In the UK there are three common types of fishery; commercial fisheries, fishing clubs and free fishing. One or all of these options will be available to you locally. A quick search online for “fishing near me” should provide a lengthy list, but what are the differences?
Where to go fishing
Day ticket waters
Commercially run day ticket waters offer a way to go fishing without making a long term commitment. Most commercials offer a complex of lakes and ponds, some of which are dedicated to a specific species or type of fishing. Carp fishing is very popular, so most commercials have a Carp lake for both pleasure and competitive fishing. There may also be a specimen lake stocked with large fish and a “silvers” lake. Silvers are all species of fish other than Carp and predatory species.
Commercial fishing complexes often have a shop, cafe, toilet facilities and parking close to the lakes. All these things make fishing much easier especially when you have limited free time. Popular commercials can be very busy, especially in the summer. Booking a spot in advance may be needed to fish the popular lakes. If you are new to fishing then I recommend fishing a silvers lake or pleasure anglers lake until you have built up your skills. Many commercials take a dim view of a beginner trying to catch their most valuable assets, so always check the rules first.
Generally commercials charge by the day or between set times. There may also be an additional charges for night fishing and the number of rods you use. There may be restrictions on rigs and methods and some commercials only allow the use of bait bought on site. You may also have to use landing nets and keep nets provided to prevent the spread of fish disease. Commercials offer a convenient all in one fishing package, but I strongly recommend you carefully read all rules and restrictions before going.
There are fishing clubs all over the country, I have no doubt there will be one near you. They are nearly always run by volunteers on a not for profit basis, requiring an annual subscription fee. You may be unsure of buying a years worth of fishing in advance, but many clubs only charge tens of pounds. If you go fishing more than a few times a year, a fishing club can be a very economic.
Members only clubs often allow people to try out their waters as a guest of someone who is a member. Guest ticket schemes are very common among the clubs and you get the added advantage of fishing with a friend who knows the club and it’s waters. But they are not the same as day tickets. Guest tickets are only available to existing members who want to bring a friend.
Clubs often have a good variety of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, some man made, but many will be natural waters. This variety can be a major advantage to beginners, different waters allow the learning of key fishing skills more quickly.
Due to waters being gained over time, club fisheries tend to be spread out over a local area. They generally have no facilities of any kind, so take your own bait and expect to pee in the bushes. On the up side, club waters tend to have fewer restrictions on rods, bait and age of angler. In my experience club waters are much quieter than commercials. I have often had an entire lake to myself, ideal if you want to learn angling at your own pace or long for some peace and quiet.
Joining a club
Many clubs are decades old and fight shy of modernity. Having poor websites and slow to answer email, it can be difficult to find out about a club if you don’t know any members. Joining a club may require a trip to the membership secretaries house or posting your application. Although more are offering on-line application methods.
Joining a club can be a little disconcerting. After sending your application in the post, days will pass before receiving your membership documents. During this time you’ve had no face to face contact with anyone. No one has told you where to go or what to do, you are just expected to know! Let me assure you this is quite normal with a club, just pick a water, go and find it to have a look. It will be quite obvious once you get there, remember your not the first.
Starter days, open days, events
To promote angling and gain members, many fishing clubs and commercials have open days or starter days. They tend to follow the same format offering free access to a lake and the use of equipment, with volunteers offering help and advice. For health and safety reasons there should be a qualified coach present. Parents of children will be expected to take responsibility for their safety and behaviour.
Free fishing venues are few and far between. Some local councils have free community waters and you may find one on a local common. Free water can be great, but they attract the public who like to walk their dogs and picnic, which can be a real nuisance. Still, a free water might be worth a look.
Commercial fisheries are purpose built to have everything an angler needs, when it comes to quality fishing, a well run commercial is hard to beat. A great many people catch their first fish at a commercial these days and in return many commercials do what they can to promote the sport. On the down side, competitive fishing is an important revenue stream for commercials and as such may take priority over the humble weekender. If you are an occasional angler who wants to fish and go, then investigate commercial fisheries. At the same time if you are a match angler with your sights set on the dizzy heights of the sport, then commercials offer the best opportunities.
Angling clubs on the whole are not for profit organisations run by the membership. Annual subscription fees are usually less than £100 offering unlimited access to a selection of waters including rivers. Many club waters are wilder and more natural than the heavily managed surrounding of a commercial, which can make the fishing more challenging. Generally clubs have an older demographic who much prefer being part of an angling society with exclusive member only waters. Clubs do expect members to be conscientious, act responsibly and help each other. Ordinary members can also have a say in how a club is run, either by voting at an AGM or by joining the committee.
To fish any freshwater in the UK (even the free one’s) you must hold a valid rod licence. Find out more on the Environment Agency website. Do not buy your rod licence from anywhere else.