The Ultimate Guide to the Michigan Fishing License

John Malcolm
John MalcolmPublished: May 17, 2024
The Ultimate Guide to the Michigan Fishing License

Fishing in Michigan is a cherished pastime for many, with the state's vast lakes and rivers providing excellent opportunities for anglers of all ages. This is true for a lot of places, but unless you’ve been to Michigan, you wouldn’t understand.

To ensure that fishing remains sustainable and enjoyable, Michigan requires most anglers to obtain a fishing license. 

Fortunately for you, this comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about obtaining a Michigan fishing license, the types available, and the regulations you must follow.

Do you need a fishing license?

In Michigan, anyone aged 17 or older must have a fishing license to fish in the state's waters.

Minors under age 17 can fish without a license but must adhere to all fishing regulations, just as anyone else must. These regulations include size limits, species restrictions, and fishing seasons.

It's essential to understand these rules to avoid fines and contribute to the conservation of fish populations. 

Types of fishing licenses.

Michigan has several different types of fishing licenses to cater to different needs of different groups of people. Here are the various classes.

Resident annual license.

  • Cost: $26

This license is available to residents of Michigan who have lived in the state for at least six months. It allows the license holder to fish in all of Michigan's waters for a year, from the date of purchase through March 31 of the following year.

Non-resident annual license.

  • Cost: $76

Non-residents can purchase this license to fish in Michigan's waters for the same duration as the resident annual license. Non-residents must also buy a $1 Sportcard, which is required for tracking purposes. Don’t worry; most states usually charge much more for out-of-state residents to hunt or fish their land and waters. This is normal.

Senior resident annual license.

  • Cost: $11

This discounted license is available to Michigan residents aged 65 and older. It provides the same benefits as the standard resident annual license, just a bit cheaper for elderly citizens.

Youth resident/non-resident annual license.

  • Cost: $2

Children under 17 can obtain this license, which allows them to fish while complying with all regulations, but this is strictly optional. This license is available to both residents and non-residents and seeks to instill a habit of having a license for youth anglers.

24-hour license.

  • Cost: $10

This license is perfect for residents and non-residents who want to fish for a short period if they’re visiting the Great Lake State. It is valid for 24 hours from the start time and date chosen by the purchaser. This is great because you can purchase it in advance before the days you want to fish.

How to purchase a fishing license.

There are several convenient ways to purchase a Michigan fishing license.

Online.

The easiest way to buy a fishing license is through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website. The online system is available 24/7, and you can print your license immediately after purchase. There’s no waiting period and you’re able to start fishing right away.

License agents/retailers.

You can also buy a fishing license from authorized license agents, including bait shops, sporting goods stores, and DNR customer service centers.

When purchasing from a retailer, you will need to present a valid Michigan driver's license or ID to prove residency if you’re purchasing a resident Michigan fishing license.

Proof of residency.

To qualify for the resident rates we listed above, you must provide proof of residency. This can be a Michigan driver's license, state ID, or voter registration. Residency requires living in Michigan for at least six months. 

Non-resident requirements.

Non-residents must purchase a $1 Sportcard along with their fishing license. The Sportcard helps track non-resident anglers and ensures compliance with state regulations. You can purchase this online or at any retailer.

License validity and regulations for a Michigan fishing license.

Now that you’ve got your license — so what?  Here are the details for your newly-printed Michigan fishing license.

License duration

Fishing licenses in Michigan are valid from the date of purchase through March 31 of the following year, except for the 24-hour licenses, which are valid for 24 hours from the chosen start time.

This annual cycle helps the DNR manage fish populations and conservation efforts effectively.

Because of this, if you’re purchasing an annual Michigan fishing license, we highly recommend you purchase it in April of each year to make the most of the license. There’s no change in pricing even if you buy your license in March.

Disabled and veteran exceptions

Certain disabled residents and 100% disabled veterans may qualify for free or discounted fishing licenses. This is a great program and well-received by the veteran community.

These exceptions are part of Michigan's commitment to making outdoor activities accessible to everyone.

Native American treaties

Tribal members may have different fishing seasons and methods allowed under specific treaties.

It's essential to be aware of these distinctions if you are a tribal member or fishing in areas governed by such treaties. We’re not going to get into the various treaties as they’re constantly changing. However, if you’re fishing on tribal land, then you’ll want to look into them.

Plenty of fishing opportunities in Michigan.

With a Michigan fishing license, you gain access to a massive and diverse range of fishing opportunities across the state. Michigan's waters are home to various fish species, providing excellent angling experiences for warm-water, cool-water, and cold-water fish. Some even say that Michigan has the best fishing opportunities for freshwater fish in the world.

Great Lakes fish species.

Northern Pike in a Michigan Lake

Just as you’d imagine, the Great Lakes offer a rich fishing environment with species such as—

  • Salmon (Chinook, Coho, Atlantic)
  • Trout (Brown, Rainbow/Steelhead, Lake)
  • Walleye
  • Bass (Largemouth, Smallmouth)
  • Lake Sturgeon
  • Muskellunge (Muskie)
  • Northern Pike
  • Yellow Perch

You’ll find many more species, but these are the ones that people travel to the great lakes from all over to get in on the action.

Inland lake and river fish species.

You can’t drive 10 minutes without seeing a lake or a river in Michigan. With that, inland lakes and rivers also provide ample fishing opportunities, featuring species like—

There’s no shortage of freshwater fish species in the Great Lakes State.  There’s a reason it’s the jewel of the world when it comes to fishing.

Fishing regulations and conservation.

While your fishing license allows you to target these species, it's extremely important to follow all regulations to ensure sustainable fishing practices and keep yourself out of trouble.

Regulations include size limits, bag limits, and specific seasons for different fish species.

Always check the latest Michigan fishing guide or the DNR website for updates on regulations and ensure compliance to help preserve Michigan's fishing heritage. These regulations can change from season to season based on the population numbers, so it’s important to stay up to date.

Seasons and limits.

Different fish species have specific seasons during which they can be legally caught.

Chinook Salmon

  • Peak season: June - September

Coho Salmon

  • Peak season: June - October, especially good in late October on the Manistee River

Atlantic Salmon

  • Peak season: June - November

Steelhead/Rainbow Trout

  • Spring: Mid-March - April (spawning run)
  • Fall: October - November (spawning run)
  • Winter: December - February

Lake Trout

  • Peak season: March - November

Brown Trout

  • Peak season: March - June, September - November

Walleye

  • Peak season: April - September

Yellow Perch

  • Peak season: April - October

Smallmouth Bass

  • Peak season: June - September (river fishing)

Muskellunge (Muskie)

  • Peak season: June - October

Northern Pike

  • Peak season: April - August

The summer months of June through September tend to be prime fishing season in Michigan even if there isn’t a specified restrictive period. However, some species like trout and salmon have distinct spring, fall, and even winter runs in certain rivers. The state's diverse waters provide great fishing opportunities year-round.

Conservation efforts.

Michigan's DNR works tirelessly to maintain and improve fish habitats.

Anglers can support these efforts by following catch-and-release practices, participating in local conservation projects, and adhering to all fishing regulations.

Sustainable fishing ensures that future generations can enjoy the same abundant fishing opportunities.

Ready to fish Michigan waters with your new fishing license? 

Obtaining a Michigan fishing license is a straightforward process that opens the door to some of the best fishing experiences in the country.

Whether you're a resident or a visitor, understanding the types of licenses, regulations, and conservation efforts is so important for a successful and responsible fishing trip.

With a diverse range of fish species and stunning natural settings, Michigan offers something for every angler.

John Malcolm

John Malcolm

Expert Angler

John is a highly skilled angler with over two decades of experience and a passion that has led him to participate in numerous tournaments, including reeling in a remarkable 9lb bass on Lake Okeechobee. His dedication to fishing and willingness to share his expertise make him a respected ambassador for the angling community, inspiring others to appreciate the sport.

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