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Fishing License 101: What ID is Required to Get a License?

As an avid angler, you know that having a valid fishing license is a must before casting your line in most public waters. Fishing licenses are legally required in nearly every state for anglers 16 and older. But one common question many people have is what specific ID is needed to actually purchase that license.

The short answer is that a driver’s license is the most widely accepted and convenient form of identification for buying a fishing license. However, it’s not the only option in most states. There are several other types of government-issued ID that will work, which is good news for anglers who don’t drive.

Key Takeaways

  • A state-issued driver’s license is the most widely accepted ID for fishing licenses, but not the only option
  • Alternate forms of ID include passports, military IDs, state ID cards, tribal cards, and permanent resident cards
  • Check your state wildlife agency for specific ID requirements before purchasing a license
  • Bring valid, unexpired ID and proof of residency if needed for resident license prices
  • Allow processing time for online or phone orders, or visit a license vendor in person for faster service
  • Keep your fishing license and ID on you whenever fishing, as law enforcement can ask to see them
  • Buying a fishing license directly supports fisheries conservation, access and opportunity in your state

This comprehensive guide will break down everything you need to know about acceptable forms of identification for fishing licenses. We’ll cover the most common IDs used, alternative options for those without a driver’s license, and some general tips for ensuring a smooth license buying experience. By the end, you’ll be fully prepared to get legal and hit the water with confidence.

Why You Need a Fishing License

First, let’s do a quick refresher on why fishing licenses are required in the first place:

  1. It’s the law in most states. With a few exceptions like private ponds or free fishing days, all anglers over a certain age (usually 16) must have a valid state fishing license to fish legally in public waters. No license means you risk a hefty fine if caught fishing without one.
  2. License fees directly fund fisheries management and conservation. The money from your license purchase goes right back into the waters you fish, supporting things like habitat restoration, stocking programs, boat ramps, research, and youth fishing initiatives. Think of it as an investment in the future of the sport.
  3. Licenses help monitor angler participation and set sustainable harvest limits. Tracking license sales gives state wildlife agencies important data on how many people are fishing, what they’re catching, and how often. This informs management decisions to maintain healthy fish populations long-term.

So in essence, buying a fishing license is part of being a responsible angler. It ensures you’re following the rules, supporting conservation, and doing your part to keep fishing opportunities strong for generations to come. With that in mind, let’s dive into the ID you’ll need to make that purchase.

Most Common Forms of ID for Fishing Licenses

When you go to buy a fishing license, whether online, by phone, or in person, you’ll be asked to provide some form of government-issued identification. For most anglers, a driver’s license is the go-to ID for this purpose. All states accept a valid driver’s license as proof of identity and residency when purchasing a fishing license.

There are a few reasons a driver’s license is so widely used and accepted:

  • Most adults have one. Over 87% of the U.S. population over 16 has a driver’s license.
  • It’s an official state-issued photo ID. This means it meets the security and verification standards required.
  • It shows your state residency status. This is important because license prices and requirements often differ for residents vs. non-residents.
  • You likely already carry it with you. One less thing to remember when gearing up for a fishing trip.

So if you have a valid driver’s license, that’s almost always going to be your simplest and most straightforward option for buying a fishing license. Just make sure the name and address on your license match what you enter on your fishing license application.

Alternate Forms of Fishing License ID

But what if you don’t have a driver’s license? Maybe you’re not old enough to drive yet, or you simply choose not to for personal or medical reasons. Don’t worry – you still have several other identification options that will work for purchasing a fishing license in most states:

  • State-issued non-driver ID card
  • U.S. Passport or Passport Card
  • U.S. Military ID card (active duty, retired, or dependent)
  • Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
  • Tribal ID card from a federally recognized tribe
  • Foreign passport with valid U.S. visa

Some states may accept additional forms like a voter registration card, concealed carry permit, pilot’s license, or even a hunting license from the same state. The key is that it must be an unexpired, government-issued photo ID (not a school or work ID). When in doubt, it’s best to check directly with your state wildlife agency for their specific ID requirements.

One thing to note is that while these alternate IDs will work for purchasing a license, you may need additional proof of residency to qualify for resident license prices. A driver’s license covers both identity and residency, but other forms of ID may not. In that case, you might need a second document like a vehicle registration, lease agreement, utility bill, or tax return to verify your resident status.

Tips for a Smooth License Purchase

Now that you know what identification you need, here are a few general tips to make your fishing license purchase go as smoothly as possible:

  1. Check your state’s official requirements before you go. While most states follow similar ID guidelines, there can be slight variations. A quick visit to your state wildlife agency’s website or a phone call can confirm exactly what you need to bring.
  2. Make sure your ID is unexpired and legible. An expired license or ID won’t be accepted, even if it’s only a few days past the date. Also check that your photo and information are clearly visible and not worn off, especially on older IDs.
  3. Bring backup if you’re unsure. If you have any doubt whether your primary ID will be accepted, bring a second form as well. Maybe that’s a passport to back up an old driver’s license, or a utility bill to verify the address on your non-driver ID.
  4. Update your address if needed. If the address on your ID is out of date, you may run into issues, especially when proving residency for resident license prices. Taking a few minutes to update it with your state DMV can save a lot of hassle later.
  5. Allow processing time for online or phone orders. If you buy your license online or by phone, be aware that it may take several days to receive it by mail. If you need it sooner, consider visiting a license vendor in person instead.
  6. Bring cash or card, and know your SSN. Most license vendors accept both cash and major credit cards. You’ll also likely be asked to provide your Social Security Number, as this is required by federal law in most states for license purchases.
  7. Keep your license on you while fishing. Once you have your fishing license, make sure to carry it with you whenever you’re on the water, along with the ID you used to purchase it. You can be asked to show both by a wildlife officer at any time.

By following these simple tips, you can ensure a quick and easy license buying experience, so you can spend more time focusing on the fishing.


In summary, while a driver’s license is certainly the most common and convenient ID for buying a fishing license, it’s not the only option. Alternate forms of government-issued identification like passports, military IDs, tribal cards, and state ID cards will also work in most states. The key is knowing your state’s specific requirements and bringing the appropriate documents.

Remember, purchasing a fishing license is more than just a legal formality. Your license dollars directly support fisheries management, habitat work, water access, and youth fishing programs in your state. It’s a small investment that makes a big impact on the future of fishing.

So gather up your ID, buy your license, and hit the water with confidence, knowing you’re doing your part as a responsible angler. Tight lines!

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