Swim Magazine

What to do if you’re swimming where people are fishing

The vast majority of anglers and swimmers are happy to rub along together; after all, both share a love of the water (and together can be a powerful voice for improving water quality). Many confrontations are to do with access rights, which is an often thorny issue. But putting that can of worms to one side for another day, what is the etiquette when encountering anglers while swimming?

WORDS: Jonathan Harwood
PICTURE: Shutterstock

What are the rights of swimmers and anglers?

As there is no issue over the right to swim on beaches and in rivers up to the ‘tidal limit’ – often a long way inland – this is where best practice can be established. 

But there is no official legislation on the rights of swimmers versus anglers. The Coast Guard says it is ‘down to the owners to put down rules and regulations on a piece of land’, which for sea swimmers will usually mean the local council. 

Many councils have designated swim zones on beaches during the summer. These are closed to other watersports and boats. However, the advice for anglers is less rigid. Adur and Worthing council in West Sussex, for example, says: ‘We urge fishing is not carried out in a designated swim zone.’ 

The responsibilities of anglers towards swimmers

Without clear prohibitions one way or the other it is a question of give and take on both sides. Angling websites make it clear that resorts like Brighton are essentially unfishable in the summer due to the number of people in the water – but it is not forbidden. 

Grant Jones, the Angling Trust’s sea angling engagement manager says: ‘Anglers appreciate that the waters we use for recreational purposes are a shared resource. We are fortunate enough to live in a country with thousands of miles of coastline and inland waterways, certainly more than enough to share between various recreations.’  

Nevin Hunter, marine co-ordinator at the Angling Trust, said: ‘Anglers should take their lines in when anyone is swimming nearby.’ 

Meanwhile the British Sea Fishing website says: ‘Anglers should always be observant of who is around them and take care when casting. If an area becomes too busy the only option is to pack up and move to a new, quieter fishing mark.’ 

The responsibilities of swimmers towards anglers

But while the onus is on anglers to avoid putting others at risk, swimmers should bear in mind that anglers have a right to be there and should not be expected to disappear if a swimmer arrives on the same beach. The Outdoor Swimming Society’s code of conduct urges swimmers to ‘be respectful to other water users and visitors, including anglers, boaters, paddlers, and share the water considerately’. 

Most beaches now have designated areas for bathing, but many swimmers want to go further and may find themselves in unrestricted waters, where thoughtful anglers may have set up to avoid the crowds.  

Mr Jones of the Angling Trust puts it this way: ‘Common sense and standard courtesy should be all that is required for all users to cohabit peacefully.  

‘We certainly wouldn’t expect anglers to start casting leads into a body of water where swimmers are already present, and likewise would expect swimmers to give anglers the courtesy of not intruding on an area where angling is already underway.’ 

The different types of fishing to look out for when swimming

It also pays for swimmers to be familiar with the different types of fishing they may come across, and therefore understand the risks.  

In Bristol, for example, anglers fishing off rocks on a popular swimming route are advised not to cast or reel in when swimmers are passing. Because the anglers are fishing deep, their lines go straight down, so swimmers are not in danger as long as they give the lines on the surface a wide berth. Asking anglers to reel in could actually create more of a hazard. 

Spinning and float fishing, usually from beaches, present more of a risk, as the lines sit higher in the water. It is reasonable to expect anglers not to fish in this way when swimmers are already in the water, and reel in if they pass through. Likewise, swimmers should consider the type of fishing taking place on a beach if they arrive and there are anglers there.

Top tips for dealing with anglers while swimming

Knowing the conditions and what anglers are fishing for is useful, and one way to find out is to talk to the anglers themselves. 

Being visible is also important – coloured caps and tow floats will help anglers spot swimmers from the shore and give them the chance to reel in as they pass. 

It is not unreasonable for swimmers to expect anglers to reel in or to move on in crowded locations, but it is also important to remember that swimmers do not have an automatic right to stop people fishing. 

If you believe anglers are being unreasonable, the best course of action is to speak to a lifeguard if there is one on the beach, or to contact the council or local angling group to raise concerns. Your swim that day may be cut short, but in the longer term a cool head pays dividends.