Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Answers, answers, bloody answers...

It's that time of the year when a coarse angler reflects upon the season past, what was achieved, what was learned and what went wrong. It's best to start with what went wrong I think, because with fishing more goes wrong than right in the normal run of things
, so, I ask myself why did I fall in, wreck a camera, lose a run away carp, suffer an avoidable breakage with a big barbel, and the like, but, these are the easy to answer kinds of things that go wrong, because they are always your own fault, cannot be attributed to anyone or anything else and are down to stupidity, plain and simple. All the above could have been avoided with a little forethought and attention to detail.

The things that go wrong that are hard to answer are the subtle little things that could have made all the difference. Such things as why did I persist in fishing the far bank ledge of the canal in the middle of the deep freeze, albeit catching the odd but on the whole comparatively large roach, when the deeper boat track would have held far more of the same large roach? And for that matter why did I only catch relatively large roach at that time and none of the more numerous fish under a pound in weight that I've caught since the advent of Spring? Was it because I persisted with the ledge rather than the boat track and since Spring have persisted with the boat track and avoided the ledge? Was it because only the big roach feed in Winter and they all feed now? Was it because...........................?

These are the kinds of questions that pour unchecked from the open spool of my mind, falling to the floor in a birds nest tangle of other questions about the very nature of my wild quarry and the place they have no choice but live in.

The first answer is that I have certain dearly held misconceptions that fish enjoy the safety of cover, or rather I held it to always be the case that cover was overhanging bushes, reeds beds, and the like and consequently I always aim for a mark, for some place that looks somehow fishy. However, as I have lately found out, cover for the canal fish is an entirely different thing, and not what we might like to imagine at all. Cover for shoal fish is wherever the shoal as an entity feels secure, and that security is an ever changing, constantly monitored state of affairs that strictly governs how the individual members of the shoal behave at all times. I now know it to be true, because my spring catches prove it to be the case, that roach do feed better in the middle of the canal than they do along the margins and the reason is simply because they feel less vulnerable there. This does not mean for one moment that roach will not hang out right under the tow path because I have observed lately that they indeed will.

Recent conditions have seen very clear water in the early morning and bright angled sun shining from a clear blue sky, conditions that have revealed some startling truths about the fish I have been pursuing. Because the morning sun throws shade into the water here right under the towpath bank and throws larger areas from the background vegetation, and because I can actually see right to the bottom in the shade, and against the relatively dark blue of the sky, I have been able to observe shoals of roach loitering. They are near the bottom and number usually about ten to thirty individual members in a loose grouping with no particular orientation. Most of the fish are around the six ounce mark but some are far larger. Some of these shoals are composed of larger fish on average than the others, with some containing many fish that are well above the pound with the odd individual beyond the two pound mark. There are far more large roach in the canals than you would ever imagine, that much is clear, but through observing their natural behaviour, their reactions toward my presence and towards foodstuffs dropped in front of them, it is plain to see why canals are not rated as big roach venues.

First of all, you can forget about having the roach come to you because they hold up in an area and don't move away from it. If they are spooked they will disappear and then reform in exactly the same place just a few minutes later. They will still be in the same general locality later in the day and probably the next, but perhaps a few yards further out, or over on the far bank, but they don't move left or right any considerable distance because that would mean encroaching upon the territory of the next shoals along the cut. They only move along when all the other shoals in a chain right along the whole length of the cut move too. Roach have manners, they don't intrude.

Getting close to them is almost impossible. Stand over their heads and they will flee, creep up on them and they will stay but slowly vanish. Inch toward them with the utmost care and attention, making no sound and casting no shadow and they will still flee, because somehow they actually get the sense of you even though they cannot, you would think, see or hear you.

To test their reactions to food you must stand at least ten feet distant to stand any chance of avoiding their radar, but as the single chunks of corn, or morsels of bread or solitary maggots fall through the water you will see an immediate reaction that will not exactly fill you with confidence. The fish, that have up till now been just hanging out in the shade, as a body, move. Some will flee in panic, the biggest fish just saunter off to deeper water and some individuals investigate the matter. The never large, never small fish that do the testing will nudge the bait, and then usually leave it well alone. On rare occasions one will actually take a grain of corn, but I have not yet seen any good reaction to bread, and as for maggots the reaction is usually one of the entire shoal vanishing immediately.

Whatever you put in front of them, they spook and then reform in the same place a few minutes later utterly ignoring the free breakfast you have carefully prepared for them...

And which now lies beneath them.

No wonder they are so bloody difficult to tempt onto a hook! How I have caught any at all is a mystery, how I managed to tempt some of the larger wiser fish is beyond my reckoning. These fish are equipped with a sense of survival that is so far advanced that they are all but uncatchable, indeed at the present time they have become so hard to catch that I have all but given up on them, regarding my canal roach campaign as a lost cause.

However, if I know one thing about canal roach it is that this state of affairs will change soon. Something will happen that makes them want to eat anything they can find, and with complete abandon, and they will continue to do so unless you lose a fish or return one just caught to the shoal, or someone drives, as they often do, a loud motorbike down the towpath, or a helicopter flies past high in the sky, a pike appears, or a passing dog farts audibly...

It seems that any small thing that happens can put them off, and you will never know, or figure, what it might be. Indeed the coarse examples I have given of things that spook roach probably don't in isolation. I am beginning to believe that they know, or at least twig soon enough that you are there, and after them, no matter what you do to disguise the fact.

The following statement is true ~

The only angler I have met on the canal, and I talk to all I meet for the tit bits of info they might impart, who has actually caught a roach in it, is me. The only other angler I know of who has caught one is John, my mate, and that was because I took him to where they were, and only because on the day he managed to trick a couple into taking single maggits on the drop and hooked them only because he struck as he saw the bait enter the mouth and quickly enough to catch hold before they could spit them out again. And one of these turned out to be a rudd! If he had been fishing blind he would not have seen the slightest indication of a bite...!

I think I preferred it when I was fishing blind, without any prior knowledge. The answers make questions that make answers that make questions. They are at it like bunnies.

However, I am confident that one day it will all fall into place. That I will crack it. The one good thing about all birds nests no matter how horrendous they appear to be (even my mental birds nest about wild roach) is that they are emphatically not knots, but are only overlapping loops, and can be unpicked with infinite patience and toil, always coming cleanly undone if you can avoid the temptation to undo what you think is a knot by passing a loop through another loop and actually creating a knot, or in desperation cutting the line, and starting over.

Answers, answers, bloody answers...

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