North Carolina Fishing License

North Carolina

North Carolina's saltwater coastline and inland streams present numerous fishing opportunities for both seasoned and beginner anglers. In January the waters of Cape Hatteras is abound with striped bass which migrate to this waterway during winter. In early summer, Randleman Regional Reservoir is filled with largemouth bass and bluegill sunfish. Come fall, the coast of Masonboro inlet located in Wrightsville Beach is crowded with huge schools of bluefish.

A North Carolina fishing license is required to enjoy freshwater and saltwater. These are separated licenses that can be bought either as a resident or non-resident of the area. Since fishing in NC is practically throughout the year, an annual or a lifetime fishing license is more practical. Online purchase of a fishing license is accessible through the website of North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. It is also available from a legitimate outdoor sports shop or tackle shop retailer.

North Carolina's fishing rules and regulations were put in place in order to manage all fish populations and their natural habitat. These may change at any time based on pertinent conditions. Most of the freshwater waterways are stocked with various fish species to ensure growth and increase in population. Learning these laws and rules will benefit both the angler and fish.

The proceeds from the issuance of fishing license go to the conservation program of NC. The funds are spent toward researches and studies regarding habitat, fish stocking, hatcheries and education on conservation and protection of the natural and fish resources.


The NASCAR Hall of Fame is not the only awesome place you can visit in North Carolina. You can also enjoy the different fishing opportunities that the state offers. N.C. has many freshwater and coastal fishing sites that are home to many rare species of fish, making the state a special place to go to for many anglers across the United States. 

In order to be able to experience the rich waters of the state, North Carolina requires anglers to purchase a fishing license. There are many varieties of licenses that you can choose from, and sometimes, it can get a little bit complicated. But don’t worry because this quick guide will make everything simple for you. We will answer the most important questions that you may have regarding the fishing license requirement in the state. 

Here’s what you need to know: 

Who is required to purchase a fishing license in the state of North Carolina? 

The state of Carolina requires all anglers who wish to fish or take fish in any of its state waters a fishing license. Specifically, the following individuals are required to possess a fishing license before fishing in North Carolina:

  • Resident individuals 16 years of age or older using any type of bait or gear to catch finfish while fishing in North Caro­lina’s public waters
  • Non-resident individuals 16 years of age or older using any type of bait or gear to catch finfish while fishing in North Caro­lina’s public waters

Note that individual residents who receive Food Stamps, Medicaid, or Work First Family Assistance may obtain a written waiver (Annual Subsistence License Waiver) from this fishing license requirement through the county Department of Social Services.

Conversely, some exemptions from the fishing license requirements are also observed. If you are one of the following, you are NOT required to purchase or possess a fishing license before fishing in the state of North Carolina:  

  • Youth under age 16
  • A landowner or Person leasing land primarily for cultivation, their spouse, and dependents under 18 residing with them
  • A resident of this state who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces serving outside N.C., or who is on full-time mil­itary duty outside the state in a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces 
  • Any person fishing during the Free Fishing Day
  • Residents with a valid Unified Subsistence Inland/Coastal Recreational Fishing License Waiver

What kind of fishing license is required in the state of North Carolina?

Fishing in the state of Carolina requires at least one of the three basic types of fishing licenses. These types of licenses determine what part of North Carolina the holder is allowed to fish as well as what kind of fishes they can catch. 

State Inland Fishing License

Statewide inland fishing is needed to fish in inland waters during a license term. This includes fishing in Public Mountain Trout Waters, fishing in trout waters on game lands, and fishing in joint waters. It does not include fishing in coastal waters.

Coastal Recreational Fishing

This license authorizes fishing in coastal and joint waters during a license term. It does not authorize fishing in inland waters.

Unified Inland/Coastal Recreational Fishing

Statewide inland and coastal recreational fishing license are for residents during a license term. The license comes with the privileges of fishing in Public Mountain Trout Waters, fishing in trout waters on game lands, and fishing in joint waters.

Special Device (inland fishing)

This license authorizes the taking of nongame fishes from inland waters (does not include joint and coastal waters) during designated seasons with seines, cast nets, gill nets, dip nets, bow nets, reels, gigs, spear guns, baskets, fish pots, eel pots, traps, and hand-crank electrofishers where authorized by local law. 

Where to purchase a fishing license in the state of North Carolina?

Purchasing a fishing license in the state of North Carolina is as easy as buying anything from Amazon. There are several convenient methods that you can choose from, such as: 

Online. Most of the licenses from the state of North Carolina can be purchased from its online licensing system using your computer or mobile device. 

Through Phone. You can also call the NCWRC and order your fishing license from them via phone. You can reach them through 888-248-6834. You can then pay through Visa or Mastercard. 

Any wildlife service agent. Fishing licenses can also be purchased from your local wildlife service agent. All you need is to present your valid driver’s license or state identification card. 

In-Person from the Resources Com­mission office. You can head to the Resources Com­mission office to purchase any license. Their address is at NCSU Centennial Campus, 1751 Varsity Drive, Raleigh, N.C. or by mail at NCWRC, 1707 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1700.

How much does a fishing license cost in the state of North Carolina? 

The cost of each license in North Carolina depends on several factors. The type of license, your age, the duration of its validity, among other factors, affect the price of the license you want to purchase. Here’s a summary: 

License Type

Resident

Non-resident

Short-Term Licenses

Short-term licenses are valid for the period specified on the license.

Inland Fishing­ 10-Day

$9

$23

Coastal Recreational Fishing 10-Day

$6

$11

Annual Licenses

Unless otherwise specified, annual licenses are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.

State Inland Fishing

$25

$45

Coastal Recreational Fishing

$16

$32

Unified Inland/Coastal Recreational Fishing

$41

N/A

Subsistence Unified Inland/Coastal Recreational Fishing License Waiver

FREE

N/A

Special Device (inland fishing)

$80

$530

To start with, you can choose between buying a short-term license or an annual license. A short term inland fishing license can have a validity of 10 days after the date of purchase and costs $9.00 (residents) and $23.00 (non-residents). Meanwhile a Coastal Recreational Fishing license costs $6.00 (residents) and $11.00(non-residents). 

Annual licenses are valid for 12 months after the date of purchase unless stated otherwise. Residents need to pay $25.00 for an annual state inland fishing license, while non-residents can get it for $45.00. If you want to fish in the coastal waters, you can also purchase a coastal recreational fishing license for $16 if you are a resident of North Carolina or $32.00 if you are a non-resident. 

Lifetime and other special licenses

Lifetime licenses are valid for the lifetime of the license-holder. Residents born on or before Aug. 1, 1953, are eligible to purchase a senior lifetime license when they turn 65 years of age. Those born after Aug. 1, 1953, are eligible to purchase a senior lifetime license when they turn 70 years of age.

License Type

Resident

Non-resident

Comprehensive Inland Fishing

$265

N/A

Senior (see above for eligibility requirements)

$16

N/A

Unified Inland/Coastal Recreational Fishing

$477

N/A

Coastal Recreational Fishing

Adult (ages 12 & older)

$265

$530

Youth (ages 1-11)

$159

$159

Infant (under age 1)

$106

$106

Senior (see above for eligibility requirements)

$16

N/A

Disabled Veteran Inland Fishing

$11

N/A

Disabled Veteran Coastal Recreational Fishing

$11

N/A

Totally Disabled Inland Fishing

$11

N/A

Totally Disabled Coastal Recreational Fishing

$11

N/A

Legally Blind Unified Inland/Coastal Recreational Fishing

FREE

N/A

Adult Care Home Unified Inland/Coastal Recreational Fishing

FREE

N/A

Residency Requirements

Residents of North Carolina enjoy some exclusive privileges such as discounted rates and access to other special types of licenses, depending on eligibility. To be considered a resident of North Carolina, you must: 

  • Reside in the state for six months or have been domiciled (established a perma­nent residence) for 60 days.
  • Complete a Certificate of Residency, available from a wildlife service agent or the Wildlife Resources Commission, certifying that they have maintained a residence in a county of the state for at least 60 days with the intent to reside there permanently
  • Not claim residency in another state regardless of whether they own property, pay property tax, pay utility bills, etc., in N.C.
  • Nonresident students may purchase a resident license while attending a university, college, or community college in North Carolina. 
  • Nonresident members of the U.S. Armed Forces (including their spouses and children under 18) who are stationed in the state are deemed residents of the state and of the counties in which they reside
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty outside of North Carolina shall be deemed an individual resident of the state

Daily Fishing and Size Limits

In order to protect the biodiversity in the fishing waters of North Carolina, you must follow the following limits when fishing: 

Location

Size Limit

Daily Creel Limit

CATFISH

All inland fishing waters except those listed below

None

None

Cedarock Park Pond  and otrher locations (please see list in the Fishing Regulation Guidebook)

None

6 in combination for Channel, White, and Blue Catfish (forked-tail catfish)

Ponds located on game lands

Pee Dee River downstream of Blewett Falls Dam to the South Carolina state line and all tributaries

None

5 in combination

Badin Lake, Lake Gaston (North Carolina portion), John H. Kerr Reservoir (North Carolina portion), Mountain Island Reservoir, Lake Norman, Roanoke Rapids Reservoir, Lake Tillery, Lake Wylie

No minimum size limit, and only one Blue Catfish may be greater than 32 inches

No daily creel limit for Blue Catfish less than 32 inches, and only one Blue Catfish may be greater than 32 inches

American Eel

All inland fishing waters

9-inch minimum (regardless of origin)

25 (regardless of origin)

Blue Crabs

All inland fishing waters or in designated waterfowl impoundments located on game lands when taken by hook and line

minimum carapace width of 5 inches (point to point)

50 crabs per person or 100 per vessel

RIVER HERRING (ALEWIFE AND BLUEBACK HERRING)

All inland fishing waters except those listed below

None

None

Inland fishing waters of coastal rivers and their tributaries up to the first impoundment of the main course on the river. 

No minimum size limit, but no river herring greater than 6 inches may be taken or possessed (regardless of origin)

No daily creel limit for river herring less than 6 inches, and no river herring greater than 6 inches may be taken or possessed (regardless of origin)

Lumber River including Drowning Creek

all other inland fishing waters east of I-95

Little Tennessee River Basin in and upstream of Lake Santeetlah and Cedar Cliff Lake including all tributaries and impoundments

No live alewife or blueback herring may be possessed, transported or released.

Grass Carp

All inland fishing waters except those listed below

None

None

Lake James

No grass carp may be possessed except one fish per day may be taken and possessed with archery equipment.

Lookout Shoals Lake

Mountain Island Reservoir

Lake Wylie

Lake Gaston

No grass carp may be possessed or taken by any method including archery equipment except for by permit issued by the Wildlife Resources Commission for scientific study

Roanoke Rapids Reservoir

Lake Norman

John H. Kerr Reservoir

FRESHWATER MUSSELS INCLUDING THE ASIAN CLAM (Corbicula fluminea)

All impounded inland fishing waters except those listed below

None

200 in combination, except there is no daily possession limit for the Asian clam

Lake Waccamaw

No freshwater mussels including the Asian clam may be taken or possessed.

University Lake (Orange Co.)

Gray Trout

All inland fishing waters

Same as those recreational limits established by Division of Marine Fisheries in adjacent joint and coastal fishing waters. For current limits, see portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-size-and-bag-limits or call 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632.

Sturgeon

All inland fishing waters

No sturgeon may be possessed.

For more information, please download the North Carolina Inland Fishing. Hunting, and Trapping Regulation Digest

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When will my annual license expire?

Annual licenses expire 12 months after the date of purchase unless stated otherwise in the license. 

Q: What to do if I lose/damage my license? 

To replace a license that becomes worn, lost, or destroyed, call 888-248-6834, go to ncwildlife.org, or visit a wildlife service agent. A $5 fee is charged for the replacement license. A $2 transaction fee may be applied to your total order at the time of purchase.

Q: Is there an additional fee when purchasing a license?

Some of the agents may charge an additional $2.00 transaction fee on top of the license cost.