Angling regulations (rules)

This page details regulations for anglers in Northern Ireland.

What you need

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

Buy rod licences, permits and River Bush day tickets online to fish the 91 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs' (DAERA) Public Angling Estate fisheries

You can also buy a rod licence and permit together by choosing 'Combined licence and permit'

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

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  on all fisheries within its jurisdiction.

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 the Loughs Agency  jurisdiction. 

Endorsements are available to extend these licences to both jurisdictions.

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 the DAERA jurisdiction, the game fishing season is from the 1 March until the end of October. Exceptions to this are on:

  • Lough Melvin - 1 February to end of September
  • Upper and Lower Lough Erne and all tributary rivers - 1 March to end of September
  • River Bush and tributaries - 1 March to 20 October

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 20 October

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

Salmon and sea-trout angling

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.

Glenarm River (County Antrim) and Clady River (County Londonderry). Any salmon or sea-trout retained on these waters must be tagged and the catch recorded in a log book. This applies to all sea trout over 50 centimetres and all salmon. 

Contact the local angling clubs on these rivers for more details on tag availability.

In the Loughs Agency area, there is catch and release for salmon at all times on:

In other fisheries in the Loughs Agency area:

  • from the opening of season to 31 May, one salmon or any sea trout over 40 centimetres 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 40 centimetres on any one day and up to a total of 20 during this period may be retained

It is illegal to sell rod caught salmon in the DAERA or Loughs Agency jurisdictions.

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

Trout

In the Public Angling Estate, generally 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 25.4 centimetres.

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

Private fishery owners have their own bag limits and minimum sizes. Check the information provided on the permit you buy from the fishery owner.

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 kilograms.

In the Foyle and Carlingford catchments these limits also apply. However, one specimen pike captured in a river weighing nine kilograms 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 25 centimetres 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 celsius) 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

There are other regulations about types of fishing permitted, hook sizes, and fishing from boats, which apply across Northern Ireland. For example, it is illegal to use gaffs in both the DAERA and Loughs Agency areas. Details are available from the licensing authorities or fishery owners.

Read more about permitted angling methods, seasons, size and bag limits and information for each fishery:

In addition, there are further specific requirements when angling on the Public Angling Estate:

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

More useful links

 

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