Fish without a license on a handful of upcoming dates in Maryland and Virginia. Photo: DNR Flickr courtesy of Letha Grimes

No-Commitment Fishing on Bay’s Upcoming License-Free Days

Are you new to fishing or maybe you just haven’t gone recently enough to have a current fishing license in your home state? 

For a handful of days each year, you can fish in and around the Chesapeake Bay without a license. There are even some locations where you can get loaner fishing equipment if you are just trying fishing for the first time. These “free fishing days” in Maryland and Virginia are coming up soon—and they offer great opportunities to try out a new hobby or take a kid fishing for the first time.  

Maryland License-Free Fishing Days

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has announced its License-Free Fishing Days for 2024, allowing residents and visitors to fish without purchasing a license. The designated dates are June 1, June 8, and July 4. These low-commitment days aim to encourage fishing as a recreational activity and make it more accessible to everyone. The initiative supports Governor Wes Moore’s mission to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in the state.

During these days, anglers can fish in Maryland’s state waters, including the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, without a license. The program targets newcomers to the sport, promoting fishing as a fun, family-friendly activity. The state has numerous fishing locations, ranging from coastal areas to inland freshwater spots, offering a diverse array of fishing experiences.

In addition to free fishing days, the Maryland DNR provides various resources to help beginners, including instructional videos, fishing guides, and information on fishing hot spots. The department also organizes events and activities to engage the community and promote responsible fishing practices.

Fishing without a license is usually prohibited to help manage and conserve fish populations. However, these designated days allow everyone to try fishing, potentially fostering a lifelong interest in the sport. The DNR emphasizes the importance of adhering to all other fishing regulations, such as size and catch limits, even on license-free days. This ensures sustainable fishing practices and helps protect Maryland’s aquatic resources.

This year the department is encouraging anglers to catch invasive species such as snakeheads (which Maryland is now pushing to call by a more palatable name, Chesapeake channa) and blue catfish. Both nonnative species are affecting the overall Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. And both fish are great options for eating, with a wide variety of recipes are available on the Maryland’s Best website. For more details about where the fish are biting, just ask Alexa to “open Maryland Fishing Report.”

Virginia Free Fishing Days

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) offers Free Fishing Days on June 7-9, 2024, allowing people to fish without needing a fishing license. These days are part of a broader effort to encourage more people to enjoy fishing and outdoor activities. The DWR hosts several events across the state to provide guidance and equipment to new anglers.

Key locations for these events include Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County, Dorey Park in Henrico County, Mt. Trashmore Park in Virginia Beach, and Williams Wharf Landing in Mathews County (more on that below). Most of these events feature agency staff and volunteers who provide rods, reels, tackle, and bait, along with instructions on fishing techniques.

On June 9, Williams Wharf will host a special program in partnership with various organizations. This event includes interactive learning stations covering saltwater fishing, bay ecology, boating safety, and more. The aim is to offer a comprehensive introduction to fishing and the local marine environment.

During the free fishing days, no fishing license is required for recreational rod and reel fishing, and facility use permits are also waived. However, all other fishing regulations, such as size, season, and catch limits, remain in effect.

Both Maryland and Virginia’s initiatives give us new or occasional anglers a chance to fish and enjoy the outdoors, explore the Bay’s natural environments and maybe even fall in love with fishing.