Free Fishing. The Pros, The Cons, The Options

“Where can I find free fishing?”  

It’s a question asked as much as – if not more than – any other.  

In many cases the request comes from beginners trying the sport to see if it’s for them or from family members looking to introduce younger siblings to the joys of fresh air and the natural world. You might even be an experienced angler looking for new challenges that aren’t on the club or day ticket map. Whatever the motivation, the task is always a little more challenging than it might at first seem. Naturally, you’ll want to find somewhere that’s both fun and productive because free fishing itself, isn’t going to sustain you. No one falls in love with angling when the chances of catching fish are low. 

So, assuming you have the correct Environment Agency Fishing Licence*, where are the best places that don’t require a day ticket or a membership? The straight answer is there are hundreds of locations across the country if you know where to look. If you don’t, then someone else will. The first rule of detection is to ask.  

As well as friends or friends of friends, the local tackle shops will always provide as much guidance as they can because helpful tackle dealers know they’re far more likely to turn you into a customer if free advice is offered in the first place. Of course, there’s no obligation to complete this ‘quid pro quo’ process if you don’t want to, but most of the time you’ll find you’ve added another ‘friend’ to your fishing list and such familiarity and confidence can be mutually beneficial. Local authority websites might offer some general guidance too. 

Another useful tool is the Angling Trust map where you can find even more information on general fishing locations, local angling clubs, tuition, tackle and even river levels. And if you fancy broadening your horizons yet further, there’s even more information on the Trust’s Get Fishing web pages including the Have A Go fishing events. 

As you begin any search, it should also be remembered that paying even a small fee for your fishing buzz can have its advantages. Waters covered by day tickets or memberships usually have ‘hands-on’ management from rights owners who are in the best position to improve facilities, secure environmentally friendly practices and maximise the enjoyment of angling and the connection with wildlife and the countryside.   

That doesn’t mean free venues are, by definition, unloved or unmanaged. The Environment Agency often uses fishing licence income to work with local authorities to maintain and improve free fishing sites as well as to support clubs and associations on their own waters. The general rule of thumb however, is that paying a small fee for some level of entitlement offers wider options and benefits.  

In the case of the Angling Trust for example, membership provides attachment to a not-for-profit organisation that is recognised by the government as the National Governing Body for angling in England and which partners with Visit Wales and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to promote Fishing in Wales. The Trust also partners with like-minded trade organisations and tackle dealers who share the same values of growing and protecting the sport of angling – and in many cases they offer member discounts too. The local shop you seek information from may be one such partner.

So, whether it’s a free-fishing spot or not, the collective strength, environmental safeguarding and general security offered by membership can be beneficial to you and to those around you.  

But don’t worry, if you’re a novice angler still finding your way, it’s perfectly ok to plough a lone furrow; just remember the core values of looking after the venues you fish:

  • Keep them tidy: Take home your own litter and perhaps even commit to a little clean-up of any debris that might not be of your making. Check out our ‘Anglers Against Litter’ campaign to discover three ways you can make a difference.
  • Follow the rules: Local and national byelaws should always be observed, irrespective of where you decide to fish. If you aren’t sure what these are, consult the .gov website.
  • Report pollution and illegal fishing: See something that doesn’t look right? Report it! As ‘eyes and ears’ on the water, anglers are uniquely placed to report incidents at short notice. This can be done via the Environment Agency hotline on 0800 807060; the same number which features on the back of your licence.
  • Don’t spread invasive species: Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) are a serious threat to angling venues and the wider environment, so it’s crucial we do our best to stop them. To help prevent the spread, always Check Clean Dry before and after each session; reporting any INNS you encounter along the way to iRecord. For tips on identifying common INNS, take a look at the Angling Trust website.
The three-step approach to disinfecting nets, waders and other tackle.

In essence, there are hundreds of free fishing venues across the country and obviously, far too many to include here. But as a starting point, we’ve listed below, one from each of the Angling Trust’s eight regions in alphabetical order. We’re certainly not suggesting these are the best or only options in any region, but we do know they’re recognised by local anglers as excellent spots, regardless of status.   

In all cases, please remember that rental rights to fishing locations are purchased and relinquished on an ongoing basis and therefore, the status of free fishing can change at any time. While every effort has been made to ensure the information below was correct at the time of publication, we strongly recommend that before setting out, you check with relevant local contacts to confirm the active status of free fishing at a venue, any car parking options (or restrictions) and the general access considerations. We’ve provided some contact information to help with that process but again, the suggestions don’t reflect the only options. Postcode references are offered for guidance on the general area of a free fishing stretch for mapping purposes.  

A final point. Despite the information, we can’t guarantee you’ll catch. That part is down to you! 

East – River Welland, Spalding town centre. PE11 1XA 

This is a great stretch, particularly during the winter months with roach a highlight. Cold conditions don’t seem to put them off and with clear conditions, bread is a favourite choice with a bread and hempseed mix is known as a good feeding compliment to flake or punched bread on the hook. 

There is also some terrific predator fishing on offer with plenty of pike, zander and perch to keep you busy. 

More information is available from Granz Angling: 01775 712206 

Midlands – River Trent Embankment, Nottingham. NG2 2LW 

Trent Bridge by Darren Cowley

An iconic venue to visit, irrespective of the fishing. Depending on where you station yourself, the two grounds of the local football teams, Forest and County are in view, with Trent Bridge cricket ground just around the corner and the famous Trent Bridge itself splitting the free fishing on the outskirts of the nearby city centre. 

There are stretches either side of the river, both upstream and downstream of the bridge. The downstream section is a busier stretch on the south side with easier parking on the north bank of the lower section. For good reason, the area is known locally as ‘the steps’ so bear in mind you’re fishing from concrete with no option for bank sticks! A word of warning too, straight off the steps, the river is deep. 

All the usual species are on offer with large bags of bream and roach always figuring in the local tales from the riverbank.  

More information is available from: Matchman Supplies: 01159 813834.  

North East – River Tees, Preston Park, Stockton-on-Tees TS18 3RJ 

The River Tees at Preston Park

The free fishing stretch here offers deep water angling with feeder fishing the way to go in winter and any method proving productive in the warmer months. Good bags of bream are to be had from mid-river with roach dace and perch closer in. Whether you think it’s a good or bad thing will depend on personal choice but there’s always the chance of a pike turning up at some point! 

All anglers are asked to observe the ‘no fishing’ rules that apply to the boat platforms and fish haven ponds. 

With a small walk, it’s possible to get to the venue by train with the Preston Park Museum & Grounds about a 12 minute walk from Eaglescliffe Railway Station.  

More information from: Anglers Choice, Middlesbrough: 01642 899288 

North West – River Dee, Farndon. LL13 9JH

Around 200 yards of free fishing is available on this noted stretch of the Dee at Farndon. Characterised by comfy permanent pegs installed by the Environment Agency, this length offers easy access with ample parking by the river. Particularly productive in the colder months, the Dee here is deep and steady; making it the ideal location to target mixed bags of roach, dace and chub on stick float tactics. Barbel are also present, but trickier to catch, as are the large pike which lurk around the marginal shelves. For consistent action in the summer months, try a waggler fished shallow down the middle of the river.

If approaching from Holt, turn immediately right after crossing Farndon bridge.

More information from: Wrexham Angling: 01978 351815

South East – River Wey, Farnham town centre. GU9 8SS 

A stretch that’s approximately a mile in length, runs from the point where the Wey passes under the A31 Farnham by-pass and through the town centre. The river here yields varied bags of roach, dace and chub all-year round. Shallow and slow flowing, the general bait for regular visitors is maggot. Car parking is available at both ends of the stretch but check local listings for charges and any restrictions. 

More information available from: Hampshire Tackle: 01252 318937 

South West – River Tone, Taunton town centre 

Approximately two miles of free fishing is available through the town. The stretch extends from where the Tone runs under the A3038 near Somerset Country Cricket Club, through to the Silk Mills Road.  

The stretch runs around 6/7 feet deep on average with a shallower section of 3/4 feet around the French Weir. The deepest swims are at the eastern end but even so, chub, roach, dace, perch and skimmers are prevalent throughout the section. All standard methods will catch fish including stick, waggler, pole and feeder. This is a stretch that responds well to maggot hook bait but is also known to yield better weights with regular loose feed tactics. Another local tip is to fish as fine as you dare! 

More information from Enterprise Angling: 01823 282623 

Thames – River Thames, Walton Bridge. KT12 1QP 

A stretch that lends itself to a stick float approach. Deep water close in means this method can work really well for an excellent head of roach, dace, bleak, chub and perch.  

For specimen anglers there are big carp and barbel to target on baits like pellets and boillies and for those targeting bigger fish, the area close to Walton Bridge can be a hot spot. 

More information from Thames Angling: 01784 243185 

Yorkshire – Market Weighton Canal. HU15 1RT 

A typical haul from Market Weighton

This rural canal in East Yorkshire is no-longer navigable and more akin to a fenland drain.  Sadly, many of its 300 plus pegs are overgrown but free fishing to Environment Agency Fishing Licence holders is available on the East Bank/ Left Hand Bank (looking downstream from the Landing Lane access point of Wallingfen Lane through to Weighton Lock, where the canal discharges into the upper Humber Estuary. 

As the canal is now primarily a land drain for the surrounding lowland arable land, water is run-off when it is low tide in the Humber. In wetter periods it is best to coincide a visit three hours or so either side of high tide in the estuary. 

The canal is a first-rate coarse fishery. Roach, perch, bream, silver bream and increasingly rudd make up the bulk of the catches around the village of Broomfleet. As the canal nears the Humber the canal widens and good catches of bream can be taken on small groundbait feeders.  

Specimen size perch to 3lb 13oz have been taken in recent years and the pike anglers usually account for a few twenty pound plus fish each winter. For the nature lover, Bittern are a routine sight along with Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tit and various warblers. 

More information available from: Angling Direct: 01482 629911

*Additional Information

The Get Fishing campaign to get more people fishing more often is funded by the Environment Agency from fishing licence income as part of the National Angling Strategic Services contract with the Angling Trust, and Sport England. Children under 13 do not need a licence, and licences for children aged between 13 and 16 are free but you still need to register and receive a licence in order to go fishing. You can get a licence for the full year, for 8 days (ideal for holidays!) or just a day’s fishing.

NOTE: Although young children who are under 13 year old do not need a licence to fish, the person supervising them needs the proper fishing licence to take hold of the rod or to help the child fish with it.

If you haven’t already done so, buy your licence here

If there’s something you cannot find here to help you start fishing or return to angling, please contact your local Regional Angling Development Officer – you can find the nearest one to where you want to go fishing here.

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