The best (and worst) specialty license plates for fish lovers

What is a specialty license plate?

In my opinion, it’s the most exciting part of visiting the DMV, besides getting your driver’s permit. Most states offer (for a reasonable fee) quite a few different license plate designs that give your car a little bit of personality. I’m not talking about vanity plates, which are tags with slogans or names spelled out in letters and numbers. You’ve probably seen specialty plates for veterans, firefighters, and college sports fans, which are fairly common. Their sales often benefit non-profits and causes like breast cancer research or autism awareness, and some states have been able to leverage funding for their departments of conservation with well designed specialty plates for outdoor enthusiasts. In this article, I’ll show you which states have the best tags, and which states could be doing a lot better. Let’s start with the top 10 best fish license plates countdown.

10. North Carolina’s Blue Marlin

The entry fee for the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament last year was $27,500. The tournament has raised over $6 million for charitable donations since 1986. Read more here:

9. Minnesota’s Walleye

This badass walleye painting would have scored a lot higher if they didn’t cover so much of it up with the letters. Let this be a lesson that design is important. Sometimes really simple art with good design is better than slapping a bunch of letters on an elaborate painting. Love the “o” bobber though.

8. Florida’s Guy Harvey Hammerhead, and Mahi Mahi

Some call him the “Ed Hardy” of fishing apparel, but I LOVE Guy Harvey’s art. Sales of these gorgeous plates benefit the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation which conducts research and educational programs on ocean conservation.

7. Kentucky’s World Record Smallmouth Bass

Yes, it weighed 3,396 pounds.

This license plate is really nicely done, but the world record smallmouth bass was caught in Dale Hollow Reservoir which forms the border between KY and Tennessee. You decide, which state has bragging rights?

6. New Mexico’s Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout

I love this license plate. The colors are great, the elements are nicely arranged. It’s a very well designed tag. Hopefully you’ll see why I couldn’t rank it in the top 5 when you keep scrolling.

5. Washington’s Steelhead

This license plate came out in 2016, and is designed by Derek DeYoung, an artist and angler from Michigan. Even though he’s from the Great Lakes where “steelhead” are not native, his art raises 28 bucks per plate for native steelhead conservation in Washington. Pretty cool!

4. Oregon’s *New and Improved* Coho Salmon

Sales from this salmon license plate (introduced 23 years ago, and just updated this year with new artwork) have raised over $8 million for salmon habitat restoration. That is bananas.

3. West Virginia’s Wild Wonderful Brook Trout

Art by WV DNR Wildlife Biologist Tom Allen, proceeds benefit WV Wildlife Diversity Program

Personally, I love this painting by wildlife biologist Tom Allen. Yes, brook trout are a little overrated, but I mean look at it.

2. Florida’s Tarpon

Yep! same artist as Washington’s Steelhead. I ranked this one so much higher because the general design and layout of the license plate is better, and the eye isn’t covered by text. Derek nailed this one, and BTT is such a cool organization.

1. Arkansas’ Longear Sunfish

Absolute show stopper, if you ask me. Why is this number 1? Because it features a unique freshwater fish, it’s got a great background, and good design elements (it’s not just a bunch of letters and numbers slapped on a picture). I’m moving to Arkansas, just so I can register my car and get a plate. Also, bonus points if you can spot the featured invertebrate… #musselsneedlovetoo

Here’s a slideshow of ones that didn’t make the cut…

I really hope this gallery inspires some of our #SundayFishSketchers to renovate the ones from their state. There is so much talent out there, it would be a shame if conservation dollars were missed out on because people cut corners with shoddy design work! Pay artists!

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