Are Fishing Bounties a Real Thing? (Getting Paid to Fish)

fish with rolled dollar bill in mouth

If you’re a fishing enthusiast, you might daydream about days spent on the docks or floating down the river. It’s easy to see why — nothing can quite match the thrill of reeling in a big catch.

Whether you’re an amateur or a lifelong fishing devotee, fishing bounties might seem too good to be true. Is it really possible to get paid to fish?

There are fishing bounties in real life that offer payment to fishermen who catch and turn in certain species. In most cases, this incentive helps combat the proliferation of an invasive species that harm the ecosystem. Fishing bounties are generally administered by state fish and game agencies.

Taking part in a fishing bounty can be rewarding financially, and it also gives you an opportunity to aid local habitat conservation efforts.

Most fishermen are allured by the chance to make some money from their favorite hobby. Fishing is fun, but it’s typically not a lucrative endeavor.

In states like Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and perhaps others, you can take advantage of fishing bounties that benefit the environment and put money in your pocket at the same time.

What Is a Fishing Bounty?

When you think of the word “bounty,” you might think of a “bounty hunter.” Indeed, fishing bounties turn fishermen into bounty hunters — just for fish instead of fugitives.

These programs incentivize fishermen to seek out specific species, reel them in and turn them into the authorities — usually the local Department of Fish and Wildlife.

These bounties typically come with a series of stipulations that anglers must abide by. Some bounties require that all fish be cured in salt, for example, while others require that the fish be fresh or still alive to receive payment.

These rules vary based on the program you’re participating in, so you should check with the appropriate authority to ensure you comply.

Most fishing bounties also require that participants hold a valid fishing license, and the bounty is typically restricted to a specific area of water.

While some people wonder whether recreational fishing might be harmful to the environment, fishing bounties offer a fun and rewarding way to protect local habitats and prevent disruption of the ecosystem.

Is There a Bounty on Pike?

Northern pike caught by fisherman

Yes, there are currently bounties on many different types of fish throughout the U.S., including some species of pike. Northern pike, in particular, has invaded the Colorado River, prompting the Colorado Water Conservation Board to offer a bounty of $20 per fish for every eligible catch of this species.

Colorado isn’t the only area where there’s a bounty on pike.

In 2017, the Confederated Colville Tribes announced that fishermen could earn $10 per head for pike fish — referred to as the “nightmare fish” — caught in Lake Roosevelt near Spokane, Washington. Some fishermen reportedly caught pikes weighing as much as 20 pounds.

Other Types of Fish for Which You Can Collect a Bounty

In addition to the fishing bounties placed on pike, you may be able to earn money for several other invasive species, too. Some of these species include the following:

  • Snakehead
  • Pikeminnow
  • Asian carp
  • Brown trout
  • Walleye
  • Lionfish

Some of these species are invasive and nonnative to the areas they are currently found in. Others are native to their area but have expanded substantially, necessitating reduction efforts.

How Many State Conservation Agencies Are Paying Anglers Bounties To Help Control Invasive Fish Populations?

Many conservation agencies throughout the U.S. offer bounties to fishermen who can help control invasive species. New bounties are offered regularly, and old ones are discontinued, so it’s hard to identify a specific number of conservation agencies offering bounties.

The following agencies and organizations have offered fishing bounties at some point:

  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • National Park Service
  • Glen Canyon Conservancy
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Idaho Fish and Game
  • Confederated Colville Tribes

If you’re looking for a fishing bounty nearby, you can search for your state and the term “fishing bounties.” You can also reach out to your local conservation agency to see if any angler incentives are offered.

A Brief History of Fishing Bounties in the U.S.

Fishing bounties have a long and rich history of aiding conservation efforts within the U.S.

The first documented mention of an official program comes from Edward Everett, a politician in the 19th century. During the Georgia Declaration of Succession, he reportedly mentioned fishing bounties as an example of free commerce.

It should be noted that the meaning of the phrase “fishing bounty” changed over time. Everett’s mention of such programs is largely unrelated to fishing bounties in real life and modern times. Historically, the term often referred to a fine that fishermen had to pay, but it eventually evolved to take on the opposite meaning.

One of the first known examples of fishing bounties offering payment to fishermen dates two centuries ago in Mackinac Island, MI. It’s unclear when this shift occurred or when the first bounties were established to offer payment to fishermen, but current bounty programs are an essential tool for preserving ecosystems.

Pikeminnow Bounty Program in WA State

One of the biggest fishing bounties to emerge in recent years is the pikeminnow bounty in Washington state. At the time of writing, this program offers payments starting at $6 per pikeminnow and up to $10 for each fish caught.

Fishermen who are lucky enough to catch a northern pikeminnow that’s been specially tagged will even see earnings of $300!

The pikeminnow bounty is particularly important because of its efforts to protect steelhead and salmon.

While pikeminnow is a native species, they are known to feed on the eggs and young of salmon and steelhead. This thwarts their ability to make it to sea during migration. This is a major threat to the population of salmon and steelhead. The pikeminnow bounty is integral to combatting this problem.

Fishermen who want to participate in the Washington pikeminnow bounty need to register and comply with all program rules. Participants should understand that the goal is not to eliminate the pikeminnow population but rather to reduce it by 10 to 20 percent. Fishermen can help achieve this goal by participating in the bounty.

Examples of Fish Bounties

Hooked dollar bill

In addition to the Washington pikeminnow program, many examples of fish bounties have successfully helped reduce the population of harmful fish species.

In 2011, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources announced that a bounty would be offered to try and minimize snakehead fish who prey on largemouth bass. The awards included a gift card to Bass Pro Shops and a Maryland State Passport.

The Brown Trout Bonanza is another bounty that targets its namesake — the brown trout — throughout the Colorado River in Arizona. This bounty offers a particularly high-paying reward of $33 per head. Fishermen can earn additional bonuses of up to $300, too.

The Lionfish Challenge was launched in 2018 to help minimize the lionfish population throughout Florida.

To enter, participants needed to catch at least 25 fish and submit photos of their bounty. Though no cash reward was offered in 2021, competitors were eligible to receive a commemorative coin and a feature in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Hall of Fame.

In 2019, Idaho Fish and Game announced that it would offer a bounty of up to $1,000 for anglers who caught walleye that the department tagged. Though there is no guarantee of winning, participants are incentivized to catch as many fish as possible to increase their chances of winning the $1,000 prize.

What To Look For if You Want To Find Fish Bounty Programs

If you’re looking for a fish bounty program, who can blame you? Spending all day fishing and getting paid in the process is every angler’s dream. You should be on the lookout for a few specific features when you’re researching fishing bounty programs to participate in. You should start by considering these questions:

  • Are you willing to travel to reach the bounty site?
  • Do you want a guaranteed cash reward?
  • Are there a particular species you want to catch?

These questions can help you narrow down your options and find the best fishing bounty program for you. It’s important to note that many bounty programs offer a guaranteed cash reward for eligible catches. But some simply offer the chance at a reward. Others may offer noncash prizes such as gift cards and other incentives.

Fishing Bounties in Real Life: Get Paid to Go Fishing

Fishing bounties are a great way to have some fun and earn a little bit of money at the same time. If you’re in the market for a new way to get paid — and you want to hone your angler skills while you’re at it — this is a great way to put your fishing ability to the test.

Just be sure to find a bounty program that aligns with your goals, suits your skillset, and offers a prize worth fishing for.

Gear up! Check out our buying guides:

Best Fishing Rods Reviewed & Revealed

The Best Baitcasting Reels Reviewed: The Definitive Guide

Best Spinning Reels Reviewed & Tested

The Best Spincasting Reels Reviewed & Tested