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Can You Guide Fishing in TN Without a Captain’s License?

If you’re an avid angler looking to turn your passion into a business by guiding fishing trips in Tennessee, you may be wondering about the licensing requirements. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about whether you need a captain’s license to legally guide fishing trips in the Volunteer State.

Understanding Tennessee’s Fishing Guide License Requirements

In Tennessee, anyone who accepts compensation for providing assistance to another person in any act of hunting, fishing, and/or trapping is considered a guide and must possess a guide license in addition to any other required licenses. This means that if you plan to charge clients for guided fishing trips, you will need to obtain a guide license from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).

There are two types of guide licenses available in Tennessee:

  1. Resident Guide License ($150)
  2. Non-resident Guide License ($650)

To qualify for a resident guide license, you must have lived in Tennessee for at least 90 consecutive days and possess a valid Tennessee driver’s license or state ID.

Additional Licensing Requirements for Fishing Guides

In addition to the guide license, fishing guides in Tennessee must also have a valid fishing license. Tennessee residents aged 13 and older need a fishing license to fish in the state’s public waters. There are several types of fishing licenses available, including:

  • Annual Fishing License
  • 1-Day Fishing License
  • 3-Day Fishing License
  • 10-Day Fishing License
  • County of Residence Fishing License (only valid in your county of residence)

Fishing guides should obtain the appropriate fishing license based on their residency status and the duration of their guiding activities.

Do You Need a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s License?

While Tennessee requires fishing guides to have a state-issued guide license and fishing license, a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) captain’s license, also known as a “6-pack” license or charter boat captain’s license, is generally only required for guides operating on federally navigable waters, such as coastal waters or certain large rivers.

For most inland fishing guides in Tennessee, a USCG captain’s license is not necessary. However, if you plan to guide trips on waters under federal jurisdiction, you should check with the USCG to determine if a captain’s license is required for your specific situation.

Other Important Considerations for Fishing Guides

When guiding fishing trips in Tennessee, it’s crucial to be aware of and comply with all relevant fishing regulations, including:

  • Daily creel limits
  • Minimum length limits
  • Protected slot limits
  • Seasonal restrictions
  • Area-specific regulations

Familiarize yourself with the TWRA’s fishing regulations guide and any special rules that may apply to the waters where you plan to guide trips.

Additionally, fishing guides should prioritize safety and be prepared to handle emergencies on the water. Consider obtaining first aid and CPR certifications, carrying appropriate safety gear, and developing an emergency action plan.


To legally guide fishing trips in Tennessee, you must obtain a state-issued guide license and a valid fishing license from the TWRA. While a USCG captain’s license is not typically required for inland fishing guides, it may be necessary if you operate on federally navigable waters. By understanding and complying with all licensing requirements and fishing regulations, you can build a successful and responsible fishing guide business in Tennessee.

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