Fishing rights in England and Wales are governed by both national rules and local bylaws, so check with the authority that controls fishing in the water you want to fish in before you start.
Fishing rules vary depending on your age, what sort of water you want to fish in, who owns the bank you want to fish from, what time of year it is and what type of fish you want to catch.
Anyone aged 12 or over requires a rod licence to fish with a rod and line for salmon, trout, freshwater fish, smelt or eel anywhere in England (except the River Tweed) or Wales.
There are two kinds of fishing licences.
A trout, coarse fish and eel licence lets you fish non-migratory trout and all freshwater fish. You can only use one rod for non-migratory trout in rivers, streams, drains and canals; up to two rods for freshwater fish anywhere; and up to two rods for non-migratory trout in reservoirs, lakes and ponds. You can also buy a 12-month licence that lets you use three rods for freshwater fish.
A salmon and sea trout licence allows you to fish salmon, sea trout, non-migratory trout and all freshwater fish. You can fish with one rod for salmon, sea trout and non-migratory trout in rivers, streams and canals; up to three rods for salmon, sea trout and non-migratory trout in reservoirs, lakes and ponds; and up to three rods for freshwater fish.
You will need an additional licence to fish in locks or weirs on the River Thames.
The place where you fish may have additional rules about how many rods you can use there.
You can buy a one-day, eight-day or 12-month licence, at a Post Office or from the Environment Agency. The licence can start on any date as long as it’s within 90 days of the day you buy it. Prices vary depending on what type of licence you require and for how long. Licences for children aged between 12 and 16 are free. Concessionary licences are available if you are aged 65 or over or you have a Blue Badge parking concession.
You always need to carry your rod fishing licence when you’re fishing or you could be prosecuted. You must produce your licence if asked to do so by an Environment Agency bailiff or any other authorised person. You can be fined up to £2,500 for fishing without a rod fishing licence.
While the national rod licence gives a licence to fish anywhere in England and Wales, you might still need permission from the riparian owner to fish from her/his stretch of the river bank.
The owner of the land adjoining one side of a natural river or stream owns the exclusive fishing rights (called, riparian rights) on her or his side of the bank. These rights extend up to the middle of the water. They can be leased or sold as separate property right (apart from ownership of the land itself). So, the owner does not necessarily have the right to fish from her/his side of the bank. An owner whose land adjoins a pond or lake has similar rights which extend as far as the middle of the water unless it encircles the pond or lake.
Although s/ he owns the fishing rights, a riparian owner is still subject to the general laws protecting close seasons for fish. These contained in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.
There are annual close seasons for fish to spawn in as well as weekly close times in certain cases. For example, the freshwater fish close season applies to all of the rivers, streams and drains in England and Wales and runs from 14 March to 16 June.
Anglers fishing using a rod and line from clear sea fishing marks such as beaches, rock marks, piers and breakwaters generally have no need at all for any kind of licence, as long as they do not catch and keep certain species. Anglers need a licence, for example, to catch trout and salmon – even if they are fishing from a ‘pure’ sea fishing mark, several miles away from freshwater or rivers. Other species such as silver eels and shad are protected by law due to their endangered status.
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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