Urban Angling: An Intro to Fishing in London

Apr 8, 2022 | 7 minute read Comments
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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. 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!

Comments (41)
  • Benjamin

    Apr 19, 2022

    Hi im new to London and based in Stratford. New to fishing as well, just bought a rod and hooks and will soon get any license i may need. I was hoping i could be recommended any good locations locally, cheers.

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      Rhys

      Apr 20, 2022

      Hi Benjamin,

      Thanks for reading and for your good question! I used to live in East London too and so I know plenty of good spots! Head east on the Central Line and Epping Forest has 24 ponds brimming with fish. Unfortunately, though, fishing is banned between March and June. Other options on the same line are Hollow Pond near Snaresbrook tube station and Connaught Water near Chingford.

      Also out east, the Walthamstow Reservoir is an exciting fishery. Meanwhile, with the overground from Stratford to Hampstead Heath, the famous park’s five ponds are also well within reach. Make sure to check the City of London website for specific regulations for your chosen fishery, as some require special licenses and, of course, rules regarding the fish! I hope this helps.

      Tight lines,

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  • Green

    Apr 3, 2022

    Hi im new in london and i need help with pike or trout fishing. What document i need, where can i get them and where i can fish. Can someone help me out

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      Marko

      Apr 4, 2022

      Hi Green,

      Thanks for getting in touch. First of all, you’ll need a Trout and coarse fishing licence that you can get online. The Trout season is open right now, however, as Pike is a coarse species, you’ll have to check the fishery regulations once you’ve picked a spot. Coarse fishing is closed in many places between March 15 and June 15.

      For Trout, you can try fishing River Wandle. You only need the fishing license to fish there, unless you want to fish from Morden Hall Park, in which case you’ll need permission from their angling club. Syon Park is another option you can explore, though you’ll need to get a permit from the local club to fish there.

      You can try Battersea or Tooting Common for Pike. Both are managed by Wandsworth Council so you’ll need to buy a permit from them. You can check with them whether it’s allowed to fish for coarse species.

      Hope the info helps!

      Tight lines,

      Marko

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  • hank phillips

    Jun 4, 2021

    This is an incredible resource, thank you! I live in Putney. I’m not interested in carp, sport fish only that I can catch on a 5 weight fly rod, namely trout, bass, perhaps pike and perch as well. Mostly trout and bass. I have a car. My question is, (1) is their a comprehensive resource that clearly lists fishable rivers, lakes, and ponds in London, as well their species, regs, etc? It all seems very piecemeal. Also, though I’ve always been a catch and release fisherman, my wife likes the idea of keeping for the pan. (2) Are any of London’s waters clean enough and legal to keep fish out of? Thank you!

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      Iva

      Jun 6, 2021

      Hi Hank,

      Thanks for reading and your comment! We’re glad to hear you found the article useful. To answer your first question, I’ve not come across a government-authorized resource that contains all the information you’ve listed above – unfortunately.

      The hunting and fishing section of gov.uk is a good place to start for general info.

      As for your second question, the answer is tricky. As you know, most freshwater fishing is widely accepted as catch and release, though you can keep fish in some circumstances. That said, even though London’s fisheries are healthier than ever, deciding to eat the fish is risky business.

      The Wandle, for example, is considered perfectly clean. Still, it contains silt deposits that contain high levels of heavy metals. The insect life that lives and eats in that silt later becomes food for the fish you’ll catch, and – you get the picture. I hope that somewhat helps.

      Tight lines!

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  • paul mcadam

    May 11, 2021

    Hi just a small point. Grayling are not Coarse fish, as the article mentions, they are a Game species.
    Good luck in your escapades.

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      Albert

      May 11, 2021

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Grayling are from the same family as Salmon and Trout, but they’re technically a coarse fish, at least as far as regulations go.

      All the best!

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      Matt

      May 18, 2021

      Grayling are more of a game fish here in the states . But would still kinda agree with you .

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      Rhys

      May 19, 2021

      Hi Matt,

      Rhys here stepping in for Albert. Thanks for your comment! You’re right, Grayling are considered game fish in the US, but they’re technically coarse in the UK. That doesn’t stop plenty of anglers going after them and landing their maximum of two per day, though!

      Tight lines,

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      Matthew

      Jun 23, 2021

      The presence of an adipose fin is actually what technically classifies Grayling as game fish. This also places them as a member of the same family as trout and salmon (Salmonid).

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      Albert

      Jun 24, 2021

      Hi Matthew,

      Thanks for getting in touch!

      In the UK, “coarse” and “game” are official terms that have different regulations. You’re totally right that Grayling is a salmonid, and should really be considered a game fish. For some reason, though, it’s counted as coarse in British rules.

      I hope this clear things up!

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      Paul Davies

      Jun 29, 2021

      The reason grayling are considered a coarse fish in the UK is because they spawn in the spring like coarse fish, whereas salmon and trout spawn in the winter – leading to different fishing seasons for grayling vs trout and salmon.

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      Albert

      Jun 29, 2021

      Hi Paul,

      Never really thought about it that way but it makes total sense. Thanks for the explanation.

      All the best!

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  • Margarita

    May 11, 2021

    Hi, can you recommend a place in North London where where we can come to learn how to fish and how to safely catch and release without damaging the fish?

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      Albert

      May 11, 2021

      Hi Margarita,

      Good question!

      If you want to learn how to properly release fish (and good on you for doing so!) your best bet is to spend a day with a guide. There are a few guides that specialise in urban angling on canals, rivers, and docks around London. Some even offer introductory lessons specially designed for learning the ropes and the best ways to handle fish.

      If you’re looking for some general pointers, you can also check out our beginner’s guide to catch & release.

      I hope this helps!

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  • Steve Berwick

    May 10, 2021

    I have been told that there are bass and mullet in the river around the Woolwich area on both banks. Does anyone have any experience of catching bass on a lure in this area?

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  • Xavier Kicks

    Apr 4, 2021

    Hi,do you know how to fish in the river thames around putney and hammersmith bridge because I am new to fishing and I don’t know what to use, so please could you help me.thankyou.

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      Albert

      Apr 5, 2021

      Hi Xavier,

      I’ve never fished that stretch of river. From what I remember, though, the path along the south side of the river has a fair bit of wild structure (overhanging trees, rocks etc). Take a walk at low tide and make a note of spots which look like they’d hold fish, then head back to fish them when the water’s higher.

      If you have a car or a bike, I’d recommend heading over to Richmond or Twickenham. Fishing is generally better further upriver, where the Thames is narrower and less tidal.

      In terms of gear, it really depends on what you’re targeting. However, if you’re just starting out, I’d start simple with a basic spinning rod and reel and some worms. Get a feel for the sport and the area and go from there.

      I hope this helps! Anyone else got any tips?

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      Matilda

      May 25, 2021

      Would you be able to recommend specific spots i.e. provide google map points? Thanks!

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      Andriana

      May 25, 2021

      Hello Matilda,

      Thanks for reading. The good thing about these urban fisheries is that you can cast a line pretty much anywhere where you can find a good quiet spot to fish. The Wadle is a great example of this, especially if you’d like to catch some Trout.

      Regent’s and Grand Union Canals are the same, you don’t need specific coordinates, just pick a place that looks good to you and start fishing. The same goes for Eagle Pond, Farlows Lake, and Surrey Docks. You can also try Clapham Common Ponds. If you’d like to test your luck by targeting sea fish, you can fish for Eels and Flounder in the Thames’ tidal waters (up to Woolwich). Just remember to get a valid fishing licence before heading out.

      I hope this helps Matilda, have a great time exploring London’s urban fisheries.

      Tight lines!

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  • Harry

    Mar 30, 2021

    I fish off of erith pier,and nobody down there has a license,no check or anything.

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      Albert

      Apr 1, 2021

      Hi Harry,

      Great shout on Erith Pier. It’s a great place to spend the day and you can normally find some flatfish.

      Licence-wise, it’s a little tricky. There are no hard-and-fast rules on where freshwater stops and saltwater starts in the Thames. My general rule of thumb is that, as long as you’re targeting saltwater species with sea fishing gear, you should be fine without a licence. It’s theoretically illegal if you accidentally reel in freshwater fish, though.

      All the best!

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      Matilda

      May 25, 2021

      Hi Harry, may I ask what is the setup you use, what you’ve been catching and catch rates?

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  • Edward Andrews

    Mar 26, 2021

    Why were the reservoirs of Kempton Park and Barn Elms closed to trout fishers?

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      Albert

      Mar 29, 2021

      Hi Edward,

      I’m pretty sure they were both turned into nature reserves for water birds after they were drained in the ’90s. Presumably, all fishing is banned because of their special protected status.

      Anybody else got more info on this?

      All the best!

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  • David

    Mar 19, 2021

    Hey,
    Thanks for this article really helpful.
    To try and avoid bombarding you with questions , I live Se13 and have a friend living close , what would you recommend for us to start as an easy day out with no experience/gear . Aka for two complete newbies what’s the best way to start , also we don’t have a car 😒 I have found a decent tackle shop close by and I understand we would need licenses
    Thanks again

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      Albert

      Mar 19, 2021

      Hi David,

      Good question!

      Off the top of my head, I’ve heard rumours of some decent Chub, Roach, and even Carp in the Ravensbourne, so you could try Ladywell Fields? You might not find any fish, but it’s a pretty enough place to spend the day. I’m not sure who if anyone manages it, though. You could maybe get in touch with Lee Green Angling Club for more info – they’re the closest club I can think of. Asking at that tackle shop could be a good shout, too.

      Anyone else got any tips?

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  • Max Vallance

    Nov 25, 2020

    Hey guys – I caught 4 perch last night on regents canal just 30m above the market. The water is low. The key is finding them.

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      Albert

      Nov 26, 2020

      Hi Max,

      Thanks for getting in touch. Water levels should be stable on the canal, but I totally agree that finding fish is the tough part sometimes. You should find some pretty reliable spots after a little trial and error, though.

      All the best!

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      Mike

      Dec 9, 2020

      Thats great….
      ok I’m a little envious. Camden Market right?
      Just driven (Westwards) back from Mile End with one eye on the canal….
      I saw that Perch & Pike fishing is banned from Lake in Victoria Park

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  • Keith

    Nov 2, 2020

    This is very helpful! I’m just starting on freshwater fishing and this answered all my questions. Cheers for this mate!

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      Albert

      Nov 3, 2020

      Hi Keith,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m really glad you found it helpful!

      Whereabouts are you fishing? Let us know how you get on!

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      Keith

      Nov 7, 2020

      Im trying out along the bank of River Thames in West London. The tide schedule is just a bit challenging :))

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      Albert

      Nov 9, 2020

      Hi Keith,

      Absolutely. It’s not often that river fishermen need to worry about tides. Adds to the challenge of it, though!

      All the best!

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      John

      Mar 4, 2021

      I am in the Kew/Chiswick area. Can I fish the Thames at from the bank at low water? I never see anyone fishing there. Is it legal to be IN the river bad? Is it worth fishing the tidal areas there? Or better to head upriver to Staines or Hampton for fresh water coarse fishing?

      You mentioned the Wandle for trout. How far out do you need to go to start finding them? Wandle Meadow? Morden Hall area or further out? Beddington Park? The Grove? I have a car too if needed. Can you fish most places or will there be signs clearly stating rules? And trout license too, right? Thanks.

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      Albert

      Mar 5, 2021

      Hi John,

      What a lot of questions! I’ll try and answer them all but let me know if I missed anything.

      You can fish from the banks around Kew, but you might be better off heading up-river a little to Kingston as there’s much better bank access. As far as I’m aware, there are no rules against fishing in the river bed at low tide, but I’m not 100% certain.

      The best stretch of Trout water on the Wandle is around Hackbridge. It’s pretty short, in truth, with the best waters fizzling out by the time you hit Mill Green. The whole of the Wandle is amazing, though. The local angling club, the Wandle Piscators, produced this detailed guide to the river if you want more info. I’d recommend getting in touch with them to learn more about the rules & regs side of things.

      I hope this helps. Let me know how you get on!

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  • Mike

    Oct 27, 2020

    Very useful info…. just getting started into coarse. We normally fish Jacks Lake but I’m quite close to KingsX so fancy trying to catch some perch on light tackle. Is the Canal there suitable for dropshot fishing and I presume a Wanderers license?

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      Albert

      Oct 28, 2020

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad the article was helpful.

      Yup, dropshotting should work fine in the canal, and a Wanderer’s licence is all you need.

      The area around King’s Cross can get pretty busy with cyclists and dog-walkers, especially on the tow path on the north side of the canal. You could try the south side opposite Granary Square – there’s no access along the canal there so it might get less foot traffic. I’m don’t know that stretch of water too well, though, so it could call for a little trial and error.

      I hope this helps. Let me know how you get on!

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  • Hoi

    Sep 29, 2020

    So I’ve been doing reading up everywhere (like everywhere) as much as I can and even emailed the environment-agency and been chatting with them also on the phone. From my understanding is that I can coarse fish anywhere on the London river Thames as long as there is public access. Is this correct?

    Now also to note, I would have to pay for sea fishing if I am targetting sea fishes in the River Thames. This is understandable, so I only target Coarse fishes.

    I do sometimes notice other people fishing in the London river Thames from the banks, but not many as I thought. Is there a reason why there aren’t that many people fishing in the London river Thames? I’m referring to the area East and South East of London (SE16).The only reason why I prefer fishing in SE16 is that I live right next to the river, literally… and the local angling club membership is full and always has a long waiting list.

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      Albert

      Sep 29, 2020

      Hi Hoi,

      Good questions. Yes, you can fish anywhere on the Thames, as long as you have a rod licence and safe legal access. The problem is that fishing in the Thames isn’t great everywhere. The water gets quite briny out east, which limits the species you’ll come across. That’s why the most popular river fishing spots are in West London.

      Sorry to hear that there’s no space in your local angling club. The Surrey Docks area is a pretty iconic fishery, especially for specimen Carp, so it’s not surprising they’re full. Have you tried other angling clubs nearby?

      Otherwise, you could always head north of the river and fish Regent’s Canal. You’ll need a Waterway Wanderers Permit, but you don’t need to join a club to fish there.

      I hope this helps!

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