Angling regulations (rules)

This page details regulations for anglers in Northern Ireland.

Note

You need both a rod licence and a valid permit or day ticket to fish in public fisheries in Northern Ireland.

You also need to follow season rules about when and how many fish you can catch and keep. More details below.

Licence regulations

You need a rod licence to use a fishing rod in Northern Ireland. You can be fined for fishing without a licence.  DAERA issues rod licences for angling in:

Map showing DAERA and Loughs Agency fishing areas in Northern Ireland
Map showing DAERA and Loughs Agency fishing areas in Northern Ireland

Loughs Agency issues rod licences for angling in Loughs Agency jurisdiction. 

Fishing seasons

Fishing seasons vary for different fish species and for fishery locations. The variety of seasons reflects the timing of salmon runs into different river catchments.

In fisheries which aren’t in the DAERA area, salmon and wild brown trout fishing seasons vary:

  • in the Foyle catchment, the salmon fishing season is from 1 April to 20 October
  • in the Carlingford catchment, the season is from 1 April to 31 October
  • in the Bann catchment and County Antrim rivers, the season is from 1 March to 31 October (except the River Bush where the season ends on 21 October)

It is illegal to sell rod caught salmon in the DAERA area.

For pike, bream, roach, perch, tench, rudd, carp and rainbow trout fishing, there is generally no close season.

Salmon tagging

Catch and release of salmon and sea trout is required by law within the DAERA jurisdiction with the exception of Lough Melvin in County Fermanagh. Outside the DAERA jurisdiction salmon catches must be tagged and the catch recorded in a log book. This applies to all salmon and sea trout over 50cm.

An angler uses a plastic tag which is self-locking and embossed with a code identifying the tag number and region where the tag was issued.

Anglers must record their catch on a daily basis at the end of each fishing trip (before midnight of each day) in the logbook. 

Recording angling catch returns

Recorded catches help manage fishing stocks in DAERA's public fisheries. Catch return information is required for salmon and sea trout and welcomed for all other forms of catch.

For more information about recording your angling catch returns, including how to record your returns online, visit:

Bag limits

Salmon, sea trout and brown trout

There are no specific bag limits or minimum sizes for brown trout except for the Foyle and Carlingford catchments regulated by the Loughs Agency. Fishery owners have their own bag limits and minimum sizes. Check the information provided on the permit you buy from the fishery owner.

In general, a bag limit of four brown or rainbow trout may be taken from the stocked fisheries. The minimum size of fish that may be taken from stocked fisheries is 25.4cm.

In the Loughs Agency area, four brown trout or any sea trout (under 40cm) may be taken on any one day.

As salmon stocks are declining across all North Atlantic countries there are limits on the number of salmon that may be retained.

Salmon limits in Loughs Agency area.

There is catch and release for salmon at all times on:

In fisheries in Loughs Agency area:

  • from the opening of season to 31 May, one salmon or any sea trout (over 40cm) on any one day and up to five during this period may be retained
  • from 1 June to the end of season, two salmon or any sea trout (over 40cm) on any one day and up to a total of 20 during this period, may be retained

Catch and release in DAERA area

Catch and release applies to all salmon and sea trout caught at any time in the DAERA licensing area. Lough Melvin is the only exception.

On Lough Melvin, an angler can get two salmon tags for the season, allowing two salmon to be retained from 1 February until 30 September.

You can continue to fish after you have obtained your bag limit but all fish must be returned immediately alive and unharmed to the water.

It is illegal to sell rod caught salmon in the DAERA area.

Pike

All pike weighing 4kg or more must be returned alive and unharmed to the water. You can retain one pike per day under four 4kg.

In the Foyle and Carlingford catchments these limits also apply. However, one specimen pike captured in a river weighing nine kg or more or captured in a lake weighing 13.6kg or more may be retained on any one day.

Other fish species

There is a daily bag limit of four coarse fish (except pike). This means that anyone who catches more than four coarse fish (except pike) in a day while angling must return the fish to the water from which it was taken without avoidable injury.

Anyone who catches a coarse fish (except pike) which is greater than 25cm measured from the tip of its snout to the fork or cleft of it tail, must return it to the water from which it was taken without avoidable injury.

It is illegal for anyone to have more than four coarse fish at any one time caught by rod and line or hand line for use as bait in fishing for pike.

Ground baiting is permitted on most coarse fisheries.

Catch and release

Fish taken from the water are stressed and possibly exhausted. If you follow catch and release guidance, most returned fish will survive to spawn or grow bigger.

By following the guidelines at all times you can be confident that any fish you release will have a very high chance of going on to spawn successfully.

  • always use small single hooks
  • don’t use trebles
  • use barbless hooks (barbed hooks can be made barbless by pinching the barb with pliers)
  • use a strong rod and line to subdue a fish quickly
  • consider the strength of flows and the size of fish likely to be encountered when selecting the right tackle to use
  • before fishing, think about where a fish might be landed
  • keep the fish in the water and avoid beaching or dragging it up a steep bank before release
  • once hooked, bring the fish to hand or net as quickly as possible - this will reduce stress and fatigue and make sure the fish is able to recover quickly
  • keep handling time to a minimum
  • keep the fish in the water at all times as exposure to air for long periods will reduce survival rates
  • make sure your hands are wet before handling fish
  • avoid squeezing the fish
  • use pliers to remove hooks
  • If hooks are too deep and removal will lead to damage or delayed release, cut the line as near to the hook as possible
  • support the fish in the water preferably in a gentle current and with the fish facing upstream
  • be patient as recovery can take several minutes
  • wait until the fish recovers sufficiently to swim away from you
  • high water temperatures (over 21 degrees celcius) can significantly reduce survival rates, so anglers should take extra care when practising catch and release when flows are low and water temperatures are high (typical summer conditions)

Other regulations

It is illegal to use gaffs in the DAERA and Loughs Agency areas.

There are other regulations about types of fishing permitted, hook sizes, and fishing from boats, which apply across Northern Ireland. Details are available from the licensing authorities or fishery owners.

You should ask about specific rules which apply to the fishery when you are buying your licence and permit.

Angling rules in Northern Ireland

There are rules about angling methods and using bait in the DAERA Public Angling Estate fisheries. The advice below defines what is allowed in angling:

  • 'All legal methods' means any method of angling with rod and line, except a method forbidden by any provision made by statute for the time being in force
  • 'Fly fishing' means the use of a single rod, reel (including a fixed spool reel), fly line or blow line and a single cast carrying not more than three artificial or winged natural flies, but does not include the use of a bubble float together with artificial or winged natural flies
  • 'Ground bait' means any material used other than on a hook and designed to attract fish to natural or artificial bait
  • 'Maggots' means any larvae of the housefly of the Genus Musca and the bluebottle or blowfly of the Genus Calliphora and any other insect larvae
  • 'Spinning' means the use of a single rod, reel (including a fixed spool reel) and line to cast or throw an artificial or natural bait and retrieve the bait by rewinding the line onto the drum of the reel with the bait kept in motion throughout
  • 'Trolling' means the drawing of a fishing line, with one or more hooks attached, through the water from a moving boat
  • 'Worm fishing' means the use of a single hook baited with one or more earthworms

It is an offence to break the angling regulations. You could be prosecuted and fined.

There are also restrictions which apply to all angling in Northern Ireland. Check the information on the fishing permit you buy from DAERA or the fishery owner.

To read more about permitted angling methods, seasons, size and bag limits and information for each fishery, go to:

Everything you need to go fishing

 

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