Do I need a license to fish in my own private pond?

Landowners usually don't need a license to fish in their own pond. But in some cases, they do.

Usually not, but sometimes maybe

One of our readers asked us the question “do I need a license to fish in my pond?” The answer is (usually) no. But in some cases, pond owners and landowners actually do need a license to fish on their own property.

The basic rule of thumb is this — if you own the entire pond, and the pond isn’t connected to public waters by a stream, river, or canal, then you don’t need a license. But if water comes directly into or flows out of your pond, and that water is accessible by the public, then you need a license. Also, if you own land on a public lake, river, or other waterway, you need a license because you don’t own the water.

The fish in a wholly enclosed farm pond that have no access to public waters are technically owned by whoever owns the pond. So you don’t need a license. But if fish can come in and out of the pond freely through public waters, then those fish belong to the public. And in that case, you need a license to fish for them.

How common is that?

And those cases are more common than many people realize. I have a friend in Sumter County, S.C. who owns several hundred acres of swampland. He has a small pond on part of that land. The pond is completely on his private land. But a canal connects the pond to a stream that runs in and out of his property. This stream connects to the Black River, a public waterway. So the fish can swim in and out of his pond from public waters. So technically, he needs a fishing license to fish in his own pond.

The same friend has another pond at his house. This pond is completely encircled by his privately owned land. No public waterways connect to this pond, and the fish are all trapped inside the pond. He does not need a license to fish there.

So if you’re trying to determine if you need a license to fish in your own pond, just ask yourself if fish can move in and out of your pond by way of public waters. If they can, you need a license. If they can’t, all you need is a fishing pole.

Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 1224 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.