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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?

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 I need to go canal fishing?

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

  • either a short take-apart pole fitted with light elastic, a telescopic pole (known as a whip) or a rod and reel
  • floats, lines, hooks, weights a plummet, and a disgorger to help unhook the fish – ask for a ‘rig suitable for canal fishing’
  • bait, such as bread punch or types of maggots such as pinkies
  • a landing net
  • a 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. We have around 2,000 miles of canals and rivers in our network alone. In fact, around 50% of people live just five miles from a 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, being 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 overhanging trees, shrubs and boats. (Experienced anglers say the fish often prefer to live near the boats, as these offer good habitat.)

What types of fish can I catch in canals?


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 make sure the fish stay happy and healthy.

If you're new to fishing you're most likely to 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
  • Bream: nearly 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
  • Perch: from 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
  • Carp: most canals now have carp and they can get very big. You'll need 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 I catch canal fish?

If you've never been fishing before, or you're looking to start fishing again after a long break, here are some ideas to help you brush up.

  • Get a free fishing lesson from a professional coach at one of our Let's Fish! events taking place all over England and Wales.
  • Download our free fish guide. Aimed at children and young people, it still has plenty of great information for lapsed anglers.
  • Watch our fishing skills videos presented by canal fishing champion Simon Mottram. They're split into different levels and feature tips on equipment, technique and much more.

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

Last Edited: 29 January 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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