Understanding Wisconsin's Fishing License: Does It Cover Your Spouse?

Understanding Wisconsin’s Fishing License: Does It Cover Your Spouse?

In Wisconsin, all residents and nonresidents over 16 must possess a valid fishing license to fish in any waters of the state, including private ponds. This applies whether you plan to catch, release, or harvest fish.

There are a few license exemptions:

  • Children under 16
  • Wisconsin residents born before January 1, 1927

Some discounts are also available for:

  • First-time buyers: $5 annual license for Wisconsin residents , $10 for nonresidents
  • Disabled residents: $7 annual license
  • Veterans and armed forces members

Purchasing Your Wisconsin Fishing License

You have several options to purchase your Wisconsin fishing license:

  • Online via the the Go Wild portal
  • In-person at any DNR license agent location
  • At Wisconsin DNR service centers

When buying online, you’ll need a valid driver’s license or social security number. Consider purchasing early, as system delays can occur near opening day of fishing season.

Wisconsin Fishing License Costs

License costs vary based on residency status, age, and license duration:

Resident Licenses

  • Annual: $20
  • First-time buyer annual: $5
  • 1-day: $8
  • 2-day Great Lakes: $14 (includes trout/salmon stamp)

Nonresident Licenses

  • Annual: $55
  • 1-day: $15
  • 4-day: $29
  • 15-day: $33

Additional stamps and specialty licenses are extra. See the full fee list for more options.

Do Spouses Need Separate Licenses?

Yes, you and your spouse will each need an individual Wisconsin fishing license if over age 16, even if fishing together.

There is no “spousal license” that covers both people. The only exception is a non-resident family license, which covers:

  • 1 primary adult
  • Minor children or grandchildren under 18

So a non-resident family on vacation could purchase this option to cover the entire group. But once children turn 18, they need their own license.

For Wisconsin-resident couples, each individual needs their own license. The DNR offers an annual license for only $20, with discounts for first-time buyers, veterans, disabled residents, and seniors.

Enforcement of Fishing Licenses

Wisconsin conservation wardens do check for valid fishing licenses, especially during busy seasons. Violators may face fines of $100–200 or more, depending on the violation.

In addition, Wisconsin has a 3-strike penalty rule for repeat fishing violations:

After the third conviction for a violation of fishing regulations, a 3 year revocation of all hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses will be enforced .

So make sure to carry your license and follow all regulations to avoid fines and license suspensions.

Declining License Sales and Funding Shortfalls

While Wisconsin fishing remains extremely popular, license sales have gradually declined over the past decade as older anglers age out of the sport and fewer young people take up fishing.

Gun deer license sales dropped 4% from 2018 to 2023, and overall license sales are down nearly 1% over the previous year.

This has resulted in a $16 million budget shortfall for the DNR going into 2024-2025, putting key conservation programs in jeopardy.

“The shortfall will mean wildlife and fishery programs will be reduced or eliminated,” said Fred Strand, the department’s director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks .

With license fees fixed by the legislature, the DNR has limited options to increase revenue. Small increases to non-resident license fees were approved in 2023, but more significant changes may be needed to close the widening budget gap.

Conclusion

I hope this overview on Wisconsin fishing licenses has helped explain the rules around who needs one, where to purchase, costs, spousal coverage, enforcement, and the impacts of declining license sales. Be sure each adult in your family has their own valid license before heading out to fish.

Tight lines! Let me know if you have any other questions.

FAQs

Q: Does my Wisconsin fishing license cover my spouse?
A: No, spouses are not covered under the same fishing license. Every person who participates in fishing in Wisconsin needs to have their own fishing license, including your spouse.
Q: Can my wife fish with me if she doesn’t have a fishing license?
A: No, each person who participates in fishing in Wisconsin needs to have their own fishing license. If your wife wants to fish with you, she will need to purchase her own fishing license.
Q: How much does a fishing license cost in Wisconsin?
A: The cost of a fishing license in Wisconsin varies depending on several factors, such as residency status, age, and duration of the license. You can visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website to find the most up-to-date information on fishing license fees.

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