Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Canal Chub — A Change of Sky

Thinking about how to throw some spice & variety into my canal fishing exploits after catching too many bream of late and not enough of what I really wanted, there really didn't seem to be very many alternatives but plug away till what I really wanted, finally turned up.

The corpse of a zander in the Coventry Canal. Hard to say how large at distance and in such a wide turning bay, but looked at the time to be approaching or into, low-double figures.

I thought about going after zander, because I've seen a couple of impressive corpses of zeds approaching, and perhaps surpassing double-figures, floating belly up in the local cut this summer. Both were fish that put my own canal personal best for the species to shame, but that project was shelved till the winter months when I considered another altogether more interesting and challenging late summer alternative — and that was to find and catch my first canal chub.

I've only ever seen one chub locally, and that was yet another corpse (you see a lot of dead fish in a canal!) but one dumped up the bank in a carrier bag and that could have come from anywhere. I heard from a gang of local lads who last summer regularly fished a dank and gloomy place I always pass by on the way to better prospects, but where they could while away a few hours enjoying a crafty spliff, that they'd caught a few small chub amongst the skimmers.

I though, have never hooked a chub in all the hours I've spent fishing along the miles of canal available within walking distance of home. The Coventry Canal does hold plenty of them though. Up beyond Bedworth and through Nuneaton to Atherstone, they are usually the fish that makes the winning weights in the Coventry Canal Winter League, and have been caught at specimen weights too, which makes them an even more interesting prospect to me.

Monday afternoon, I met up with Steve Philips to go fishing his local stretch of the Coventry Canal at Hartshill. It's the same pound there as it is near home, one that stretches all the way from the City of Coventry to Atherstone town, so I thought the fishing approaches and tactics necessary to succeed here, would be similar to those necessary to succeed there. So, I decided that large bread baits fished over dollops of mashed bread ground-bait, a way of fishing that catches remarkably well wherever I've employed it, would likely pot me that desired first chub, a fish that the Hartshill stretch is reputed to hold in some abundance.

Steve was wielding his new pole and sitting on a spanking new seat box fishing finely and delicately, whereas I was using a short powerful float rod and employing heavy duty 5lb line tied to big strong hooks just in case that five, or even six-pounder, put in an appearance. Despite the coarse tactics and large bait, on my first chuck I hooked a tiny roach!

Things here, were very, very different then...

This was a class of fish I seldom, if ever, catch near home. If I fish bread anywhere and for anything on my manor, then when I catch roach, the vast majority are in the pound-plus class, sub-pounders are few and far between, but 2-ounce roach are simply unheard of. I think it may well have been the smallest canal roach I have ever caught, and it took a bait as big as its own head.

Steve began to catch on a regular basis by fishing maggots — small skimmers, hand-sized roach and of course, perch. After such a surprising start, and thinking I'd likely winkle out a specimen roach or too while I waited for the inevitable interest of the chub, things took a nosedive. I got bites alright, but after missing a multitude of tardy dips and rises and slides and whatnot in the way of indications that something was present in the very shallow water along the far bank bushes, conceded that my ground-bait had attracted not the desired specimen roach and chub, but only a gang of signal crayfish.

After a couple of hours of this, I moved. Again I put in the ground-bait and cast as close as I dare to the far bank cover. Bites came almost immediately, and when one was hooked, I saw the flash of a long silvery flank, which in a canal was just too long and silvery to be anything else, and felt the familiar struggle of an angry chub. It wasn't a specimen, but a two-pounder that bent the rod well over, and would do for now, but just as I thought I'd hit the bulls-eye of my target, first shot at it, it was off the hook and away.

Undeterred, I cast again, and hooked another fish, but it was just a small skimmer that fought like a sock. Then it fell quiet and the swim seemed to die off till no more indications of anything came by. At least there were no crayfish present, and thinking back to fishing the River Blythe, where crayfish and large chub abound, and where sluggish rod top signals from crays means an absence of chub, but a sudden cessation of the same means there's the imminent prospect of having the rod pulled in the water, I thought this a good sign.

When steve hooked a fish that was large enough to pull out his elastic, I wondered if he'd hooked either a chub or a tench, but when it was banked it was the most brilliantly coloured and marked perch I have ever seen in all my experience of this highly coloured cut. I was a nice big one too, which suggests a few winter trips with lobworms to uncover a cache of even larger ones.

It's not happening!
My 'chub' swim failed to return to its early promise though, and I ended the session scratching my head in bemusement. Why had my successful approaches and tactics not worked here when they had always worked elsewhere, I wondered? What was different about this place just a few miles along the cut that made it so remarkably unfamiliar to me? These ways of mine always catch fish given patience and good timing, but they had failed to produce the goods today, and may not work there in the future should I decide to return, because something in the water has changed the entire makeup of its fish populations and their behaviors...

I suspect it might well be the obvious abundance of the dreaded signal crayfish that made the difference, and crayfish infested canals are something I have no experience of. I guess though, that I am going to have to get that experience if I really want that first canal chub in my net ...

And want it enough!

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