Guidance

National rod fishing byelaws for England - freshwater fishing with a rod and line

Rod fishing byelaws are rules and regulations explaining who can fish, where, when and what fish you can take in England.

Overview of national byelaws

The national byelaws outlined here are legally enforceable rules for freshwater fishing with a rod and line across England. These are a guide to national and regional fisheries byelaws. If you would like further information, contact the Enviroment Agency Helpline on 03708 506 506 (open 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday).

If you are aged 13 or older, you must have a valid rod licence to fish in England, Wales and the Border Esk. This rule also applies at private fisheries.

National, regional and local byelaws

England is divided into 6 regions (see map). National bylaws apply to all regions. In addition, each region has its own set of supplementary byelaws.

Within these regional byelaws, you may also find local byelaws. These are rules that apply to one specific water or location.

You must also have permission from the fishery owner to fish and remove fish from private fisheries or waters on privately owned land. Be aware, fisheries may have additional rules.

Map showing the different regions in England

The supplemental byelaws for your region will tell you:

  • if there are waters where you are not allowed to fish
  • if start and end dates of ‘close seasons’ differ from national byelaws
  • which waters and species are covered by a close season
  • about extra restrictions on tackle and bait
  • about extra restrictions on size limits and catch limits
  • about restrictions on fishing near specific obstacles, like weirs

Regional byelaws

The 6 sets of supplemental regional byelaws are:

There are also specific byelaws for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Why we have byelaws

The purpose of these byelaws is to protect freshwater fish and their habitats, and promote their improvement. If you do not comply with these byelaws, you could face prosecution and receive a significant fine (up to £50,000).

If you see illegal fishing practices, pollution incidents, or dead or distressed fish, call our 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

When and where you can fish

Before you go fishing in England and Wales, you must buy a rod licence. Licences for children aged between 13 and 16 years old are free. Children under 13 don’t need a licence.

You can buy 1-day, 8-day and 12-month licences for:

  • trout and coarse fish using 1, 2 or 3 rods
  • salmon and sea trout using 1 rod

Close seasons

A close season is the period each year when certain types of fishing must stop to allow fish to breed successfully.

Close seasons apply to rivers, streams and drains, and stillwaters.

Dates are inclusive

All dates mentioned in these byelaws are inclusive: this means a stated period, such as 15 March to 15 June, includes the full day of 15 March and the full day of 15 June.

Coarse fishing close season

The annual close season for coarse fishing is 15 March to 15 June, and applies to rivers, streams, drains, most waters designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and most waters in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. See regional byelaws for more detail.

There is no close season in the majority of stillwaters (lakes, reservoirs, ponds and the majority of canals). A small numbers of canals are in fact canalised rivers, and therefore a close season is in place. The 5 regions that have canalised rivers and SSSIs are:

Fishing for eels

Fishing with a rod and line for eels is permitted year round in waters with no coarse fishing close season.

The 5 regions that have supplemental regional byelaws for eels and shad, some covering fishing during the coarse fishing close season, are:

Close season for salmon, sea trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and char

The byelaws for salmon, sea trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and char are more complex as byelaws differ region by region and, in some cases, river by river. See the byelaws for your region.

The various regional byelaws may also affect catch limits, size limits, types of lures and bait, even days of the week and hours of the day when fishing must be suspended.

The 7 sets of supplemental regional byelaws covering salmon and sea trout are:

Fishing for rainbow trout

Fishing with a rod and line for rainbow trout (a non-native species) is permitted year-round in waters with no close season.

Weirs and obstacles where you cannot fish

There are no national byelaws for fishing near weirs but there are some regional and local byelaws. These relate to instances above or below specific weirs, or other obstacles, where fishing is not permitted. The 4 regions where there are specific byelaws are:

For a comprehensive list of places to fish in England and Wales, visit the Angling Trust website.

Tackle, lures and bait

Types of tackle and fishing methods that are prohibited

The use of a gaff, tailer (pictured), firearm, otter lath, wire or snare, crossline, setline, spear, stroke-haul, snatch or light is prohibited.

A tailer

All other types of fishing methods and instruments first require separate authorisation from the Environment Agency.

Foul hooking

A foul hook is when a hook catches in the body or fin of a fish (anywhere other than in the mouth or throat).

Any salmon, sea trout or trout caught by foul hook from river, stream, drain or canal must be released immediately.

Keepnets, keepsacks and landing nets

It is prohibited to use any keepnet:

  • with knotted meshes or meshes of metallic material
  • less than 2m in overall length
  • with holes in the mesh larger than 25mm in circumference
  • with supporting rings or frames greater than 40cm apart (this excludes the distance from the opening to the first ring or frame)
  • with rings less than 120cm in circumference

It is prohibited to use any keepsack:

  • not constructed of a soft, dark coloured, non-abrasive, water-permeable fabric
  • less than 120cm by 90cm (if rectangular) or 150cm by 30cm by 40cm (if used with a frame)

It is prohibited to hold more than one fish in a single keepsack.

Landing nets with knotted meshes or meshes of metallic material are prohibited.

Use of rods

It is prohibited to fish:

  • with more than 4 rods and lines in total at the same time
  • for salmon, trout, sea trout and char on rivers and streams using more than 1 rod and line at the same time
  • for salmon, trout, sea trout and char on reservoirs, lakes, and ponds with more than 2 rods and lines at the same time
  • for coarse fish or eels with more than 4 rods and lines at the same time

When fishing with multiple rods and lines, each rod must be placed close together so that the distance between the butts of the rods does not exceed 3m.

It is illegal to leave a rod and line unattended with its bait or hook in the water. Anglers must be able to exercise control over the rod and line at all times.

Rods not affected by licence limits

The rods not affected by licence limits (unless they have hooks attached) are:

  • spod rods (used to propel bait into water)
  • marker rods (used to mark out lines)

Bait and lures

The use of crayfish, dead or alive, as bait or in bait is prohibited.

You can use live bait - using a small fish to a catch bigger fish - providing that the bait fish is retained at and used only in the water from which they are taken, except where local byelaws prohibit this.

It is prohibited to move any fish, alive or dead - or any other creature or plant life - from one water to another, as this can spread diseases.

The transfer of any fish or fish spawn from one water to another requires the written consent of the Environment Agency, and adherence to any conditions imposed in that written consent.

Lead weights

You must not use any form of lead weight attached to a fishing line other than those of 0.06g (size No. 8) or less, or of more than 28.35g (1 ounce).

This does not include lead incorporated into a weighted line, swim-feeder or fishing fly or lure.

Dispose of your tackle safely to avoid harm to wildlife.

Catch limits, size limits and catch returns

There are legal limits on the number, size and type of fish you can catch and keep.

You must return fish you cannot keep to the water unharmed.

Daily catch limit for coarse fish

The daily catch limit applies to all rivers, streams and drains. These limits also apply to canals, and the following stillwaters:

  • All waters within the Norfolk Broads
  • Lake Windemere
  • Coniston Water
  • Ullswater
  • Derwentwater

You can take:

  • a total of 15 coarse fish (barbel, chub, common bream, common carp, crucian carp, dace, perch, pike, roach, rudd, silver bream, smelt or tench, including any hybrids of these species) of not more than 20cm per day (excluding grayling)
  • 1 pike of not more than 65cm per day
  • 2 grayling sized between 30cm and 38cm per day

You can also take any other coarse fish, including non-native species and ornamental varieties.

You need permission from the owner to remove fish from still waters and canal fisheries.

Eels or shad must be returned to the same water unharmed.

Fish that are not legal to keep must be returned immediately to the same water with as little injury as possible or retained in a keepnet or keepsack, and must be returned alive to the same water on or before completion of fishing.

The size of any fish is measured from the tip of the snout to the fork or cleft of the tail.

Picture of a fish with an arrow to indicate how a fish should be measured

Catching and keeping salmon

It is illegal to catch and remove any live or dead salmon from any waters or banks before 16 June in any calendar year. There are various supplemental regional byelaws and variations of dates. All salmon caught before 16 June must be released immediately with the least possible injury.

Before 16 June, you can only fish for salmon with rod and line using an artificial fly or artificial lure, but catches must be returned unharmed.

It is illegal to sell, or keep with the intention of selling, any salmon or sea trout that has been caught with a rod and line. You can be fined for selling rod and line-caught salmon or sea trout.

Supplemental regional byelaws on daily catch limits for salmon and sea trout

The supplementary regional byelaws on catch limits for salmon, sea trout and char, are:

Salmon and Sea Trout - reporting your catch return

A catch return report is a record of an angler’s annual salmon and sea trout fishing activity.

Fishing for salmon or sea trout requires the correct type of licence.

If you hold a salmon and sea trout licence, it is a legal requirement to submit a catch return, even if you did not fish. This means making a record of when you went fishing, what you caught, and the weight of each catch.

Even if you don’t catch any fish, this information should be recorded.

The catch return report helps the Environment Agency understand the health and wellbeing of salmon and sea trout.

It’s a good idea to keep a notebook with your fishing tackle.

You can submit your catch return online at www.gov.uk/catch-return or use the form printed on the back of your licence letter.

There are penalties for not completing an annual catch return report.

Published 7 June 2019