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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 for anyone 12 or older. 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:

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.

Anyone 11 years old or younger is not required to have a fishing license, including a Conservation or AIS Prevention Pass. Youth anglers (11 or younger) 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 12-17 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 12-17 Resident Cost: $10.50

  • Senior 62+ Resident Cost: $10.50

  • Nonresident Cost: $100

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

  • Youth 12-17 Resident Cost: $5

  • Senior 62+ Resident Cost: $5

 
1 Day Nonresident License
  • Nonresident Cost: $14

Short-Term Nonresident License for 5 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.

Anyone 11 years old or younger is not required to have a fishing license, including a Conservation or AIS Prevention Pass. Youth anglers (11 or younger) must still observe all limits and regulations.

 

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. 

 

 

Seasons

2023 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, 2023 through February 29, 2024.
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 three Western District waters of Montana, and anglers may select only one area to fish for bull trout:

  • Hungry Horse Reservoir and Part of the South Fork Flathead River

  • Lake Koocanusa

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

When fishing for bull trout in the three designated waters listed above, each angler must have in possession a valid Bull Trout Catch Card for the specific water he/she is fishing. These fisheries are very restrictive because bull trout are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Catch cards are free of charge and are available at the FWP Region 1 office in Kalispell and the U.S. Forest Service Spotted Bear Ranger Station. Applications for a catch card are available at the FWP Region 1 office or online (see below).

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

FWP Bull Trout Permit
490 North Meridian
Kalispell, MT 59901

Paddlefish

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

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

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

  3. 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

Contests

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.

Ponds & Streams

Visit the Ponds & Streams page for complete details on required permits, fees and applications.

Commercial & Scientific Permits

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

Special Floating Permits

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

Special Licenses

Montana Resident with a Disability Conservation License

A Montana resident with a disability can purchase a Conservation License for $8, an AIS Prevention Pass for $2, and a Fishing License for $10.50. To qualify, a person must be permanently and substantially disabled. Applications are available online to print or at FWP offices. These licenses are not available to nonresidents.

 

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.

 

Veterans Administration Patients

Permits are available for patients residing at VA Hospitals and residents of State institutions, except the State penitentiary. These free permits are available on-site at the VA Hospital or State Institution. Contact 406-444-2452 for more information.

 

Legion of Valor

A Conservation License allows both residents and nonresidents, regardless of age, to fish. Legion of Valor membership card required to qualify. Available only at FWP offices.

 

Care Facility

The manager or director of an eligible facility licensed in Montana may apply for permission to take supervised residents fishing during activities approved by the facility. Licensed facilities include long-term care, personal care, home for persons with development disabilities, and home for persons with severe disabilities.

 

Education Exemptions

Free fishing license exemptions are available to qualified educational events and fishing clinics for a specific date and location.

In general, the event must be educational in nature, and instruct participants on fish identification, 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.

  • Call (406) 444-9943 to receive an application and for more information.

 

Purple Heart

Residents who have been awarded a Purple Heart, regardless of age, may fish and hunt upland game birds with a Conservation License issued by FWP.

  • Nonresidents who have been awarded a Purple Heart, regardless of age, may fish and hunt upland game birds with a Conservation License issued by FWP during expeditions arranged by a nonprofit organization that uses fishing and hunting as part of rehabilitation.
  • Verification of Purple Heart and DD 214 Form required to qualify. Residents can only obtain this special license at FWP offices. Nonresidents only available at FWP Headquarters in Helena.