Urban Angling: An Intro to Fishing in London
Jul 22, 2020 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

London’s famous for a lot of things: museums, galleries, overpriced beer – but fishing? Yes, surprising as it might seem, you can go fishing in London. In fact, it’s increasingly popular. Every year, more and more people are turning their sights to their local waters. Safe to say, they tend to like what they find.

An aerial view of the River Thames in London, with Tower Bridge in the foreground and Canary Wharf in the distance

Urban anglers have a wide mix of species and fishing venues right on their doorstep. It’s cheap to get into and fun to learn, so everyone can give it a go. Fishing will also show you a side to the city that you never knew existed, even if you’re lived here all your life. Still not convinced? Read on, and you’ll be out on the water before you know it!

More than Just the Thames

When you imagine fishing in London, you probably picture trying to cast from the Embankment while avoiding crowds and passing boats. There’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, there are three different types of fishery in London: rivers, canals, and stillwaters. Here’s a brief run-down of each one.

Rivers

A fly fisherman wading in the River Wandle in Southwest London

Rivers are pretty self-explanatory. Look at a map of town or start watching Eastenders and the river’s the first thing you see. However, you may not realise that there’s a lot more than one river in London. 

There are a dozen different rivers that flow through town before feeding into the Thames. They’re all fishable, and one of them, the Wandle in Southwest London, is clean enough for proper chalkstream fly fishing in places! On top of that, the Thames itself is great for boat and bank anglers, as long as you can find a quiet spot.

Canals

A view along the Regent's Canal in London

Canals may look like rivers, but they’re actually more like long lakes, with little if any current. This makes them perfect for fish that prefer calm water. Canals also have towpaths running right next to them, giving you easy bank access and lots of fishing space – as long as you avoid all the houseboats.

The downside with London’s canals is that there are only two of them. Grand Union Canal runs in from the west to Little Venice. There, it meets Regent’s Canal, which runs up through North London and into the river at Limehouse. You can fish the full length of both of them.

Stillwaters

Two anglers fishing in a park pond in London

Finally, “stillwater” is a catch-all for everything from docks to local ponds to stocked fishing lakes. This is the bread and butter of London’s fishing scene. It’s also a great place to start if you’re new to the sport, as many venues are stocked full of fish.

You can find stillwaters all over London. Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common, and Burgess Park all have great fishing, as do Surrey Docks and even Canary Wharf. For the more discerning angler, Syon Park and Walthamstow Reservoirs offer excellent game fishing.

We could reel off London’s fishing spots until the cows come home, but that’s not the point. The great thing about fishing in London is discovering your local waters. Truth be told, you can find great catches in pretty much every London borough – just ask the guy who fished them all!

A Diverse Mix of Fish

London’s fish species break down into two main categories: game fish and coarse fish. For those who don’t know, “game fish” refers exclusively to Salmon and Trout, while “coarse fish” covers every other freshwater species. On top of these, you can also find some sea fish down towards the Thames Estuary. Here are a few of the top targets in each group.

Coarse Fish

An anglers holding a large specimen Carp on a river bank

Carp are the king of the coarse in London. These overgrown grass-eaters are a common catch throughout London’s stillwaters. They’re highly prized, partly for their size, but also because they vary a lot in colour and pattern. This has led to the birth of “specimen fishing” – going after specific large or unusual Carp that are known to live in an area.

Fancy fighting one of London’s top predators? You can find some big Pike swimming about in the Thames. People can and do land Pike from the banks, but you need a boat to really get at them. You can also find Pike in some of the larger lakes and docks in and around London.

Next on the list, Perch. These guys don’t get big, but they put up a great fight on lighter tackle. They dominate London’s canals, and regularly show up in rivers and docks. Alongside them, you might find Zander, an invasive species that’s huge fun to catch. Then there’s Chub, Roach, Tench, Bream, Barbel, Grayling – you’ve got plenty of options.

Game Fish

A Brown Trout about to be released into the water

It’s not all about coarse fishing, mind you. Trout lovers and fly anglers can also have a blast without leaving town. The best Trout bite is in specially-stocked lakes like the one at Walthamstow. Brown and Rainbow Trout both reach good sizes in these private venues. 

What about wild Trout? We’re glad you asked! As we teased before, there are parts of the Wandle that hold wild Brown Trout in decent numbers. In fact, there are rumours of Sea Trout and even Salmon running up the Thames, although you’d have to be pretty lucky to actually catch one.

Sea Fish

A close-up of two small Flounder being removed from a fishing rod

Sea fish swim surprisingly far up the Thames’s tidal waters. Even as far upriver at Woolwich, you’re likely to come across Flounder, Mullet, and Eels. By the time you get to Dartford Bridge, you’ll be able to add Seabass, Whiting, and Codling to the list.

London’s saltwater species are much more limited than its freshwater fishing. If you want proper sea angling, you’re much better off heading down to Gravesend or Southend. But if you’re fishing out east, don’t be surprised when the odd Flatfish takes your bait.

Fishing by the Book

Ready to get out and reel in some fish? Before you do, there are a few important pieces of paper to pick up. There are also some important regulations and common courtesies to bear in mind while you’re fishing.

Licences and Permits

An example rod licence form on a table with an assortment of fishing equipment

The first thing you’ll need is a rod licence. More specifically, you’ll need a Trout and Coarse Rod Licence, which will let you take on all of London’s fish species. You can buy a one-day licence for £6, which is great if you’re just trying things out. However, a £30 yearly licence is much better value for money in the long run.

Once you have your rod licence, you’ll need permission from whoever manages your chosen fishing venue – normally the council or an angling club. You can find info on most spots here. If you’re fishing the canals, you can also get a waterway wanderers permit, which covers you in all waters managed by the Canal and River Trust.

Fishing Seasons

Almost done with the admin, we promise! The last thing to think about is fishing seasons. Fishing is allowed year-round in most canals and stillwaters, although you should still check the rules for the specific venue you’re visiting. If you’re fishing in a river, regulations are more strict, and vary with the fish you’re targeting.

Coarse and game fish have different seasons. Coarse fishing is closed from 15 March until 15 June each year. Game fishing regulations vary from place to place. The season usually closes throughout autumn and winter, but you’ll need to ask your local angling club for exact dates.

To Keep or Not To Keep

A Carp being released into the water on an unhooking mat

Talk to any angler in London and conservation will be a top priority. The city’s fisheries have come a long way over the last few decades, and are now the healthiest they’ve been since before the Industrial Revolution. This is due in no small part to the efforts of volunteers and angling clubs.

The most important rule is to release fish unharmed. Catch and release is the name of the game, both for coarse and game fishing. Even when you’re allowed to take fish home, it’s very frowned upon by the angling community. The big exception here is invasive species like Zander and Catfish. It’s actually illegal to release these fish back into the water.

Urban Angling: Escape the Crowds, Enjoy the Slow Lane

An urban angler fishing in London at night, with two fishing rods set up in the foreground and the lights of a bridge in the distance

Life in London can be a blur of busy streets and long commutes. Fishing is the perfect way to escape all that. To really take things slow. You can also learn a new skill or hone your technique. Throw in some healthy exercise as you fight the fish, and you really can’t beat it. 

The best thing about fishing in London, though, is that you can do it pretty much everywhere. In fact, there’s probably a spot just around the corner from you, waiting to be discovered. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start exploring!

Have you ever tried fishing in London? Are you a regular urban angler? Tell us your stories and share your tips in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!

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