Is Fishing Cheaper Than Buying Fish?

When I first started catching catfish in the summer of 2013, I thought it would be cool to catch as much as I could and have a fish fry by Labor Day that same year. That turned out to be successful — for the most part.

When I tried to do it again the following year, it was an epic fail — I didn’t catch much fish, so I didn’t have enough for a fry.

If you’re wanting to know whether it’s worth it to catch your own fish as to opposed to buying it, keep reading.

Related: Catfishing on a Budget

I can tell you (at least from my experience) that catching your own fish is not as cheap as you might think. Some people think it’s worth it.  But after a few years of doing this, I have concluded that it isn’t worth it to me.

Now days, I fish strictly for fun — when I’m able to fish at all — and I throw every fish back that I catch. I just enjoy doing fishing, so there’s nothing wrong with doing that.

However, if your goal is to catch fish to eat and save money — maybe have a fish fry — I think it would make more sense to simply go to the store and buy them already frozen. To me, it seems like a much better approach — it’s cheaper, and it’s a whole lot less stressful!

By the time you factor in fishing licenses, time spent fishing, and buying fishing gear, it doesn’t appear that fishing is cheaper than going to the grocery store and buying your own fish.

Here’s why I say that.

Buying fishing licenses

In order to go fishing, you have to have a state fishing license (these are generally only good for one year). Some lakes and parks also require you to have a local permit on top of that.

The price of the fishing license will vary from state to state. But in my home state of Kansas, they cost about $27 annually for a resident — this doesn’t include any special permits for certain fish, extra poles, or local permits that you would need in some circumstances.

Once you have a fishing license, you are ready to fish — assuming you have all the gear you need.

Let’s talk about that next.

Buying fishing gear

The type of fishing you want to do will determine the type of gear you need.  If you target catfish (like I do), it’s generally cheaper than, say, fishing for bass or something. When you start talking about needing a boat and a truck to pull it, along with expensive bass lures — forget about it! That’s when the prices get way too high.

For this article, I want to give you an idea of the cheapest way to fish — with the least amount of equipment needed — to show you that it’s still more expensive to catch your own fish.

When you catfish, you don’t need a whole lot of equipment, and you definitely don’t need a boat (not when you fish from the bank, at least).

All you need is a basic rig — with basic tackle, a rod and real combo, and some bait that actually works.

Let’s look at each of these.


If you want to fish for catfish, one of the best rigs to use is the “slip-sinker rig.”

Notice in the video, a circle hook was used, but you can use any hook you want. I usually use a treble hook because of the type of bait I use. It’s just easier that way — which you’ll see in a moment.

The only tackle you need for this rig is a weight, swivel, and a hook (as well as your main fishing line, obviously).

Also, you can simply use the same test leader as you do as your main line (that’s what I do) to keep it simple.  And 6 to 12-pound test line works fine for almost all fish — no need to complicate this.

Here is (basically) the tackle I use when catfishing. You should be able to get all the tackle you need for about $20-$30.

Tip: you may not even need fishing line if you buy a rod and reel pre-spooled (that would make it a little cheaper).

Rod and reel combo

When I want to fish, I like to get a rod and reel combo (usually with the fishing line already on there).

I try to get a rod between 6 and 7 feet long — that seems to be good enough for catfish and even better for most other fish.

You should be able to find a rod and reel combo for around $20.

Here is a rod and reel combo similar to the one that I use.


To make sure you aren’t wasting your time, you’ll want to make sure you use a bait that actually works.

I like using “prepared baits” when fishing for catfish — also known as stink bait, bunch bait, or dip bait.  I use these because I know they work.

And if you use a treble hook with punch bait, you can simply punch the hook down into the bait and pull it out, and you’re ready to cast.

You can get these kinds of baits for around $20.

The kind I like using — because I know it catches catfish — is the Monster Bait.

How much does it all cost?

So if you add up all the costs for a fishing license and the minimum gear needed, here’s what we have:

  • Rod and reel – $20 (maybe more)
  • Tackle – $20 (maybe less)
  • Bait – $20
  • License $27 (maybe more, maybe less)

Total: $87

Granted, most of those things you will not need to buy each time you fish.  But if you assume starting from scratch or buying equipment once a year, I think this is a good estimate (and it’s for cheap and basic equipment to get started with).

What about the time you spend?

Another thing to consider when catching your own fish is the time it takes to do it. Even then — there’s no guarantee you’re going to catch any fish, and that really sucks.

You buy a license — all the gear you need to go to the lake — and get skunked! I have had quite a few of those days, and they are not fun.

Even when you want to do some fishing, it’s sometimes hard to find the time in your busy schedule to do it.

Then — when you do catch some fish, you have to make time to clean them and store them properly.

All of this is very time consuming, and time is a pretty precious commodity for some people (I know it is for me).

These are the things you’ll want to consider when deciding to catch your own fish. Not only do you need to consider the amount of money spent, you’ll also want to consider the amount of time spent.

Related: Stop Wasting Money on These 10 Things

The grocery store is cheaper

So, if it costs about $87 before you even catch a single fish, is it worth it?

It’s worth it if you do it for fun — which is what I do — but it’s not worth it if you’re trying to save money. You are way better off buying your fish at the grocery store.

You can go to Walmart and buy 2 pounds of catfish for less than $14.

Frozen catfish

These are already filleted and frozen — ready to cook!

If you were to buy $87 dollars worth of catfish at the store, that would give you a little over 6 pounds of catfish — enough to feed 25 people!

The only difference here is you didn’t have to buy licenses or any equipment; you didn’t have to spend time catching the fish or cleaning them; nor did you need to worry about not catching anything and wasting your time.

When it comes to saving money, there is no comparison — you will save way more buying your fish at the store.

However, when it comes to having fun, there is something to be said about fishing. Fishing for fun is still something to be valued — something I still try to do from time to time (when I have the time).