Catch and Keep Fishing

Catch and Keep Fishing in the UK - (Full 2024 Guide for Coarse & Game Fishing)

When it comes to catch and keep fishing in the U.K there are several rules, schools of thought and ethical debates that are all worth thinking about. These can vary from peoples general opinion to actual legal ruling that would actually break the law if you breach. 

In this article we are going to discuss all things surrounding catch and keep fishing and hopefully give you a better understanding on what you should or should not do.

Catch and Keep Fishing

What is Catch and Keep Fishing?

Now the simple answer to this question is obvious! However the more complex answer depends on what type of fishing you are referring to. Whilst on the coarse fishing circuit, 'catch and release' is widely practiced, however there are some circumstances whereby you can actually keep some coarse fish that you catch.

The rules on catch and keep fishing are governed by the environment agency and  not only differ between countries in the UK but they then also differ between Regions.

To complicate things even further, salmon and trout fishing have different bye laws to coarse fishing so all in all the whole catch and keep fishing thing can leave an angler totally confused when really all you want to do is go and enjoy the amazing sport of angling and catch some fish!

As a starter for ten we feel we should attempt to inform you of some of the rules regarding catch and keep fishing in a simplified way.

Rules on what you can catch and keep in the UK

A lot of the ruling across the UK on Catch and keep fishing refer to the size of the fish. The specific way a fish is measured for catch and keep purposes is from the tip of the snout to the fork or cleft of the tail as shown in the following diagram

How to measure fish for catch and keep purposes:

catch and keep fishing

England's Catch and Keep National Byelaws

  • You need a rod licence to fish in in England
  • Any fish you catch that cannot be kept must be returned unharmed.
  • There is a daily limit on the number of coarse fish you can take and this is dependant on size as follows:
    • 1 x Pike (up to 65cm)
    • 2 x Grayling (30cm to 38cm)
    • 15 x Small fish (up to 20cm) This includes Barbel, Chub, Common Bream, Common Carp, Crucian Carp, Dace, Perch, Rudd, Silver Bream, Roach, Smelt and Tench
    • Non Native Species
    • Ornamental varieties of native species like Ghost or Koi Carp
    • Small species e.g. Gudgeon
  • Any Eels you catch (except Congers) must be released alive.
  • The byelaws for Salmon and Trout differ depending on region and venue (links to the specific areas can be found below)

Regional Byelaws for Catch and Keep Fishing in England

The regions with differing bye laws on catch and keep fishing in the UK alongside a link (when clicked) to the official rulings are as follows:

1. The Anglian Region

2. The Severn Trent (Midlands)

3. The North-East Region

4. The North-West Region

5. The South-East Region

6. The South-West Region

Scotland's Catch and Keep Byelaws

  • You DO NOT need a a rod licence for coarse fishing however there is a rule called 'Permission to Fish' which basically means that it is illegal to fish without the consent from the owner of the particular water.
  • Due to the 'Permission to fish' rule, what fish you are aloud to keep and in what quantities are entirely dependant on the owner of the water body. 
  • It is a criminal offence to fish for salmon without the legal right or without written permission from the owner of the right. In the case of fishing for trout and other freshwater fish, fishing without permission is a civil rather than a criminal offence.

You can find more information about the byelaws in Scotland here.

Catch and Keep Byelaws in Wales

  • You do need a rod licence if you are over 13 years of age to fish legally in Wales.
  • On all rivers, streams, drains and canals, any salmon or trout hooked other than in the mouth or throat must be returned to the water immediately.
  • No live or dead fish may be removed from any waters except legally by rod & line, other than with special written permission obtained in advance from Natural Resources Wales.
  • There are 4 Fishing Districts in Wales as follows:
    • Taff
    • Gower
    • West Wales
    • Gwynedd

The following table summarises Catch and Keep specific fish species and size for Wales:

Species & area

Size limit

Brown trout

23cm (9”) - excepting Gwynedd District where the limit is 21cm (8”)

Brown trout and sea trout (Upper Severn Area) – upper reaches of: River Severn, River Vyrnwy, River Banwy and River Tanat

15cm (6")

Brown trout and sea trout (Upper Severn Area) – all other areas

20cm (8”)

Rainbow trout

No size limit (individual fisheries may impose a limit in their rules)


On all rivers, all salmon must be returned with minimum injury and with minimum delay.

Sea trout

On all rivers all sea trout greater than 60cm must be released with minimum injury and delay.

Coarse fish (including grayling)

  • 15 small fish (up to 20cm) per day of native species listed below (other than grayling)
  • 1 pike per day up to 65cm
  • 2 grayling per day of 30 to 38cm.

Definition of upper reaches

Upper reaches of the River Severn means the River Severn and tributaries upstream of its confluence with the Afon Clywedog (SN594847).

Upper reaches of the River Vyrnwy means the River Vyrnwy and tributaries upstream of Dolanog Weir (SJ067127).

Upper reaches of the River Banwy means the River Banwy and tributaries upstream of its confluence with the Afon Gam (SJ017103).

Upper reaches of the River Tanat means the River Tanat and tributaries upstream of its confluence with the River Rhaeadr (SJ130247).

Native Species Information:

The list of native species includes Barbel, Chub, Common Bream, Common Carp, Crucian Carp, Dace, Grayling, Perch, Roach, Rudd, Silver Bream, Smelt and Tench.

The byelaw excludes small fish e.g. gudgeon and bullhead, non native species and ornamental varieties of the listed species e.g. Koi and Ghost Carp.

These limits are subject to the permission of the fishery owner or occupier who may set tighter limits.

When fishing stillwaters (including canals in Wales), you can remove freshwater fish only with the written permission of the owner or occupier. This is normally through fishery rules printed on permits or day tickets.

Note: because they have multiple ownership, you should treat Llyn Tegid and Llyn Maelog in the same way as rivers.

Eel and shad
Removal of eels and shads (Twaite and Allis) by rod and line from any water (out to 6 nautical miles) is prohibited.

For more information on the Welsh Byelaws you can visit the natural rsources in wales website here.

Northern Ireland's Catch and Keep Byelaws

  • You do need a rod licence to fish in in Northern Ireland.
  • Northern Ireland's fish stocks are protected by two agencies. Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs' (DAERA) and the 'Loughs Agency'
  • Each agency sells licences for their specific areas. See the following map: 
catch and keep fishing
  • The specific byelaws on catch and keep fishing varies slightly dependant on the agency territory you will be fishing in. To see the specifics for each agency please visit this specific page on the NIdirect website here.

What are the benefits to catch and keep in the UK?

There are numerous benefits, both ethical and factual. Let’s take a look at some…

The survival rates

We need to be honest with ourselves here. If there’s a choice between a fish being critically injured and floating round for days before succumbing to a slow and painful death, or being dispatched quickly and painlessly, then it is fair to say the latter option is far better. If there is ever any doubt that a fish will survive, it is far kinder to follow a catch and keep policy.

Catch & keep reduces disease

The longer fish are kept in the water, particularly landlocked still waters, the more likely they are to eventually become old and diseased. Certain diseases can spread quickly in still watery fisheries. However, by ensuring a rotation of stock, disease never has the chance to take hold and spread.

Catch & keep can increase the catch rate

Wait, how can catch and keep increase the catch rate? Surely there are less fish? Yes this is true. But consider this. My local water, with its ‘Brown Trout always go back rule’, doesn’t really have to enforce it.

Do you know why?

Hardly anyone ever catches a Brown Trout! What is the reason for this? Well due to this policy, Brown Trout are hooked and returned. Over the course of years, they have become wise to practically every trick in the book and as a result are notoriously wary. The Rainbows on the other hand will eat your fingertip if you leave it in the water for long enough.

As another aside, by removing fish and reducing the possibility of disease, the fish population will often grow naturally, as it is only ever fresh and healthy stock, and the water is not overpopulated.

How to dispatch a fish

If you are going to catch and keep fish in the UK you owe it to the fish to treat it as humanly as possible, even if you are going to kill it. Let’s put this out there now (and we have seen it). The way to kill the fish that you catch is not to throw them on the bank where they flip and flop and slowly suffocate.

The best way to dispatch fish is with a solid blow to the head with something heavy. Fish aren’t designed for impact. A sharp tap on the head will render them dead in the blink of an eye. For this use a priest, or some other heavy implement.

Squeezing them by the body and banging them on the ground or a fence post is not the way to go either. The chance of dropping them and prolonging their suffering or not administering a blow with sufficient force can be seen as cruel at best.

If you want to see a video on how to use a priest successfully. Watch this…

One more tip for dispatching fish. And this one is vital. If you are going to catch and keep, despatch the fish whilst it is still in the net, before you take the hook out. It will be easier to unhook, the fish is kept secure and you are not prolonging its suffering by performing amateur dental work, when you are going to kill it anyway.

If that all sounds a bit too much, lets take a brief look at some basics on catch and release….  

How to release your catch successfully

If you are going to release the fish you catch you want to do everything you can to ensure their survival. Here are some top tips: -

Use a good landing net

By using a good quality landing net, you should never need to actually touch the fish. Use a rubber or knotless meshed landing net, to avoid damaging the skin or scales of the fish. Fish are designed by nature to be supported by the water, not by hands. Also, by using a landing net you can get the fish in quicker which avoids fish fatigue. If you do it right, the fish never actually has to leave the water as once it is unhooked you can tip it out of your landing net without too much fuss.

See one in action here….

Beef up your tackle

Having a good fight with a Trout is fun. But going too light to test the limits of what you can do is not fun for the fish. Firstly, to a hooked fish’s mind, it is fighting for survival and will give all it has got. If you have to go easy to avoid breaking your line, the fish is going to run… and then get fatigued. By using a stronger leader and a good fly rod and reel combo you can put more pressure on the fish and get them in sooner.

In addition to this whilst some anglers believe a lighter leader gets more bites (tip… it doesn’t) It will also lead to more break offs. The thought of a fish swimming with a permanent lip piercing or starving to death if to becomes anchored to an underwater obstruction is not what anybody wants. We never go lower than 6lbs on our leader.

Consider the conditions

If the water is warm then the fish will tire quicker. Combine this with less oxygen and you can see why hard-fought Trout may struggle to get their breath back. If you are fishing on a particularly warm day it might actually be kinder to kill the fish than return them to gasp their last on the bottom.

What percentage of catch and release fish survive?

Its probably higher than you think. For every ten fish caught, the mortality rate is thought to be around 10%. That’s higher than I ever suspected. It is ever so slightly saddening. This number could actually be reduced with correct handling.

But just because a fish swims away is no guarantee that it will survive. Infection, fatigue or damage to the fish can all result in them going belly up shortly after they are released.

Rules regarding catch and release for Game Fishing.

This is often up to the venue. My local water has a policy that Brown Trout must be returned to the water, living or dead. The reason for this is that they don't want a sneaky angler claiming that his bag of Brown Trout all died naturally so they just had to take them.

Rainbows above a certain size may be taken, but only one per session. Other lakes vary in their rules.  Some lakes specify that fish caught must be killed. Be sure to always check out the specific rules for the body of water you are fishing.


Catch and keep fishing in the U.K may not be as popular as it once was, but that said there are several reasons why it is a good idea. If you like the taste of trout then there are relatively few downsides. Just be sure to treat your catch with respect from the moment it is hooked until it gets on your plate.

If you need any fishing tackle please consider visiting one of our recommended online fishing tackle shops.

Related Articles...

Fishing Rod Test Curve Calculator

Fishing Rod Test Curve Calculator

If you are having trouble deciding what test curve rod is best for you, then fear not as our handy fishing rod test curve calculator will point you in the right direction.

Read More
Best Fly Fishing Reels

Best Fly Fishing Reels

So within this guide, I will detail 7 of the best fly fishing reels in the tackle shops today that I have personal experience with and robustly tested over many years.

Read More
Best Fishing Rod For Beginners

Best Fishing Rod For Beginners

This article will take you through everything you need to know to make an informed choice on the best fishing rod for beginners based on a number of different fishing disciplines.

Read More