Sunday, 29 April 2012

Canal Roach & Bream - A Gentleman's Exchange

A rather good blog appeared on the local scene last February. 'Float, Flight & Flannel', by George Burton is a fishing/wildlife blog that held an immediate appeal to me because George fishes the local canals for roach, as do I. George's enthusiasm arises from the fact that he is, or rather was, a match angler now entering into specimen fishing for the first time, so at every turn he encounters new problems, problems that will be familiar to anyone who stalks big fish. Consecutive blanks for instance...

I rarely blank. But that depends on what you call a blank. I call a blank any session where I fail to learn a thing, others prefer to call a fish-less session a blank, and others still call a session where fish are caught but a target is not achieved, a blank. I have so many various and diverse targets that a blank is almost impossible to achieve. I find it very hard not to break a target, even if that target is only in establishing something to my own satisfaction, so if I lose a big fish, I have learned something important and that loss will occupy my mind for days on end, in much the same way as the banking of a large fish might. True success and true failure, are rare occurrences in angling, so when I find them, I make as much use of them as possible as both lead, one way or the other, to my true target, which is consistency.

The long wait for bites at Grassy Bend, Winter of 2010/11
We finally met up, George and I, on the towpath of the Oxford Canal at Hawkesbury Junction at 5:30am and set off on a short walk to Grassy Bend, ready to do battle with the inconsistencies and vagaries of big canal roach. Grassy Bend was dubbed 'Grassy Bend' because it's a big grassy bend. A nice place to fish, with loads of legroom and wide grass verges between the towpath and the water and with an expanse of grass behind where tackle can be safely stowed, or even a bivvy erected, should I ever wish to spend a night there. And I might, because the canal here contains the largest roach of any place I know of in Warwickshire, averaging one-pound seven-ounces if my hard-earned captures there are anything to go by, and that is why we were here on this dull, cold morning.

Anyways, George is a pole angler and myself a rod angler. Naturally I set up two rods, my nine foot wands, with antennae floats and big discs of bread on the hooks, whilst George set up his pole with ultra fine end tackle, but I think with quite a large flake of bread too. My baiting regime consists of mashing one slice of bread roughly in canal water and dividing it into seven or eight small balls to spread over an area of a couple of square yards in the boat track, whereas George potted in one small ball of feed off the pole and fished directly on top of it. Both approaches had been seen to work in the past, in fact George's recent experiences so closely resemble mine that if I'd published his catches here as mine, you'd have them down as standard Idlers Quest fare. The same stamp of roach, the same quantity of that stamp, and the same complaints about boats and the seemingly insurmountable problems they pose when fishing bread.

I had my first 'bite' as I was setting up the second rod. I didn't expect a bite so soon, as the fed line usually comes to life around the half hour mark. The float had disappeared when I looked up, but nothing was caught by it, so I put it down to tow or unsunk line pulling the float under. The second 'bite' came to the next cast, and just as I was shotting up the second end rig. Naturally I failed to spot it, because the line comes to life around the half hour mark...!

I retrieved it, without hooking anything, and concentrated upon getting the second rod ready, set to dead depth for a closer or further line up the shelves in shallow water, baited and cast. Only then I recast the first rod back to the baited area in the five feet deep boat track. It bobbed up in the air, and sailed away, within seconds. I hooked a long looking silver fish that came to the surface immediately. I thought it was a medium-sized zander, because it was far too large to be a roach, the only other fish that it could feasibly be. It was quite a weight, and the thought flashed through my mind when it was near the net that it actually was a roach. A three pound roach!

My legs went to jelly, and even though I was sitting down, I felt a little unsteady on my seat. Up it came, but it was only a bream... Blimey. This was the first bream I'd ever caught at Grassy Bend in all the long hours spent there. I hadn't counted on them being around at all!

My camera just cannot deal with low light on auto
I had to weigh her. She was full of spawn and looked to be new personal best for the canal. She was! Four-pounds three-ounces, and beating my previous best by three ounces. Now I know a four pound bream is of no consequence anywhere else but such fish are very, very rare on these local cuts. I've caught countless bream from the canals local to me, but just two over the four pound mark now, and I think, because I have so many targets, that one that goes over that mark, really is something to celebrate.

As for a five pounder....

Well I'm not sure that such a monster actually exists, but as with all specimen anglers, that has to be my next canal bream target, however unrealistic a target it might be!

It's high time I broke a personal best, because my fishing of late has been characterised by losing those fish, that from the unmistakable feedback transmitted through my rod top, I know full well are. It happened at Bury Hill with a pike that I was simply out of my depth with, never having hooked one so heavy that no matter what I tried, I simply could not budge her off bottom, and where I had no other recourse but hang in there and wear her down slowly and steadily. The hook pulled, which was not part of that 'plan', but is always an increasing risk the longer a fish is played. As all those who fish for big fish know.

It happened again just last weekend, when I hooked but eventually lost a fish that felt, and fought, like nothing I've ever experienced. It could have been only one of three species of fish, a bream, a tench or an eel, because the lake does not contain carp, but whatever it was, it was clear that it was too heavy not to break my modest records for any of them.

George caught a small bream just after mine, and then I had one just as small on my next recast. Naturally I thought we were in for quite a session now, with the chance of one of those big roach turning up amongst the bream, but, as always with a canal, it is tantamount to suicide to allow such a thought into your head, because when you do, the very notion brings along the inevitable...

A @£$%^&* boat!

Now truck off!
That boats kill canal bread fishing is not one of my cock-eyed theories. It is plain fact. If you carefully nurture a swim into life with the fluffy stuff, and you manage to do it well, with bites and fish coming along on a regular basis, that one feed of bread at the outset will keep the swim cooking for well over an hour. I have never gotten any further than an hour and a quarter in without a boat coming through though. Whenever they had, the swim was not simply knocked unconscious, but could not be resuscitated, and would never come back to life no matter what I tried. It was certifiably dead.

The only exception I found to this rule was when fishing very tight to the far bank, when it didn't seem to really matter at all...

The only answer I have ever found when the fish are in the track is to prepare to move just as soon as the boat is spotted coming along, which is why I take minimal equipment along. Roving around is natural to me, moving swims takes a matter of minutes, and building a new swim afresh is just as successful as building the first, regardless of the boats, so a typical three hour canal session might see me moving three or four times. I think the passing boat simply scatters the fish and the bait, though why they will not return under any circumstances to the same spot is something of a mystery.

George concurred. His past experiences were identical to mine. When we both now tried our level bests to revive the adjacent swims, as predicted, we could not. Over the next hour we got no bites of any kind, even though before the boat passed through we'd both had plenty and a few fish to show for them. The fact was established beyond reasonable doubt, which is beauty of having two or more doing similar things after similar targets, doing what is only fit and right for gentlemen anglers, and freely exchanging notes. Working alone, as I had been for four years after these canal roach, I'd found it very hard indeed to establish anything for sure. Now I think that great progress can be made over the next years and the potential of the local canals difficult and trying, but ultimately very rewarding roach fishing, finally unlocked...

If only that is, between us all, George, myself and any other gent foolish enough to want to try, we can find the key.


  1. Another great post Jeff. Interesting conclusions as well.

  2. You are dead right about the 'blank' thing. It's very rare you don't learn something by the water...and the odd occasion when you don't - that's a true blank even if a few fish are caught. Thanksfully I find such days are uncommon.

    Keep up the good work - a lovely read as always.

  3. I really enjoyed the session Jeff...sadly you had departed before I had the fin-perfect 2-3-0 roach. But was great to share ideas and identify those same challenges with someone of a like mind coming at it from a slightly different angle. Had we not been pressed for time I'm sure we would have chewed the fat for hours.

    As I said I shall keep the venue in the back of my mind for now, as (unexpected) bream are not on the agenda at the mo, and probably give it another go after the summer when I am hopeful of some serious roachy action and by which time, I would hope between us and anyone else keen to contribute, we will be closer to cracking the code

    It was very gentlemanly wasn't it?! Until you saw the boat coming at 06.25hrs when things deteriorated somewhat for a few seconds! For God's they not have beds on those things?


  4. I really enjoy your post's. Not only an enjoyable read but often thought provoking. Thank you

  5. I enjoyed your with beautiful pictures! It's great to see the nice ending.