This is not a legal interpretation, but provides a layman's guide to the Environment Agency’s rod fishing rules (byelaws) in the South West Region. These laws protect migratory and freshwater fish stocks, and the fisheries they support.
If you break the rules, you face prosecution and may receive a fine of up to £50,000.
Rod fishing rules tell you when you can fish (open and closed seasons); where you can fish; how you can fish; and what fish you can take.
Some fishing rules are local, covering specific waters; others apply to the whole of South West Region; and some national rules cover the whole of England and Wales.
Angling clubs and private fisheries often have their own rules which you must respect.
These rules apply to anyone fishing for salmon, trout, freshwater (coarse) fish, eels, smelt and lamprey in all freshwater fisheries and to a distance of 6 nautical miles at sea. They cover all rivers, streams, drains, canals, stillwaters and coastal waters within the Environment Agency's South West Region.
The Region stretches from the Hampshire Avon in the east up to Bristol and down to Land's End in Cornwall.
To find out more about fishing regulations, where to fish, codes of practice and information on how to stop the spread of invasive aquatic species which can harm our fisheries, please visit our website atwww.environment-agency.gov.uk/fish or www.gethooked.co.uk.
See also: 2012 Fishing Byelaws and Fish Removal Bylaw Update 2010 and Fish for the Future Newsletter
A licence for coarse fish, non-migratory trout and eels allows you to fish with 2 rods. If you're coarse fishing with 3 or 4 rods (4 is the maximum) then you need to hold 2 licences. A licence for salmon and migratory (sea) trout allows only 1 rod to be used for these fish.
An annual rod licence expires on 31st March each year. Short term (1& 8 day) licences can also be purchased. Seniors, juniors and the disabled can buy cheaper licences..
It is an offence to fish for freshwater fish and eels without a valid rod licence and if you are caught and prosecuted you may be fined up to £2,500.
1. on-line at www.environment-agency.gov.uk/rodlicence;
2. by calling the Post Office on 0844 800 5386. ( 8.30am - 8pm daily from March to September, and 8.30am - 6pm daily from October to February, Monday to Saturday); Calls to the 0844 number can cost up to 5p per minute for BT users. Calls made using other service providers or mobiles may cost more. This telesales line is operated by Post Office Ltd on our behalf.
3. by Direct Debit (go to www.environment-agency.gov.uk/rodlicence);
4. at any Post Office branch in England and Wales (and some in Scotland).
No person shall sell, offer or expose for sale or have in possession for sale any salmon or migratory trout which has been taken by rod and line.
Where not already limited by existing local byelaws, when fishing for salmon before 16 June in any year, you may only use artificial fly or artificial lure.
You must not remove any salmon, alive or dead, from any waters before 16th June in any year. Any salmon caught before this date must be returned to the water with least possible injury.
On rivers, you may take no more than:
All lengths are measured from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail.
There are no restrictions on the number of other coarse fish you may take (see later for eel and shad).
On stillwaters and canals, you may only take freshwater fish with the written permission of the fishery owner or occupier. NB. Canals are defined as those canals where the coarse fish close season has been removed.
You may keep fish in a keepnet or keepsack before returning them to the water.
You may not take or kill any rod caught eel or shad from any waters, including tidal waters.
You may keep eel in a keepnet or keepsack before returning them to the water. Shad must be returned immediately.
A national byelaw makes it illegal to use landing nets with knotted meshes or meshes of metallic material.
Similarly, keepnets should not be constructed of such materials or have holes in the mesh larger than 25mm internal circumference; or be less than 2.0 metres in length. Supporting rings or frames should not be greater than 40cm apart (excluding the distance from the top frame to the first supporting ring or frame) or less than 120cm in circumference.
Keepsacks should be constructed of a soft, dark coloured, non-abrasive, water-permeable fabric and should not have dimensions less than 120cm by 90cm if rectangular, or 150cm by 30cm by 40cm if used with a frame or designed with the intention that a frame be used. It is an offence to retain more than one fish in a single keepsack at any time.
It is illegal to retain in keepnets any salmonids (adults or juveniles) except when specially approved by the Environment Agency for collecting broodstock.
When fishing with multiple rods and lines, rods shall not be left unattended and shall be placed such that the distance between the butts of the end rods does not exceed three metres.
Axe Otter Sid
Fowey Looe Seaton
Tamar & Plym
Tamar Tavy Lynher
Taw & Torridge
Frome (Dorset) & Piddle
All other rivers in Wessex
Camel Gannel Menalhyl Valency
Fowey Looe Seaton Tresillian
Tamar Lynher Plym Tavy Yealm
Taw Torridge Lyn
All rivers in Wessex
Camel & Fowey
Other rivers in Devon & Cornwall Area
All rivers in Wessex Area
No statutory closed season
All other waters in Devon & Cornwall
All other waters in Wessex Area
All reservoirs, lakes & ponds
Rivers, streams & drains (including the Glastonbury Canal) and some stillwater Sites of Special Scientific Interest
Ponds, lakes, reservoirs and all other canals
There is no close season for coarse fish on canals within the region, with the exception of the Glastonbury Canal which is an open system with the South Drain.
See page 2 for coarse fish removal limits.
River / Area
Private fisheries or clubs may have their own rules so do check.
No person shall use any instrument on which is attached directly or indirectly any lead weight (except a weight of 0.06 grams or less, or one of more than 28.35 grams) for the purpose of taking salmon, trout, freshwater fish or eels in any waters within the region, unless it is incorporated and fully enclosed in the core of the fishing line, or incorporated in the construction of a swim-feeder, self-cocking float or a fishing lure; “fishing lure” means any device, including a fishing fly, which is designed to attract fish and which incorporates a fishing hook.
It is illegal to take or attempt to take by any means fish in any waters within 50 yards below the crest of Kilbury Weir on the River Dart.
No spinning for trout in waters included within the Dartmoor National Park, the Exe above Exebridge, Otter above Langford Bridge, Torridge above Woodford Bridge, Bray above Newton Bridge, Mole above Alswear Bridge, Little Dart above Afleton Bridge, and the whole of the Okement, Lyn and Barnstaple Yeo.
The use of a float when fishing for salmon or trout in any waters within the Avon (Devon), Axe (Devon), Dart, Exe, Taw and Torridge and Teign districts is prohibited.
Crayfish of any species, whether alive or dead, or parts thereof, may not be used as bait for salmon, trout, freshwater fish or eels
The use of particular baits for fishing is regulated by byelaws and in some cases additional restrictions are imposed by the fishing association or riparian owner. The byelaw restrictions are shown in the table below:
Baits (real or imitation)
Before 16 June, artificial fly and artificial lure only
Salmon & trout
No worm or maggot
No shrimp, prawn, worm or maggot. Fly only after 31 July below Axbridge, Colyford
No worm or maggot. No shrimp or prawn except below Staverton Bridge. No spinning above Holne Bridge.
No worm or maggot.
Barnstaple Yeo (tidal)
All species (inc seafish)
Taw & Torridge (except Lyn)
No shrimp, prawn, worm or maggot
No spinning after 31 March
No worm or maggot before 1 June
Artificial fly and artificial lure ONLY after 31 August
No byelaw restrictions on bait after 16 June
No byelaw restrictions on bait
Salmon & migratory trout
No worm, maggot, shrimp or prawn after 31 August
Artificial fly only before 15 May.
All species in rivers, drains and canals
No maggot (or pupae), processed product, cereal or other vegetable matter during the coarse fish close season.
Length to be measured from tip of the snout to the fork or cleft of the tail.
The size limits, below which fish must be returned, imposed by byelaws are set out in the table below. Sizes in centimetres (cm).
Area, district or catchment
Camel, Fowey, Tamar & Plym
Avon(Devon), Axe (Devon), Dart, Exe, Taw & Torridge, Teign
Wessex (N) except By Brook
By Brook & tribs
These size restrictions do not apply to non-migratory trout in any waters included within the Dartmoor National Park, the Exe above Exebridge, Otter above Langford Bridge, Torridge above Woodford Bridge, Mole above Alswear Bridge, Little Dart above Afleton Bridge, and the whole of the Okement, Lyn and Barnstaple Yeo.
From the 1 August to 30 September in any year no person shall take in the River Taw and River Torridge any salmon of a length greater than 70 centimetres.
Environment Agency Customer Service line - Tel: 03708 506 506
Incident Hotline - Tel: 0800 80 70 60
Floodline - Tel: 0845 988 1188