Fishing in North Carolina

How Much Is a Fishing License in North Carolina? (Regulations and More)

When I say that the Tar Heel state has some of the best fisheries on the East Coast, I’m not kidding. North Carolina is home to some of the best fishing spots in the United States. From saltwater fishing to freshwater fishing, it has something for every angler.

I visited NC in 2010 for the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge, but I fell in love with fishing for trout. I had to rent fishing gear to ensure I had fun with my siblings. And my brother did manage win our side bet for who would catch the most fish.

Fly Fishing in the Smoky Mountains
Fly Fishing in the Smoky Mountains

The quantity of fish and diversity made me rent fishing gear there. Simply kayaking at Lake Norman couldn’t cut it for me. I fought some massive striped bass and catfish all day long while kayaking. The experience forced me to research and compile this article on fishing licenses in North Carolina and more.

For more details on the fishing licenses and more, please read on.

  • Resident annual coastal fishing license (over 16 years old): $16
  • Non-resident annual coastal fishing license: $32
  • Residents unified coastal/sportsman recreational fishing license: $69
  • Residents Coastal recreational fishing 10-day license: $6
  • Non-residents coastal recreational fishing 10-day license: $11 (source)

To learn more, here’s a link to the North Carolina website.

👉 Get a FREE PDF of the North Carolina Fishing Regulations 👉 Download PDF North Carolina Fishing Regulations

Does North Carolina Have Free Fishing?

Yes, the NC’s free fishing day was authorized in 1994 by the general assembly and sponsored by the state’s Wildlife resources commission. Since then, the free fishing day in North Carolina occurred on the July 4th holiday. (source)

During this day, anyone in the state can cast their lines in all the state-operated waters without a license and even participate in the many water sports all over the state. But you must adhere to the rules and regulations, using legal fishing techniques and sticking to the set bag limit.

Can Non-residents Fish for Free on Free Fishing Days?

Yes, non-residents can fish for free during the free fishing days in North Carolina.

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Types of Fishing License in North Carolina

Generally, fishing is a family activity that everyone can enjoy while in North Carolina. And since North Carolina doesn’t have a family license like Minnesota, you’ll need to purchase the correct fishing license for everyone in your family. Remember, you’ll have to present these licenses and permits when fishing, so you need the right option. Some of the most common NC fishing licenses include:

Annual Licenses

The annual fishing licenses last for 12 months. They can help you save cash by purchasing what you need; the state has split these licenses into different groups. For instance, you can buy a coastal recreational fishing license if you plan on doing coastal fishing. This license is available for both non-residents and residents. Unfortunately, you won’t be authorized to fish inland waters with this license.

And suppose you plan on doing inland fishing. In that case, you should invest in an inland fishing license and avoid the coastal region. But you can get a unified license if you plan to fish in both inland and coastal waters.

Unified Coastal/Inland Recreational Fishing Licenses

The unified license lets you explore coastal and inland recreational fishing for residents for a year. With this license, you can fish in the Public Mountain Trout Waters, joint waters, and trout waters. Unfortunately, this license is only available for residents, so non-residents must purchase two licenses.

Unified Coastal/Sportsman Recreational Fishing License

If you love hunting and fishing, you can apply for the unified sportsperson/coastal recreational fishing license. This license will allow you to hunt for big game, waterfowl, and game land. Unfortunately, this license doesn’t include a federal duck stamp or the bear management e-stamp.

You can also fish on joint waters, trout water bodies on game land, and the public mountain trout water. Unfortunately, it’s only available for adults over 16 years old residents.

Coastal Recreational Fishing Lifetime Licenses

Like the coastal recreational license, this lifetime license authorizes anglers to fish in joint and coastal waters. Unfortunately, you can’t use it for fishing the inland waters; plus, we can purchase different lifetime licenses. Some of these licenses include:

  • Adult coastal recreational fishing license: it’s ideal for residents and non-residents over 12 years old.
  • Youth coastal recreational fishing license: it’s for kids below 12 years old
  • Seniors coastal recreational fishing license: This license is for residents born before or on August 1, 1953.

Short-Term Licenses

The short-term licenses are only valid for a certain period. The most common one is the coastal recreational fishing 10-day license available for both residents and non-residents. This license lets them fish the joint and coastal waters for 10 days.

The state has a block of ten 10-day licenses for vessel operators and owners. These blocks of licenses can cover all the passengers on their vessels, and each is valid for ten consecutive days. (source)

Rainbow Trout in North Carolina River
Rainbow Trout in North Carolina River

Other Permits and Stamps

Billfish and Bluefin Permits

If you plan to catch swordfish or Bluefin tuna, you will require a permit from the NMFS. The permit will give you the right to fish them; if caught without one, you may face fines for catching them.

Coastal Recreational Fishing License Exemption Permits

This exceptional permit is for organizations or individuals seeking an exemption from the license requirements to conduct an event in joint or coastal fishing waters. The exemption permit is issued to organizations that submit the licenses within a month before the event.

Table of NC fishing licenses. (source)

Annual coastal recreational fishing license$16$32
Unified Coastal recreational/inland fishing license$41N/A
Annual Unified coastal/sportsman recreational fishing license$69N/A
Coastal recreational fishing lifetime license adult (12 and older)$265$530
Coastal recreational fishing lifetime license youth (1 to 11 years)$159$159
Coastal recreational fishing lifetime infant (under 1 year)$106$106
Coastal recreational fishing lifetime senior$16N/A
Coastal recreational fishing lifetime disabled veteran (over 50% disabled veterans)$11N/A
Coastal recreational fishing lifetime totally disabled$11N/A
Coastal Recreational fishing 10-day license$5$11

Where Can I Buy a Fishing License in North Carolina?

You can buy the coastal recreational fishing license on a lifetime, annual, or 10-day basis. You can even get a combo of inland fishing and hunting licenses that the wildlife resources commission issues. So the first thing you should do is determine where you plan to fish. Remember, you can fish in joint, coastal, and inland waters (freshwater lakes and rivers).

After picking the types of licenses you need, you can buy a license via phone, in-person and online. You can visit the Wildlife Resources Commission’s licensing system for online purchases using this link. You can pick your required license and pay for it using your MasterCard or visa.

You can also purchase it via a phone call to the Wildlife Resources Commission’s customer care at 888 248-6834. You can reach customer service between Monday and Friday during working hours (8 AM and 5 PM).

You can also purchase it personally by visiting the DMF offices near you or the authorized license sellers. You can find the list of authorized license agents on their official website with everything you need from their location and contacts. (source) You can also find the contacts of all the DMF offices on their website by clicking the following link.

How Much Is a North Carolina Fishing License in Walmart?

The price of Walmart fishing licenses in NC varies with age and place where you plan on fishing. For instance, the resident inland fishing 10-day license goes for $9, while the coastal 10-day goes for $6. The Walmart fishing license inland fishing 10-days license for non-residents goes for $23, while the coastal fishing 10-days is $11.

Stocked trout holding in odd places
Stocked trout holding in odd places

Where Can I Get the Fishing Regulations in North Carolina?

Every state has unique rules and regulations that every angler must follow when fishing in their waters. And failure to do so can result in some hefty fines and, in a worst-case scenario, a jail term. Therefore, before visiting North Carolina, you must go through the rules and regulations.

You can find the NC fishing regulations by clicking the following link. Remember to download the proper fishing regulations for the place you plan to fish. After all, they have separate documents for the coastal and inland regions.

What Is the Fishing License Age Requirement in North Carolina?

As of January 2007, everyone over 16 requires a fishing license to fish in all the state-operated water bodies designated as coastal or joint waters.

Kids fishing
Kids fishing

When Does a North Carolina Fishing License Expire?

Unless otherwise, the annual fishing licenses are valid for 12 months from the day you purchased them. Therefore, they don’t have a fixed expiry date like most states. On the other hand, the 10-day licenses are only valid for ten consecutive days, while the lifetime licenses are valid for your entire lifetime.

Can You Fish Without a License in North Carolina?

Other than on Free fishing days, everyone over 16 years needs a license to fish in North Carolina. But the kids below 15 years can fish for free in all state-operated waters all year round. But they have to be accompanied by an adult.

Can You Fish on Private Property in North Carolina Without a License?

The landowner or individual leasing it for farming and their spouse and kids below 18 don’t need a license to fish, trap or hunt on such land. Remember, it’s a private pond, and the state has no control over it. Still, anyone else will require written permission from the landowner to fish there.

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What Is the Fine for Fishing Without a License in North Carolina?

Fishing without a license is considered a misdemeanor, and if caught, you can face a fine ranging between $35 and $500. In the worst-case scenario, you can face up to 30 days of jail term; therefore, you should purchase a license.

What Is the Fishing Season in North Carolina?

Anglers in North Carolina can fish at any given time in North Carolina. Unfortunately, specific fish species have closed seasons. Some water bodies are not open to anglers all year round, so before leaving your home, you should find out which places are open to fishing.

Generally, the fishing season begins in late spring and ends in early fall. And that’s because the fish species can get active when the water is warm. Therefore, the most productive fishing season falls between summer and fall. But the best fishing season will be determined by your target species. Some of the best times to fish certain fish species in North Carolina include:

Amberjack Fishing Season

If you love saltwater fishing, then you should target the Amberjacks. After all, NC is located on the eastern seaboard and offers a great fishing experience for amberjacks. Anglers can fish this species all year round. Still, the best time for amberjack fishing is December, November, June, May, February, and January.

Largemouth Bass Fishing Season

Another popular species in North Carolina is the largemouth bass, which you can fish all year round. But if you target trophy largemouth in North Carolina, you have a better chance of getting some during the fall and spring months.

So you can visit Lake Normal in the evening when they’re active and cast your line.

Barracuda Fishing Season

Like most species, Barracudas tend to feed when the water gets warmer. Therefore, the best time to fish barracuda is between April and August when the water at Carolina beach is warm enough for these fishes to swim to the surface.

Tuna Fishing Season

You can find a wide range of tuna species in NC water, the most common ones being the yellowfin, Bluefin, and blackfin tuna. The best time to catch Blackfin tuna is between September and October and April and May. Bluefin tuna tends to be active between November and April. The fishing season for Yellowfin tuna starts in April and November.     

Brook Trout Colors
Brook Trout Colors

Trout Fishing Season

North Carolina is home to a wide range of trout species; you can find rainbow, brown, and brook trout in the region. Trout tend to be more active when the weather is warmer in late spring. Remember, they feed two hours before dawn and three hours before sunset.

Therefore the best time to visit most of these rivers, including River Nantahala.

Snappers Fishing Season

Snapper fishing is open all year round in the region, so you can go for the snappers when the other species are inactive in the cold months. Snapper fishing starts in October and March. So it would be best if you visited these water bodies near the Outer Banks in the evening and early morning.

FishOpening dateClosing date
Largemouth bassAprilSeptember
Blackfin tuna  September AprilOctober May
Bluefin tunaNovemberApril
Yellowfin tunaAprilNovember
TroutOctober MarchDecember May

Frequently asked questions

Where Can I Fish in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, there are several ways you can enjoy the outdoors every season, and one of the best options is fishing. After all, the state has several beautiful fishing spots with everything an angler would ever need.

From the vast lakes scattered in the western parts of the state to the Atlantic Ocean lining its eastern coast, you will have more than enough places to cast your line and catch something every time. Some of these unique places include:

Carolina Beach

If you love fishing the Cape Fear River, you will love the Carolina Beach even more. The town may be small, but it does have several places from where you can cast your line, thanks to the many in-shore fishing grounds and ocean-facing beaches. From here, you can fish off-shore, in-shore, or from the surf. But if you are in NC in the summer, you should try surf fishing. Some of the fish species found here include perch, blowfish, mackerel, and sea bass.

Lake Norman

Situated about half an hour from Charlotte, Lake Norman is an exceptional fishing destination covering several small towns like Mooresville, Davidson, and Huntersville. Lake Normal, the biggest artificial lake in North Carolina, offers quality fishing.

Anglers from around the globe visit this lake in search of their next trophy trout, perch, and catfish. Plus, the many national tournaments held here have played a significant role in its popularity.

Please click here for more details on where you can fish in North Carolina.

Can I Fish at Night in North Carolina?

Yes, there are several fishing spots open to anglers even at night; some even have a great camping site. So provided it’s accessible, anyone can fish in North Carolina at night. Remember, there is nothing more fun than spin fishing in NC at night. But make sure you dress warmly and are well-illuminated.

How Many Fishing Poles Can I Have in North Carolina?

It is legal to fish with two poles and lines in North Carolina. Unfortunately, there is no permit for using extra lines.

Do You Need a Fishing License in North Carolina if You’re Over 65?

Yes, all the senior residents born before or on August 1, 1953, must purchase a senior fishing license. But the seniors born after this date can buy a senior lifetime fishing license when they reach 70 years.

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  1. North Carolina Environmental Quality staff, Recreational fishing licenses, accessed January 25, 2023.
  2. North Carolina Environmental Quality staff, Free fishing day in North Carolina on July 4, accessed January 25, 2023.
  3. Public license, accessed January 25, 2023.
  4. North Carolina Environmental Quality staff, Division of Marine Fisheries Offices, accessed January 25, 2023.
  5. Service agent, accessed January 25, 2023.
  6. North Carolina Environmental Quality staff, regulations, accessed January 25, 2023.
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