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What you need to know to start fishing in Big Sky Country Fishing License Basics

Base License Requirements & AIS Prevention Pass

From cold water to warm water, big prairie rivers to high mountain lakes and fly-fishing to trolling, Montana offers angling opportunities for all to enjoy. Whether you’re seeking solitude, fish for the supper table or the trophy of a lifetime, you can find it here.

A valid fishing license is required for all types of fishing on state waters. A fishing license allows a person to fish for and possess any fish or aquatic invertebrate authorized by the state's fishing regulations. It is nontransferable and nonrefundable.

To fish in Montana, most anglers need two licenses: a Conservation license and a fishing license. Additionally, the Angler Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass (AISPP) is required for all individuals who fish in Montana. This program was initiated by the 2017 Montana Legislature to help fund the fight against aquatic invasive species in Montana.

No licenses (including Conservation, AIS Prevention Pass, and Fishing) are required for anyone ages 0-11 to fish in Montana. Young anglers must still observe all limits and regulations.

Resident Sportsman and Nonresident Combination licenses include a season fishing license.

To qualify for a resident license, a person must meet the criteria set out in MCA 87-2-102 and 202.


Conservation License

  • Resident Cost: $8

  • Youth 10-17 Resident Cost: $4

  • Senior 62+ Resident Cost: $4

  • Nonresident Cost: $10

Angler Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass (AISPP)


Base Fishing License

Full Season

The Full Season Fishing license enables you to fish from March 1 through the end of February of the following year.

  • Resident Cost: $21

  • Youth 10-17 Resident Cost: $10.50

  • Senior 62+ Resident Cost: $10.50

  • Nonresident Cost: $86

Short-Term License for 2 Consecutive Calendar Days
  • Resident Cost: $5

  • Youth 10-17 Resident Cost: $5

  • Senior 62+ Resident Cost: $5

  • Nonresident Cost: $25

Short-Term License for 10 Consecutive Calendar Days
  • Nonresident Cost: $56

Regulations & Seasons

A valid fishing license enables you to fish from March 1 through the end of February of the following year.


Before fishing, you need to determine the following:
  • Identify which Fishing District you will be fishing (Eastern, Central, or Western).

  • Read the Standard Regulations that apply to all waters in that district.  

  • Look up the specific water you will be fishing to see if it is listed as an Exception to the Standard Regulations.  

  • If that is identified in the Exceptions, these regulations take the place of the Standard Regulations (e.g., season, daily limits, etc.). 

  • If not listed in the Exceptions, the District Standard Regulations apply. 

All files below are in PDF format.



2020 General Fishing Season
  • Fishing is allowed at all hours during open fishing seasons unless otherwise specified in District Exceptions to Standard Regulations.
  • Fishing regulations are valid March 1, 2020 through February 28, 2021.
Western District
  • Rivers & Streams: Open third Saturday in May through November 30, unless otherwise specified in Exceptions to Standard Regulations.

  • Lakes & Reservoirs: Open all year.

Central District
  • Rivers & Streams: Open all year, unless otherwise specified in Exceptions to Standard Regulations.

  • Lakes & Reservoirs: Open all year.

Eastern District
  • Rivers & Streams: Open all year.

  • Lakes & Reservoirs: Open all year.

Bull Trout

Bull trout fishing is permitted in four Western District waters of Montana:

  • Hungry Horse Reservoir

  • South Fork Flathead River

  • Lake Koocanusa

  • Swan Lake 

All other waters in Montana are closed to intentional fishing for bull trout.

When fishing for bull trout, each angler must have in possession a valid Bull Trout Catch Card for the specific water he/she is fishing. Catch Cards are free of charge, but must be acquired by application from the FWP Region 1 office in Kalispell.

Completed applications must be presented at the regional headquarters or mailed to:

FWP Bull Trout Permit

490 North Meridian

Kalispell, MT 59901

Commercial Fishing & Floating Permits

Visit the Commercial Fishing & Floating Permits page for complete details on required permits, fees and applications.


Any event where an entry fee is charged or where people may win prizes for catching fish in Montana is considered a fishing contest.

Fishing contests involving fewer than 30 people and cash prizes or merchandise worth $500 or less do not require a permit; but must comply with all fishing contest regulations. All other contests must submit an application and be permitted. No contests will be permitted for holiday weekends.

It is best to notify the local Regional Fisheries Manager of the date and contact info for the event, just as a heads-up for all parties concerned.

Learn more>

Educational License Exemptions

Free fishing license exemptions are available to qualified educational events and fishing clinics.

In general, the event must be educational in nature, and instruct participants on fish id, regulations, ethics, fishing techniques, and water safety. It must be held at times and locations that do not substantially conflict with other recreationalists, must be taught under the guidance of an FWP employee or certified fishing instructor, and must not be part of a profit making activity.

Typically, a minimum 2 week advance notice is required for an educational exemption.

For information on these educational exemptions, call (406) 444-9943.



Montana has three unique paddlefish seasons, and anglers may select only one area to fish for paddlefish:

  • Upper Missouri River from Fort Peck Dam to Fort Benton (White Harvest Tag)

  • Yellowstone River and Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam (Yellow Harvest Tag)

  • Fort Peck Dredge Cut archery-only season (Blue Harvest Tag)


Mandatory Reporting

Any paddlefish harvested anywhere in Montana MUST be reported to FWP within 48 hours of harvest.

Harvest Reporting Line:  (877) FWP-WILD or 1 (406) 444-0356


Upper Missouri River from Fort Peck Dam to Fort Benton

For this fishery, the White Harvest Tags are issued through a lottery system. Anglers must have one of those tags to participate in catching and keeping a paddlefish from that section of the river. 

Successful applicants (for the Upper Missouri fishery) will receive the paddlefish harvest tag (plastic, self-locking tag) in the mail prior to May 1, 2021.

Unsuccessful paddlefish drawing applicants will be issued a snag and release only license for the Upper Missouri River. Others may also purchase snag and release tags for this fishery, even if they are not part of the lottery.

Application Deadline

Applications must be received by March 26, 2021 at 5 p.m.


All anglers, all ages, resident and nonresident, must posses a valid Conservation license and fishing license in order to apply. 

Anglers will have the opportunity to apply individually or as a party (up to 5 in the party).

Anglers will need to submit an application:


Resident Costs
  • Tag: $6.50

  • Drawing Fee: $5

  • Total: $11.50

Nonresident Costs
  • Tag: $15

  • Drawing Fee: $5

  • Total: $20

Season Dates

The Upper Missouri River paddlefish season is May 1–June 15, unless closed earlier by FWP due to unforeseen or emergency circumstances.

Anglers are encouraged to monitor river flows at the USGS Landusky flow gauge

Number of Tags

The number of tags allocated each year may change to ensure sustainable population management. In 2020, 1,000 tags were issued.

Snag and Release Only Licenses

Anglers who do not wish to participate in the paddlefish drawing can purchase a snag and release license from a FWP office or online beginning April 9, 2021.

Anglers participating in the snag and release fishery must possess a valid Conservation License, Fishing License and Paddlefish snag and release only license.

Snag and release anglers must abide by all standard 2021 Paddlefish Regulations (PDF)


All standard paddlefish regulations remain in effect during the season.


Yellowstone River below the mouth of the Bighorn River and Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam

This fishery is managed under a harvest target so the annual harvest will not exceed 1,000 paddelfish. FWP will announce a 24-hour closure of the harvest season through a public news release. Closure can be immediate at Intake Fishing Acces Site to prevent exceeding the estimated harvest target.

Following the announcement of the harvest closure, catch-and-release snagging will be allowed , at Intake Fishing Access Site only, for 10 consecutive calendar days or through June 30, whichever comes first.

Harvest tags are sold over the counter at FWP regional offices or online.


Fort Peck Dredge Cut archery-only season

This fishery is for bow and arrow-only and is open July 1 through August 31. One paddlefish per angler. An unused Blue Harvest Tag is reuired to fish for paddlefish here. No snagging is allowed.

Resident Lifetime Fishing for the Blind

Resident Lifetime Fishing License for the Blind

A Montana resident who is blind can purchase a lifetime fishing license for $10. The application for this license is available from FWP and requires medical certification. A Conservation License is not a prerequisite for this license.