Catch and Release Fishing: Do You Need a License?

Catch and release fishing is a popular conservation method used to protect fish populations. But do you need a license to catch and release fish? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about licensing requirements for catch and release anglers across the United States.

What is Catch and Release Fishing?

Catch and release fishing refers to the practice of catching fish using hooks, fishing line, rods, and artificial lures or bait, then unhooking and releasing the fish back into the water unharmed.

The goal is to protect fish populations and habitats while still allowing anglers to enjoy the sport of fishing. Catch and release anglers use barbless hooks, handle fish as little as possible, and aim for quick release to minimize stress and injury to fish.

Do You Need a License for Catch and Release Fishing?

Whether or not you need a fishing license for catch and release depends on your state’s regulations. In some states, catch and release fishing is exempt from licensing requirements. In other states, you need a license whether you plan to harvest fish or release them.

Here are the general rules regarding fishing licenses for catch and release:

  • In Montana, Texas, Florida, New York, and Maine, catch and release fishing requires a license just like traditional angling where fish are harvested.
  • In Colorado, Illinois, Georgia, and North Carolina, catch and release fishing is license-exempt as long as fish are immediately released unharmed.
  • Some states like Wisconsin offer short-term catch and release licenses for tourists and visitors who want to fish but release their catch.
  • Most states offer discounted licenses or license exemptions for seniors, disabled residents, and youth under 16. Always check regulations.

In short: when in doubt, purchase a fishing license to comply with local regulations. Fishing without a license can lead to hefty fines.

Why Do Some States Require Licenses for Catch and Release?

There are a few reasons why many states require fishing licenses even if fish are released unharmed:

  • Fish Population Monitoring – Catch data helps fisheries biologists manage populations. Requiring licenses allows them to collect info on catch rates and sizes.
  • Funding Conservation – License sales provide critical funds for hatchery programs, habitat restoration, enforcement, and other conservation efforts.
  • Access Control – Licenses regulate the number of anglers accessing limited fishery resources. This prevents overcrowding and overfishing.

Releasing fish helps conserve populations, but catch and release still has an impact that must be managed through licensing. Handling fish can lead to injury and death in some cases.

Tips for Practicing Sustainable Catch and Release Fishing

If you plan to catch and release fish, follow these best practices to improve survival rates:

  • Use barbless single hooks which minimize injury and handling time. Avoid treble hooks.
  • Quickly play and land fish to reduce exhaustion stress.
  • Handle fish gently with wet hands. Don’t touch gills or eyes.
  • Hold fish horizontally in water to revive strength before release.
  • If fish is bleeding or exhausted, gently hold in water by the tail until it recovers.
  • Avoid fishing during extreme heat and cold weather.

Practicing sustainable catch and release fishing helps preserve our shared fishery resources while allowing anglers to enjoy the sport. Following research-based handling and gear guidelines can significantly improve fish survival rates after release.


While catch and release fishing helps promote conservation, regulations and licensing requirements vary widely across the U.S. Be sure to check your state’s specific rules before heading out to fish. Investing in a license supports healthy fisheries now and for future generations.

Following best practices for careful fish handling allows anglers to enjoy fishing while also protecting fragile fish populations. With conscientious catch and release fishing, we can maintain fish stocks and conservation funding to preserve this timeless tradition.

Similar Posts