California offers some of the best beaches in the U.S. and probably the world. Many of these beaches also provide prime spots for fishing. However, many people avoid this fun hobby simply because they don’t understand the fishing license requirements.
So, can you fish without a license on a California beach? The answer isn’t straightforward as the license requirements vary based on where you plan to fish and what you’re fishing for. Basically, you need a fishing license when fishing from the beach in California unless you’re on a public pier.
Where to Buy a Fishing License and How Much Does it Cost?
Fishing licenses are managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). They provide three different ways to purchase a fishing license. You can get your license from any licensed agent, at a local CDFW license sales office, or through the CDFW website.
When you purchase your license from an agent or online, you will get charged a 5% handling fee. You can avoid this by visiting any of the 10 CDFW sales offices:
- Los Alamitos
- Rancho Cordova
- San Diego
The CDFW recommends that you contact the sales office before visiting as the hours of operation can vary. Calling ahead may help you avoid making an unnecessary trip to one of these offices.
You can also get a fishing license from any license agent. Typically, any outdoor sports store, fishing supply shop, or business that sells fishing equipment is qualified to sell licenses.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a local office or agent, you can simply fill out a form online through the CDFW website and order your license.
The cost of the license depends on the type of license you decide to get. You can get annual or short-term licenses.
The annual license is valid from the time of purchase through December 31st. The short-term licenses are good for one, two, or ten days. The one- and two-day licenses are for residents and nonresidents while the ten-day license is only for nonresidents. Here is a closer look at the fees for each type of fishing license:
- Annual resident license: $48.34
- Annual nonresident license: $130.42
- One-day license: $15.69
- Ten-day license: $48.34
- Two-day license: $24.33
The CDFW also provides reduced-fee licenses for various groups. Disabled veterans, recovering servicemembers, and low-income seniors can get annual fishing licenses for just $7.21. Low-income Native Americans and those with certain impairments may qualify for free annual licenses.
Where to Fish Without a License?
In most areas of California, you’ll need a fishing license. There are two exceptions to the typical fishing license regulations. You can fish without a license either from a public pier or on one of the two free fishing days held each year. Keep in mind that this only applies to non-commercial fishing.
If you want to avoid the license fee, you simply need to find a nearby public pier. So, what’s considered a public pier? The CDFW defines a public pier as a publicly-owned manmade structure.
The pier needs to be connected to the main coastline or to a land mass while providing free access to the public. Fishing also needs to be the primary function of the pier.
Besides a manmade structure, publicly owned breakwaters and jetties may be considered public piers for fishing purposes. The jetties or breakwaters must be connected to the land and provide unrestricted access to the public.
Jetties and breakwaters also need to form the most seaward boundary of the harbor. If they are not the most seaward boundary, they are not considered public piers.
When fishing from a pier, you can only use two fishing rods or traps. While you can bring more rods with you, only two of them can be in use at the same time.
The CDFW also offers two free fishing days during the year. These events are intended to help attract interest in fishing and encourage anglers to renew their fishing licenses. While the dates vary each year, they are often held at the beginning and end of summer.
Whether you go fishing on a free fishing day or from a public pier, you still need to follow all other fishing requirements. The fishing hours, bag limits, and fishing regulations remain in effect.
How Many Rods and Hooks Can I Use for Surf Fishing?
If you prefer to get your feet wet while fishing, you may enjoy surf fishing. However, you’ll need a standard fishing license. The benefit of surf fishing is that you can use as many rods and hooks as you want in most areas.
Searching online, you may find discussions about the need for a two-rod stamp to use two rods while surf fishing. This is a myth that continues to get spread online. The second-rod validation only applies to those fishing in inland waters.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife states that you can use any number of rods while fishing the open ocean with a few exceptions. The following scenarios only allow one rod:
- Fishing for salmon
- Fishing in the San Pablo Bay and tributaries
- Fishing for greenlings, cabezon, lingcod, or rockfish
When fishing from a public pier, you’re limited to two rods but you don’t need a stamp or a license. If you’re fishing from the shore or the open waters, you can bring all the rods that you own.
What Is a Fishing Report Card and When Do You Need One?
Along with a fishing license, you may need a report card when fishing for specific fish. A report card is an additional document that you’re required to purchase for certain types of fishing, such as:
- Abalone: $22.94
- Sturgeon: $8.38
- North Coast salmon: $6.48
- Steelhead: $7.30
- Spiny lobster: $9.46
These report cards are needed by anyone who is fishing even if he or she doesn’t normally need a fishing license. For example, those under the age of 16 and those fishing on public piers don’t need licenses but they do need report cards when fishing for the fish listed above.
The report cards are good for one year. If you purchase a one-, two-, or ten-day fishing license, you don’t need to buy a new report card when you renew the license.
When fishing for the species listed, you also need to fill out the report card. Anglers are required to list their catches on the report card and return it to the CDFW.
For salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, or abalone, you need to submit your card by January 31st of the following year. For lobster, you need to submit your report card by April 30th after the close of the lobster season.
What Are the Bag and Size Limits for Fishing in California?
Many species of fish have a bag and size limit. The bag limit refers to the number of fish that you’ve caught while the size is the size of the fish. This means that you need to release any fish after reaching the bag limit. You also need to release any fish that do not meet the minimum size limit.
For example, you can only catch up to three white seabass per day and they must be longer than 28 inches. However, you’re limited to one white seabass when fishing south of Point Conception between the dates of March 15th and June 15th.
The bag and size limits vary depending on the species of fish and where you’re fishing. Before heading to your favorite fishing spot, you may want to research these regulations. The CDFW website includes a long list of bag and size limits.
The purpose of these limits is to protect species of fish near commercial fisheries. Allowing the public to simply catch as many fish as they want may impact the local commercial fishing industries.
Failure to comply with these limits is a serious matter. The CDFW gives steep fines to those who exceed the bag or size limits. It’s not uncommon for people to receive fines ranging between $700 and $1500 for catching one fish that is too small.
Obtaining a fishing license is not always required in California. If you’re fishing from a public pier, you don’t need a license. You also don’t need a license when fishing on the two free fishing days held each year.
When fishing from a pier, you can only use two rods. However, you can use as many rods as you want when fishing in the open ocean from the shore or a boat.
The license fee varies depending on the type of license and report card that you need. An annual resident sports fishing license costs $48.34 while a one-day license costs just $15.69. You can buy it online, from a local bait and tackle shop, or at a local CDFW office.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife makes it easy for residents and nonresidents to get fishing licenses. The licenses are reasonably priced and buying one ensures that you’re catching your fish legally.