Menu Close

Free Shipping Over £100

0% Finance Over £300

Collect In-Store

SAH Branded Products

Father and Son Fishing by a Lake

Where Can I Fish for Free in the UK?

Fishing is a beloved pastime for many enthusiasts, but it’s important to understand the concept of fishing rights and where the public can fish for free. While some may assume that fishing is entirely free in public areas, there are various legal considerations and permissions to be aware of.

Fishing rights are legally owned properties that grant individuals or entities exclusive access to fish in specific bodies of water, such as rivers, canals, or reservoirs. The owner of the water body’s bed is generally assumed to hold the fishing rights above the bed. However, the division of fishing rights can be more complex, as ownership of these rights in the water can be separate from the land ownership.

In some cases, there are “incorporeal fishing rights” that exist on canals and rivers, with angling clubs often acquiring these rights from local landowners or farmers. This separation of fishing rights from land ownership adds another layer of complexity to the public’s access to fishing.

Where Can the Public Fish for Free?

Legally speaking, the public’s right to fish for free is limited to officially recognised fully tidal parts of rivers and the sea. Exceptions to this right exist when an individual holds a private right of fishery. It’s crucial to note that although the fishing itself might be free, access to certain areas, such as estuaries or shorelines, may still require permission or incur a fee by the landowners. However, access by boat could provide an alternative means of reaching these locations.

Inland Freshwater Fisheries

Inland freshwater fisheries present additional considerations for anglers. Since 1882, no public fishery can legally exist in non-tidal waters. Even when a public right of navigation is established, it does not automatically grant the right to fish. Inland fisheries typically have specific owners, who may choose to allow the public to fish without charge or take no action against fishing activities.

Fishing Rights on Canals

When it comes to fishing on canals, the fishing rights are primarily privately owned, with many of the canals in England and Wales being owned by the public. Anglers interested in fishing on canals must obtain the necessary permits. These permits can be acquired either as temporary day permits or through yearly memberships with controlling angling clubs. Additionally, yearly permits can be obtained under the Waterways Wanderers scheme provided by the authorities. To determine which angling clubs control specific canal stretches, a fishery search can be conducted.

It’s important to note that owning a boat license does not grant any fishing rights. Anglers wishing to fish from their boats must acquire the appropriate fishing permits.

Theft of Fishing Rights

Engaging in fishing without the permission of the fishing rights owner is considered theft. The Theft Act of 1968 states that an offense is committed when a person unlawfully takes, destroys, attempts to take, or destroy any fish in private property or in waters with private fishing rights.

It’s worth mentioning that the act of “taking fish” encompasses holding them temporarily in a keepnet and later returning them to the water. In other words, physically stealing the fish is not necessary to commit an offense. The act of stealing fishing rights itself is considered an offense, similar to playing a round of golf without paying the requisite fee to the golf course owner.

Rod Licence

Obtaining a rod licence is essential for fishing with a rod and line on inland fisheries, regardless of whether it’s a pond in your backyard or a large fish tank in your living room. The rod licence is a “hypothecated tax” utilised by the Environment Agency (EA), the fisheries regulator, to maintain, improve, and develop fisheries. It’s necessary to purchase a rod licence from the EA to legally fish with a rod and line.

While a rod licence is required to fish everywhere, it does not automatically entitle the angler to fish anywhere. However, there are a few EA fisheries that are available to rod licence holders without additional payment. Detailed information about these fisheries can be found on the Angling Trust fishing info pages.

Consequences of Fishing Without a Rod Licence

Fishing without a rod licence can have serious repercussions. If caught by an Environment Agency Fisheries Bailiff or a police officer, and subsequently found guilty by a magistrate, an individual may face a fine under Section 27(1)(a) of the Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1975. The fine can amount to a maximum of £2,500.

Rod Licence Requirement for Tidal Waters

The need for a rod licence in tidal waters depends on the type of fish being targeted. For fishing with a rod and line for freshwater fish, including salmonids, coarse fish, and freshwater eels, a rod licence is mandatory, regardless of whether it’s above or below the official tidal limit. Anglers may be required to demonstrate their intention to target specific species rather than engaging in indiscriminate fishing. Additionally, observing the close season for the targeted species is also crucial.


As an angler, it’s crucial to familiarise yourself with fishing rights and the specific regulations governing public access to fishing locations. While fishing may be free in some officially recognised areas, permissions, permits, and licenses may be required in various scenarios. Understanding these legal aspects not only ensures compliance with the law but also helps preserve fish populations and maintain the beauty of our waterways for future generations to enjoy.