Game Fishing vs. Coarse Fishing: Key Differences Explained

Game Fishing or Coarse Fishing? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your Fishing Adventure.

Guides & Information
Simon Palmer

Published: May 16, 2023

Game fishing and coarse fishing are popular angling practices that captivate fishing enthusiasts worldwide. While both types of fishing involve the pursuit and capture of fish, they cater to different objectives and techniques. This article aims to examine the key differences between game fishing and coarse fishing, providing anglers with the knowledge necessary to decide which style best suits their preferences.

Game fishing typically targets species from the Salmonidae family, such as salmon and trout, which are highly regarded for their taste and thus caught for consumption. In contrast, coarse fishing embraces a wide variety of fish species that are generally regarded as inedible and caught for entertainment purposes rather than consumption. As a result, coarse fishing primarily follows a catch-and-release model, ensuring the fish are returned to their habitat unharmed after the thrill of the catch.

The distinction between these two angling styles also extends to the techniques employed during fishing. Game fishing predominantly utilises fly fishing methods, requiring an intricate balance of skill and finesse, while coarse fishing can involve a range of equipment and techniques, such as float nets, allowing for greater versatility in the angling experience. By understanding the differences between game and coarse fishing, anglers can better align their fishing activities with their preferences, goals, and values.

Game Fishing vs Coarse Fishing: Definitions

Game Fish

Game Fish

Game fish are a category of fish that are sought after for sport and are part of the Salmonidae family. They are usually caught with the intention of consumption and are considered to have high palatability and good table quality. These fish can be found in various water habitats, including rivers, lakes, and the sea. Some common examples of game fish include salmon, trout, and char. These species are prized by anglers for the challenge they offer as they are known to put up a good fight when being reeled in.

In the United Kingdom, game fishing predominantly focuses on three species – salmon, brown trout, and sea trout. Anglers often use particular equipment and techniques tailored to these specific fish, such as fly fishing.

Coarse Fish

Coarse Fish

Coarse fish is a term that originated in the UK, referring to freshwater fish that are not considered part of the Salmonidae family. These fish are typically viewed as inedible or requiring a significant amount of preparation to become edible due to their coarse scales and tough meat. The majority of coarse fishing is catch-and-release, meaning that the fish are returned to the water after being caught.

Some common examples of coarse fish include carp, pike, and bream. Anglers that target these species need to use different methods and tackle compared to game fishing, often employing various baits and lures depending on the target species.

Coarse fishing can be further divided into subcategories focusing on specific fish, such as carp fishing or pike fishing. This allows anglers to tailor their methods and tackle even more specifically to their targeted quarry.

Both game and coarse fishing are popular pastimes in the UK, attracting a variety of participants from beginners to seasoned professionals. While game fishing focuses on the pursuit of fish with the intention of consumption, coarse fishing aims to catch and release inedible or less desirable fish. Both forms of angling provide the opportunity for active engagement with nature and honing one’s skills in a rewarding and sometimes challenging environment.

Key Differences in Species and Habitats

Common Game Fish Species

Game fishing targets fish species that are often sought for their meat, which is considered more palatable. Some common game fish species include:

  • Trout: Commonly found in freshwater, they are highly prized by anglers for their taste, and there are several species, such as brown trout, rainbow trout, and sea trout.
  • Salmon: Known for their long migrations, salmon are highly sought after for their delicious flavour. They are part of the Salmonidae family.
  • Char: A cold-water fish that is closely related to both trout and salmon, with distinctively colourful markings.

Common Coarse Fish Species

Coarse fishing involves catching fish species that are not commonly eaten, and the focus is more on the skill and technique of angling. Some of the most commonly targeted coarse fish species include:

  • Carp: Found in different varieties such as common carp, crucian carp, and mirror carp, these are known for their large, hard scales and tough meat.
  • Bream: A freshwater species with a deep body and a distinctively long dorsal fin; they are known for their shoaling behaviour.
  • Pike: A predatory fish known for its sharp teeth and elongated body, pike can grow to impressive sizes.
  • Eel: This long, slender fish often hides in cover and can be caught in canals and rivers in the United Kingdom.
  • Perch: A small, predatory species with distinctive red fins that is commonly found in freshwater habitats.
  • Roach: A silver-scaled fish with a flat body, roach are abundant in bodies of freshwater throughout the UK.
  • Tench: Known for their thick set bodies and olive-green colour, tench are found in slow-moving waters.

Other coarse fish species include barbel, chub, dace, rudd, gudgeon, zander, ruffe, and grayling.


The habitats of game and coarse fish often overlap; however, there are some general tendencies. Game fish like trout and salmon usually prefer cold, fast-flowing rivers or streams, whereas coarse fish such as carp or bream are more likely to be found in slower-moving waters, lakes, and ponds.

In the United Kingdom, coarse fishing is popular in canals and slow-moving rivers where a variety of fish species can be found. Anglers can use various techniques, such as float fishing, feeder fishing, or ledgering, based on the habits and preferences of the fish they are targeting.

Ultimately, understanding the key differences between game and coarse fish species and their preferred habitats is essential for success in angling.

Fishing Techniques and Tackle

In this section, we will discuss the different techniques and tackle used in game and coarse fishing. We will cover aspects such as rods, reels, flies, lures, bait, and various fishing techniques.

Game Fishing Techniques

Game fishing primarily targets fish species like salmonids, which are typically consumed and considered high-value. One popular game fishing technique is fly fishing, which involves using a weighted line (fly line) to cast an unweighted object (a fly) to attract fish. Here are some key aspects of game fishing techniques:

  • Rods and Reels: Game fishing requires specialised rods and reels, often lightweight and durable, to manipulate the fly line effectively.
  • Flies: A wide variety of flies are used, designed to imitate insects, larvae, small fish, or other aquatic organisms.
  • Techniques: Fly fishing involves different casting methods such as overhand casting, roll casting, and various line retrieval methods to mimic natural prey movement.

Coarse Fishing Techniques

Coarse fishing targets non-game fish species, which are usually not consumed, and most catches are released after capture. The main coarse fishing techniques are float fishing, bottom fishing (legering), and lure fishing.

Float Fishing

In float fishing, the bait is suspended beneath a float made of hollow plastic, wood, or quill. Some key aspects of float fishing include:

  • Float: Different types of floats are used, such as stick floats, wagglers, and pole floats, each with unique characteristics and purposes.
  • Baits: Various coarse fishing bait types, like worms, casters, cheese, pellets, and boilies, can be used to attract fish. Some anglers also use modern bait types like method feeder pellets.
  • Tactics: Adjusting the depth of the bait, float position, and bait presentation based on the targeted species’ behaviour are common tactics used by coarse anglers.

Bottom Fishing (Legering)

Bottom fishing, or legering, involves placing the bait at the bottom of the water using a weight or ledger. Some aspects of bottom fishing include:

  • Leads and Feeders: Different types of leads and feeders, like swan shot, bomb leads, gripper leads, and inline method feeders, are used to anchor the bait.
  • Terminal Tackle: Hooks, lines, beads, and swivels are vital components of the terminal tackle for bottom fishing.
  • Baits: Worms, pellets, larvae, and other bottom-dwelling food sources are commonly used as bait in bottom fishing.

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing targets predatory fish species using artificial lures. Key aspects of lure fishing include:

  • Lures: Spinners, plugs, crankbaits, swimbaits, and soft plastic lures are popular lure choices among coarse anglers.
  • Rods and Reels: Medium to heavyweight rods and baitcasting or spinning reels are commonly used in lure fishing.
  • Techniques: Lure fishing requires constant motion, with various retrieval speeds and movements to entice predatory fish.

Fishing regulations, such as the traditional close season, may apply to either game or coarse fishing, depending on the country and specific rules. Also, the chosen fishing tackle and techniques must adhere to local laws and guidelines.

Game and Coarse Fishing in the UK

Fishing Locations

In the United Kingdom, game and coarse fishing can be enjoyed in a variety of locations, including rivers, lakes, canals, ponds, and reservoirs. Game fishing primarily targets fish from the Salmonidae family, such as trout (both brown and rainbow varieties) and salmon, while coarse fish are those species that are typically considered inedible and are caught for sport rather than consumption1.

For game fishing, popular spots in England and Scotland include freshwater rivers, streams, and lochs. Coarse fishing enthusiasts can find ample opportunities in the extensive network of canals, as well as commercial fisheries and natural bodies of water throughout the UK.

Fishing Regulations

Across the United Kingdom, strict regulations govern both game and coarse fishing to protect fish stocks, habitats, and the environment. Anglers must obtain a rod licence from the respective environment agency for England, Scotland or Wales, depending on their location2. This licence is required for anyone aged 13 or above and is available in various durations, from a day to a full year.

In addition to licences, anglers should be aware of catch limits, size restrictions, and any prohibited methods or baits in their chosen location. Some areas may enforce additional regulations, such as the use of specific bait types like maggots or the prohibition of certain lure materials.

Fishing Seasons

Fishing seasons in the UK vary depending on the type of fish and, often, the local habitat conditions. Game fishing seasons, such as those for salmon and trout, typically revolve around the species’ spawning patterns and vary between regions. For coarse fishing, the traditional season extends from June 16th to March 14th, with a closed season between March 15th and June 15th to protect fish stocks during their breeding period.

However, modern commercial fisheries and stillwaters often stay open for fishing all year round. Anglers should always check local regulations and adhere to established seasons to ensure the sustainability and welfare of the fish populations they target.