows anglers to fish in freshwater and saltwater and to harvest seaweed and shellfish
  • Freshwater License: This license allows fishermen to fish in freshwater only
  • Saltwater License: Allows anglers to fish in saltwater areas only
  • 1-3 Day Combination Licenses: These short-term licenses are similar to a combination license and require the purchase of additional validations. These licenses must be used on consecutive days
  • Shellfish/Seaweed License: This license allows anglers to harvest red rock crab, razor clams, goose barnacles, mussels, coastal Dungeness crab, oysters, sea cucumbers, scallops, shrimp, sea urchins, squid, softshell and hardshell clams, and seaweed
  • Razor Clam License: Available as a tree-day temporary license or annual license, a razor clam permit license allows anglers to harvest razor clams

Do You Really Need a Fishing License to Fish?

No matter what state you’re planning to fish in, you will need some type of fishing license. The type of fishing license can vary and depends on the species of fish you want to target and the body of water you plan to fish in.

A valid saltwater fishing license doesn’t permit someone to fish in freshwater rivers, lakes, or streams. Some states have different licenses for different people, so ensure you get the correct fishing license.

What Happens Once You Get Caught Without a Fishing License?

What Happens Once You Get Caught Without a Fishing License

The repercussions of hunting and fishing without a license vary from one state to the other, but overall, policies and fines are pretty much the same. Fishing without a license is a violation of government rules and natural resources. 

Fishing without a license is penalized by a fine, and repeat offenders may end up serving jail time. In most states, getting caught fishing without a license means you’ll be given a ticket with 30 days to pay the fine. You admit your mistake and your right to a hearing, by paying the fine.

Not only will you get a fine for fishing without a license, but you’ll also get violation points. If the county court convicts you of a hunting crime or you plead guilty, you’ll get points based on your violation. 

Violations can get you anywhere from 10 to 20 points. Earning more than 20 points within five years means a state can revoke your fishing and hunting privileges. 

How Much Is the Fine When Caught Fishing Without a License?

How much the fine for fishing without a fishing license depends on the state and whether you are a repeat offender or not. Fines range from $50 to several thousand dollars. 

If you get caught fishing without a license, all the fish you have caught will be confiscated. Depending on the state, you may pay anywhere from $5 to $1000 for every fish in your possession.

Repetitive offenders may pay higher fines and even face jail time. Besides penalties, you may need to pay additional fees if you’re caught possessing fish that are protected or if you caught them during the closed season. In this case, you may pay up to $20,000 and have your fishing equipment confiscated. 

What Will Happen if You Have a License but Forgot to Bring It?

Having a fishing license and forgetting to carry it is still a violation of state fishing rules and regulations. That’s why it’s essential to remember to carry your fishing license with you at all times.

Depending on the officer, you may end up with just a warning, or receive a violating ticket. Not paying the fine in time will add to the degree of your violation and increase the cost of the fine and the number of violation points you receive.


Although it’s unlikely that you’ll get arrested for fishing without a fishing license, you’ll have to pay a fine. Depending on the state, first-time offenders may pay a $50 fine for fishing without a license. But if you are a repeat offender, you may have to pay several thousand dollars and even serve jail time.

Forgetting to bring a valid fishing license on a fishing trip is still a violation and may carry a $50 fine if it’s your first offense. The best way to avoid getting fined and ensure a successful day on the water is to always carry a current fishing license.