Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Canal Roach - My Quest for the Magic Two - Punch Drunk

The Coventry Canal gave up one of its secrets on Sunday afternoon, something it does every once in a rare while and when it happens it's always well worth witnessing. Most of the time the Canal is silent, opaque and mysterious and you could be forgiven for thinking that very little of any consequence lives in it. However I have been privy to a number of brief revelatory sightings of its occupants and I can tell you that there are far more and far greater fish living down there than than the very difficult fishing would ever let you imagine.

Shoaling bream swimming around just under the ice In January

Once last summer I came across an entire shoal of large bream floating lazily around in the upper layers on a sunny afternoon and last winter, just as the once foot thick ice had melted back to just an inch I saw large shoals of bream in two far separate locations on the same morning engaged in the same curious behaviour - swimming around in small groups of three or four but in a loose shoal of a hundred fish or more spread over the area of three match pegs and all with their dorsal fins touching the now transparent ice.

I learned quite a lot about canal bream from these sightings not least of which being that they don't move very far from one end of the year to the next as they are well known locally to inhabit one of the sites in summer. Sunday though, was special as it involved not a sighting of bream but an all too uncommon sighting of large roach en masse.

A winter Coventry Canal roach of a pound and a quarter

The local basin, just a few minutes walk from home, is one of my most productive winter roach hotspots. The plump and pretty fish that it allows me to catch every now and then average around the pound mark and quarter of a pound more is not unusual and though I have caught them up to a pound and a half there I have always thought that figure not quite enough, always suspecting that my catches never have told me the whole story. In the summer the surface is often dimpled all over by the activities of large mixed shoals of small fish but on Sunday morning for no apparent reason the larger roach were up top too and one shoal of these were most interesting of all as these were fish of the class I had been catching in winter and inhabiting the very same and most particular spot where I had caught the majority.

The shoal was at least a hundred strong and comprised of fish from six ounces say, and all the way through the weights and up to big enough enough to drop the jaw and quicken the pulse. I estimate the largest pair of fish to have been a few ounces over the two pounds mark, at least five or six were over a pound and a half, and twenty or so around the pound. The rest were makeweights.

This shoal was so impressive that it made even general passers by gawp in astonishment and the fish seemed unperturbed by the attention, behaviour most unlike that of your average canal roach who is usually painfully shy. It was shame I had no camera on me as it was on charge after the previous days exertions down the pit. When I went back later they'd disappeared.

This morning they were not on show as usual, but all over the place were erupting bubbles of gas that had me gagging to get out there and fish as soon as possible. I cut the dog walk short and gathered together a roaching outfit of thirteen foot float rod, small fixed spool reel, three pound line, Drennan stillwater blue float fixed to slide with a float rubber and size twelve Drennan super specialist barbed hook.

This rig was fished down the slope of the near bank shelf and all the way down to the base of the boat track with the bulk shot, which was just enough to cock the float, at 12 inches from the hook to counter excessive tow and a number one tell-tale shot, which was only just enough extra weight to actually sink it, pinched two inches from the hook. The float was then adjusted constantly to take into account the varying depths found across the cut but was always set to allow the tip to show only an inch. Bites were struck on the rise of the float as the tell-tale was lifted off bottom. Bait was bread punch and groundbait was mashed bread.

This rig, though quite heavy, is excessively sensitive and shows the delicate early bite dramatically. Strike as the float rises in the water and never wait for a sail away because soon the fish will invariably spit the bait as it registers the resistance of the bulk shot.

Home-made bread punch concocted out of an old screwdriver handle and a length of carbon cut from a broken Garbolino whip. The top section of the whip has been used for rod repairs and the first two sections were turned into a lightweight landing net handle when I found a broken handle down the canal, cut the very top off complete with screw fitment and had this slide over the top of the whip sections just like the short top section of a commercially produced high price ticket three piece landing net handle would. Waste not, want not!

I tossed in five or six walnut sized balls of mash made from just one slice of bread and began to fish fully expecting bite or two at the half hour mark. The bite came right on time and resulted in a most welcome roach of twelve ounces. I then expected to have to wait some time for the next bite but was delighted when the very next cast got a bite too, and a fish was on that if it were to be a roach would be an impressive one. Unfortunately it was only a bream of about a pound and a half.

The bites came one after the other, which is almost unheard of on the canal unless its little perch you're getting by fishing maggots. In came another bream and then a fine roach at around the pound, another bream and yet another roach to make it a brace of pounders.

Between all these six fish I was getting a bite every chuck often as the float settled, missing plenty and losing a few fish too. I have never known such rapid action on this canal. I wanted to see just how long that one slice of bread would keep the fish coming as it had produced the goods for just under an hour so far and it really seemed that this action could continue the rest of the afternoon (with very careful and meagre re-baiting as overfeeding a canal peg is usually fatal) but you know how things go, just as I thought about this a boat came under the bridge and I had to pull in and let it pass.

I knew it would kill the swim stone dead for a while, it always does. What I didn't expect was for it to totally wreck the session. I waited five minutes to have the water calm and the silt settle and then re-baited with a further slice of bread mashed in canal water as any feed still down there would have been blown away by the propeller, but they never returned and I couldn't buy a bite in the next hour and a half.

Perhaps a whole slice was too much extra feed? The skies cleared and the sun came out at about the same time, so perhaps that contributed? I don't know...

I packed up and went home in the end absolutely certain that I'd had my lot for the day.

Typical for the bloody canal and typical of bloody roach! The door opens and just as you get a foot in, slams in your face. Ah well, it was damn good fun the short while it lasted and I can always get an hour in most days.

Tomorrow perhaps?


  1. Another roach revelation from Coventry's foremost gongoozler.

  2. What the BBB is a "gongoozler" when it's at home?

  3. Gongoozler. Noun. A canal-side idler who enjoys watching activity on the canals of the United Kingdom.

  4. I would add that my gongoozling is entirely an effect of fishing and walking the dog, I am no trainspotter type watching locks open and close and who collects canalobelia as a hobby !