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Fishing on the UK’s inland waterways can offer a peaceful waterside experience. 

While other waterway users actively travel past on their boat, bike or on foot, the angler has the time to observe the changing light across the water, watch a busy kingfisher hunt for fish or listen to the scurrying of a vole around the bank edges. 

It is possible to catch a huge variety of species from our canals – roach, perch, chub, pike, carp and – where rivers run into canals – our native brown trout and also rainbow trout. Angling can be enjoyed by all ages and is an inexpensive hobby, needing little initial equipment and, like all great pastimes, is simple to learn yet offers a potential lifetime of variation.

Guide to fishing on the waterways

What you need

Anglers (aged 13 and over) need:

  • a rod licence from the Environment Agency; and
  • permission to fish from the angling club or owner of fishing rights for each waterway location. 

Rod licences

A rod licence is required by everyone aged 13 and over to fish for salmon, trout, freshwater fish, smelt and eel with a rod and line in England (except the River Tweed), Wales and the Border Esk region of Scotland.  Anglers aged 13 to 16 are entitled to a free rod licence.  Fishing the River Thames at the locks and weirs requires an additional licence.

Licences are issued by the Environment Agency and are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase so you can decide to take up fishing at any time of the year safe in the knowledge that your licence will be valid for twelve months.  There are concessions available and also shorter licences of one day and eight day durations. Fishing without a licence is an offence and carries a fine of up to £2,500.

Permission to fish

Fishing rights to most of the inland waterway network belong to local fisheries or angling clubs.  Sometimes a one-day licence can be purchased from a bailiff visiting the bankside, although some fisheries require you to join as a member.  Some stretches may not be let for various reasons.  Canal & River Trust has a Waterways Wanderers Scheme for anglers to fish on many of their waters.

The closed season operates from 15th March to 15th June and is a period of time when fishing is prohibited to allow coarse fish to spawn uninterrupted.  This no longer applies to most lakes, ponds and stretches of canal apart from those designated an SSSI.  Rivers, streams and drains still operate a close season – see the Freshwater rod fishing rules.

Fishing from a boat may be allowed but a day or season membership of the controlling angling club must be purchased, and their rules must be adhered to at all times.

Further information about fishing is available from the Angling Trust.