Maryland Fishing License: The Complete Guide

When people say that boredom doesn’t stand a chance in the “Free State,” they mean it. Maryland is so incredibly diverse, especially its water activities and angling opportunities. To conquer these thousands of miles of shoreline, you will need to do two things. First of all, you’ll need to pick which type of fishing you’d like to tackle first – salt or freshwater. Secondly, you’ll need to purchase a valid Maryland fishing license.

From the mighty Chesapeake Bay and its Perch to Dundee Creek at Gunpowder Falls State Park with amazing Chain Pickerel – it does, indeed, never get boring.

The State flag of Maryland blowing in the wind on flag pole against clear blue sky

In this guide, we’ve covered everything you need to know how to legally fish in the “Old Line State,” what type of fishing license you need depending on your age, purpose, residency status, preferred duration, and more.

Looking for info on neighboring states, or around the US in general? Check out our full list of licensing guides here.

Who needs a fishing license in Maryland?

There are two major types of licenses available – the non-Tidal/Freshwater and the Chesapeake Bay & Coastal. So, you’ll need two separate licenses for fresh- and saltwater fishing in Maryland. Every angler aged 16 or older must carry one of those to fish, unless, of course, they qualify for an exemption. More on this in the following sections.

You are considered a Maryland resident if:

  • Your domicile is or was in the state.
  • You’re a statutory resident who maintained a place of abode in the state for at least 6 months, but your permanent residence is outside of Maryland

*a person’s domicile is their permanent residence/home

Maryland License Types

Whether you want to check one of the bays – the Chesapeake or Chincoteague, cast your line in Deep Creek Lake State Park, or see what’s biting in Maryland’s various lakes and ponds, you’ll need to get an appropriate license. Let’s go through the main types so that you could learn which options you have.


Freshwater licenses in Maryland are known as Non-Tidal licenses. Anglers can choose between three available options. There’s an annual non-tidal license that allows you to fish the waters of Maryland for 365 days from the date you purchase it. The shorter options include 7 days for both residents and visitors and 3-day licenses for visitors only.

Maryland residents aged 65 or older, or those who will turn 65 in the current calendar year, can obtain a Resident Consolidated License. This type of license not only allows them to fish in the state’s freshwater but also in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries along the Atlantic coast and coastal bays for 365 days from the date of purchase.


Both residents and visitors need to purchase the Chesapeake Bay & Coastal Sport Fishing license to fish in the Bay and its tributaries, as well as state waters of the Atlantic and coastal bays and tributaries. The duration of those licenses is the same as for the Non-Tidal – the annual, weekly, and 3-day options are available.

Some areas require all saltwater anglers to register with Maryland Saltwater Angler Registration. If you’re not required to get a Chesapeake Bay & Coastal Sport Fishing license, you’ll still have to register. The good news is that it’s free!

Additional Permits

If you’re planning to fish for Trout, you’ll need to purchase a Trout stamp ahead of time. This rule applies to all special catch and release Trout management areas, as well the non-tidal waters of the state that allows you to posses Trout. This permit is necessary for both resident and non-resident anglers.


Since some of the non-tidal options, such as a 3-day fishing license, are available only to non-residents, the fee will depend on your home state. Here’s the list of fees in each state.

License TypeResident CostNon-resident Cost
Non-Tidal (Annual)$20.50$30.50
Non-tidal (7-day)$7.50home state fee
Trout Stamp$5.00$10.00
Chesapeake Bay & Coastal (Annual)$15.00$22.50
Chesapeake Bay & Coastal (7-day)$6.00$12.00
Resident Senior Consolidated$5.00not available

Who can fish without a license?

As we’ve mentioned before, there are exemptions for both freshwater and saltwater licenses. Here’s the list of general exemptions:

  • All anglers under the age of 16.
  • Maryland residents on active duty with the Armed Forces (on leave with official orders) can fish without a license.
  • All anglers who decide to fish on the special Free Fishing days during the summer months.
  • All anglers who want to fish in the license-free areas. Note that some areas require you to have a Maryland Saltwater Angler Registration. You can learn more here.
  • If you are blind, tidal and non-tidal licenses are available free of charge. Although it’s complimentary, you’ll still need to get one.
  • If you are a 100% service-connected disabled veteran or former prisoner of war, you get a complimentary lifetime license. This includes both fresh- and saltwater types, as well as Trout stamps.
  • A property owner or tenant, their spouse, child, or the child’s spouse residing there don’t need to get a license to catch fish from the property’s shoreline. That is, of course, if they confirm their riparian ownership before fishing.

If you are fishing from a licensed charter boat, they will cover your fishing license, so you won’t need to purchase one in advance. There’s a special Consolidated Chesapeake Bay & Coastal Sport Boat License that allows you and everyone on board a vessel to fish for pleasure. This type covers the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, along with the state waters in the Atlantic, its coastal bays, and tributaries.


Maryland has a reciprocity agreement with Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. However, there are a couple of things that you need to consider if you’re a resident of any of these states before you head out to fish in Maryland.

  • A Virginia resident who holds a valid non-tidal fishing license can fish in the Potomac River opposite the shore of Virginia.
  • With a valid Virginia saltwater fishing license and a Maryland Saltwater Anglers Registration, anglers can fish in Maryland tidal waters regardless of their residency.
  • A West Virginia resident with a valid WV license can fish in the non-tidal Potomac River.
  • A Pennsylvania resident with a valid PA fishing license can fish within Maryland’s boundaries of the Conowingo and Youghiogheny reservoirs.
  • If you hold a Potomac River Fisheries Commission recreational fishing license, you can fish the tidal waters of Maryland.
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Where to buy your Maryland fishing license?

Now that you’ve learned about the types of fishing licenses available in Maryland and how much they cost, it’s time to find the best way to buy them. Note that your annual license is valid for 365 days from the date of purchase.

  • Online. This is the easiest way to get your license. You can buy it through the Department of Natural Resources website’s COMPASS portal. This portal also allows you to reprint your license and register as a saltwater angler.
  • In person. There are over 250 license agents in Maryland, with a lot of them working on weekends or have extended hours.
  • By mail. Download a printable application from the Department of Natural Resources Forms website. Note that in order to view and print your application, you’ll need to have Adobe Acrobat software installed on your computer. Once you’ve completed the application, you’ll need to mail it (along with a check for the fees) to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Service Center.

If you are looking to apply for a DAV or POW license, you’ll need to fill in an application form and attach a letter of certification from the Veterans Administration with it. Find more information on that here.

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          Potomac River, Maryland – White Water Rafting

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          Presented below are Tour Companies that offer guided white water rafting & kayaking trips and/or rent equipment in and near Potomac River. Click on any name for more detailed information.

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          More Info Atlantic Kayak Company
          • 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria
          • 800-297-0066
          More Info Blu Gnu Kayak Company
          • Alexandria
          • 703-751-6662
          More Info Butts Tubes
          • 10985 Harpers Ferry Road, Purcellville
          • 800-836-9911
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          • Arlington
          • 540-295-0900
          More Info Official Website Harpers Ferry Adventure Center
          • 37291 Jefferson Pike, Purcellville
          • 800-836-9911

          Formerly BTI Whitewater / Butts Tubes

          More Info Official Website River & Trail Outfitters
          • 604 Valley Road, Knoxville
          • 301-834-9950

          River & Trail Outfitters offers guided whitewater rafting near Harpers Ferry, tubing in Maryland, tubing in Harpers Ferry, ziplining, and kayaking and canoeing rentals. Unique paddle and pour combination tours are available visiting local breweries, wineries, and limoncello distilleries.

          Potomac River Fishing: The Complete Guide

          Boasting over 400 miles of fishable waters and a wide variety of species, the Potomac River provides a chance to escape the city and reconnect with nature. Fishing on the Potomac River serves as a rite of passage for many local DC, Maryland, and Virginia anglers. Visitors from all over the East Coast also travel to the Potomac in order to check out one of the most underrated fisheries in the US.

          the potomac river

          The Potomac River has long been a vital part of the DMV area’s economy, recreation, and way of life. Also referred to as the “Nation’s River,” this tributary represents the cultural and historical seam of the nation’s capital. It also serves as the main life source for one of the most important estuaries on the East Coast, the Chesapeake Bay.

          There are lots of reasons why you should prioritize a visit. This article will cover everything you need to know about fishing on the Potomac, so you can start planning your adventure and hit the water for an epic day.

          Top Catches in the Potomac River

          What makes the Potomac River so special? For one, its biodiversity. The Nation’s River is home to a wide variety of fish, making it an excellent place for anglers to try out a few different techniques and target multiple species all in one day.

          Striped Bass

          Perhaps the most iconic of them all is Striped Bass, locally referred to as Rockfish. Over the last half-century, they’ve become a symbolic fish of the Potomac and one of the top-targeted species in the region. They’re a favorite due to their strength, versatility, and last but not least, their delicious taste!

          Three anglers holding Striped Bass on a boat

          In recent years, anglers on the Potomac have recorded catches in the 30–40 lb range, despite facing dwindling populations. Maryland and Virginia have ramped up efforts to combat overfishing and help restore this historic fishery.

          You can still catch big Stripers in the lower portions of the river, down by the Chesapeake Bay. They migrate upstream to spawn in fresher waters and tend to wander even further up the river during summer. Up north past DC, you’ll most likely encounter smaller schools of Rockfish – perfect for beginners starting out on spin tackle.

          Various techniques are used to catch Striper. Anglers typically troll or drift from a boat and cast live baits or lures from the banks. Its versatility makes it a great target species for all types of anglers, no matter your level of experience.


          Snakehead is an invasive species that was originally introduced to the region in the early 2000s. Since then, their population has multiplied and they’ve expanded their territory throughout the entire Potomac and its surrounding tributaries.

          An angler holds a Snakehead he just caught.

          Snakehead is an excellent game fish, known for their elusiveness and aggressive striking power. In other words, this isn’t an easy fish to take on. Seasoned anglers will usually use light tackle, however, don’t be ashamed if you have to switch to slightly heavier equipment.

          Some of the go-to techniques when targeting Snakehead include fly fishing, throwing surface lures, and even bowfishing. Overall, a positive attitude, patience, and extra elbow grease are key for a successful battle against this river monster!

          Due to their rapidly increasing numbers, anglers on the Potomac are encouraged to harvest Snakehead when caught. Transporting them live isn’t allowed either, so keep that in mind. You can fish them whenever you want and they can be caught throughout the entire river and connecting creeks, such as Mattawoman and Pomonkey.

          Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass

          You can’t talk about fishing on the Potomac without mentioning Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. They inhabit vast portions of the river and have thrived here for over a century.

          two fishermen holding four Largemouth Bass

          Largemouth and Smallmouth occupy different areas of the river – DC serving as the boundary that separates the two regions. Largemouth Bass can be caught throughout the river’s tidal and southern regions while Smallmouth Bass are typically found in the Upper Potomac.

          There are lots of ways to fish for Bass in the Potomac. Wade in the shallows, cast from the banks, or fish from a canoe. Spin, drift, fly fish – it all works. Surface lures work very well in shallower waters for targeting Smallmouth. Largemouth is less choosy and will also go after small live baits, such as minnows, night crawlers, and crawfish.

          Bass fishing on the Potomac River is deeply rooted in the region’s sportfishing history. The river is also one of the most popular Bass fishing tournament destinations in the US. Big name sponsors such as Bassmaster and Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) host annual competitions here, attracting hundreds of Bass fishermen from all over the country.


          Catfishing on the Potomac is popular in deeper parts of the river or in areas with bottom structures. Blue, Channel, and Flathead Catfish can be caught throughout the entire river, but the largest ones are found from DC down to Indian Head.

          A happy angler holding a trophy Blue Catfish

          Look for areas with bridge pilings, boulders, and underwater trees that break up the current. You’ll want to use live bait, such as herring or mullet, when going after this beast. Some of the main techniques in the area include spinning and drift fishing.

          How to Fish the Potomac River

          There are lots of different ways to explore the Potomac. That’s the beauty of fishing such a vast river with loads of access points on both sides. Whether you plan on joining a guide, renting a kayak, or exploring on foot, you’ll have a number of options to choose from.

          By Boat

          Boat on the Potomac River

          If you’re looking to cover more ground and fish multiple areas in one day, your best bet would be to fish by boat. Since planning a trip can seem a bit overwhelming, joining a local guide is probably your best option. Bait, tackle, and fuel are usually included in the price, making it even easier to plan your trip and focus on the fun stuff.

          Both Maryland and Virginia provide guided services for all skill levels and types of anglers. Whether you’re looking to go fly fishing, bow hunting, or spend several relaxing hours on the water, you’ll be able to find the guide that’s right for you.

          Most fishing guides are located in the Lower Potomac, in places such as Fort Washington, MD and Alexandria, VA. The towns of Potomac, MD and Leesburg, VA are also great options if you plan on launching from the Upper Potomac.

          On Foot

          fly fisherman fishing on the Potomac river

          The Potomac is famous for its easy accessibility on foot. With over a hundred creeks stemming from the river, you’ll be able to find a nice quiet spot and enjoy a relaxing day on your own.

          Many towns in Loudoun County, VA provide excellent spots for on-foot fishing. Areas such as Goose Creek in Leesburg and Sugarland Run in Sterling are prime locations for wading and fishing from the banks.

          You can also get some great “on-foot action” smack dab in the middle of the city. The Tidal Basin is a great spot to experience some good urban bank fishing. This is also arguably the most picturesque part of DC. The MLK, FDR, and TJ memorials make a great background shot for Instagram as you reel in a prize-winning fish!

          Kayak Fishing

          kayaks on a dock in DC

          Kayak fishing on the Potomac has gained lots of traction over recent years. You’ve probably noticed more and more ‘yakkers’ on the river during the spring and summer. With new businesses popping up in the city and suburbs, you can pick a rental close to you and plan a weekend adventure with you and your fishing buddies.

          Kayaks are especially advantageous for fishing in shallow waters. You’ll be able to sneak into narrow spots and be closer to the water, making it much easier to spot your target. You’re also much less likely to spook the fish since there’s no loud motor attached. Talk about stealth!

          Where to Fish on the Potomac River

          No matter which part of the Potomac you plan on visiting, you’ll find plenty of spots where you can post up and enjoy a productive day of fishing. You’ll come across honey holes, channels, creeks, and bridge pilings scattered along the entire river – from the Upper Potomac all the way down to the Chesapeake Bay.

          Washington, DC

          a bridge in Washington DC

          There’s a lot more to the nation’s Capital than just bureaucracy and politics. The DC fishing scene is often overlooked by non-locals and it’s a darn shame. DC offers some of the best urban fishing in the country and it’s definitely worth checking out!

          This segment of the river is filled with tons of bottom feeders. Blue, Flathead, and Channel Catfish inhabit the river, especially around channels and deep holes, as well as boulders, bridges, and trees submerged in water. Blue Catfish, the largest of the three, typically average between 20–40 pounds, with some monsters even weighing in at 50 pounds!

          You can also catch Longnose Gar, Snakehead, Shad, Walleye, Carp, and Chain Pickerel. Areas such as Fletcher’s Cove, Rock Creek, and Anacostia Park are excellent for day trips, especially if you’re looking for a good spot to take your kids. All in all, this is a great way to experience the nation’s capital while enjoying a fun day of fishing with the family.

          Prince George’s County, MD

          Fort on the river

          Less than 20 miles south of the Capital, you’ll find amazing fishing opportunities near the towns of Fort Washington and Indian Head. This portion of the river holds a huge variety of fish.

          You shouldn’t leave PG County without checking out Mattawoman Creek. This tributary is known for its excellent Perch, Bass, and Snakehead fishing. In 2018, the Maryland record for Snakehead was broken here – a 35-incher weighing in at 19.9 pounds!

          Just a short boat ride away, you can also hit the Occoquan Bay – a National Wildlife Refuge located at the intersection of the Potomac and Occoquan River. Here, you can expect to reel in lots of Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Catfish, Northern Pike, and White Perch.

          You can find plenty of guides that will take you here or you can fish from the banks on your own. Fort Washington is also a great place to fish with a kayak or paddle boat which are usually available for rent during the springtime.

          Fairfax County, VA

          Water falls

          The Virginia side of the Potomac also has its fair share of excellent fishing spots, accessible by foot as well as boat. Places like Riverbend Park in Great Falls are great for children and beginners looking to pick up on some of the basics. This windy, narrow portion of the river provides one of the most beautiful landscapes of the region, making you forget you’re only miles away from the city!

          The main target species here are Smallmouth Bass, Sunfish, and Catfish. Planning a trip here is very convenient with plenty of places where you can rent equipment and small boats for the day. This is also a great place to go hiking, check out the waterfalls, and experience some of the Potomac’s amazing wildlife.

          Other towns in Fairfax County where you can fish the Potomac include Mount Vernon, Fort Hunt, and Pohick. From here, you’ll be able to target lots of the same species as on the Maryland side. You can also access most of the same waters since VA and MD licenses are both valid for fishing either side of the Potomac.

          When to Fish the Potomac River

          You can fish the Potomac year-round, however, some months are better than others when targeting specific types of species. Check out our fishing calendar for a full run-down of the area’s fishing seasons.

          snowy bench in DC

          Fishing Seasons

          Spring is excellent for fishing on the Potomac River because the weather is just right. Summers are infamous for being hot and muggy while winters can get quite cold. However, it really depends on the priority of your trip. Also, remember to check the local regulations before your trip as some species are subject to seasonality.

          Summer is a great time to go fishing because of the wide variety of species you can target. Fall is known for its great Rainbow Trout and Steelhead runs, especially in the Upper Potomac, near the North Branch and South Branch Rivers. Fall is also a good time to target Striped Bass, especially in the Lower Potomac region. Catfishing is best in the winter.


          competitive anglers fishing off of a bass boat

          If you’re a competitive angler looking to win some cash (and bragging rights), the Potomac should definitely be on your radar. Each year towards the end of summer and beginning of fall, several organizations host tournaments with the chance of having your name placed among the greats.

          Bassmaster and FLW hold their annual tournaments near Smallwood State Park in Charles County, MD. Each tournament has an entrance fee and you can register online on each of the organization’s websites or by visiting Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

          You’ll have a chance to put your skills to the test and compete against some of the most elite Bass fishermen in the country. Oh, and did we mention you can win upwards of tens of thousands of dollars? Ka-ching!

          Local Regulations

          So now that you have a sense of what to expect from a Potomac River fishing experience, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations. The last thing you want is to be slapped with a fine for not having a license or targeting something that isn’t in season.

          All anglers over the age of 16 must purchase either a valid MD, VA, DC, or Potomac River Sport Fishing License. VA, MD, and Potomac licenses are valid in portions of the river where the two states share their border. Anywhere above the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, you’ll have to buy a DC fishing license. You can purchase each of them online or at any approved fishing license vendor.

          Keep in mind, some species can only be targeted seasonally, like Striped Bass and Crab. Many fish are subject to size and bag limits as well. Just make sure you stay up to date as rules and regulations can change each year. If you’re not sure, you can always check with a licensing agent or a fishing guide before heading out.

          The Potomac River: A Fishing Haven for All!

          sunset over the river

          As we mentioned earlier, the Potomac provides anglers the opportunity to connect with nature while staying close to the city. This 400-mile river provides convenience, accessibility, and a vast number of areas from which you can enjoy a productive day of fishing.

          You may choose to go fishing with some of DC’s famous monuments as your backdrop or head into the wilderness for a more tranquil fishing experience. Just depends on what you prefer! No matter which option you choose, at the end of the day, you’ll experience one of the most diverse and unique rivers on the East Coast.

          Have you ever been fishing on the Potomac River? If so, we’d like to hear about your experiences. What did you catch? Where is your favorite spot to go fishing? Leave a comment and let our readers know if you have any advice or special tips before heading out!




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