Learn about freshwater fishing

You can fish from shore or from a boat, and you don't need complicated tackle. This guide helps answer some basic questions.

Table of Contents

Who needs a fishing license?

If you are 15 years of age or older, you need a license to fish. Use MassFishHunt to buy your license or visit a vendor in person.

Note: Licenses are free for Massachusetts residents 15-17 years of age and for those 70 and older.

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Do adults need a license to take children fishing?

 A fishing license is not required for anyone under the age of 15. If you plan to help a child under 15 fish, you need a fishing license. 

Note: A freshwater fishing license is required for anyone 15 and older; licenses for anglers between 15-17 years old are free.

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Where can I purchase a fishing license?

You can purchase online through the MassFishHunt licensing system or in person at a license vendor location.

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How can I learn to fish?

MassWildlife Angler Education events are a great way to learn to fish. Click here for a list of upcoming events.

Many people also learn to fish with a little help from online videos or even from the library. One of the best ways to learn is by partnering up with someone who has fished before. A lot can be learned from fishing with friends or family.

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What kind of fishing equipment do I need to get started?

Aside from your fishing license (if you’re 15 years of age or older) all you need is a simple live bait setup consisting of a spin casting (push button), or spinning rod and reel, a few hooks and bobbers, and bait – often garden worms or night crawlers. As with any hobby or pastime, when you’re just starting out, there is no need to break the bank on equipment right away.

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Do I have to use live bait?

If you dislike putting a hook into something alive, there are alternatives, including options from around the house. Cheese, chicken, hot dogs, or bread can work as bait. Small, dense pieces of these and other food items can work well. Other baits come in in small jars as pellets, pastes, or live bait forms and smells that work well. You can also consider fishing lures. Some work well. Others catch more anglers than fish. Lures can be more expensive, and at times they can be more confusing to beginners. There are more designs, colors, and sizes.

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Where can I go fishing?

Massachusetts offers thousands of fishable waters. Many of them are overlooked, like that small pond or stream you pass by every day on your way to work or school. Use MassWildlife's Go Fish MA! interactive map to find a spot hear you—select the "Featured Sites" filter in the map for staff recommendations with easier access to the water.




What kind of fish should I go fishing for?

Feel free to fish for anything that bites, literally. Even a simple bait setup can bring surprising results. You can catch anything from the smallest sunfish to larger fish like bass, pickerel, and trout. It depends on the type of water body you select, your location on that waterbody, and the time of year.

Look for "structures" where you fish - a downed tree, large rocks or boulders, overhanging bushes or trees, undercut stream or river banks, or a weed bed. Structures give fish cover and shade, and you are more likely to find them nearby.

Fish during warmer months at first, if you can, when the water temperatures are at least in the upper 60s. Warm-water fish (mostly species of sunfish) also tend to be easier to catch.

Can I eat the fish I catch?

In many cases, yes.

  • All stocked trout are safe to eat, regardless of where you catch them.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) keeps and maintains a list of waters with consumption advisories. Fish from some waterbodies should not be eaten.
  • Pregnant women, women intending to be pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under the age of 12 should NOT eat any freshwater fish from lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams, other than trout stocked by MassWildlife.

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Are there laws about the size and amount of fish I can keep?

Can I keep a fish alive and bring it home to put in my fish tank, or private pond?

There are only two legal ways to keep a wild fish: to eat, or to mount (professionally, by a taxidermist) as a trophy. In either case, the fish must be dead before you leave the water you're fishing. It is also illegal to move fish from one water body to the next, including small baitfish. Transport laws help prevent the spread of invasive or nuisance species and to prevent the spread of disease.

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Image credits:  MassWildlife

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