Fishing Without A License In California| Is that possible? If not, why?

Are you looking forward to exploring the waters in California and catching some fish without incurring license costs? Paying for permits and licenses can be off-putting for newcomers who are not sure if they will enjoy fishing. If you wonder how you can experience fishing first, then decide whether or not to get a license, you are in the right place. This article takes you through how you can fish without a license, rules and regulations, and everything you need to know about fishing in California. Read on!

Yes, you can fish without a license in California at public piers, on two free fishing days set by the CDFW, or if you qualify for a free license. In 2021, the free days are 3rd July and 4th September.

These free fishing days provide an excellent and low-cost opportunity to try fishing and socialize with people passionate about fishing. Those who dream about learning to fish but are unsure where to start these days can be eye-openers. If you are below 16 years, you don’t need a fishing license.

You can also fish without any permits at the public ocean or bay piers. Here’s a list of some free fishing piers, their locations, and fish species :

1. Antioch Pier on San Joaquin River for  striped bass and Catfish

2. Avila Pier on  Avila Beach for white croaker, mackerel, and surfperch

3. Balboa Pier on Newport Beach for Corbina, surfperch, bonito and  jacksmelt

4. Berkeley Fishing Pier in Berkeley for jacksmelt, staghorn, and surfperch

5. Brisbane Fishing Pier in Brisbane for surfperch, staghorn, and sculpin

6. Cabrillo Fishing Pier in San Pedro, LA for White croaker and Pacific mackerel

7. South T-Pier at Morro Bay for Pacific mackerel, jacksmelt, and surfperch

8. Venice Fishing Pier at Venice Beach, LA for halibut and Cackerel

9. Capitola Wharf in Capitola for mackerel, perch and jacksmelt

10. Cayucos Pier in Cayucos for jacksmelt, Pacific mackerel, and white croaker

11. Ventura Pier in Ventura for bonito, Corbina, mackerel and jacksmelt

The CDFW( California Department of fishing and wildlife) has been authorized by the Fish and Game Code, Section 7151, to offer free sport fishing licenses to anglers who meet certain criteria. However, even with a free sport fishing license, you still have to purchase cards or additional validations for some species or fishing locations at their regular fee.

The Criteria For Qualifying For A Free Sport Fishing License In California Are:

The Criteria For Qualifying For A Free Sport Fishing License In California Are

1. Any person with a certification of blindness from an ophthalmologist or optometrist. This person should have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best quality correcting glasses or a central visual acuity above 20/200 if the visual field’s diameter is less than 20 degrees.

2. Any resident with a permanent physical disability and requires a wheelchair, crutches, or walker to move from place to place. To apply for the free license under this category, you need to have a copy of the previous year’s free license being verified by a licensed physician.

3. Any person with a developmental disability is certified by a licensed physician or a state regional center director.

4. Low-income Native American who is financially unable to pay for the resident sport fishing license. To qualify under this category, you need a copy of your official tribal membership, certificate of tribal enrollment, or an identification card with a membership number.

If you meet any of these criteria, you can apply for your first license on the California Department of fishing and wildlife website or any CDFW license sale office. All applications are reviewed, and eligibility verified before a license is issued. It takes a maximum of 15 days for your application to be reviewed and processed. If you qualify for the license through disability, you can renew it online every year. For native Americans who qualify for the free license, they have to resubmit a new application each year. 

If you are not eligible for a free fishing license, you can try your luck at a reduced-fee fishing license. This type of license applies to low-income seniors, disabled veterans, and recovering service members. The annual license fee for disabled veterans and recovering service members is $8.38, while that of low-income seniors is $ 7.98. To apply, visit any CDFW license sales office or their website for more information and application forms.

How Much Is A Fishing License In California 2021?

How Much Is A Fishing License In California

If you do not qualify for a free or reduced-price fishing license, you need to purchase a regular one from the CDFW license sales office or through a licensed agent: you can also get one online. A fishing license will safeguard you from paying hefty fines that may be imposed if you are caught fishing without a license. 

Any person attempting to take fish, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, invertebrates, or reptiles in ocean or inland waters must have a sport fishing license. Some locations and fish species require you to have additional report cards and validations.

Below is a summary of the cost of a sport fishing license in California. Most fees include a 5% license agent handling fee and a 3% non-refundable application fee.

Annual Sport Fishing License

An annual license is valid from 1st January to 31st December; if purchased after 1st January, it is valid for the remaining part of the year.

License Cost Description
Resident- Sport Fishing$52.66For residents aged 16years and above.
Non-resident Sport Fishing$142.05For non-residents who are above 15 years old.
Reduced-Fee Sport Fishing License for disabled Veterans $7.98 at CDFW Offices and
$8.38 from License Agents
Any resident or non-resident who was honorably discharged disabled veteran with a 50 percent or greater service-connected disability. After you prequalify the first disabled veteran’s reduced fee license, you can purchase subsequent licenses anywhere they are sold.
Reduced-Fee Sport Fishing License for a recovering Service Member$7.98 at CDFW Offices and $ 8.38 from License AgentsFor any U.S. military service member who is recovering. 
Reduced Fee Sport Fishing License for Low-Income Seniors$7.98For low-income California residents aged 65 years and above, who meet the specified annual income requirements. This license is only available at the license sales office.
Free Sport Fishing License for native Low-Income AmericansfreeFor any resident and Native American who cannot afford to buy a resident sport fishing license. 
Free Sport Fishing License for Immobile, developmentally Disabled or blindNO FEEfor a person who is immobile, developmentally disabled, or blind. Your first Free Sport Fishing License should be gotten from CDFW License and Revenue office, but subsequent licenses can be obtained from any license agent. 

Short-Term Sport Fishing Licenses

License Cost Description
One-day Sport Fishing License$17.02Allows both residents and non-resident to fish for one specific day. 
Two-day Sport Fishing License$26.49Allows both residents and non-resident to fish for two consecutive days
Ten-day Non-resident Sport Fishing License$52.66Allows a non-resident to fish for ten consecutive days.

Report Cards And Validations

Report cards are a must-have for any person fishing sturgeon, steelhead, abalone, spiny lobster, or salmon in the trinity smith or Klamath rivers. Everyone fishing for these species, including those that don’t need a fishing license, must have a report card.

ValidationCost Details
Ocean Enhancement Validation$5.97Required when fishing in ocean waters that are to the south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County). You don’t need an Ocean Enhancement Validation when fishing with a one or two-day fishing license.
Second Rod Validation$16.46Meant for persons using two rods or lines in inland waters except in waters where only barbless hooks or artificial lures are used.
Sturgeon Fishing Report Card$9.21Any person taking sturgeon needs this card. Each person gets only one sturgeon report card per year.
North Coast Salmon Report Card$7.30Meant for persons taking salmon on the north coast (smith, Klamath, and Trinity rivers)
Steelhead Report Card$8.13For persons taking steelhead in any inland waters.
Spiny Lobster Report Card (valid throughout the lobster season).$10.54for persons taking spiny lobster. Ensure you return your card or report your harvest online to avoid being charged a non-return the following season.


You can fish without a license in any public pier that is not in inland waters. Persons below the age of 16 and those with exemptions can also fish without licenses. If you are not fishing off a pier or exempted, it is advisable to get a fishing license.

Leave a Comment