May 26, 2024

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UK Fishing Guide: Complete Guide

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Few places match the United Kingdom’s history of recreational fishing. It’s been going on here since at least the fifteenth century, when Dame Juliana Berners wrote ‘The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle’. Today, you can hardly walk past a stretch of water without spotting an angler nearby.

From hauling Carp out of the Thames to perfecting your Spey cast in its namesake river, fishing in the UK has something for everyone. We’ll walk you through the highlights.

Top UK Fish Species

There’s a wide variety of fish to catch in these crowded isles. But a few species stand out as quintessentially British. Which will you go for first?

Freshwater Fish

Freshwater fish in the UK fit into two groups: coarse fish and game fish. Salmon and Trout are game species, and almost all the rest are considered coarse. It’s good to know which is which, as each group has its own rules and etiquette, which we’ll get to a little later on.


A man kneeling between his two grandchildren who are sporting football kits, while holding a large Carp with green trees visible behind him on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Ivor Beynon

Large, intelligent, and elusive… Carp are some of the most popular coarse fish in the UK. People are really, really, into them. But convincing these bottom feeders to take your bait is an art form. This is especially true of older, larger fish who remember every time they were caught and released in the past!

Carp fishing in the UK is big business, and there’s a range of speciality gear and bait for them. These greedy feeders live across the country, from rivers to specially-stocked Carp lakes. Wherever you are, the best time to catch them is in the summer, from about May to September.


While they spend most of their lives at sea, Salmon fishing in the UK is all about rivers. Every year, Atlantic Salmon come back to spawn in the waters they were born in – and there are thousands of them.

Two women and a man in life jackets, standing aboard a fishing boat in Lock Ness on a cloudy day and holding one Atlantic Salmon between them, with water and a green shoreline visible behind them
Photo courtesy of Fish Loch Ness

Some rivers, such as the Wye and the Dee, are known for their spring Salmon runs. This period runs from January to May and can yield some of the largest fish of the year.

Summer Salmon fishing peaks from June to the end of August. At this time of year, a run of spawning summer Salmon coincides with the remaining spring fish. Then, ‘grilse’ Salmon – fish that have spent just one year at sea – come to join them. The River Test is a famous summer Salmon spot within easy reach of London.

Autumn is the most popular time to fish for Salmon, however. The Tyne, Upper Tweed, and the Mourne are great at this time of year. While the season traditionally runs from September to October, some rivers such as the Camel support good Salmon fishing all the way through to December.


A young man in a beanie had on a rowing boat on a river in winter, holding a large Pike while smiling, with the waters visible around him
Photo courtesy of Northern Pike Safaris Oy

Back to coarse fish, and it’s time to make way for a real river monster. Northern Pike ruthlessly hunt other fish, rodents, and even ducks. If you dare target one, do so with care. Pike are large and put up a strong fight – and that’s before you worry about their sharp razor-like teeth! You can catch them all year round, although the fishing is best from spring to autumn.

You have a good chance of finding Pike across the entire UK. The Norfolk Broads are a hotspot, and there are plenty of these toothy adversaries beyond Loch Lomond’s bonny banks in Scotland.

Sea Fish

UK sea fishing is as varied as freshwater fishing. You can find sea fish in some surprising locations – even as far inland as Woolwich!


A man standing aboard a fishing charter in the south of England on a cloudy day, holding a large Sea Bass with the choppy waters visible behind him
Photo courtesy of Charteboat Hussler at Ramsgate

One of the most popular UK sea fish species, Sea Bass are fun to catch and even better to eat. Because they like warm waters, Bass are most common in the south of England and Wales. They come close to shore during the summer, from May to October.

You have a good chance of catching Bass from the Gower Peninsula, St Ives, or even Brighton Marina.


A man in a jacket and red life vest standing aboard a fishing boat in the UK on a sunny day and holding a sizeable Cod with the water visible behind him
Photo courtesy of Patricia Rose Charters Ltd

Few fish are as British as Cod. After all, Cod and chips is possibly the best-known national dish! So it’s hardly surprising that Cod are another favourite target in the UK. These cold-water fish brighten up the fishing scene from autumn to spring in the south and swim around the north all year round.

Cod have been over-fished commercially so trophy catches are almost unheard of nowadays. But they can still be great fun to target. It’s become quite popular to fish for them with lures, for instance by jigging over nearshore wrecks.


A view from behind of a man struggling with his fishing rod bent over the side of a fishing boat in the UK on a clear day, with blue waters visible in the distance
Photo courtesy of Kestrel Warrior Fishing Trips

Surprisingly, Bluefin Tuna are becoming more common in the UK – and no one knows why. These mighty fish were popular targets out of Scarborough and Whitby in the early 20th century before they completely disappeared in the 1960s. Now, they’re back – but like many jaded Londoners during COVID, they’ve moved to Cornwall.

Modern Tuna fishing in the UK is very different to what it used to be. Now, only a select few charter boats can target them. They tag and release them, sending the data to scientists to track their migrations.

This is huge for UK sportfishers who want to contribute to science while catching the biggest fish of their lives. As soon as the sardines arrive in July, there’s a chance of a blistering Bluefin battle. Fishing picks up between August and October and can continue until December.

What else?

We’ve only scratched the surface of the fish you can catch in the UK. Look out for delicious and ubiquitous Mackerel and wily Trout and Grayling. Barbel, Zander, Catfish, Perch, and Bream are all popular coarse fish, while Skate, Ling, and all sorts of Flatfish add to the list of delicacies from the sea. It’s time to grab a rod and see what you can find!

How to Go Fishing in the UK

A woman aboard a fishing charter in front of the White Cliffs of Dover on a cloudy day and holding a Dogfish while looking surprised
Photo courtesy of the author of this article

Wherever you are in the UK, head to your local tackle shop and you’ll hear about all the various ways you can wet your line nearby. Here are just a few options.

Guided Fishing

Picking up a new skill or honing an old one, there’s no better way to up your fishing game than with an expert. A host of skippers, ghillies, and guides offer support and advice about fishing across the UK. But while sea fishing skippers and freshwater guides usually provide a comprehensive package, Scottish ghillies are more hands-off. UK fishing trips come in all shapes and sizes, so always discuss your requirements before you book.

Fly Fishing

A view from atop a river bank looking down across the grass towards a fly angler, up to his waist in the water casting his line

Modern fly fishing owes countless innovations to the British Isles, from the earliest categorisation of flies to hook design. There are still few places better to cast than Scotland’s romantic rivers, streams, and lochs. But, in fact, there’s something special about fly fishing in the UK, no matter where you do it.

The River Test is probably one of the best places to fly fish in the world. Its gin-clear waters attract the rich and famous thanks to its fishing legacy and its combination of wild and stocked Brown Trout. There are countless other chalk streams in the country, as well as breathtaking limestone rivers and wild lochs. Landlocked Brown Trout, sea-run Sea Trout, and Salmon are the top targets in these prestigious – and often expensive – waterways.

Deep Sea Fishing

A view from behind of a young man leaning back while struggling with his fishing rod in the water over the side of a boat in the UK on a cloudy day, with white cliffs visible across the water in the difference, with a man either side of him
Photo courtesy of Kestrel Warrior Fishing Trips

If you have the sea legs, you have to try deep sea fishing in the UK. You can do this all around the British Isles – as long as you have access to a boat. Deep sea fishing usually refers to drifting or jigging over deep water wrecks. Pollock, Coal fish, Ling, Haddock, and Cod all live in these murky depths. Otherwise, if you’re looking for more of an adventure, you can attempt to catch and release Blue, Porbeagle, and Thresher Sharks!

Otherwise, slow jigging is a beginner-friendly way to land multiple Mackerel in sight of shore. Meanwhile, ground and bottom fishing over rough ground and reefs can result in Plaice, Dab, Sole, and Black Bream. Wherever you are, look out for Dogfish – a Catshark that will devour any kind of bait and has deceptively abrasive skin.

Beach Fishing

A view from behind of a young girl fishing with a long fishing pole from a shingly beach in the UK ion a clear day with the water glistening behind her

No boat? No problem. Beach fishing in the UK is very popular because of the huge variety of fish. Shingle beaches like Chesil Beach and Lynemouth are great for Cod, while sandy beaches are more likely to raise Flatfish like Flounder and Sole. Rays, Coalfish, Bass, Mackerel, and huge Conger Eels are just a few of the other species you might find.

Kayak Fishing

Want to get out to sea without chartering a boat? Kayak fishing is getting more popular every year, particularly in England and Wales. We always recommend seeking out specialist training before tackling the waves on your own, though. Battling a big fish and tidal currents in the middle of a busy shipping lane is not our idea of fun!


Dive beneath the waves, and you’ll see an entire new world open up in front of you. Spearfishing in the UK is a real underwater adventure.

There’s hardly a bad place to do this around the country’s coastline, but Pembrokeshire and Cornwall are a mecca for ‘spearos’. Huge kelp forests and rock pinnacles create ideal conditions for fish, with Bass, Bream, and Plaice giving a taste of the fish-filled depths.

Several clubs organise spearfishing training and excursions around the UK. A good place to start is the British Spearfishing Association.

Where to Go Fishing in the UK

A view of a harbour in Mevigassey, Cornwall at sunset on a clear day, with a number of different coloured fishing boats visible in the foreground and the town in the background

One of the biggest challenges about fishing in the UK is deciding where to start. This is particularly true in freshwater, where most fishing spots are either private or only open to members of a local fishing club. Several rivers are divided into ‘beats’, which require specific licencing. Sea fishing, though, can take place almost anywhere along the coastline.

If we had to choose one spot in each of the UK’s countries, we’d go for:

  • Lough Melvin, Northern Ireland. Part of the border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, Lough Melvin is world-famous for its pristine ecosystem. The lake has never been artificially stocked, which means you’re fishing waters that have barely changed since the Ice Age! Salmon, Sea Trout, Brown Trout, and even Arctic Char are all here for the catching (and releasing). You need a Garrison Angler’s permit and Northern Ireland licence to fish the British part of this lake.
  • River Usk, Wales. Almost all of the River Usk’s 80 miles are iconic fishing waters. These rushing currents are home to truly wild fish – and lots of them. A ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’, the Usk is famous for the quality and quantity of its Trout. You can purchase day tickets from Fishing Passport to fish here between March and September.
  • Six Mile Water, Scotland. Lough Neagh and its tributaries are home to a unique species of Trout – the Dollaghan. The Six Mile Water is one of the best places to catch this unusually large strain of Brown Trout. These monsters can reach 20 pounds and probably evolved from landlocked Sea Trout. But that’s not all. Wild Brown Trout and Salmon also inhabit these waters, which you can fish on a day permit.
  • Cornwall, England. It can be hard to believe in the winter, but the very same Gulf Stream that rushes past Florida also washes against Cornwall’s shores. So, an unusual mix of fish visit this part of the UK. From Bluefin Tuna to Flying Fish, all sorts of exotic species join the Salmon, Trout, and Cod that you’d expect to find in the UK. Fowey is a good place to sample all this variety.

Fishing Laws in the UK

An infographic featuring the flag of the UK followed by text that says "United Kingdom Fishing Regulations What You Need to Know" along with the FishingBooker logo against a blue background

As you’ve probably noticed, fishing laws in the UK can be complicated. There are different rules for coarse and game fishing, while most inland fishing involves tangling with access and rights of way. Here are the main things you need to know:

  • Everyone aged 13 and over needs a rod licence to fish for freshwater fish, Salmon, Trout, Smelt, and Eel. This rule applies almost everywhere in England and Wales, as well as parts of Scotland. 13–16 year olds can get a junior licence for free. The rules are similar in Northern Ireland, although the licencing authority is different.
  • You can purchase a rod licence that allows you to fish for non-migratory Trout, coarse fish, and Eels, or you can buy one that also covers migratory Trout and Salmon.
  • You can fish without a licence in saltwater, but be careful when fishing estuaries, as catching freshwater fish and some migratory species without a licence is illegal.
  • It is illegal to fish UK rivers from the 15th of March to the 15th of June, when the fish are spawning.
  • In Scotland, you can only fish once you’ve been granted the consent of whoever owns the water. The best way to find out how to do this for any given waterway is at a local tackle shop.
  • Several species are protected by closed seasons and/or bag limits. Check local regulations or ask a qualified fishing guide for more details.

Grab Your Raincoat, It’s Time to Fish

A view across turquoise water towards a number of colourful fishing boats in Padstow, the UK, with a storm coming in from the distance

Whatever your stereotypes about fishing in the UK, you’ll find plenty here to challenge them – and confirm them – because this little corner of the Atlantic Ocean has a lot going on. Why do Brits like Carp so much? Does it really rain all the time? You’ll only solve the islands’ deepest mysteries when you pick up a rod and get stuck in.

What’s your favourite fishing spot in the UK? Are you more of a coarse fisher, game person, or a sea fishing fan? Or a bit of everything? Let us know below!

The post UK Fishing: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Cat
Title: UK Fishing: The Complete Guide
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Published Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2023 15:23:18 +0000

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