Do You Need A License To Go Ice Fishing: The Info You Need

There’s no doubt about it, ice fishing is gaining in popularity with more anglers than ever taking to the ice in an effort to extend their fishing season.  There are also thousands of new anglers picking up a fishing pole for the first time this winter. 

So it is no surprise that I am constantly asked if a fishing license is required to go ice fishing.

In order to legally go ice fishing, a standard, state issued, fishing license is all you need.  In most states, the same annual license you used in the spring will work this winter as well.  However, some types of ice fishing, like darkhouse spear fishing, require additional permits depending on specific state regulations.   

Hopefully, you are asking this question because you’re itching to hit the ice this winter, so read on for the information you’ll need regarding ice fishing licenses.

How do I know if my license is still valid 

With few exceptions, an annual fishing license is valid for the entire year.  But that doesn’t mean your license is valid for an entire year starting the day you bought it.

To find out if your fishing license is still valid, check the dates on your printed license.  It should clearly indicate the time frame your license is good for.  Also, make sure your other endorsements and permits are still valid as well before going fishing.

Fishing licenses are valid for one calendar year starting on a set date.  Which means, if you buy a license one month before they are set to expire, you’ll need to purchase another license at the end of the month for next season.

Each state sets their own license dates.  Some states, like California and Oklahoma, have fishing licenses with valid dates following the calendar year; January 1st to December 31st.  

However, many states across the country prefer valid license dates from April 1st to March 31st the following year.  It entirely depends on the state you live in.  Stay aware of important license dates to get the most fishing opportunities for your money. 

Still unsure?  Consult your local fish and game regulation manual or email or call the fish and game licensing division to get specific information. 

Either way, it is your responsibility to ensure you have a valid license.  Every year anglers are ticketed out on the ice for unwittingly fishing without a license.

Where can I get a fishing license

Luckily, buying a fishing license is easier than ever.  There are several ways to purchase a state fishing license.  You can even buy one the same day you plan to fish.  

Here are the easiest and most common ways to purchase a fishing license:

  • Online
  • By Phone
  • At an authorized dealer (Walmart, sporting goods stores, etc.)

Now days, the easiest option for purchasing a license is online.  Just be aware that you should only purchase a fishing license from your state’s official fish and game website.  There are plenty of scam websites trying to take your money.  

Licenses purchased online are usually valid the same day you buy it. It takes a few days to get the actual license in the mail but you can print off a temporary license that is legal until the official one shows up.

Buying a license over the phone is another simple and secure way and all you need is a credit or debit card.  Again, use your state’s fish and game website to find the licensing department’s number.

There are also many thousands of authorized dealers that can sell same day fishing licenses over the counter.  Walmart, by far, is the most popular place to buy one.  They are sold at the sporting goods counter and the staff has sufficient knowledge to help you get the right license.

Additionally, you can get licenses at most sporting goods stores, some grocery stores  or farm and feed supply stores.

Are there place to ice fish without a license

Not everyone plans to spend all winter ice fishing.  If you are looking to try it out but don’t want to spend the money on a license, you’re in luck.  Several northern states in the heart of the ice fishing belt offer free fishing dates during months with plenty of ice.

Whether you are a resident of the state or not, these free fishing days are an awesome opportunity to try ice fishing.  Just remember, the fishing may be free but all rules, limits and regulations still apply.

If you happen to miss a free fishing day or your state isn’t on the list, you may be able to buy a temporary fishing license.  For a few bucks less than an annual license, some states allow you to purchase a license that’s valid for a few days at a time starting on a day of your choosing.

It’s not free but it will save you a little money.  Not to mention, kids usually fish free year-round so take a kid fishing too.

How much is a license to go ice fishing

Fishing can be expensive but luckily fishing licenses are still fairly cheap considering it provides a whole year of fun.  Especially, if you’re a resident of the state where you are fishing this winter. 

On average, an annual fishing license for residents is about $25 in most states.  

For those of you heading to ice fishing destinations in a state where you are not a resident, expect to pay more.  Most out-of-state annual fishing licenses in top ice fishing destinations are steeply priced, averaging $60-$70.  Some states, like Montana and Alaska, are over $100!  

However, that is for an annual license that is good for more than just ice fishing season.   If you are traveling out of state for some hardwater action, consider getting a temporary license.  Not all states offer them but when available, it can save non-residents quite a bit of cash.

You can see exactly what a fishing license will cost you this season by checking out our up-to-date fishing license price guide by state.  You’ll find resident and non-resident fishing license costs plus loads more information about licenses.

Also, both resident and non-resident anglers should avoid waiting to buy a license at the last minute before ice season.  As we mentioned above, you won’t get the full value of the license before it expires.  Purchasing your license shortly after the expiration of your old one will allow you to fish more each year.

Parting words

Ice fishing is truly a blast.  It is a great way to get outside this winter and find some isolation on the lake.  If you’ve been considering trying out ice fishing but haven’t pulled the trigger, just go buy a fishing license and give it a try!  

You can also find tons of useful information by hopping over to our ice fishing page.  We have dozens of articles covering everything from basics to pro-tips that will help you get started!

Want to get the most out of your ice fishing season? Check out our Washington State Ice Fishing Secrets book. Our book highlights the 10 best lakes for ice fishing in Washington State with actual coordinates to some of our most productive holes. Plus, we thoroughly cover everything from gear selection, tactics and travel planning. To top it off, you also get information on 41 other lakes with superb ice fishing! Check it out before ice fishing season passes you by!