The State of California offers two Free Fishing Days each year and on these days, you can fish without a sport fishing license. Every year the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) announces two Free Fishing Days where anyone ages 16 or older can go fishing without having a sport fishing license.
Free fishing areas include California’s lakes, ponds, streams and rivers as well as ocean fishing, including spots along California beaches. Free Fishing Days are great for novice anglers to try fishing before committing to an annual permit.
California Free Fishing Days
The Saturday of Fourth of July weekend is typically reserved as California’s first Free Fishing Day and the Saturday of Labor Day weekend is typically reserved as California’s second Free Fishing Day of the year.
2023 Free Fishing Days are Saturday, July 1 and Saturday, September 2.
On Free Fishing Days, every angler must have the appropriate report card if they are fishing for:
- or salmon in the Smith and Klamath-Trinity River Systems
All fishing regulations, such as bag and size limits, gear restrictions, report card requirements, fishing hours and stream closures remain in effect, there are two days each year when anyone can fish without purchasing a fishing license. Kids under 16 never require a license, but again the other rules still apply.
National Go Fishing Day is observed annually on June 18 but that unfortunately is not a free fishing day in California.
How to Fish for Free
In addition to the two free fishing days each year here are other ways anglers can fish without a fishing license.
- Under Age 16: Children under age 16 never require a fishing license.
- Free Pier Fishing: A fishing license is not required when recreationally fishing from a “public pier” in ocean or bay waters. This includes piers, jetties, and breakwaters. See the CDFW website for a map of free fishing piers.
- Fishing in the City: Fishing in the City Clinics give city dwellers an opportunity to learn how to fish close to home. Novice anglers learn about fishing ethics, fish habits, effective methods for catching fish, and fishing tackle.
- Irvine Lake: Irvine lake does require a fishing license year-round.
- Free Sport Fishing Licenses are available for anglers who meet any of these criteria:
- Any person, with central vision acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the aid of the best possible correcting glasses, or central vision acuity better than 20/200 if the widest diameter of the remaining visual field is no greater than 20 degrees.
- Any person who is a resident of the State and who is so severely physically disabled as to be permanently unable to move from place to place without the aid of a wheelchair, walker, forearm crutches, or a comparable mobility-related device.
- Any developmentally disabled person.
- Any Native American who is a resident of the State and is financially unable to pay the fee required for a resident sport fishing license.
- See the CDFW website for how to qualify and apply.
Fishing License Discounts
Discounted fishing licenses are available for anglers who meet any of these criteria:
- Disabled Veteran Sport Fishing and Hunting Licenses
- Recovering Service Member Sport Fishing and Hunting Licenses
- Reduced-Fee Sport Fishing License for Low-Income Seniors (65 years or older)
A sport fishing license is required for any person attempting to take fish, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates, amphibians, or reptiles in inland or ocean waters. Additional validations and report cards are required for certain species and areas. Lifetime, annual, and short term sport fishing licenses (one-day, two-day, ten-day) are available.
In California there are 1,100 miles of coastline, nearly 5,000 lakes and reservoirs, 103 major streams, and 74 major rivers.
Free Fishing Days by State
Here are the free fishing days for every state. National Fishing & Boating Week is the most common time when states offer free fishing days.
- Alabama – Second Saturday in June
- Alaska – No free fishing days
- Arizona – First Saturday in June
- Arkansas – Second full weekend in June
- California – Independence Day weekend & Labor Day Weekend
- Colorado – First full weekend in June
- Connecticut – 2 free fishing days
- Washington D.C. – First full week of June
- Delaware – First full weekend of June
- Florida – Freshwater: First consecutive Saturday and Sunday in April, Second consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June; Saltwater: First consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June, First Saturday in September, Saturday following Thanksgiving
- Georgia – 2 free fishing days held during National Fishing and Boating Week and one additional free fishing day on National Hunting and Fishing Day
- Hawaii – Free fishing year round, no fishing license required.
- Idaho – Second Saturday every June
- Illinois – Father’s Day weekend in June
- Indiana – First Friday – Sunday that falls in June and Free Nationals Public Lands Day in September
- Iowa – First Friday – Sunday in June
- Kansas – First full weekend in June
- Kentucky – First full weekend in June
- Louisiana – Second full weekend in June
- Maine – President’s weekend and first weekend in June
- Maryland – First two Saturdays in June and July plus there are year-round designated License Free Fishing Areas throughout the tidal portions of the Chesapeake Bay
- Massachusetts – First weekend in June Free Freshwater Fishing Weekend
- Michigan – President’s Day Weekend and a weekend in June
- Minnesota – Free ice fishing weekend Fri-Sun Martin Luther King Weekend, Mother’s Day weekend mom’s fish free, Adults fish free with child on a weekend in June
- Mississippi – First weekend in June and Independence Day
- Missouri – First weekend after the first Monday in June
- Montana – Father’s Day weekend
- Nebraska – Free Fishing/Free Park Entry Day on the Saturday preceding Memorial Day weekend
- Nevada – Second Saturday in June
- New Hampshire – A Saturday in January and June
- New Jersey – One day during National Fishing and Boating Week and one day in October
- New Mexico – Saturday of National Boating and Fishing Week and National Hunting and Fishing Day (September)
- New York – President’s Day Weekend, weekend in June, National Hunting and Fishing Day (September), Veterans Day
- North Carolina – July 4 Independence Day
- North Dakota – First weekend in June
- Ohio – Father’s Day weekend
- Oklahoma – First weekend in June
- Oregon – President’s Day Weekend, First full weekend in June, Thanksgiving Weekend
- Pennsylvania – Fish-for-Free Days on Memorial Day and Independence Day
- Rhode Island – First Weekend in May (freshwater only)
- South Carolina – Memorial Day and Independence Day
- South Dakota – Mother’s Day and Father’s Day free fishing days
- Tennessee – Saturday of the first full week in June and Free Fishing Week always follows Free Fishing Day in June
- Texas – Second Saturday in June
- Utah – Saturday day in June
- Vermont – “Free Ice Fishing Day” on the last Saturday in January and a day in June
- Virginia – Full weekend in June
- Washington – First weekend after the first Monday in June
- West Virginia – Second Saturday and Sunday in June
- Wisconsin – Third full weekend in January and the first full weekend in June
- Wyoming – During National Fishing and Boating Week
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Monique McArthur is a mother of two, writer, and creator of delicious recipes. In her spare time she enjoys exploring all that Orange County has to offer, traveling, shopping, running with her dogs and spending time with family.