Beginner’s guide: canal fishing

Canal fishing is for everyone – but is it free to fish on the canals? What type of rod or bait do you need? What types of fish can you catch? And where can you go for a good day’s fishing?

A boy fishing at Birmingham Canal Festival

Did you know?

Almost two thirds of households near our waterways are disadvantaged. Support our community projects along canals and rivers.

There's more to fishing than catching fish

If you go fishing only to catch fish, then you're missing the point. It’s also about being outside and close to nature as well as finding space to be calm and quiet. Sometimes you’ll catch a fish and on the best days you might catch several of different species. But if you don't, who cares? You’ve enjoyed quality time by the water and made your life that bit healthier and happier.

Is it free to fish on canals?

No, but it’s cheap and accessible for first-timers. You can get started for around £75 per year, depending on what kind of equipment you buy. You will need:

What kit do you need to go canal fishing?

Go to your local angling tackle shop or outdoor retailer for:

  • A short take-apart pole fitted with light elastic, a telescopic pole (known as a whip) or rod and reel
  • Floats, lines, hooks and weights - ask for a ‘rig suitable for canal fishing’
  • Bait such as bread punch or types of maggots such as pinkies
  • Landing net
  • Folding stool/chair/box to sit on

Where’s the best place to go canal fishing?

Canals are surprisingly common in our countryside and cities – there’s around 2,000 miles in our network alone. In fact, around 50% of us live just five miles from our local canal. And, even though people love regularly exploring them by foot or by bike, would you ever think of fishing on one?

Actually, canals are perfect habitats for fish of all shapes and sizes. Most are relatively shallow – only about four or five feet in the middle and perhaps 2-foot-deep at the edge. There’s plenty of food and lots of shelter from over hanging trees, shrubs or boats. (Experienced anglers say the fish often prefer to live near the boats as these offer good habitat.)

What types of fish can you catch in canals?

Roach Roach

Our waterways are full of fish – about 30 species, even some rare and protected ones. And we’re not talking about little minnows here, fish like bream, carp and pike can be huge. They’re all part of the natural ecology of the waterways and our team of fisheries experts makes sure the fish stay happy and healthy. If you’re new to fishing you’re most likely catch:

  • Roach: very common, they have a silver body with grey-brown to orangey-red fins and like to swim in shoals
  • Gudgeon: one of the nation’s favourite fish, these little/blue/grey fish fit in the palm of an adult’s hand
  • Breamnearly every canal will have bream. The bigger ones are dark brown or greyish with flattened sides. Young ones are known as ‘skimmers’ and are silvery. Again, they’re usually found in large shoals
  • Perchfrom clear rural canals to city stretches, the humble perch is one of our predators – it’s also very easy to spot with its dark vertical strips and reddish fins
  • Carpmost canals now have carp and they can get big – very big. You’ll need a little bit more experience to catch the bigger ones 
  • Tench: Canal tench are beautiful with olive green bodies, small red eyes and a large tail. They also have the best Latin name: Tinca tinca

How do you catch canal fish?

If you’ve never been fishing before, or you’re looking to start fishing again after a long break, start by:

What are you waiting for? Get out and have a go this weekend.

Last date edited: 3 August 2020