From bass fishing on inland lakes to salmon charters off the Pacific coast, licensed guides and charter boats offer a wide range of fishing opportunities in Washington State. These licenses are required by law in most cases for anyone who accepts fees to take people fishing or operates a vessel from which people fish.
This document describes WDFW license requirements for fishing guides and charter boats. It also notes some additional licenses and inspections required by other agencies, although it does not purport to include all such requirements for local, state, and federal jurisdictions. For additional assistance with WDFW licensing requirements please call 360-902-2464, Option 4.
To acquire an application for a non-salmon charter or guide license please contact a Commercial Customer Service Specialist at WDFW headquarters in Olympia:
Phone: 360-902-2464, Option 4
Mail: WDFW – Commercial License Sales
PO Box 43154 – Olympia WA 98504-3154
Office Location: 1111 Washington St SE -- Olympia WA
Applicant must be at least 16 years of age.
A current copy of vessel documentation or registration is required when a vessel is being designated on a license.
A Salmon Charter* license is required if you accept a fee to take a person fishing for salmon, food fish or shellfish in Marine Areas 1 through 13 (including 2-1 Willapa Bay, 2-2 Grays Harbor, 8-1 and 8-2), Lake Washington, or the Columbia River downstream of the Longview Bridge.
An Oregon charter boat license is equivalent to a Washington charter boat license in the concurrent waters of the Columbia River below the bridge at Longview, provided that passengers are not picked up or dropped off from any point in Washington. Similarly, Oregon fishing guide license is equivalent to a Washington guide fishing guide license on the Columbia River upstream of the bridge at Longview and downstream of the Oregon boundary in Lake Wallula. The same passenger boarding and dropping off restrictions are in place for Oregon charter boats.
Vessel designation required: YES
Resident renewal: $700 Non-resident renewal: $1,085
* No new Washington salmon charter licenses or angler permits will be issued due to a moratorium on these licenses. However, salmon charter licenses and angler permits can be transferred from one person to another or bought and sold on the open market.
An Angler Permit specifies the maximum number of persons that may fish from the charter boat per trip. Only a person who holds a salmon charter license may hold an angler permit.
A Non-Salmon Charter license is required if you accept a fee to take a person fishing for shellfish and fish other than salmon, albacore tuna, or shellfish in Marine Areas 1 through 13 (including 2-1 Willapa Bay, 2-2 Grays Harbor, 8-1 and 8-2), Lake Washington, or the Columbia River downstream of the Longview Bridge.
Vessel designation required: YES
Residents $480 Non residents $865
A Food Fish Guide license is required if you accept a fee to take a person fishing for salmon, sturgeon or other food fish species in freshwater rivers and streams, except Lake Washington, and the Columbia River downstream of the Longview Bridge, which requires a charter license.
Vessel designation required: NO
Residents $300 Non residents $765
A Game Fish Guide license is required if you accept a fee to take a person fishing for game fish in any state water.
Vessel designation required: NO
Residents $375 Non residents $760
The fee when purchasing both Food and Game Fish at the same time is $640 for residents and $1,490 for non-residents.
Requirements for food fish and game fish guide licenses
WDFW requires the following for all guide licenses prior to issuance – No exceptions.
- A driver’s license or other government-issued identification number and the jurisdiction of issuance;
- A Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number;
- Proof of current first aid and CPR certification;
- A certificate of insurance for commercial liability coverage of at least $300,000; and
- A copy of a valid license issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) if the applicant will carry passengers for hire on a motorized vessel in federally recognized navigable waters.
Charter Stamps are available to licensed charters and guides. Additional information can be obtained by calling WDFW at 866-334-9453.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (CRGNSA)
A federal Special Use Permit is required for guides operating on the last ten miles of the Klickitat River in the Columbia River Gorge. For more information call 541-308-1700 or email the Special Uses Coordinator at: SM.FS.email@example.com.
National Park Service
To conduct guided fishing trips in Olympic National Park, fishing guides must apply for a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) from the National Park Service (NPS). For more information and an application visit Olympic National Park's business page or call 360-565-3028.
The NPS also requires a CUA for anyone guiding on Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. For more information contact Julia Treu-Fowler by phone at 509-754-7807, by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail:
National Park Service
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area CUA Program
1008 Crest Drive
Coulee Dam WA 99116
U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers
Engaging in business activities on Rufus Woods Lake requires a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Additional information can be obtained by contacting Laura Beauregard via email at: email@example.com or by mail to:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Chief Joseph Dam and Rufus Woods Lake
Attn: Laura Beauregard
PO Box 1120
Bridgeport WA 98813
U.S. Coast Guard Operator's License
If you use a motorized vessel in your business to carry passengers for hire on federally navigable waters, you must be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard and meet certain safety requirements.
Federally navigable waters include many rivers and lakes, such as the Columbia River, Lake Washington, the Skagit River and others. Puget Sound and all coastal waters are also navigable waters of the United States. Additional information on U.S. Coast Guard Operator’s licenses can be obtained by contacting the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center in Seattle at 888-427-5662.
Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) Inspection and License
If you use a motorized vessel in your business to carry more than 6 passengers for hire on waters within the jurisdiction of the state of Washington that are not federally navigable waters, your boat must be inspected annually, and the boat operator must be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard or by L&l. Additional information on inspections and operator licenses can be obtained by contacting L&l at 360-902-4956.
Whitewater River Outfitter License
A Whitewater River Outfitter License is required for businesses carrying, or advertising to carry, for-hire passengers on whitewater sections of Washington rivers. Information on the Whitewater River Outfitter License can be obtained by contacting Department of Licensing at 360-664-1400 or https://www.dol.wa.gov/business/whitewater/. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife does not regulate whitewater river guides.
Frequently asked questions
What is a guide?
Although not specifically defined by rule, “guide” means a person who, for compensation, offers services to transport or accompany people in their fishing activities, and instructs them by sharing fishing techniques, expertise and knowledge of the fish and waters being fished. Washington has two categories of guides. Game fish guides can operate statewide but are limited to offering services relating only to fishing for game fish. Food fish guides offer services relating only to food fish, in freshwater areas, except they may not provide services in Lake Washington or the Columbia River downstream of the Longview Bridge.
What is a charter boat?
"Charter boat" means a vessel from which persons may, for a fee, fish for food fish or shellfish for personal use in those waters to include: the Columbia River below the bridge at Longview, Lake Washington, Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and Pacific Ocean waters. Applicable waters also include offshore waters and waters of other states.
What are food fish, game fish and shellfish?
Food fish include salmon, sturgeon, halibut, bottomfish (such as rockfish and lingcod), forage fish (such as anchovy, herring, and sardine), common carp, shad, tuna, mackerel, and others.
Game fish include bass, burbot, catfish, crappie, grayling, perch, northern pike, tiger musky, suckers, sunfish, trout (including steelhead), landlocked salmon (such as Chinook and Coho salmon, and Kokanee in designated waters listed in the Sport Fishing Pamphlet), walleye, whitefish, and others.
Shellfish include crab, clams, oysters, mussels, shrimp, and others.
More complete lists are available in the Washington Sport Fishing Rules Pamphlet.
If I charge a fee to students for instruction in fishing techniques on the water, do I need a guide or charter license?
Yes, if the class includes on-the-water instruction with gear capable of catching fish.
Can a person hold several different licenses at once?
Can a food fish guide or a limited entry salmon charter license holder offer services for game fish (for example, steelhead, and cutthroat) in marine or fresh waters?
No. Only a game fish guide may guide for these species.
What license do I need to offer services for salmon in Willapa Bay (Area 2-1) or Grays Harbor (Area 2-2)?
In either location, you need a limited entry salmon charter license and angler permit.
Can a game fish guide license holder offer guide services for salmon or other food fish?
Can a game fish guide license holder offer guide services for steelhead in the Columbia River downstream of the Longview Bridge, Lake Washington, or Marine Areas 1-13 (including 2-1 Willapa Bay, 2-2 Grays Harbor, 8-1 and 8-2)?
Can I continue to fish after I have retained my daily limit of adult salmon?
In areas where a saltwater fishing license is valid, each fisher aboard a vessel may continue to fish until the daily limit of food fish or shellfish for all licensed anglers and juvenile anglers aboard has been retained. In areas where only a freshwater fishing license is valid, you may not continue to fish for salmon after you have retained a daily limit of adult salmon. However, you may continue to fish for game fish if you have a valid fishing license and catch record card (if necessary) and the guide has a valid game fish guide license.
Can I hook a fish and hand the rod to another person to land?
Yes, as long as you and other person have a valid fishing license and, if required, a valid catch record card.
If I catch a salmon, do I get to keep the roe (eggs)?
For salmon caught on charter boats, the roe (eggs) is the property of the angler until the roe is given to the skipper or crewmember. The skipper or crew member must notify the angler of this fact.