What Happens If You Fish Without A License? Everything You Should Know

So you want to catch fish?

Before you head out and live out your angling adventure, you should first check if you have everything ready.

Sure you have your fishing equipment all packed and good to go but do you have a proper license?

What happens if you fish without a license? Is it worth all that trouble?

We will address all of these questions comprehensively in this post, so you know how to prepare for your angling trip and avoid massive headaches from penalties, fines, and worse, revoked fishing licenses.

What Does the Law Say about a Fishing License?

A fishing license is required from all anglers according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1997. Based on this law, fishing without possession of an appropriate license is illegal. This is why you need to secure your license first before you go ahead and catch a fish.

Now, this is something that not many anglers are aware of, particularly those who are new to fishing. But ignorance is never an excuse with the law. You need to be in the know before you proceed to fishing to avoid incurring penalties that come with it.

What Happens if You Fish Without a License?

So a license is a requirement when fishing. Got that.

But what exactly are we looking at when an officer catches you, and you do not have the right license to present?

There are many things that may happen.

Some people are given an initial warning while all the fish caught are confiscated from them.

But the worst thing that can happen – and an expensive one – is having to pay up $500 for fines. In the bleakest scenario, you may even go to jail for not abiding by the law. This is typically the came among offenders who have been caught multiple times and still not learning their lesson.

The Penalties Vary – Key Things You Need to Know

There are different penalties when it comes to fishing without a license. One state has its own rules, so it is important to know very well what the rules are before you fish in a certain region or state.

It is also possible that licenses differ from saltwater, freshwater, or both. You need to be sure that the license you have is indeed the right one you need for the type of activity you are performing.

For example, Florida has a law on fishing without a proper license, which is considered as a first level violation. What this means is that it is not a criminal offense. So yes, you are not likely to go to jail if you are caught.

However, you run the risk of having to pay a fine that may go up to $100. For the first offense, the fine is $50 on top of the price of the fishing license. But if you get caught twice or more within the 36 months of being caught the first time, the penalty goes up to $100.

Offenders caught without a license are given a ticket. You need to accept this and sign, and there is a fine you need to pay within 30 days upon receipt of the ticket. By accepting the ticket and paying, it denotes that you are owning up to your fault and are subject to a hearing.

Keep in mind that the final verdict still depends on the court’s decision. You may have to pay a fine not lower than $50. But for several violations, it is more expensive but not over $500.

The gravity of your case is lessened if you are caught but your license just happened to be not with you during the time of conviction. This is why the fine is only cheaper and likely to be $10 to settle the court fees.

You still need to be present during the hearing and pay the fine upon accepting the ticket. Failure to do so will qualify the case as a second-degree level of misdemeanor. Offenders are subject to a 60pday jail time and a $500 fine.

For those who consistently get caught fishing without a license are in for deep trouble. The officer will confiscate any property that is reasonable to be seized. But it does not stop there – along with losing your possession, you will also need to pay a massive fine that may ring up to $25,000 and one-year jail time.

Read more: Is It Illegal to Fish with Goldfish?

Are There Exceptions to the Fishing License Requirement?

Yes, there are. Some people are not required to possess a license for fishing such as individuals between 16 and 65 years of age. But if you do not belong to this age range, you definitely need to secure a fishing license to avoid harsh penalties that come with getting caught.

Another exception is in the case of those who want to fish in their farmhouse or homestead of your own spouse or child. You can freely fish in this location without the fear of someone catching and apprehending you.

Military personnel can also fish in their home country. But this only applies if you are not using rod and reel systems for fishing. Only live bait and natural fishing bait must be used in this condition.

Here is further information on fishing licenses you may want to know:


Fishing without a license is indeed a very serious matter. There are fines to be paid and even jail time to be served. So to spare yourself from troubles, be sure to secure the right type of fishing license you need before you go on your angling trip. This will give you fish of mind while you catch fish and experience the fun in this rewarding, outdoor activity.

5 thoughts on “What Happens If You Fish Without A License? Everything You Should Know”

  1. “Some people are not required to possess a license for fishing such as individuals between 16 and 65 years of age”.

    Did you proofread?

    • Hi Joshua,

      “Most States do not require licenses of resident children under 16 years of age. Some States exempt persons over 65, resident landowners, blind people, certain veterans, or other.” – Federal Fishing Stamp – Page 5

      • Well that’s not what it days up top that’s why he asked if you proofread…….I was a little dumbfounded when I read italso


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