When selecting a body of water for fishing, you don’t only have to think about the size, the proximity to your home, the clarity of the water, and the fish stocked, but whether that body of water is private or public. If you’re fishing on private property, must you have a fishing license?
In some parts of the country, a fishing license is required if you hope to fish on private property. That’s the case in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Minnesota, and more. Most states though do not mandate that you have a license.
This guide will first explain what entails private property. Then we’ll list the states that don’t require you to have a fishing license when fishing on private property and delve deeper into the ones that do. We have lots of great information to share, so make sure you keep reading!
What Is Defined as Private Property?
Most people have a good idea of what private property is, or at least they think they do. For the sake of this article, we want to present a clear definition.
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, private property is “property owned by private parties – essentially anyone or anything other than the government. Private property might consist of real estate, buildings, objects, intellectual property…”
When someone possesses private property, they can use it as they want. It’s not governmentally mandated, after all. That said, what happens on private property can still be punished to the full extent of the law just as the same can occur on public property.
The difference between personal property and private property can be a bit confusing too. For example, if you’re a homeowner, your home is personal property, but it’s not private property.
A toothbrush, which is a classic example, is personal property, but a company that produces toothbrushes could be private property.
Private property, besides not being personal property, is also not public property. That is property that’s owned by the government such as airports, beaches, bridges, lakes, mountains, playgrounds, parks, rivers, and railways.
Your takeaway from this section should be this: if it’s public property, then you’re usually allowed on it, no problem. If it’s private property, then entering it could be considered trespassing.
Do You Need a Fishing License on Private Property? A State by State Breakdown
The good news is that most states throughout the United States have no restrictions for fishing on private versus public property. Here’s a full list of states in which you don’t need a license even if you plan on fishing in a private lake or pond.
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The following states do require a fishing license before you can enter private property for a day of fishing enjoyment.
The first of the few US states that commands you to carry a fishing license is the freezing cold state of Alaska. This rule is regulated by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game or ADF&G.
You must have a fishing license as young as 16 years old and up to 60 years old. You can select from single-day, three-day, weeklong, two-weeklong, or yearly licenses.
The fees for a single-day fishing license in Alaska are $20. It costs $35 for a three-day license, $55 for a weeklong license, $80 for two weeks, and $145 for the year.
Should you plan on fishing for king salmon in Alaska, then you must purchase a stamp in addition to your fishing license. The stamp is $10 for a single-day license, $20 for a three-day license, $30 for a seven-day license, $50 for a 14-day license, and $100 for an annual license.
If you do purchase a yearlong fishing license in Alaska, then it becomes eligible from the day you purchase it until December 31st of the calendar year.
Throughout Arkansas, the waters promise fish species like white bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, alligator gar, blue catfish, brown trout, black crappie, and so much more.
If you’re venturing into one of Arkansas’ pay-to-fish lakes, then you can forego the license, even if you were fishing on private property. However, for every other body of water besides a pay-to-fish lake, you must have a valid fishing license.
In California, it’s like it’s summertime all year long. The fishing season practically never ends, which is likely why the fishing rules in this state are as regulated as they are.
Once you celebrate your 16th birthday, the next time you want to go fishing on private property and and bring home caught crustaceans, invertebrates, mollusks, and/or fish, you must have a license.
There are a few exceptions. If you’re fishing for non-commercial reasons in a bay or ocean, then you can forego the license and not get in trouble. That’s also true if you’re fishing on public piers throughout California.
Colorado may be beloved for its snowy slopes, but it’s also home to some premier fishing destinations such as Estes Park, Gunnison National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
For any privately-owned bodies of water you’re hoping to fish in throughout Colorado, you better have your license.
The only time that’s not the case is during the first weekend of June, which is categorized in Colorado as free fishing days.
Yearly licenses are available in Colorado beginning on April 1st, notes the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website. The license is valid between March 1st of that same year through March 31st of the next year, which is 13 months.
Once you have a license, you can freely take crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, and fish that you catch whether it’s by day or by night throughout the year.
Over on the east coast, Connecticut is yet another state that requires a fishing license when fishing on private property.
As was the case in Colorado, Connecticut has its own free fishing period, but theirs is for one day per year in May, not a whole weekend.
Connecticut has several types of licenses with different pricing depending on your age. Here’s a breakdown per the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website.
- Resident inland fishing license – $14 for ages 16 to 17, $28 for ages 18 through 64
- Residential all-waters fishing license – $16 for ages 16 to 17, $32 for ages 18 through 64
- Resident inland fishing and small game firearms hunting license – $19 for ages 16 to 17, $38 for ages 18 through 64
- Resident all-waters fishing and small game firearms hunting license – $20 for ages 16 to 17, $40 for ages 18 through 64
- Resident all-waters fishing and bow and arrow permit to hunt deer and small game license – $33 for ages 16 to 17, $65 for ages 18 through 64
- Trout and salmon stamp – $3 for ages 16 to 17, $5 for ages 18 through 64, and $5 for ages 65 and up
Whether you live in Minnesota or not, if you’re fishing here, the state expects you to have a valid fishing license. That rule applies once you turn 16 years old through age 89. Anglers who are younger than 16 can fish if their guardian or parent has a valid license.
Some other exceptions apply for owning a fishing license for private property in Minnesota. If you’re part of a licensed boarding or nursing care home, for example, then you can skip the license.
Those receiving in-patient care at a U.S. Veterans Administration hospital don’t need a license either, but they will be required to fill out a form. Minnesotans who were serving in federal active service over the last 24 months out of the US who have since been discharged and have their discharge papers can skip a license too.
Finally, Minnesotans who were U.S. Armed Forces members stationed outside of Minnesota who are home on leave don’t need a fishing license. They must have furlough or leave papers on their person though.
How Do You Know If Land Is Public or Private?
While it would be excellent if every piece of private property throughout the country was labeled with a clear “private property” sign, that’s not the case.
A private property landowner doesn’t have to do anything to distinguish their property as private, nor must they differentiate their land from public properties.
How in the world do you know whether the body of water you’re visiting is considered private or public property? Here are our tips.
Do Your Research
Most lakes and rivers are considered public property, but to confirm that, you should do your research. A simple search online using Google or your search engine of choice with the name of the river or lake and then “private or public” should reveal the information you seek.
Since private property is not government-owned, you’re not going to see any city or town webpages as well as sites belonging to the state providing you with the information you’re looking for.
You may have to rely on unconventional sources like forum posts or social media content on Reddit or Facebook.
If that’s the route you take with your information-seeking, make sure that the data you have is current. Should the information be more than a year old, then you can’t be sure whether the land is still privately owned without doing more research.
Once you have a better idea of whether the lake, pond, or fishing hole you want to visit is privately or publicly owned, it doesn’t hurt to confirm it by looking at a map. That’s right, a good, old-fashioned map.
You want a detailed map of your state, not a whole US map. That won’t provide the kind of information you want.
If you don’t own a map, then you can always comb the Internet for a digital version. Triple-check that the contents of the map are current or the information you find won’t do you any good.
Rely on Your Fishing Buddies
Are you part of an online fishing group or you do always go fishing with a group of friends? Tap into their wealth of knowledge, especially if where you want to go fishing is rather local. More than likely, someone you know (or a friend of a friend) will be able to help you out.
If several people chime in and tell you that the land is private, you can always back up their assertions with your own research. That said, more than likely, the consensus is correct.
Thus, you’ll want to have a fishing license before you go fishing there if it’s one of the few states in the country that requires it.
When All Else Fails, Quiz the Community
You can always ask around the area where you want to go fishing to get info.
Pop into fishing stores close to the destination and ask the staff members who owns the lake or river you plan on visiting. Once you know, ask if there’s any way you can get in touch with that person.
In some states, you don’t necessarily need a fishing license so much as you do permission from the landowner to go fishing. This is true of fishing on private golf courses too, which is something we wrote about on the blog.
What Happens If You Get Caught Fishing on Private Property Without a License?
Let’s say that you’re aware that the state you live in requires a fishing license to fish on private property. Perhaps you forgot yours or figured that you could get away with not carrying the license on your person.
Well, that’s not true. Eventually, you will get caught.
The initial punishment for fishing in a lake or river that’s considered private property without a fishing license is a fine. The fine could be several hundred dollars or several thousand; that depends on the state the offense occurred in and how many offenses you have on your record.
We want to again refer you to back to our post about fishing on golf courses. In that post, we mentioned that many golf courses across the country are private property, sort of like that lake you went fishing on.
What happens when you’re on someone’s private property? It’s considered trespassing.
One instance of trespassing on private property shouldn’t be the end of the world, as you’ll be fined and that’s about it. However, if you’re caught fishing on private property multiple times, the punishment gets more severe.
You could be issued probation for upwards of a year or more. When you’re on probation, you can’t get in any further legal trouble. Doing so will extend your probation period and could result in jailtime.
Although a jail sentence for trespassing is usually only several months long, that jailtime does go on your permanent record.
Even a few months in jail can completely upend your life. You’ll lose your job because you likely don’t have enough vacation and personal time built up to take off for months. You’re not there to pay the bills, so who knows what could happen to your home?
If you break probation, then your jail sentence could become even longer, which exacerbates the above effects.
It’s much better to have either a fishing license or express permission from the owner so you can fish on private property!
When fishing on private property, a handful of states require you to have a valid fishing license once you turn 16 years old, usually until you’re about 65 (but sometimes up to 80+!). Most states allow you to fish on public and private waters without a license.
To be extra precautionary, unless you’re positive it’s public property, then you should only go fishing in a body of water with your license or permission from the landowner.