News article created on 22 June 2016

Fishing from my boat

With well over 30,000 licensed craft on the Trust network it’s not at all surprising that a good number of people tick both the boating customer and angling customer boxes.

National Angling Championships River Trent 1945

Our National Angling Advisory group contains one keen narrowboat enthusiast and, until recently, a kayak angler also sat on the group

Who was the first boater to fish the canals?

To the best of my knowledge, history does not record the name of the first person to actually fish on a British canal. Who knows, it could have been a member of the first boat crew when they moored up on that very first trip. Or, if you include the Fossdyke, then a Roman angler wins the prize. Whoever it was, the purpose would have probably been for the capture of food rather than for sport. For back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, coarse fish such as shad, pike, eel and even gudgeon were an important part of the diet.

Ownership of fishing rights

Fishing rights are legal property in their own right. The Trust owns the fishing rights on much of the canal network, although there are some exceptions to this which have their origins back in history to the time of the Canal Enabling Acts. On the river navigations, the position is that where the Trust owns the land, we also own the fishing rights associated with that land ownership. At other locations on our rivers, we are generally only the navigation authority. Here, typically, fishing rights often belong to the riparian owner. In quite a lot of cases, these fishing rights have been bought by angling clubs and associations, for fishing rights can become separated from the ownership of land. Examples of clubs who have bought fishing rights from landowners are the Birmingham Anglers Association, who control many miles of fishing rights on the Severn and Avon and several Nottinghamshire clubs on the Trent.

Does the Trust boat licence cover me to fish or do I need a separate permit?

The Trust's boating licence doesn’t grant the holder any right to fish either from their craft or the towpath. In situations where the Trust owns fishing rights on canals and rivers, we manage them by either license agreements with angling clubs or under our Waterway Wanderers scheme. Anyone wishing to angle from their moored craft or kayak needs to have a permit to do so. This permit will typically be

  • A day or season membership of the controlling angling club
  • A Waterway Wanderers’ annual permit

Many, indeed probably the majority of our customer clubs, do offer day permit facilities on some or all of their let sections. In many cases day permits are available from the clubs’ patrolling bailiff and cost around £5 or sometimes less. It should be noted that fishing should not take place from a boat in 'no fishing' areas and that on the canal network the boat must be moored. Fishing must not take place from a moving craft on the canal network.

Where can I go fishing with just an Environment Agency rod licence?

Many people believe or claim to believe that holding an Environment Agency rod licence covers them legally for fishing in a canal. Of course, it’s true that the EA rod licence is legally required to fish anywhere, including in your own pond in the back garden. With very few exceptions (some Environment Agency owned fishing rights) the rod licence does not give the holder the legal right to fish anywhere in freshwater. It’s perhaps best to think of the rod licence as something that is required to licence the use of a fishing rod or pole, along the same lines as a gun licence. I have lost count of the number of folk who, after having patiently heard me explain the above to them, respond with a deep sigh and utter ‘why the heck should I buy a rod licence then’ or words to that effect!

So why buy an Environment Agency rod licence?

There are two answers to that particular question. Firstly, anyone fishing would be breaking the law by not being in possession of a rod licence prior to commencement of fishing. Secondly, all income raised is invested in maintaining, improving and developing fisheries and angling in the widest sense. This ranges from managing fish and regulating fish stocks to encouraging angling participation. The Trust, through the auspices of its national fisheries & angling manager, now has representation on the England Fisheries Group which advises the Environment Agency regarding its fisheries function. This means we can now begin to influence how the £2 million or so raised from rod licence sales to the Trust’s angling customers is invested.

Buying a fishing permit on the move

A genuine concern often expressed is how the cruising boater, finding themselves moored up in a new location, can get hold of the correct fishing permit. How can you easily find out which club controls a particular stretch? The best answer I can give is that technology is beginning to come to our aid. The Trust's fishing pages have the most up to date information regarding clubs on the canal network. The 'fishing info' section of the Angling Trust website is the first port of call for information on the river navigations. An even more advanced use of technology is the ability to be able to purchase a permit using a mobile phone. Clubs like the Lure Angling Canal Club, who rent fishing rights on both the Grand Union and South Stratford canals, have developed such technology. I do hope that more clubs take up this idea in due course.

Why not have a national boaters fishing permit?

On many occasions, it’s been suggested that a special national angling permit for boaters be considered. In principle, there are obvious merits. It would be convenient and eliminate worry for the boating customer. There could potentially be extra income to enable clubs and the Trust to reinvest in its fisheries. However there are some practical hurdles to overcome before this sort of permit could ever become a reality. These include obtaining the permission of the multitude of different clubs and owners of fishing rights for all the numerous fisheries that would be included. Then agreeing the ratio of the split in income, not to mention agreeing a set of fishery rules that everyone would sign up to, would be quite daunting. Sorting all these things out would be a substantial undertaking.

Angling businesses and boat licence requirements

Offering guided fishing trips and taking paying passengers out on Canal & River Trust waters requires a Skippered Passenger boat licence. For more information visit the business boating webpages. The skipper must have a Boat Master’s licence or equivalent and the appropriate commercial insurance must be in place. The application process is easy, just download and submit an Operating Proposal to The licence fee will be cheaper than you’d expect, at just £150 per passenger. If you have any queries please contact the business boating team through their webpage.