A winding river

Fishing at any type of venue is a pleasurable experience, but river fishing is in a class of its own. Learning how to fish a river is truly exciting. There is something just very magical about the whole river experience.

I think for me it is the tranquility, the wildlife, and the not knowing what you may catch. Although you can have a good idea of what fish are out in front of you, you never really know what might be lurking in the depths.

In the UK we have some absolutely stunning rivers winding their way through our picturesque countryside. I’m lucky enough to have the river Nene and the Great Ouse both on my doorstep. Both rivers make for some great fishing with some really nice weir pools and mill ponds dotted along the way. I do love a weir pool!

If you are new to angling then a river can seem a bit daunting, with so many different areas, different depths, and different features. Do you fish in the deep water or the shallow parts? Is it worth baiting up on a river? Do you float fish or ledger or even fish with a feeder? These are all questions that I shall answer in this post.

Hopefully, I can simplify things and give you a few ideas on how to fish a river.

What Licenses Are Needed To Fish A River

Like with all fishing before you even put a line in the water you will need the appropriate tickets and licenses required to fish.

Do I Need a Rod License for the River?

The simple answer to this question is YES you most definitely do need a rod license to fish a river. Like with all still waters and mainland waterways in England a rod license is needed to go fishing. Check this post out on rod licenses to find out how to purchase one, it really is simple to do.

The standard rod license covers you for 2 rods, if you want to use a 3rd you will have to buy a second license to cover it. The UK rod license isn’t a one-off purchase, you will have to renew it every year you intend to fish.

Will I Need Any Other Tickets To Fish a River?

The chances are you will also need a club ticket/book. Almost all of the river is either private property and no fishing allowed or run by a fishing club. If you can find a local tackle shop in the area you want to fish they will be able to fill you in on some details. Some areas are free fishing but these are very few and far between nowadays.

Always do your homework first and figure out who has the fishing rights to the stretch of river that you want to fish.

3 fishing rods side by side on a rod pod
Any more than two rods will require an additional rod license

Where Do Fish Hang Out In Rivers?

Most rivers will be full of features where the fish are likely to be hanging out, but which features are worth a cast or two?

Over Hanging Trees

Overhanging trees are always well worth a cast. Fish such as chub, barbel, carp, and pike are particularly partial to residing in these kinds of places. Usually providing a bit of slack water to rest up in off the main flow of the river. The trees will also provide shelter from predators making it a bit of a safe haven.

Try trotting a float as close to the tree as possible or cast a feeder just upstream of it. This will allow the contents of the feeder to be washed downstream under the tree. All these kinds of features are also worth a cast if you are lure fishing. Pike and perch love a bit of cover.

The River Margins

The margins should never be ignored when trying to suss out how to fish a river. Both the near side and the far side margins are likely to hold fish. Quite often there could be a small deep channel along the margins that fish use to navigate up and down the river.

More often than not grasses, shrubs, and reeds will overhang the margins providing adequate cover for the fish to hide in. Always approach a swim gently underfoot being sure not to spook any fish in the nearside margins.

Weir Pools And Mill Ponds

Weir pools and mill ponds really are great places to catch fish, especially in the summer months. Due to the cascading water coming over the weir gates or through the mill gates these spots have good oxygen levels in the water. This makes them popular places for fish to gather in the warmer months when other stretches of the river may have low oxygen levels.

Literally, all species of fish can be caught in these pools, and can provide awesome sport. Also very good for predator fishing with lures and spinners.


All types of vegetation provide cover for wary fish lurking in the water. Lily pads are an awesome feature if you are lucky enough to fish near any. Reed beds and streamer weed will also be a haven for all types of fish from minnows up to a big shy barbel.

Moored Boats

All rivers that allow boats will certainly have boats moored up on the banks. Like canals, these are a hot spot for all types of fish to be hiding out under. Especially good for finding perch, pike, and zander.

Concrete Structures

Other hot spots on a river include any concrete structures including bridges. I think the fish feel safer around these types of places. Instead of having to look around 360 degrees for predators they only need to look 180 degrees, giving them a sense of security. River bends are also well worth a look.

Quite often the strength of the flow will carve out deep channels on the outside edge, making it a perfect place for the bigger fish to rest up. Inlet pipes running into a river will always have fish hanging around them as well.

A bridge on a river
A bridge makes for a good feature where fish will hang out

Can I Fish a River All Year Round?

No is the answer, you cannot fish a river in the UK all year round. Here in the UK, we have a closed season between March 14th and June 16th.

This is put in place to protect the fish whilst they are spawning. Some still waters including canals do stay open through the closed season so it is always worth checking before wetting a line.

On some rivers where trout and salmon are present you are able to fish for them during this time, but be sure to check the local fishing club rules first.

What Is A Good Bait To Use On Rivers?

When it comes to what bait is good on rivers the choice is almost endless. A good river will hold a good variety of fish in it, therefore a good selection of baits will work. Some baits tend to work best in the winter, whereas other baits are more suited for the warmer months.

The best way to really find out for yourself is to get out to the bank and try them for yourself. Below are a few of my favourite ones for fishing an average river.


By far the most popular river bait is maggots. Maggots will catch you literally every fish in the river. As a general all-rounder they really can’t be beaten. All tackle shops sell them and you can even buy them online now as well.


Another old favourite is the mighty worm. Worms aren’t quite as versatile as maggots but they will certainly catch many different fish. Worms can be fished whole or chopped in half, or chopped up and used in ground bait. Fish such as perch, small pike, zander, chub, tench, bream, carp, and eels are all quite partial to a good juicy worm.

Bread And Sweetcorn

Bread and sweetcorn are both good cheap baits that are readily available from all supermarkets. Both cheap and plentiful you can get a good days fishing for the cost of a few quid. Bread in particular is a good bait that can be used in several different ways. Using bread I would expect to catch fish such as roach, rudd, dace, bream, chub, carp, and even tench.

Hemp And Tares

Hemp and tares are great bait for bagging up on silverfish. You can buy your hemp raw and boil it up yourself to keep the cost down. Hemp is very fiddly to hook, for this reason, use it as your loose feed and the tares as your hook bait. The kind of fish you can expect to catch using these are roach, rudd, dace, skimmers, and small chub.


Slugs to me are my go-to bait for summer chub. Find yourself a few overhanging bushes in some water that has a bit of pace, then plop a free-lined slug underneath it. The chub find it hard to resist the sound of the slug plopping in the water. Another bait that works well in this way is luncheon meat. Tench and barbel also love a bit of meat.

A big black slug on some grass
Slugs are one of the best baits for river chub

Obviously, there are plenty more baits you could use for river fishing, for me personally though these are my go-to baits.

Is Night Fishing On Rivers Any Good?

Night fishing on rivers can be a hugely rewarding way of tackling them. I do most of my night fishing in the warmer months. The daytime temperatures usually tend to put the fish off feeding a fair bit, they usually tend to wake up at night when it’s cooler.

Carp, barbel, tench, and bream are generally what I target when out on the river at night. Pre-baiting is highly advised if you are able to do so. I usually pre-bait for a good few nights before I go fishing. This really does seem to make a big difference and is well worth considering.

In the warmer months, I don’t bother with a bivvy, just a decent brolly will suffice. I only use this in case there is a bit of rain in the night and it generally keeps the morning dew off you.

What Techniques Are Good For River Fishing?

There are 3 main techniques I use on a river, float fishing, feeder fishing, and lure fishing.

Float Fishing

Float fishing on a river has got to be one of the nicest ways of fishing there is. Trotting a stick float downstream and catching a selection of silverfish is simply idyllic for me. Get yourself a light match rod around 13ft and a reel to match, about a size 3000. Some 4lb mainline stick floats, some weights, and some 2lb hook to nylons and away you go.

Using a centrepin reel is another nice way of trotting a float downstream instead of a fixed spool reel. When shotting your line (putting the weights on) be sure to only leave a small bit of the float showing. This will make your float more sensitive, making it easier to register the smallest of bites. Believe me, it makes a difference.

Feeder Fishing

Feeder fishing is another good way of fishing on a river. Feeder fishing involves the use of a swim feeder. A swim feeder is basically a good way of getting your loose feed or groundbait down to the bottom of the river exactly where you want it. 

The problem with a river is they generally have a bit of a flow to them. So when you throw any loose feed in to attract the fish you have to try and judge where to throw it in so it lands near your hook bait. This can sometimes prove a bit tricky. The swim feeder will pretty much dispose of your loose feed on the bottom right next to your bait.

I use just two types of feeder on a river, a cage feeder and a maggot feeder. A cage feeder is an open-ended type of feeder that is primarily used for groundbait. Just be sure to not squash the groundbait in too hard, remember you want it to fall out of the cage.

A maggot feeder is an enclosed plastic cylinder with little holes all over. These are designed for maggots. Just fill them up and cast them out. The maggots will naturally wriggle out of the holes in the feeder when it hits the water.

Lure Fishing

There are many different ways of presenting lures on a river but my favourite by far is dropshotting. Drop-shotting is an awesome way of fishing those hard-to-reach places. The beauty of using the drop shot method is you can fish one spot as long as you like without having to retrieve the lure. This is handy if the fish are residing on the far bank or by any structures.

To save me having to write down how to drop shot, just check out this article on drop shotting for perch.

A soft plastic fishing lure
Lure fishing is a great way of fishing on a river

To Conclude

I hope these tips and techniques on how to fish a river help you put a few more fish on the bank. Fishing a nice quiet stretch of the river really is hard to beat. To me commercials and such just don’t have the same appeal as a nice quiet river.

The variety of fish, the wildlife, and the stunning countryside surroundings are usually just perfect.

Tight lines and enjoy your fishing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need a License to Fish in a River?

Yes, in the UK, a rod license is required to fish in rivers. This license covers up to two rods, and if you wish to use a third, you’ll need to purchase a second license. These licenses are not one-off purchases and must be renewed annually.

Where Do Fish Typically Hang Out in Rivers?

Fish in rivers tend to gather around features like overhanging trees, river margins, weir pools, mill ponds, vegetation like lily pads and reed beds, moored boats, and concrete structures like bridges. These areas provide shelter, food sources, and ideal conditions for different fish species.

Can I Fish in Rivers All Year Round?

No, in the UK, there is a closed season for river fishing from March 14th to June 16th to protect fish during their spawning period. However, some stillwaters and canals remain open, and in some rivers, fishing for trout and salmon is allowed during this period.

What Are Some Effective Baits for River Fishing?

A variety of baits can be effective in rivers, including maggots, worms, bread, sweetcorn, hemp, tares, and slugs. Maggots are particularly versatile, attracting almost every fish species in the river. The choice of bait can depend on the season and the specific fish species targeted.

Is Night Fishing in Rivers Productive?

Night fishing in rivers can be very rewarding, especially during warmer months when fish are more active at cooler temperatures. Target species for night fishing include carp, barbel, tench, and bream. Pre-baiting the fishing spot for several nights before your session can significantly increase your chances of success.

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