Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Quest for Canal Carp — Sex & the Silvers

I thought I'd do the night. Get out after dark and fish through till dawn just to see what would happen, because I never have fished the canal alone those hours before, because you wouldn't, would you? All those nefarious characters roaming around slashing throats for a quid in the dark. Who'd chance it?

Well, I wasn't about to go fish one of my remote haunts. I thought a nice safe place where there was no chance of anything amiss, would do. Not that I'm scared of people at any time, I can hold my own in a bar brawl, face up to chavs in the street, no, I'm just scared of having my throat slashed for a quid in the dark. It would be messy, and though painless what with all the adrenalin pumping, most inconvenient.

The air smelled of stove smoke, not fish. I had an idea that I wanted to see if the carp would show themselves sometime in the wee hours, because the weather was perfect for their kinds of signs, being very warm, very calm, and very pleasant, and maybe I'd find out if silver bream were as nocturnal as I'd begun to believe they were.

After catching a good sized roach on three grains of corn last session, I'd decided to scale down one rig and fish a little lighter than I had, but keep the second rig heavy and with a big strong hook on it should I see a carp show, and have to cast on its nose. I thought that this would put me in with a chance of hooking and landing most any fish of a decent size that might be willing to bite by night.

I arrived at midnight to a deserted place without lurking cutthroats. It was lovely. Very warm indeed, and with a flat calm surface to the water. The waterbirds were mooching silently though, and that can be a bad thing, because it often signals that nature herself is sleeping. And the fish with her.

I needn't have worried. Runs came every hour or so, both left and right. A third were missed, bumped or simply dropped, but the ones that were hooked were well worth the effort coming out for.

First up was a tench, and another male. Not a bad fish for the cut, because boys never attain the size of their hefty lovers, do they? I think the accepted ratio is twice the size, so this fish was rather encouraging coming in at 3lbs 4oz, which if received wisdom is correct, should mean that the females could feasibly run to as much as 6 pounds or more, which is much better than I'd ever hoped possible for this canal.

After a short period of soft rainfall, which took a couple degrees out of the humid warmth, along came a mighty fast run that you would swear was from a tench or carp, but was actually a bream approaching the kind of size where they become interesting fish, rather than just snotty pests. It's encouraging to see bream of this stamp here, and though they'll probably never get really large, it's still nice to catch fish that pull back like this one did.

Canal bream can fight a bit, you know. When I struck, I was convinced I'd hooked that six-pound tench, for a few brief tens of seconds that is, till it came up to the air, and folded.

Dawn arrived sooner than expected. I'd only been out a short while but the light was coming up already. What kind of overnighter is that?

The scaled down rod began to receive a lot of small twitches and jerks, aborted runs and line bites. I thought I'd a plague of crayfish out there, or a horde of hungry fry all batting the bait around, but finally, the bobbin shot into the buzzer, and a smallish fish was hooked. I hoped it might be another big roach, not a slimy skimmer bream, but when I saw the flash of a broad, bright, silver flank, accompanied by vermillion fins, I knew I'd land a silver, if only I could get the splashy bugger in the net...

Hooray! A silver, and a big one too!

It was a new personal best, I hoped. And yep, sure enough, it was! Not by much though, only an ounce, but a one-pound six-ounce silver is a very good fish, so I was made up. Not wanting to take pictures of it in the half-light, I rested it in the big net till full light, and cast back out. Within just a few minutes, another fish was on, and it was another silver. A much smaller fish at 14 ounces, but most welcome, because it served to solve a mystery...

The PB I'd only just broken had been occupied by a fish caught spring of the previous year. It was a proper silver bream in every respect, but had certain anomolous characteristics that marked it out as peculiar individual amongst its kith and kin. They had been peas in a pod, all with the same big eye in a small head, the same soft vermillion pectoral and ventral fins, the same charcoal grey anal fins and the same smooth scales, but this one was different.

At the time I assumed the fish was a spawned out female, because it was much more compressed in the body than the others had been. She was thin, and more like a bronze bream in width than well-rounded and plump like all silvers I'd previously caught always had been. She also carried a very small amount of slime, which was most unusual. Also the fishes head and face was different somehow, more pointed than it should have been, and with a noticeable upturned snout. I put it all down to variety, and thought I'd had done with it, but it's always bothered me since.

Now I had the answer in this second silver of the dawn. Here they were again, all the same oddities, but with an extra little something solving the mystery, at last. Tubercles, rough sandpaper tubercles... It was a boy! And only the second boy I'd ever caught. The first being that strange girl.

There's not many fish can be sexed. Now silvers can be. The males have a pointed, slightly upturned snout. They are slim individuals -- she was about three inches thick, while he was little more than half of that. They have deep vermillion fins, and, they wriggle like grayling. Hah! You learn something new in fishing every day... 

You learn that silvers have either just spawned, or are about to, which is far later than I'd imagined. You learn that female silvers weigh a lot more than males do for their apparent size, flank on, because these two fish weren't so very different in length from one another, but the deep set, plump girl weighed a full half-pound more than the rakish boy, and you also learn that they aren't strictly nocturnal after all.

That I also found them outside their expected place, and outside their expected time, is a breakthrough too. I'd always thought they simply vanished come early June. Now it's clear they don't, and can be caught elsewhere, and at other times.

All in all, a very good night.

And it's not every morning after the night before, you can wangle sex into a fishing blog title, either...

I wonder if Google will be on my case?


  1. Jeff, you bugger, you're catching far more canal tench than I can muster at the moment. Don't have any silver bream but there are a few in the Somerset drains so may have a go soon. Never had one I've weighed, up to perhaps 10oz. Did catch something rather special yesterday evening from the canal though...

  2. Russel, the tenching has been a lot of fun, but the only fish I haven't caught is that blasted carp! Really pleased with the tench though, never thought there'd be so many there. Hoping for a six, now I think it's possible.

    You'll love silvers. Cute fish. I was watching them in the net hung off the side of the bank, really vigorous, and the male was in a right strop with me!

    Are your canal tench the same stamp of these of mine? You say they go up to 8 pounds round your way, be good if they did round mine...

    And I wonder what this surprise catch might be?

  3. Well a five pounder is a bloody good fish on my canal too. My biggest is 'only' 6lb 3oz so yours aren't far off. It's the Exeter canal that produces the real biggies with definite 8lbers. It's a big, deep ship canal so very different from the Grand Western Canal. And I've posted my blog now - an 8lber of my own, but a bream. And a flying one at that!

    I think I'm off in search of some silvers this weekend, the drains in Somerset are full of them, a big one will probably elude me but should locate one or two.

  4. That's what I wanter to hear! Six pounders are possible then, so that's a challenge I'll try all summer long to beat.

    I'm off over your way now, to see this big bream ...