Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Canal Roach — Beancounting

There's a two-pound roach with my name on it swimming about in the local canals. The Oxford canal four years ago, under similar conditions with snow on the ground and by fishing a stranded hole in the ice cap threw up a fish just half an ounce under and ever since I've thought that the next bite there would be the one to break through, but though plenty of fish have come well over the pound suggesting that it's certainly possible, it hasn't happened yet.

The average weight for that stretch has been just under one-pound seven-ounces and I've never had a fish under a pound. It's tough going though. A multiple catch seems impossible — no bagging up a shoal here. One fish every now and then is what I've become accustomed to.

Lately though, the nearby Coventry Canal, a venue that round my way once had a better catch rate than the Oxford with a catch of three roach in a session possible (whoo!) but at a lower average of just under the pound, has shown a marked increase in its stamp but a lowering of catch rates. I was fishing for carp, tench and silver bream last summer but I caught two roach amongst them and found one dead in the water in the same swim. Two different fish at 1:07 and the corpse at 1:13 for an impressive, though probably misleading average of 1:09.

Wherever I fish though, the truth is that I've caught far more roach over a pound and a half than under half a pound, and that's an extraordinary fact that is contrary to my experience of any other roach fishery. However, I do use what would be seen by many as outlandishly outsized baits by comparison with what is seen as normal fare for canals so perhaps my returns are skewed?

What is true, as anyone who fishes the cuts regularly knows, is that they'll turn you into something of a beancounter. There's something about sitting in a tiny unobtrusive square between water and walkers that makes you very neat and tidy and something in the very nature of canal fishing that forces you count and measure everything from weight, measure and dimension, to time, frequency and factor, dutifully listing every number in complex accounts.

This creates a glass ceiling, though, which sheer good fortune plays no part in punching through. Luck is no longer a factor when the weight of numbers effectively limits your expectations... that old adage that practice makes you luckier doesn't apply, practice only makes you more and more efficient and here, efficiency is King. So, canal anglers see things in terms of beating targets by very small increments indeed and strictly by design. That extra half ounce makes the day and matters a jot when half an ounce wins the match and takes the pot...

I thought I'd found a hole in it yesterday. A chance for luck to deliver a prize. A large roach topped in the only clear spot for miles just as I passed by with the dogs and in just the right area for that high average weight and because the sight of topping roach is itself as rare a thing as actually catching them, it's not to be ignored so I turned back home for tackle and bait.

My float tube was missing presumed lost but packed solid with just about every float I owned so I had to rummage about to find one that would serve. I found a home-made pole float, tackled up, punched out three slices of bread into discs, made mash in warm water, and went out to see what I could get.

A small handful of groundbait was tossed into the boat track and bread fished over it. Bites usually start at the half to three-quarters of an hour mark regardless of time of year. I bait a second swim one peg along at the three-quarters mark in advance of a move at the hour and a quarter mark should no bites materialise in the first choice peg. This means dropping into the second peg right when the bites should start to arrive half an hour after baiting.

So there's an hour and a quarter spent in the first peg, three quarters spent in each of the next and they're baited on the quarter hour mark. This well-timed leapfrogging can of course continue till fish are eventually found.

The trouble is in fierce weather in wintertime, there's no bream active to keep you happy with bites so it's really only roach you wait for. That's harsh, because roach aren't nearly so common as bream nor are they so easy because their bites are so finicky, so you can sit for hours without a touch in search of them, and that was the case today.

I didn't get a single bite. After two and a half hours I knew one wouldn't come by nightfall and though canal roach do feed well into darkness I wasn't about to endure that! Then a hen mallard snagged the line around her foot and stole my only float, so it was academic...

Neat & tidy counting beans...  

I'm putting my back into the project come the thaw though. I really do believe that numbers, though they draw boundaries around expectations, do actually point at the truth of the matter and I have to believe that such high averages will in the end produce desired results when fishing for difficult to find and hard to catch specimens on venues where the truth in the form of a hill of beans is yet to be established.


  1. Jeff, you realy are starting to look more and more like a garden Knome, sat there on the side of the canal rod in hand ;)

  2. Keep going Jeff, the feeling of elation when you finally get your holy grail will be amazing, good luck, you're gonna need it mate!

  3. Hi Jeff,
    long time no speak.I'm shivering just looking at the pics of you sat there in the snow !!!!
    Your efforts to find that elusive canal '2' are certainly worthy of high marks,i'd say at least a 12 out of 10 lol.Keep going mate i'm sure your perseverance will pay off,as i know there are Roach of that size in there.
    Will have to meet up for a session nearer the city centre of your up for it.
    Tight lines,Norm

  4. There's dedication for you, but the topper would admittedly have been tempting! Why a clear hole in this weather, one wonders? You would expect the ice to be approaching an inch thick by now, was water flowing in near there?

  5. I managed to get out today, only to find a frozen canal! So its nice to see you managed to wet a line!


  6. A noble quest Jeff. It'll come and more sweeter for the effort.

  7. Well, it's a privilege to have such a chance just a minute's walk from home!

    George no flowing water, it's the local duck feeding spot, hence the tangled mallard. Norm, I'll mail you about that City excursion. Cheers all.

  8. Athough 2lb is the magical weight assigned to roach, a fish half an ounce less, is truly magnificent from that stretch of canal. It really is.

    With the odds heavily against you having caught the biggest fish there, it's a hell of a tease ! It'd drive me on too, if it was on my doorstep. Although i'm in Coventry it isn't an easy journey across the city.

  9. Mark, the canal in the city has plenty of roach in it. The stretch near Cash's is very good though it's much clearer than out here in Longford

  10. I'm looking for some advice on canal fishing as i usually fish the local fisheries but wanted to try out canal fishing as a new experience and challenge. I live in holbrooks near the Ricoh arena where would be the best local part of the canal to fish in and what's the best bait to use to catch the canal carp and other wild fish around these areas? I'm Lee by the way.

  11. Hi Lee, the Coventry Canal near you is good. Anywhere from the City to Hanwkesbury where I'm fishing in this post, has low boat traffic and offers roach, bream, tench, silver bream and perch, plus a pike and zander. Best bait for carp and tench is sweetcorn, for roach, bream it's bread and lobworm will catch both roach and perch. There's no great finesse required, the fish aren't wise to anglers because there aren't enough people fishing for them. Don't expect to bag up every session though — it's not that easy but rewarding enough to be worth persisting with.