Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Canal Silver Bream - Are We There Yet?

It seems an age since I last fished the canal seriously. A few half-hearted and unsuccessful attempts at zander and pike, but hardly any roach fishing in a season of year when it throws up the largest fish of all, is all I have done with it since November last. That it's on my doorstep is neither here nor there, I just haven't wanted to fish it. The roach of Longford Junction just around the corner from home have not topped in the evening as they often do in winter and I've seen hardly any others signs of life anywhere else on my routine walks along the towpath with Molly. It's looked most uninviting, so I haven't bothered to try.

A one pound silver bream caught last Spring

Now Spring is just around the corner I am getting interested once again. The fish are still not visible but I know that very soon the silver bream will appear and the tench will start to feed again. The silver bream are my real interest though. I will catch roach and tench too whilst searching for the silvers, that's a forgone conclusion as they can't very well be avoided, nor would I want to, but it's silvers I am after in earnest, and one to beat last year's personal best fish of a pound and five ounces in particular.

They appear around late April and disappear again by early June, but only in one particular place locally. I have never caught them earlier than the first date, later than the second, nor at at any other place than the 100 yards or so of their spring territory, and that is odd, because I fish everywhere else on the local canal, and at all times of the year, and with the same baits that catch them in springtime, so I'm in a position to state this 'curiosity of a vanishing act' of theirs, as the fact of the matter.

Where they go, I cannot say. Perhaps they don't go anywhere, but simply stop feeding, though that's unlikely because the meticulous records of every silver bream caught and accurately weighed since I first found them back in spring of 2009, show they are putting on weight at the rate of three to four ounces per year. Perhaps they simply become preoccupied with feeding upon a diet of something naturally occurring the rest of the year?

The canal pound I fish is very long indeed, from central Coventry, all the way to the first lock at Atherstone and even includes the entire 22 miles of the Ashby Canal so they could move a very long way indeed if they wanted to. Whatever the truth, they are not caught outside the parameters mentioned on the local patch of the Coventry Canal, so it's all a bit of a head scratching perplexity.

And that's exactly why I love them so much. Why I have taken them up as a proper study.

That, and the fact that I believe that somewhere along the towpaths of the Midlands, perhaps even where I fish for them, there's a silver bream to break not just my trivial personal best, but the Nation's.

The set-ups I use on the canal for silver bream are either a single 13 foot float rod pitched on rests at forty five degrees to the water, hand held when bites are coming thick and fast, or when times are slow going and I expect very few bites, two Shakespeare wands nine feet in length perched on double rod rests with worm screws at the business end that will find a hold along most of the towpath. You can't push a normal rod rest in very many places but you only need an inch of soil for these.

The set up is always kept as small and tight as possible as canals are no place for mountains of tackle or carelessly placed rods and net poles. I sit on a folding rucksack stool by the water's edge when float fishing, on a lightweight chair on the the other side of the towpath when ledgering. I've not yet had my tackle crushed...

The terminal tackle is the same as explained in the previous post about Lemington Lakes, the one I am developing specifically to tackle the very difficult and testing large roach found in my local canals, but because some have asked for a more detailed explanation of its mechanics, why the bulk shot is where it is, why the rubber on the float is necessary, and what happens when a fish bites, I've produced a couple of illustrative pictures that will probably do a better job than words alone ever can ~

The slightly over-shot float ( Drennan 'Glow Tip' Antennae) and its behaviour at various depths across a typical canal profile. The bulk shot is placed low so that I can fish the same rod right across the entire width of the canal at will or whim, the depth set by sliding the float up and down. It behaves in the same way whatever the depth, but up the far shelf in just two feet of water it reacts faster and also indicates both direct line bites, and indirect ones caused by fish moving near the bait. Deep in the boat track it is a little slower in reaction time, and line bites are not seen so clearly.

The exaggerated lift of the float produced when a fish picks up both the bait and the tell-tale shot placed two inches from the hook. The effect becomes less and less pronounced when the distance between hook and tell-tale shot is increased, and for for obvious reasons. There are rarely any preliminaries on a short length, no dibbles or dips, the tip just shoots straight up. 

The big roach above is just about to spit the bait by the way. This is when they always do. The strike should be made a little before the float reaches the top of its travel upwards, if you are ready for it, that is! If not the float settles back down. A normal waggler set-up with a tiny tell-tale shot placed three or four inches up the line may have shown very little by this point, and the canny canal roach would be long gone by the time I'd realised I'd had a bite, if indeed I saw any indication of one, which is precisely why I'm refining this rig for them because they only have to move the tell-tale shot half an inch for the float to immediately rise in the water half an inch in response. I never wait for 'sail away' bites because roach hardly ever create them in my experience. Bream do, silver bream do, tench and carp and perch all do, but rarely roach (or crucians!) and therefore I now strike all bites as if they are roach.

To set the rig up, firstly the length of line from float to hook is made much shorter than the depth of the swim. The bulk shot is placed first and calculated to cock the float with its entire antennae showing, then whatever size tell- tale shot is necessary to very slowly sink the float is added (It is very important that this tell-tale actually sinks the float, otherwise you will find yourself fishing off bottom but not know it) Then the rig is adjusted to full depth by sliding the float up the line in increments until just the tip of the float shows and that can only be when the tell-tale is sitting exactly at dead depth and hanging on a dead straight vertical line to the float. No plumbing with extra weight is necessary, it is a self-plumbing rig by its very nature. When correctly set up the float cocks against the bulk shot, and then sinks down to its tip when the tell-tale shot reaches bottom a few seconds later. 

I have to say, it does look remarkably crude though, with all that heavy bulk shot hanging there like a string of black pearls! But the fish don't seem to mind, and in action it is anything but crude, but on the contrary, is actually hugely sensitive. At Marsh Farm last year I had three anglers standing behind me laughing out loud at the massively exaggerated bites I was receiving from the rudd who invaded my swim for a while. But, I also had three crucians that morning, and that was three more crucians than the majority of the anglers pitched up in almost every available swim around the lake were to catch the entire day, so not so crude after all. 

I have to thank one of those 'laughing' anglers, Phil Smith, for putting me onto the float in the first place though. It was his loan of one on our prior trip to Marsh Farm, and that a loan that I shotted up wrongly (or rightly!) for the crucians, that led me to develop a cunning use for it when up against the equally shy biting roach of my local canals. 


Because I am only after the big fish, and have absolutely zero interest in catching lots of the small fish when it comes to canals, the bait used is either large (18mm plus) bread discs (refined canal anglers using delicate lines, miniscule shot, microscopic hooks and tiny floats hung off the end of expensive carbon poles would laugh their heads off at what size of bread bait I do use!) or bunches of maggots, though nowadays I'm using maggots less and less because they attract far too many small perch. When using bread as bait, a whole slice of bread is roughly mashed in canal water and pitched into the central boat track, another mashed slice is pitched right against the far bank as groundbait...

Everything about my approach to canals is wrong, wrong, wrong, according to the textbooks. Three pound hooklinks (because of the tench) bulky shot, big hooks (to any 'normal' canal angler, a size twelve is something akin to a shark hook!) and large baits fished amongst plenty of very substantial feed, but in my defense I only ever seem to catch the larger fish. Do you know, on the local canals I have had as few three - six ounce roach as I've had roach over a pound and a half? Or that my average roach from the Oxford Canal a mile distant from home is an astonishing one-pound-seven, and for the Coventry Canal, a very respectable 15 ounces?  Just can't seem to break two pounds though; very nearly have, but not quite...

But one day, I will!

Yesterday I set up two wands as I expected things to be very slow. I was right. The first swim choice produced just one missed bite from the two baited lines and that in the boat track. That line never came on song though, so I upped sticks a quarter past the hour mark certain that the swim was a dud, and set up opposite the far bank brambles 50 yards along.

The same routine was followed, and right on the half hour mark I got the first bite, this time from the shallow water of the far bank shelf. The float shot in the air and stayed put, I struck and saw the silver flash of what I hoped would be a good sized silver bream. It wasn't. It was an average one pound roach, and a very welcome fish of course, but not what I'd come along for today. Unusually for a Coventry Canal roach, who are almost always fin and scale perfect (Oxford Canal fish aren't so pristine for some reason) it had ragged tail and dorsal fins.

The boat track rod was retired when the next cast to the far bank brought an immediate bite. I missed it, but the fish were there and rooting around after the mashed bread because next cast the float signaled line bites too. By this time it was almost dark and the float with its fine tip was becoming very hard to see, but with the chance that the group of fish now feeding strongly up the far bank line might include even a single silver bream, I wasn't about to leave till it was nigh invisible.

Then I hooked another 'silver flash', and once again hoped for my target species only to be 'disappointed' with another, smaller, roach. But hey, hang on! This is no roach, not with fins the colour of a strawberry, but one of the rarest fish swimming in the local canals, a rudd! Oddly, unlike the only two rudd I have ever caught before on the Coventry Canal, this one was bright silver and without a trace of the amazing golden sheen of that now ancient brace. Nevertheless, one look at the upturned mouth confirmed it as pure rudd.

So, there were no silver bream on this occasion, but it was worthwhile going out to the canal if only to break the spell of not bothering to. I can't say they weren't around though. They may well have been, as they hard to find even when they are around, and I just might have failed to catch any. We'll see soon enough. A few hours spent every now and then, and spent every few days from now till mid-April, should find them out.

PS: I made a Google enquiry about Fred J Taylor's 'lift-method' just after writing this article up and publishing it, and indirectly came across an article by none other than Peter Drennan himself about using his 'driftbeater' floats as refined lift-method indicators. He had already arrived at my solution years ago!

Read this ~ Driftbeaters and the Lift Method

The technique is not only identical in every respect, but also the logical way in which it set up is too. The only difference is one of emphasis, his is for big, bold biting fish, mine is for relatively small, very shy biting ones, But it just goes to show, there's nothing new in fishing, just the old and trusted, readjusted! 


  1. Your tale of the Silver Bream that come and go reminded me of the Bream that used to turn up( to spawn) behind Hackney marshes on the tidal Lea.Close season applies...But Id go down and just watch them in the flow. Apparently they liked that spot coz of a particular river weed.The Lea Navigation, on the other hand seems pretty fisheless apart from the odd big fish.
    Graet Blog Jeff

  2. That hair cut is very fetching Jeff haha.

    I will be looking to come up and have a dabble on your piece of the cut soon mate. I will drop you a line nearer the time . I particularly fancy GRASSY BEND.


  3. This the kind of rig I have been planning to combine with the tried and trusted 'match' style of old, so it'll be interesting to see if it increases the number of bigger fish

    Your piece has given me just that extra bit of confidence to go out and try it this weekend...you knew!

    An engaging post, again


  4. John, I suppose you know all about this ?


    Baz. I'll come along if you don't mind?

    George. Give it a go. It's a sod to get right, but worth all the effort.

  5. Has anybody targeted these fish using more conventional canal tackle (pole,light lines,small hooks) ?
    I've caught lots of silver bream and rudd on the Coventry Canal,but mainly in the more urban area's.
    Sorry about the "anonymous" ID,but not a fan of Googles prying eyes.

  6. Something else just occurred to me ref the lack of sailaway's...

    The weight of the tell-tale is probably making the fish let go when they feel it hence the need to strike when the float is on the up

    This was noticeable when I used to fish for gudgeon (yes, really, great fun actually) on a short whip. An olivette as a bulk would not achieve the same good bites as would a string of small shot

    Also a very light caster rig in the boat channel (max 4 or 5 no.10's) would result in resounding sailaways from roach of 6oz plus after, usually, a couple of brief bobs of the float but it needed to be fed for quite some time before it would work, sometimes 3 or 4 hours

    More to ponder


  7. Hi Jeff I cant get to the link..


  8. John, it works for me if I copy and paste it. If not for you, then here's the video on youtube


  9. Anon. I caught both previous rudd on the courtaulds stretch so that makes sense about moving nearer the City for them, never saw any silver bream there though

    George, the tell-tale shot probably is felt by the fish as it's only a short distance from the hook. Increase the distance and the bites become far less strident and will often react more like ordinary bites, however, the roach still spit the bait! It's a compromise between getting huge indications that are hard to hit or soft indications that are equally difficult. A few small shot may well work better than one a single No1 shot though

  10. Jeff.That's the very exact place that I meant. They have moved the car though!It really is Nice down there( about 1 mile from the main Olympic stadium).

    Urban but very natural

  11. John, have you seen the big bream in the Regents Canal at Copperfield Road, Mile End? I watched them once around 2006 time. Very, very large for a canal, but they were the only fish in there, nothing else was seen and it was gin clear right across. They must have been getting on for double figures.

    They might well be by now...

  12. Jeff I know that stretch of the Regents and a workmate of mine ( local to Bethnal green) fished there in the summer. He has told me stories of big bream on sweetcorn.

    Maybe the Bream used to take a cut down the Hertford Union canal, pop into the Lea Nav at Old ford lock and , swim around the Bow back waters to get into the Old Lea( the clip was shot there) to spawn.

    Quite an olympic feat in its own right!

    I have spent two years searching out this river in the heart of the east end of london...But even with the Olympic clean up. There are not many fish in there.

    But Ill keep searching...I cant help it and its an incredible river.And Im local