Is It Illegal To Catch And Release Fish Without A License?

Fishing laws and regulations can vary from state to state. It is understandable if you are a bit lost or confused. If you do not want to get into trouble, you must familiarize yourself with these regulations first.

Is it illegal to catch and release fish without a license? Generally speaking, you will need an official license to partake in any fishing activities. Some states might have exceptions, and it could be legal to catch fish and release them even without a license.

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After reading this article, you will know who needs a fishing license and who is exempt. This article will also talk about what happens if you are caught fishing with no license.

What Is A Fishing License For?

Those who need to apply for a fishing license are not only commercial fishers. Even if you only do this for recreation a few times a year, you need an official permit.

Catching fish with the intent to release them is not an excuse either. If you are fishing in a publicly accessible area, you cannot do so without a license.

There are various types of permits or licenses that have different prices, depending on several factors. These factors include the type of fishing, the state you reside in, and the duration.

Exemptions For Fishing Licenses

Some people are exempt from this rule, but it is a select few. Most of the time, the elderly and children do not need a license to go fishing. Children may refer to minors or those who are under 16 years old. Senior citizens are 65 years of age and above.

Disabled persons, military veterans, and active military personnel may also not need a fishing license. However, this does not apply to all states, and it will still depend on the local laws.

What Happens If You Are Caught Without A License?

Since the regulations are different for each state, the consequences and punishment will also vary. Some places might be more lenient compared to others if you are lucky, but the laws are very strict.

If you are a first-time violator, you usually only have to pay a fine and perhaps undergo a hearing. As long as you get yourself a license or do not get caught again, you are in the clear.

However, if you get caught without a license multiple times, the odds are not in your favor. On top of paying a hefty penalty fee, you could also face jail time for this.

Constant violation of the regulations also gives the state reason to seize your property or belongings as they see fit.

Getting a fishing license is not that expensive, nor is it that difficult. Dealing with law enforcement if you are caught in a lot more trouble than it is worth.


There are some exemptions to catching and releasing fish without a license. However, those exemptions only apply to a small group of people. It is best if you only get your own fishing license to release any anxiety and worry.