The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Montana Fishing License

Last Updated on June 2, 2023

Every year, Montana attracts thousands of anglers from all across the country who come for a chance to fish the rivers and lakes of Big Sky Country. 

Whether you’re a first-time angler or a seasoned pro, having a valid Montana fishing license is essential. Not only will it keep you out of trouble with the law, but it also helps protect and preserve natural resources in the state. 

In this article, we’ll look at how to obtain your Montana fishing license and why having one is important.

Who Needs a Fishing License in Montana

Montana Fishing License Requirements
Resident12+ Years
Non-resident12+ Years
Montana Conservation LicenseRequired for all ages

Anglers in Montana require a Conservation license and a Base fishing license to fish.

In Montana, anyone 12 or older must have a valid fishing license to fish on state waters. With your license, you’ll be able to catch and possess any legal species of fish and aquatic invertebrates as outlined by the state’s regulations. 

It’s important to remember that fishing licenses are not transferable or refundable, so make sure you plan your fishing trip accordingly.

Annual fishing licenses are valid from March 1st to the end of February the following year, regardless of when they are purchased. 

What Age Do You Need a Fishing License in Montana

Both residents and non-residents who are over the age of twelve need a valid base fishing license. 


Residents of Montana need a base fishing license as well as a conservation license if they plan to fish in the state. 

Youth anglers (11 or younger) are not required to have a Conservation or AIS Prevention Pass but must still observe all limits and regulations.

Montana fishing regulations allow Montana residents with a permanent and substantial disability to get a discounted Conservation License for just $8, along with an AIS Prevention Pass for $2 and a Fishing License for $10.50. 


Those who don’t live in Montana, but want to fish while there, will need a Montana out of state fishing license on top of getting a Montana Conservation License.

Children under 12 do not need a license.

Conservation License

In Montana, a Conservation License is required as a prerequisite for all licenses, for residents and non-residents, including the State Lands Recreation Use Permit. 

This permit allows Legion of Valor members, even those under 12 years old, to fish in state waters. 

When applying for a Conservation License, you’ll need to provide your social security number and other information requested by the state.

You’ll also need to present a valid driver’s license or photo ID to purchase a license.

Montana residents with a permanent and substantial disability are eligible to apply for a Resident with a Disability Conservation License.

This license allows the purchase of General Deer, General Elk, Fishing, and Upland Game Bird licenses at half cost. 

Applications for this license can be found online or at FWP offices. These licenses are not available to non-residents.

Bull Trout

bull trout fish

If an angler wants to go trout fishing in Montana, they need to be aware of regulations surrounding bull trout.

When fishing for Bull Trout, anglers must possess a valid Catch Card for the specific water they are fishing. 

Anglers have three options – Lake Koocanusa, Hungry Horse Reservoir, and South Fork Flathead River (one area only), or Swan Lake (harvest not allowed). 

Catch Cards are free of charge at the FWP Region One office in Kalispell and the US Forest Service Spotted Bear Ranger Station.

Paddlefish Tag

Anglers in Montana have three different locations to fish for paddlefish. However, they can only choose one area to fish in per season and will get a colored tag that corresponds to the area. 

  • The Upper Missouri River from Fort Peck Dam to Fort Benton must obtain a White Harvest Tag.
  • The Yellowstone and Missouri rivers downstream of the Fort Peck Dam must have a Yellow Harvest Tag.
  • More experienced anglers looking for a unique challenge can take part in the archery-only season at Fort Peck Dredge Cut, requiring a Blue Harvest Tag.

No matter which area you choose to fish, it’s essential to remember that all harvested paddlefish must be reported to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks within 48 hours of harvest. 

To make reporting easy and hassle-free, call the Montana FWP Harvest Reporting Line at (877) FWP-WILD or 1 (406) 444-0356.

Resident Paddlefish Tag Price
Drawing Fee$5
Non-resident Paddlefish Tag Prices
Drawing Fee$5

Fishing and Hunting

Montana offers a number of combination hunting and fishing licenses for both residents and non-residents.

There are a few options, from general resident sportsman and non-resident combination licenses to species-specific combination licenses, such as a deer hunting permit and fishing license combo. 

The Sportsman’s Combination includes Deer, Elk, State Lands, Upland Bird (excluding turkey) and Season Fishing Licenses.

This package also requires an $8.00 or $4.00 Conservation License, a $10.00 fee for the Base Hunting License and a $2.00 AISPP fee.

Montana Fishing Seasons

Before going fishing, you need to determine the following: Identify which Fishing District you will be fishing (Eastern, Central, or Western) to know what regulations need to be followed in that particular district.

In the Western District:

  • Rivers and streams are open from the third Saturday in May through November 30 unless otherwise specified. 
  • Lakes and reservoirs are open all year.

Central District: 

  • Rivers and streams are open all year unless otherwise specified.
  • Lakes and reservoirs are open all year. 

In the Eastern District:

  • Both rivers and streams, as well as lakes and reservoirs are open all year.

Catch and Release Angling

When fishing in waters designated for catch-and-release, follow a few key tips to give the fish you release the best chance of survival. 

  • Artificial lures are preferred over bait to reduce deep hooking and catch mortality.
  • Single hooks are preferable as they’re easier to remove.
  • Barbless hooks should be used whenever possible.
  • Heavier gear is recommended for ease of landing fish.
  • Rubber or neoprene nets are advised, as nylon nets can increase release time.

Free Fishing Weekend, Father’s Day 

Montana free fishing day on father's day

On Father’s Day weekend each year, Montana residents and non-residents can fish within the state without needing to purchase a fishing license, provided they follow all applicable seasons, restrictions, and bag limits.

The two exceptions are Paddlefish and Bull Trout, which require a Conservation and Fishing License. Additionally, fishing for Paddlefish requires a Paddlefish tag, and fishing for Bull Trout requires a catch card.

How to Buy a Montana Fishing License 

Montana offers two ways to buy your Montana fishing license, online and in person from a license provider.


Anglers can purchase their Montana fishing license online on the website. From there, just answer the questions on the application and get your license instantly. There is even the option to store your license on your phone. 

Local Retailers

There are retailers all over the state where someone can purchase licenses and permits in person. Anglers can go to the state website to find a local retailer that sells fishing and hunting licenses. 

How Much is a Montana Fishing License

Fishing license costs vary depending on what types of fishing licenses you are getting, as well as the duration of the license.

License TitleLicense Fees
Resident $8
Youth 10-17 Resident $4
Senior 62+ Resident$4
Nonresident $10
Annual Base Fishing Licenses
Resident Fishing License$21
Resident Youth 12-17 Fishing License$10.50
Resident Senior 62+ Fishing License$10.50
Montana Non-resident Fishing License$100
Short-Term Resident Base Fishing License 2 Consecutive Calendar Days
Resident 18-62 Years Old$5
Resident Youth 12-17 $5
Resident Senior 62+ $5
Non-resident short-term base fishing licenses
1 Day Non-resident Base Fishing License$14
5 Consecutive Calendar Days$56

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Frequently Asked Questions

What two licenses do you need to fish in Montana?

The two licenses you need to fish in Montana are the conservation license and the base fishing license.

Do I need a fishing license in Montana?

You need a fishing license in Montana if you are over the age of 12 unless it is over Father’s day weekend, which is a free fishing weekend in the state.

Where can I buy a Montana fishing license?

Where you can buy a Montana fishing license is either online or in person from a local retailer, such as a Walmart or a local license provider.

When is the free fishing day in Montana?

The free fishing day in Montana is over Father’s Day weekend every year. 

During that weekend, Montana residents and non-residents are able to fish within the state for free.

Final Thoughts

Obtaining a fishing license in Montana is an important step in helping to preserve the state’s natural resources. 

Not only does it allow anglers to enjoy the sport responsibly and safely, but also helps to ensure healthy fisheries for future generations. 

Additionally, many of the funds generated from fishing license fees are used for wildlife conservation efforts, reminding us all of our responsibility as residents and visitors to maintain Montana’s great outdoors.

Once you have your Montana fishing license, be sure to download our free bass fishing lures cheat sheet. It tells you the best lures to throw, and when to throw them, so you’ll be reeling in big bass all day.