California Fishing License: Your Complete State Guide

If you are an angler in or are visiting the Golden State, you must ensure that you have an up-to-date California Fishing License before you so much as wet a single line. Doing so not only ensures you comply with the law but also helps California manage its sizable fisheries.

California beach

Here is all you need to know about the California Fishing License, as well as other fishing requirements and how to get the type of license you need.

Why You Need a California Fishing License 

Your sport fishing license helps fund conservation programs, boat ramps, access facility maintenance, and education courses. It is also the law that if you fish in the state and are older than 16, you need a basic fishing license in California, and for certain activities, you need a specialized license. 

The only time annual licenses are not required are on designated free fishing days, at specific locations, and if you qualify for a free fishing license in California.

Types of California Fishing Licenses 

You have several options to buy a fishing license in California. It is important to note that you must adhere to all California fishing regulations while in possession of any California sport fishing licenses. 


The annual fishing license is available to residents and non-residents at different costs. The definition of a California resident, per California fish and game law, is anyone that is in California for a total of 180 days each year and does not have permanent, established residency, primary residency, or is domiciled in another state or country. 

Anyone that does not meet those criteria is considered a non-resident for fishing license qualification and eligibility reasons.

There are also reduced fees and free licenses based on the following criteria:

  • Reduced Fee for recovering service member
  • Reduced fee for disabled veteran
  • Reduced fee for low-income senior
  • Free License for low-income Native American
  • Free License for mobility-impaired, blind, or developmentally disabled individuals


For occasional anglers, a shorter-term license may be a more affordable and better fishing license option. There are three types of short-term fishing licenses:

  • One Day Sport Fishing: Residents and non-residents 
  • Two-Day Sport Fishing: Residents and non-residents 
  • 10-Day Non-resident Sport Fishing: Permits non-residents to fish for 10 consecutive days


A lifetime fishing license is available to residents of California. They are broken down by age:

  • Ages 0-9
  • Ages 10-39
  • Ages 40-61
  • Ages 62 and over

California also offers a “Fishing Privilege Package,” which includes the following:

  • Lifetime fishing license 
  • Lifetime Second Rod Validation
  • Ocean Enhancement Validation
  • North Coast Salmon Report Card
  • Steelhead Report Card

Both the Second Rod Validation and ocean Enhancement validation run for 365 days from the date of purchase and must be renewed each year.

Other qualifying criteria include that the purchaser must be a California resident at the time of the purchase. Your license will still be valid if you move out of state.

Lifetime fishing licenses must be annually renewed (even if you skip a year) and must be purchased at an official California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) (not via a licensed agent.) 

Other Fishing Requirements in California

In addition to a basic Sport Fishing License, California has several specific fishing requirements and validations. Those include:

Ocean Enhancement Validation

The Ocean Enhancement Validation costs $6.74 and is required if you want to fish in the ocean (not bays or tributaries, except as defined by law) from south of Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County. 

The Ocean Enhancement Validation helps fund conservation and hatchery programs throughout the state. If you are fishing on a one or two-day fishing permit, you do not need the Ocean Enhancement Validation.

Report Cards

All anglers fishing for specific types of fish (listed below) must have the applicable report card on their person in addition to their sport fishing license. The fish covered by the report card are:

  • Steelhead salmon
  • Spiny Lobster
  • Sturgeon

You must also have a North Coast Salmon report card if you fish for salmon in the Smith, Klamath, and Trinity rivers. Additionally, based on the season, you might need a validation to fish for Abalone. You must return all applicable report cards to CDFW by January 1 of the following year or, for Spiny Lobster, by April 30 of the current year.

Second Rod Validation

If you plan on fishing more than one rod or line when you are fishing inland waters, you need the Second Rod Validation. 

How To Apply for a California Fishing License

You can apply in person at any licensed agent of the State of California. You may also apply at any CDFW office. If you prefer not to buy your license in person, you can apply and purchase a California Sport Fishing License online.   

Lake Tahoe in California
Pictured: Lake Tahoe

How Much Does a California Fishing License Cost?

The following is a summary of the costs of a California Fishing License, broken down by type of fishing license.


An Annual California Sport Fishing License for a resident of California costs $58.58. For a non-resident, the cost is $158.25.

Here are the breakdowns of costs for specially classified sport fishing licenses in California.

  • Reduced Fee for recovering service members costs $9.01 from CDFW offices and $9.46 from licensed agents
  • Reduced fee for disabled veterans cost $9.01 from CDFW offices and $9.46 from licensed agents 
  • Reduced fee for low-income seniors costs $9.01 
  • Free License for low-income Native Americans
  • Free License for mobility-impaired, blind, or developmentally disabled individuals


Short-term State of California Fishing Licenses also has a fee structure. 

  • One-Day Sport Fishing: $19.18
  • Two-Day Sport Fishing: $29.42
  • 10-Day Nonresident Sport Fishing: $58.58 


The following age groups can purchase a lifetime fishing license at the following 2022 and 2023 rates:

  • Ages 0-9, $594.75, $644.50
  • Ages 10-39, $972.50, $1,054.25
  • Ages 40-61, $876.00, $949.75
  • Ages 62 and over, $594.75, $644.50

California also offers a “Fishing Privilege Package,” as part of its CA sportfishing licenses package, which includes the following:

  • Lifetime fishing license 
  • Lifetime Second Rod Validation
  • Ocean Enhancement Validation
  • North Coast Salmon Report Card
  • Steelhead Report Card

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are frequently asked questions about California fishing license rules and requirements.

How old do you need to be to have a fishing license in California?

Anyone 16 years old or older needs a California resident or non-resident Sport Fishing License.

Can you be fined for fishing in California without a license?

Yes. First-offense fines range from $100 to $1,000. Second-offense fines range from $150 to $1,000. Depending on the severity of the infraction, license suspension may also apply.

What if I lose my fishing license?

You can repurchase a duplicate Sport Fishing License to replace a lost or stolen Sport Fishing License for $12.96. To replace a Sport Fishing Validation costs $3.50, Sturgeon report card costs $17.51, and an Abalone report card costs $20.60.

Are California fishing licenses valid in other states?

Your California Sport Fishing License is valid in California and falls under California law. California has a reciprocal agreement on border lakes and rivers, including Lake Tahoe, Topaz Lake, and the Colorado River.

Final Thoughts

California presents vibrant and exciting freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities. All anglers, however, must hold valid California fishing licenses when applicable and any applicable specialty licenses to fish legally in the state. California has several specialty programs to both help anglers afford their license as well as to cover fishing for specialty species.

To get your California fishing license, visit a CDFW office, CDFW licensed sales offices, or apply for a California fishing license online.

Tommy Bull
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