Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Canal Silver Bream — The Early Bird

Dawn fishing in summer is wonderful isn't it? The most romantic of all fishing experiences ever committed to print, it appears in every good book on the subject of coarse angling because there's nothing to compare. Mind you the conditions have to be just so for it to work — cold overcast or windy weather are not going to cut the mustard, I'm afraid. As a literary device it has to be conducted during a balmy spell of dead still anticyclonic weather with bolt clear skies overhead and below there must be a certain kind of billowing mist, not fog, rising off the water. Only then do we have a recipe for romance.

Approaching Bridge 11 Coventry Canal pre-dawn
Getting there by car and fishing out the boot is no good either. You have to walk at least a mile or peddle a bike six or more, in the dark, and with the rod strapped to the crossbar because arriving full of expectation right at that time when the north eastern horizon begins to glow is everything and that's only increased by the physical act of doing it under your own steam.

I knew just by opening a window on the world of midnight that thing were going to be just so by 3am and that's why I stayed awake just to arrive at the right time, because if I'd slept I might have missed it. I don't know if it makes any difference to the fishing though. There's a great deal written that it does but I find it hit and miss, sometimes the best time of day, often dead flat, nevertheless there's something electrifying about that first cast into a sud-flecked mirror surface that cannot be bettered.

It made not a jot of difference. My patent pending home-made night fishing waggler with its easy-to-see plain white peacock body and red chemical light attachment cocked and stayed cocked. Only when artificial light was no longer necessary did it finally slide away. Not the obligatory tench of dawn fishing legend and lore, nor the hoped for silver bream I'm afraid, but a nice big bronze one instead.

There's romance lost then!

Full daylight at sunrise improved matters when a few more bream were banked including one fish that makes up for the lack of what I went for because it is at least half a silver bream — what I reckon has to be a 'genuine' hybrid with its distinctive silver bream head but bronze bream body.

You might want to take a good look at its head if you're confused about what are the defining characteristics of true silver bream. That's what the head does look like with its big bulbous eye positioned almost at the top of its skull and very close to the end of the snout. There's far too many small scales on the flank for it to be confused with a silver bream though, whose scales are far larger and fewer not to mention much brighter.

Here's a simple ready-reckoning field test for true silver bream and possibly their hybrids. Hold your finger over the eye and move it up and down so that its width appears exactly that of the eye. The eye (the eye socket actually) will fit into the length of the head from end of gill plate to tip of snout from four to four and a half times over but never ever more, the distance from eye to snout is always one eye width or less and the distance from eye to top of skull half an eye width or less and those rules hold true when they are quite small or even very large specimens.

This is not true of bronze bream whose eye will appear far smaller relative to the head size the larger they grow. I believe this is because the eye of a bronze bream reaches a certain maximum size long before its body ever does, rather as in human children, whereas the silver bream's eye continues to grow in proportion to the growth of the fishes body.

Imagine a full grown adult male of our species with eyes the size of Marty Feldman and you'll get the picture...

I packed down around 6:30 when I thought it unlikely I'd get a proper silver and besides, I had a new bird to take care of back home, asleep now snuggled up cosy and warm beneath a swan down quilt but who'd open her mouth wide and beg me just as soon as I got home and woke her...

Before I'd that pleasure though, there was silvery looking thing floating under the far bank brambles that had caught my eye. It might have been a white carrier bag but looked like a bloated corpse of what would be a mighty roach or even mightier silver bream. So, I took the rod along and proceeded to cast after it.

Eventually I snagged and teased it near bank where it was gingerly maneuvered into a carrier bag of my own punched with holes to allow water to escape. I flopped it onto the bank and proceeded to take scale counts and stuff like that because the head was that of a silver bream. However the body had become so bloated and distended with gas that it was the shape of no fish I know of and had split the skin both sides with the scales fallen away so I simply couldn't total them up properly. However, the complete count from dorsal to lateral line was possible to make and was correct...

Head of a silver bream — body of a who knows what?

Appearances were no guide. It was the hue of death with all the colour of its fins and opacity of its scales vanished leaving only the ghost of pearlescence behind. Nevertheless I took a couple of scale samples home because when weighed it was exactly two-pounds eight-ounces, and if a true silver would be a leviathan at 85% of the British record for the species.

I don't think it is though, but can't work out what else it might be. Don't even know what use the scale samples would be to anyone, but they're something else to clutter my mind with, I suppose...

When I arrived home the chick was asleep as predicted, but when tapped on her cosy nest shot out like a jack-in-the-box, mouth agape, showing the arresting pink of her throat, and demanded my full and immediate attention!

And being such an early bird, naturally, she got my worm.


  1. What is it with you and stinky fish. If my memory serves, we have had in the not so distant past a string of dead Silvers, Roach, an eel and now a siver hybrid of sorts from you. At least we didn't have another guess the weight.
    All joking a side, dawn is a magic time, full of anticipation of fishy encounters. When we off fishing again mate.

    1. I live by a canal and have a morbid fascination with what they weigh, Martin, as well you know!

      As good as a catch in my book, and if no one ever weighed dead fish we'd have no idea how big pike can actually get...

      Soon as you like

  2. I love how dawn fishing romance turns into a bloated rotting bream in the same post.

    Like you said, fishing at dawn often doesn't live up to it's promises catchwise, but it's always a magic time to be at the waterside.

    1. Glad you like that turn of fortune! And it is, isn't it?

  3. I rather like the guess the weight competitions and why are you selling your bike?
    Mark H

    1. I should do another next interesting corpse I find with a bit of weight to it, and 'selling my bike' took a while to fathom...

      But then the penny farthing dropped!

  4. Brilliant dawn blog. Like everyone else it really is a fantastic time to be out and when the conditions are just so... it can't be beaten - and who cares if you don't catch as it your own stolen time in your own special world.