What Is The Penalty For Fishing Without A License In California?

Fishing without a license in California is against the laws and regulations of the state. This behavior is prohibited according to California’s Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedule, Section 4175 (a). Some of the punishment for this offense includes fines and a lifetime ban from fishing in the state. If one is caught fishing without a license in California, they are charged with a hefty fine. This article takes you through everything you need to know about Fishing in California. Read on!

The penalty or fine for fishing without a license in California ranges from $100 to $1,000

There are cases where one can fish without a license without any problem. You are also allowed to fish from public piers without a license. California also has free fishing days, and on these days, you can make a catch without needing a license. However, fishing in inland waters without a license is an offense that you can be charged for. It is important to be aware of California’s fishing laws and regulations before you head out fishing.

How Can I Fish Without A License In California?

How Can I Fish Without A License In California

Not all people are familiar with the license details and requirements in California. Some of the details dictate that people below sixteen years can fish without a license. They can take advantage of the “free fishing days.” These are days set aside in California by the Fish and Game Department where people are allowed to fish without a license. Some policies still need to be followed on these free fishing days, such as mesh size limit, fishing hours, and gear rules.

A license is required by any person who takes any fish, reptile, or amphibian for sporting or entertainment purposes. The person should have a fishing license in person when fishing, not leaving it at home.  A license is not required for an owner of privately owned real property who takes fish for recreation or other purposes except profit from a lake or pond that is wholly enclosed by that owner’s real property.

Also, people are allowed to fish in some public piers without licenses. Ensure you research beforehand to know if the pier close to you needs you to have a fishing license.

What Are The Fines And Charges For Fishing Without A License?

Fines And Charges For Fishing Without A License

The penalty for Fishing in California without a license attracts a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000. If a person commits this same offense within five years from the first offense, they are charged $250 to $1000.

Suppose one does not have a license on them while fishing; they are charged with a $25 fine. This small fine is only on the condition that the angler can provide a valid license at a later date. 

Offenders have rights too. They are required to hire a lawyer to help with the fines and protect their rights. Some of them are not familiar with their rights regarding fines, arrests, police interactions, Miranda rights, and lawyers will help with these issues. No right should be abused, even the criminal rights.

Prohibited Fishing Acts In California

These prohibited acts include:

1. Fishing without a legit license for people with 16 years and above (FGC 7145)

2. Failing to report your harvest or satisfy the return requirements or deadline printed on the report card.  For you to fulfill the return requirement, you need to report your harvest online at www.wildlife.ca.gov 

3. Illegal possession of fish taken. 

4. Transferring Personal permits, validations, tags, applications, licenses, or reservations to another person or obtaining these documents illegally.

5. If one uses a sport fishing license, it is illegal to sell the fish he has harvested.

6. Use of explosives or unauthorized net in state water inhabited by fish 

7. The traps which have been set legally should not be disturbed; disturbing them is prohibited.  

8. State waters from top to 150 feet deep should not be messed with. 

9. It is not allowed to own fish where the species and size cannot be ascertained.

10. Prevent an officer from inspecting where fish may be found, such as a receptacle, boat, and market or receptacle where fish may be found.

11. Not showing the demanded tags, validation, applications, reservation, or licenses to the officer or authorized CDFW employee in charge.

Southern California Coast Fishing

The fishing opportunities on the southern California coast include productive beaches and rich jetty offshore hot spots. You can find fish on this coast, such as rockfish, flounder, surfperch, and halibut. The anglers and fishermen depend on this coast to get an income from the available opportunities. 

Beach Fishing

The best time to fish at the South California beaches is during a looming high tide, morning and evening of specified days. Several fish species are available all through the year, but summer is the peak season where productivity is high. Fish caught in South California beaches are Corbina, surfperch, croaker, halibut, leopard shark, and bat ray. The hot spot fishing points are Redondo Beach, Huntington Beach, and Point Vicente.

Offshore Fishing

The types of fish on the southern California coast include sheepshead, whitefish, bass, rockfish, sole, lingcod, midshipman, and pompano. They exist in the waters up to 300 feet. The fish hot spots are hidden reefs, Santa Catalina, Nine-Mile Bank, Avalon Bank, and Butterfly Bank.

Licenses And Regulations

Visiting the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website is a great place to start your license application. Another way to access the license is through sporting goods shops across the state and most bait stores. These selling points offer free booklets which contain information regarding California fishing seasons, regulations, and limits. This information is also available online. Fish consumers are advised to visit the websites that educate on the best fish, which do not contain contaminants. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do You Need A License When Fishing From A Jetty In California?

No. According to California’s Department of Fish and Game, a jetty refers to a public water body in which fishermen can fish without acquiring a fishing license. Other public water bodies include public fishing piers and breakwaters. 

2. When And Where Should I Report My Harvest?

Below is a summary to guide the regulatory return dates and late reporting dates for specific report cards. You can choose to report your harvest online or send the report cards to their appropriate address.

Harvest report typeRegulatory return dateLate reporting dateSpecies informationPhysical reporting address
Abalone report cardDecember 1-January 31February 1-April 1Abalone Department of Fish and Wildlife, 32330 N. Harbor Drive, Fort Bragg, CA 95437;
Steelhead report cardJanuary 1-January 31February 1- April 1Steelhead
Department of Fish and Wildlife, Steelhead Fishing Report and Restoration Card, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244
Spiny lobster report cardMarch 19-April 30May 1- July 1Spiny lobster if you don’t report your harvest by April 30, you’ll be fined $ 21.60 before purchasing a report card the next seasonDepartment of Fish and Wildlife, Lobster Report Card, 3883 Ruffin Road, San Diego, CA 92123;
Sturgeon report cardJanuary 1-January 31February 1- April 1sturgeondepartment of Fish and Wildlife, Sturgeon Fishing Report Card, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244.
Northcoast salmonJanuary 1- January 31February 1- April 1salmonDepartment of Fish and Wildlife, Klamath River Project, 5341 Ericson Way, Arcata, CA 95521;


3. What Is The Fine For Fishing Without A License In California In 2021?

Fishing without a license in California is illegal. This is an offense that attracts a fine of $1000 + $1000 per fish caught. On top of that, the offenders incur court charges. Failure to pay a fine can lead to imprisonment.

4. Which Are The Best Fishing Spots And Time To Fish In California Without A License?

The best spots are California water bodies, a public pier, and a public jetty. These are artificial structures connected to the main coastline, above the mean high tide, a named and chatted natural island. Additionally, its main aim is to allow fishing, angling, and unlimited access to the water body for seaweeds’ protective boundary of an ocean harbor.


The fines and penalties for fishing without a license in California are hefty and can aggravate you’re being banned from fishing in the state. Fishing without a license may sound ideal when you have no money, but if you compare these fines to the cost of purchasing a license, you’d rather get a license. We hope that this article will help you decide to buy a license or follow the procedures for free fishing and save fish as you do. Happy fishing.

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