Fishing is a popular recreational activity in the United States, with over 49 million Americans participating each year, according to recent 2024 estimates from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. However, fishing regulations can be complex, and many anglers struggle to understand the difference between a land pass and a fishing license.
This comprehensive guide explains everything you need to know about land passes and fishing licenses in 2024. We’ll cover key topics like:
- What is a land pass?
- What is a fishing license?
- When you need each permit?
- Costs and fees
- How to obtain them
- State-specific regulations
Follow our advice to ensure you have the proper permissions for legal and responsible fishing across the country.
What is a land pass?
A land pass, also known as an access permit or use fee, grants you legal access onto certain public or private lands for recreational activities like fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, etc.
Land passes are required when fishing on federally managed lands and waters, including:
- National forests
- National parks
- National wildlife refuges
- Bureau of Land Management areas
- Army Corps of Engineers lakes
- State parks and wildlife areas
A land pass allows you access to the land and water within these areas but does not give you permission to fish. You still need a valid fishing license for that.
What is a fishing license?
A fishing license gives you the legal authority to fish in most fresh and salt waters across the United States. Fishing licenses are mandated and regulated at the state level.
Every angler is required to have an appropriate, up-to-date fishing license when fishing in public waterways like:
- Some privately-owned waters with public access
Fishing license revenue goes towards conservation efforts, fisheries management, maintenance of boat ramps and other public access sites, fish stocking programs, and more.
The key differences between land passes and fishing licenses are:
- Land passes grant access onto public lands and waters but don’t authorize fishing
- Fishing licenses authorize fishing but don’t grant land access
- Land passes are required for federally-managed lands and waters
- Fishing licenses are state-regulated and required for fishing in most public waters
Think of land passes and fishing licenses working in conjunction – both are required for legal fishing access on many public lands and waterways.
When You Need Each Permit
You need a land pass if:
- Fishing on federally-managed public lands and waters like national forests, BLM areas, etc.
- Accessing these lands for any recreational purpose
You need a fishing license if:
- Fishing in any fresh or salt public waters like lakes, rivers, coastlines, etc.
- Fishing in some privately-owned waters with public access
- Fishing in federally-managed areas like national forests – a land pass grants you access, but you still need a license to fish!
You need both a land pass and fishing license when:
- Fishing on most federally-managed public lands and associated waters
- Fishing on state wildlife management areas that require access permits
- Fishing certain private lands enrolled in public access programs
Check regulations for the specific area you’ll be visiting to understand exactly which permits you need.
Age and Residency Requirements
Land pass and fishing license rules can vary based on your:
- Age – Children under a certain age may fish for free or need a simpler permit
- Military status – Active duty military members may receive fishing privileges
- State residency – Residents, non-residents, and foreign visitors may have different license requirements
For example, a non-resident may pay higher fishing license fees than a resident when fishing in the same state waters. Always check individual state regulations for the most up-to-date details.
Costs and Fees
Land pass and fishing license prices vary:
Land passes typically range from:
- $3 per day
- $15 – $30 for an annual pass
- Up to $80 for specialty annual passes granting access to multiple areas
America the Beautiful National Parks Passes grant access to all federal recreational lands and waters for $80 per year.
Fishing license fees range significantly based on:
- Residency status
- Military status
- Type of license
- State regulations
For example, an annual non-resident freshwater fishing license can cost over $100 in some states.
Use online licensing systems to check state-specific costs. Multi-state licenses are also available.
How To Obtain Land Passes and Licenses
To get a land pass:
- Purchase online or on-site at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, etc.
- Consider the $80 America the Beautiful Pass for all federal lands access
To get a fishing license:
- Purchase online through state licensing websites
- Visit approved retail outlets like bait & tackle shops
- Buy through dedicated mobile apps in some states
First-time anglers should review license purchasing guides to ensure they obtain the proper permits.
State-Specific Fishing Regulations
In addition to land pass and license requirements, individual states have specific fishing regulations like:
- Season dates, catch limits, size restrictions
- Gear restrictions – rod/reel types, bait options, etc.
- Required stamps for certain species like trout
- Reporting requirements for harvests
Always review state-level fishing guides before visiting new areas. Regulations are updated annually, so be sure information is current.
For example, see key California fishing license details:
- Non-resident license: $133.19 annually
- Reduced-fee sport fishing license available for low-income residents
- Report cards required for steelhead and sturgeon, must be reported even if not kept
This Texas fishing overview shows different requirements:
- All anglers need fresh or saltwater licenses to fish public waters
- Active duty military fish for free with identification card
- Fishing license not required when fishing on own private property
Always check official state sites for definitive, up-to-date fishing rules.
- Land passes grant land access, fishing licenses authorize fishing
- You need both for fishing many public lands and waters
- Prices range from $3 daily to over $100 for non-resident licenses
- Individual states have specific seasons, limits, gear rules
- Check official sources to understand exact permit requirements
Following these guidelines helps ensure you have the necessary land passes and fishing licenses for legal and responsible angling across the United States. Remember to review individual area and state regulations before visiting any new fishing spots.