California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Frequently Asked Questions about Sport Fishing Licenses

Sport Fishing License Questions

Q: I noticed some of my license items this year were printed on green paper. For the last few years the licenses have been blue. Is a license printed on the green paper still valid?

A: Yes the green license you received is printed on official license stock. Historically, CDFW used to change the color of license stock every year. With the new automated system, this became unnecessary. However, as improvements to printing technologies emerge, CDFW may change the color of the license paper from time to time. During 2014, the old blue stock will be used up while the new green stock is phased in. Both blue and green licenses are valid for the dates specified on the license.

Q: Who needs a sport fishing license?

A: Any person who is 16 years of age or older must possess a valid sport fishing license when taking any fish, shell fish, reptile, or amphibian in California (Fish and Game Code Section 7145). Fish and Game Code Section 86 defines take as: hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill.

Q: Do I have to wear my fishing license?

A: No. As of March 1, 2010, anglers no longer have to display their sport fishing license on their outer clothing above the waist. However, their sport fishing license must be in their immediate possession while fishing, except when diving as provided in Fish and Game Code Section 7145.

Q: How long is an annual sport fishing license valid?

A: Licenses are valid for a calendar year (January 1 through December 31) or for the remainder of the calendar year if purchased after January 1.

Q: Where can I purchase a sport fishing license?

A: Fishing licenses may be purchased online, from License Agents and at CDFW License Sales Offices.

Q: How do I replace a lost or destroyed fishing license? UPDATED

A: Go to any License Agent or CDFW License Sales Office and pay the appropriate fee for a duplicate sport fishing license. A small fee is charged for each duplicate validation.

If you lose your Abalone Report Card or Sturgeon Fishing Report Card you can obtain a duplicate from CDFW license sales offices only. You must complete an Abalone Report Card Affidavit and pay the duplicate fee to replace an Abalone Report Card. You must complete a Sturgeon Fishing Report Card Affidavit and pay the duplicate fee to replace a Sturgeon Fishing Report Card. Duplicate fees are located on the license description page.

Q: When are this years Free Sport Fishing Days?

A: You can find information about the program including the dates by visiting the CDFW's website at www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/fishing/freefishdays.html.

Q: Can I purchase a fishing license online?

A: Yes. You may purchase fishing licenses online at www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/ols/intro.html.

Q: What type of fishing licenses, report cards and validations are required?

A: You can find this information here: www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/fishing/fishdescrip.html.

Q: Do I have to buy an annual license if I am only going to fish a couple of days?

A: No. Residents and nonresidents can purchase a One or Two-Day Sport Fishing License valid for fishing both ocean and freshwater. Nonresidents can also purchase a Ten-Day Nonresident Sport Fishing License.

Q: Can I get a refund on my fishing license?

A: No. Fishing licenses are considered valid and in use from the time of purchase and the fees cannot be refunded.

Q: Can I purchase a Lifetime Fishing License?

A: Yes. California residents may purchase lifetime fishing licenses. You can find information about the lifetime license application process online at www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/lifetime/lifetime.html.

Q: Why do fees for fishing licenses, stamps and cards increase in price every year?

A: California law establishes fishing and hunting license fees each year for the CDFW. The base fee for sport fishing licenses established in Fish and Game Code Section 7149 and the fees for validations and most report cards are established in other sections of the FGC or Title 14, of the California Code of Regulations.

The FGC requires license fees adjust in response to increases (or decreases) in costs of goods and services using an index called the Implicit Price Deflator (Fish and Game Code Section 713). This index is a gauge of the change in the cost of goods and services from year to year.

For example, as hatchery, law enforcement and wildlife management costs have increased, license fees needed to increase to keep pace with these rising costs. Essentially, license fees adjust up and down to compensate for inflation or deflation. If license fees did not adjust for inflation, then funding for fish and wildlife management and protection would actually decrease because the buying power of a dollar has declined over the years.

Generally, the cost of goods and services increases at a fairly steady, slow rate. About two to three percent per year is common. In recent years, some costs have increased dramatically, particularly the cost of fuel. Because of this, the cost of goods and services jumped approximately 6.19% and 2009 license fees increased accordingly. If the cost of goods and services were to decrease, then license fees would actually decrease the same percentage.

Although fishing and hunting license fees have increased throughout the years, the increase ensures that the CDFW has adequate funding to manage California's diverse fish and wildlife resources and provide the public with enjoyable fishing and hunting experiences.

Q: Can I purchase a fishing license for my friend?

A: You can if you have all the required information to issue a license to your friend.  If you do not have all the information required to purchase a license for your friend, you can purchase a gift voucher that your friend can redeem at any License Agent or CDFW License Sales Office for a sport fishing license.

Q: Is a fishing license required while fishing from a public fishing pier in ocean waters?

A: No, but it must be a public fishing pier. A Sturgeon Fishing Report Card is required to take sturgeon from a public pier in ocean waters. A Spiny Lobster Report Card is required to take spiny lobster from a public pier in ocean waters.

(a) A sport fishing license is not required to take fish for any purpose other than profit by means of angling from a public pier in the ocean waters of the state. (b) For purposes of this section, ocean waters include, but are not limited to, the open waters adjacent to the ocean and any island; the waters of any open or enclosed bay contiguous to the ocean; the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, with any tidal bay belonging thereto; and any slough or estuary, if found between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge (Fish and Game Code Section 7153).

A public pier is defined in the sport fishing regulations as a publicly owned man-made structure that has the following characteristics: is connected, above the mean high tide, to the main coastline or to the land mass of a named and charted natural island; has unrestricted free access for the general public; and has been built or currently functions for the primary purpose of allowing angling access to ocean waters (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 1.88)

Additionally, publicly owned jetties or breakwaters that are connected to land, as described above, that have free unrestricted access for the general public and whose purpose it is to form the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor are public piers. Jetties, breakwaters, promenades, sea walls, moles, docks, linings, barriers and other structures that are not the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor, are not public piers.

Even though licenses and stamps are not required while fishing from a public pier, all other regulations apply (including minimum size, bag limits, seasons and report card requirements).

Q: Can I laminate my license?

A: No. Licenses should never be heat laminated as this will destroy the license. If exposed to extreme heat, licenses will darken and become discolored. However, a discolored license is still valid as long as the text and signature are still readable.

Validations and Report Cards

Q: What kind of validations or report cards do I need?

A: In addition to your fishing license, you may need one or more of the following:

  • An Ocean Enhancement Validation is required if you are fishing in the ocean south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County) (not required with a One or Two-Day Sport Fishing License);
  • A Second-Rod Validation if you want to fish with two rods or lines in inland waters (two rods or lines may not be used in inland waters in which only artificial lures or barbless hooks may be used);
  • A North Coast Salmon Report Card is required by every person* fishing for salmon in the Smith, Klamath and Trinity River systems;
  • A Steelhead Report Card is required for all persons taking steelhead in inland waters.
  • An Abalone Report Card is required by every person* taking abalone from ocean waters between the center of the mouth of the San Francisco Bay and the California-Oregon border;
  • A Sturgeon Fishing Report Card is required by every person* fishing for sturgeon in all California waters; and
  • A Spiny Lobster Report Card is required by every person* taking spiny lobsters in California ocean waters.

* Every person must have the appropriate report card(s) in possession while fishing; including those who are not required to have a sport fishing license, such as individuals under 16 years of age, persons fishing or diving on free fishing days, and anglers fishing from a public pier in ocean waters.

Q: Do I need a Colorado River Special Use Validation to fish in the Colorado River?

A: No. The Colorado River Special Use Validation was discontinued for 2014. If you have a valid California sport fishing license or a valid Arizona sport fishing license, you can fish from either shore of the portion of the Colorado River that makes up the California-Arizona boundary.

Q: Who is required to have a Spiny Lobster Report Card?

A: All anglers who fish for spiny lobster are required to have a Spiny Lobster Report Card. Anglers who are not required to have a sport fishing license, such as anglers who are under 16 years of age, and anglers who fish from a public pier in ocean waters, are required to have a Spiny Lobster Report Card to fish for spiny lobsters.

Q: Are children required to purchase report cards?

A: Yes, children are required to purchase report cards if they fish for salmon in the Smith and Klamath-Trinity River Systems, abalone, steelhead, sturgeon or spiny lobster.

Q: I fish from a public pier in ocean waters and I’m not required to purchase a sport fishing license. Am I required to purchase a report card?

A: Yes. Report cards are required for every person who fishes for salmon in the Smith, Klamath and Trinity River Systems, abalone, steelhead, sturgeon or spiny lobster. There are no exceptions.

Q: I heard that we are required to tag our abalone. How does the Abalone Report Card and Tags work?

A: The Abalone Report Card comes with 24 tags attached to the bottom. Each time you take an abalone, you must make an entry on the report card and on one tag. Immediately upon exiting the water or immediately upon boarding a vessel, whichever occurs first, fill in the month, day, time of catch, and fishing location on the abalone tag, remove and completely detach the tag from the card, and affix it to the shell of the abalone by running a string, line or zip tie through the tag and through a siphon hole of the abalone shell. A vessel is defined as any watercraft used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water (California Vehicle Code Section 9840(a)). Exception: Cardholders who dive from a non-motorized vessel such as a kayak that is in the water may wait until immediately after disembarking from the non-motorized vessel to tag and record any abalone in possession, but shall not transfer any abalone from his or her immediate possession unless they are first tagged and recorded on the report card. Carefully read and follow the instructions on the report card as it will be used to collect data for fisheries management and to enforce daily and seasonal bag limits.

More abalone FAQS.

Q: How does the Sturgeon Fishing Report Card work?

A: The Sturgeon Fishing Report Card comes with three tags. You must record each sturgeon that you keep or release on your Sturgeon Fishing Report Card. When you keep a sturgeon, you also must complete and attach a sturgeon tag to the sturgeon. All sturgeon anglers must return their Sturgeon Fishing Report Cards to the address listed on the back of the card by January 31 of the following year. Carefully read and follow the instructions on the report card as the Sturgeon Fishing Report Card will be used to collect data for fisheries management and to enforce daily and seasonal bag limits.

Q: Where is the North Coast Salmon Report Card required?

A: The North Coast Salmon Report Card is required to fish for salmon in the Smith, Klamath and Trinity Rivers and all of their tributaries. It is not required to fish for salmon in the ocean or other river systems. You must record the location and date before fishing. Each time you catch a fish, you are required to record in the appropriate location on the card. When you move to a new location you must record the new location and the date on the next line of the report card and continue to record each fish caught. If you complete all the lines on the report card, you must return the card to the CDFW before purchasing another North Coast Salmon Report Card. Carefully read and follow the instructions on the report card as it will be used to collect data for fisheries management and to enforce bag limits.

Q: Where is the Spiny Lobster Report Card required?

A: The Spiny Lobster Report Card is required to take spiny lobster in ocean waters. You must record the location, date and gear code before fishing. Each time you retain a lobster, you are required to record it in the appropriate location on the card. When you move to a new location or change gear types you must record the new location, gear code and the date on the next line of the report card and continue to record each lobster caught. If you complete all the lines on the report card, you must return the card to the CDFW before purchasing another Spiny Lobster Report Card. Carefully read and follow the instructions on the report card as it will be used to collect data for fisheries management and to enforce bag limits.

Q: Where can I find more information about the Steelhead Fishing Report and Restoration Card program?

A: The Steelhead Fishing Report and Restoration Card program web page at www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Fishing/Monitoring/SHRC.

Q: When and where should I return my report cards?

A: All report cards must be returned by January 31 of the following year.

  • Abalone Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, 32330 N. Harbor Drive, Fort Bragg, CA 95437;
  • North Coast Salmon Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Klamath River Project, 5341 Ericson Way, Arcata, CA 95521;
  • Spiny Lobster Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Lobster Report Card, 3883 Ruffin Road, San Diego, CA 92123;
  • Steelhead Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Steelhead Fishing Report and Restoration Card, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244; and the
  • Sturgeon Fishing Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sturgeon Fishing Report Card, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244.

Free and Reduced-Fee Licenses

Q: Can I get a free or low-cost fishing license?

A: Eligible low-income seniors at least 65 years of age, and honorably-discharged veterans with a service-connected disability of at least 50 percent may receive a Reduced-Fee Fishing License.

The CDFW also offers Free Fishing Licenses to persons who are blind; low-income American Indians; developmentally disabled persons; and residents who are so severely physically disabled that they are permanently unable to move from place to place without the use of a wheelchair, walker, forearm crutches, or a comparable mobility-related device. Proof of eligibility for all free and reduced-fee licenses is required.

You can find more information about reduced-fee and free fishing licenses on the CDFW's Free and Reduced-Fee Sport Fishing License Information website or by contacting your nearest CDFW License Sales Office.

Q: How do I replace a lost Reduced-Fee or Free Sport Fishing License?

A: If your license was purchased through the Automated Lciense Data System, go to any License Agent or CDFW License Sales Office and pay the appropriate fee for a duplicate license and for duplicate validations. If you lose your Abalone Report Card or Sturgeon Fishing Report Card you can obtain a duplicate from CDFW license sales offices only. If you lost a Five-Year free Sport Fishing License that was issued prior to the ALDS, you must complete the application and resubmit it to a CDFW License Sales Office.

General Information

Q: There are often in-season regulation changes for ocean fishing. How can I find out about these changes if I do not have a computer?

A: To assist anglers without internet access, the CDFW has developed and implemented the Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations Hotline at (831) 649-2801. Using a touch tone keypad, anglers can now get the latest regulations information over the phone; with a cell phone, it's even possible to get this information while at sea.

Q: Where can I ask questions about marine sport fishing?

A: If you cannot find the answer to your marine sport fishing question on the CDFW's Marine FAQs website, you may contact askmarine@wildlife.ca.gov.

Q: Why does CDFW attach tags to fish?

A: Biologists tag fish for many reasons, including:

  1. To follow fish movement over time and to ascertain migration patterns.
  2. To discover habitat preferences for fish at different ages, or reproductive stage.
  3. To determine how fast fish grow.
  4. To get information on fish mortality and population size.

Each species has a unique life history so researchers must tag individuals of the species in which they are interested. Since the return rate for most fish tagging projects is 5% or less, many fish must be tagged in order to gather meaningful information.

Q: What should I do with the tag found on the fish I caught?

A: The CDFW asks that you follow the instuctions found on our Fresh Water Fish Tagging Information website at www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Fishing/Monitoring/FTag/ or the Marine FAQs page at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/faq.asp (click on Research and Resource Management).

Q: How do I find out when the next good low tide is or how low the tide will be?

A: Most boating and tackle stores have inexpensive or free tide-books. You can check the tide predictions in the daily newspaper for the area you are interested in or check online at www.saltwatertides.com/dynamic.dir/californiasites.html.