Saturday, 21 March 2009

The canal starts to reveal its secrets...

An old boy once said to me in passing, 'crack the canals boy, and you can fish anywhere...'

Well, this canal roach campaign of mine, now in its third month, had taught me next to nothing
. It did not seem to matter what I did to improve matters, the only thing it seemed essential to do, was to cast a lobworm to some random spot, and wait for bites. So long as the worm stayed on and a fish devoured it, I would eventually catch the roach that I was after. The weather conditions, the temperature, the time of day, the depth of water, the proximity to cover, groundbait or not, hooklength, hook size, and the whole gamut of the this and the that, that elsewhere does influence matters, here seemed irrelevant. The fish would turn up when they turned up, and nothing I could dream up would make the slightest difference. Indeed, if I had cast twenty rods and manned them, I could have handled it. Fifty even. So long as I could reach the one that developed a bite then it would have been OK, and I would, with so much data coming in, perhaps learned something useful.

Actually I did learn something - and the more I thought about it, the truer it seemed to be. Canals are essentially featureless, at first glance. They consist of very long lengths of narrow waterway without features excepting those on either bank - a deepish boat track down the middle with shallow shelves either side of varying width. So, we have three places to cast - near, middle and far. However, I had began to understand that this was not how the fish saw things!

I had started to see, or rather get the inkling, that the fish were actually territorial and had strict patrol routes and lay up areas. The stretch that I had been fishing contained larger than average roach, and I imagined that area they were caught from was certainly defined by a lock at one end and a possibly a resident gang of zander at the other. Of course this might not be exactly the case and the larger roach may well be sprinkled like currents in a bun throughout the entire length of the canal, but I also thought to myself that to think like this was going to be unproductive.

I decided to adopt a different approach. To explore the canal properly, and find out how these fish lived, I had to start float fishing and explore the chosen pegs carefully, baiting up lines, just as match anglers do, and fishing over those baited lines in rotation. This way I would find out which fish were where, and which fish were at which depth.

I went well away from my usual stretch and fished at Ansty, at a beautiful stretch lined with reeds on both near and far banks. I put out a legered lobworm, and then lightly baited two lines with black canal mix and a sprinkling of white maggots, one near and one far, fishing the shelves. I set up the float rod and plumbed the depth carefully. I fished, and nothing usual!

So, I moved. This swim, I thought, would be the same as the last in terms of depth, but I soon found out that my near line was actually rather deeper than I had thought, no shelf to speak of, so I reset the tackle. It turned out to be a good five feet from float to bottom shot, deeper than any part of the canal I had ever come across. As soon as I got the tackle balanced just so, and the depth just right, I got a bite and hooked a fish which I promptly lost. It felt quite a decent fish, and I was expecting on maggot, tiddlers.

In went a little more bait and I had more tentative bites, and then a boat passed through and temporarily killed the swim. I rebaited, and waited. Passing boats are not a problem on canals, so long as the traffic is reasonable - the groundbait is dispersed of course, but I'm sure the particles caught up in the swirling waters are something of an attraction to fish. If you want the boat to avoid your bait line then hand signals ahead of time usually are sufficient to have the boat person steer where you want them, and actually, this practice tends to create an exchange of pleasantries. It's a pain to have to retrieve carefully placed leger baits of course, but as the summer is coming and boat traffic will peak, I think back leads are going to have to be used.

Twenty minutes later the fish returned and I hooked another which bumped off after 30 seconds, and before I saw it. I had no idea what they were, spring tench perhaps, or my target, the roach. All I knew was that unless I actually landed one I'd never know and so it became imperative that I did.

The bites continued, and regular sprinklings of bait kept them coming, but they were slow affairs and proved hard to hit. The feeding spell was waning and I thought it would end with myself still clueless. After quite a spell of inactivity I got another positive bite and hooked a fish, that to my surprise and delight, was a respectable perch. This one would be landed! It was, and weighed a solid one pound and four ounces. Its a shame that I'd lent my trusty Olympus to Judy's daughter for use on her school trip, because I had to use my phone to take a crappy evening picture, holding the fish up to the weak rays of the setting sun to catch enough light to avoid pixel death...

Of course all the other bites and lost fish were almost certainly perch too, and it seemed I had located, through the application of a little bit of good angling practise, a perch hole. The lost fish and missed bites could be attributed to the wrong hook in too small a size. I was using just a narrow gape size 12 for the double maggot, when I really needed a wide gape size 10 for such fish. You live and learn. I tied on the suitable hook and carried on into darkness, but from that moment on, nothing doing...It didn't matter, I'd finally learned something useful about these maddening waters...

I do believe the old boy was right.

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