Saturday, 24 May 2014

Canal Tench — Dustbin Lids & Farthing Kites

Location: Coventry Canal. Subject: tench. Swim: particular. Arrival time: critical.

Four O'clock in the afternoon is a little too late in the day to be certain of securing it and so I thought we'd probably not get the right peg because it is the most desired swim on any canal round these parts. Either side of it you'd think the cut was entirely fish-less the way some local anglers behave about it but we did get it and set up in it. About half an hour after we'd settled down a couple of well-known middle aged lads, bikes strapped up with tackle and hung down with bait buckets arrive for their pre-planned canal carp overnighter.

Round the corner, no doubt, they were brimming with optimism, laughing and smiling as they discussed the night ahead and how best to go about it, but now on the home straight and with us two interlopers in plain view — they approach — flying faces like a pair of farthing kites!

We're fishing, of course, right where they'd planned to be...

You'd think they'd either have gone home and forgot about it or more likely set up nearby and fished till our planned departure some time after dark, but no. They plonk down dejectedly on the bench to our left and do nothing. It'll be a quarter of a day before we'll move but they're going to sit and grumble and glower at us till that long distant moment arrives.

"Jeff, when you've finished fiddling with that fag come over here and feel my rod' Says Martin, "It's throbbing!"

Sure enough, stroking my hand along his stiff, sleek, black length, it is...

"That'll be your electric magnetism, mate". Says I.

My circle hook experiment continues. As before, one rod fishes a traditional J hook, the other a circle pattern. Both are baited with corn and both use the same helicopter rig with six-inch hook-lengths. What would the canal tench make of the difference, if and when they turned up?

I thought my first run (and what a belter it was)! should confirm things but picking the rod up and winding down to the fish it was clearly not a tench but a bream. However, at the net it looked for a brief second like a very big roach — and I do wish it had been because it went 2lb 6oz on the scales. A hybrid but a very nicely proportioned one more roach in appearance than bream.

As with the roach caught the previous session, once again the circle hook hold was perfect with the fish hooked squarely through the lower lip and as before, dead centrally. This fish's mouth was very much like a pure roach's mouth, in fact. And that was duly noted as — and later turned out be — significant.

All the tench I'd caught at Lemington Lakes (see previous post) were hooked the very same way. However, all the bass I have ever caught on circle hooks (and once I began using them it quickly became a running total of many hundreds) were all hooked in the scissors and remarkably all were hooked in the lower left hand side of the jaw but never the right and the result was the same whether ledgering or trotting a float down a creek. That has to be because bass snatch up food items and just like J Edgar Hoover, they never turn left.

Tench, roach and hybrids, and probably all bottom grazers, clearly don't do that. They'll pick up the bait with their heads down, rise up in the water, and straighten up. Also, unlike bass or perch, pike and zander too, all of whom have generally similar jaw arrangements, such fish are not predators and don't have pronounced 'scissors'.

I wondered, though, if the circle pattern would snare the inevitable by-catch of all my canal sessions to date — bream — a fish with an extensible tube for a mouth...

The answer seemed to be, no, they wouldn't, because Martin was landing one after the other while my circle line to his immediate right was twitching away, the bobbin jumping about every now and then, but without true runs developing. I thought it must be bream taking the corn but the hook failing to prick. I was pretty certain it had nothing to do with tench what with Martin hauling bream after bream just yards away.

Then at last, the right hander fishing the J hook sprang to life and a fish was on, but then it was off again. In a fraction of a second it was lost but not before sending up a large vortex wherein Martin spied a big orange tail. A carp. The hook-link had snapped clean off near the swivel. An unfelt wind knot or a nick in the line had lost me a good fish.

I changed the rods over, the J hook now fishing amongst the bream. Certain I'd have a bream in ten minutes, I was proved right and my theory that circle hooks will not easily catch them possibly gaining credence.

Imagine that, you, you died-in-the-wool tunnel-visionary carp fanatic, you. If circles will catch tench reliably (and I intend to prove it) then they will certainly catch your species reliably too, but even better than that. If they won't also catch bream, in fact make it almost impossible for them to hook themselves, well, then we have just about the most perfect hook for the long-winded job of laying carefully planned traps for the chosen few but avoiding the attentions of the unchosen many, do we not?

We'll see...

Departing when it was clear that tench would not show we left the peg open to the farthing kites.

I have it on reliable account they caught now't besides dustbin lids...

Friday, 16 May 2014

Early Season Tench — The Width of a Circle

Last year the tench season lasted about three days according to some. Depends what you mean exactly by 'the tench season,' though, doesn't it? If you say that three days was the entire time frame in which a specimen was to be caught at maximum weight before spawning commenced, then yes. It really was that brief.

So very brief that I blinked and missed it. Not that I missed blinkin' much by all accounts. It was dire at best.

I decided to put out an experimental rod equipped with a circle hook. I've used them before for tench and with startling results, results that I'll publish one day but not before catching a few by the same method from fisheries altogether less easy than Lemington Lakes where I conducted my initial experiments (hooking in excess of thirty in the five hour session but losing not a single one...) and at far greater weights.

Circle hooks really do work with thick lipped fish you know. It's just that you need to get the gape bang on or you lose them due to the mechanics of their hook-up. Get it right and it clamps down on the lip like a padlock ensuring that the hooked fish will never come off but just slightly too small a gape and it cannot get a proper hold. That means using hooks that look outsized for the intended quarry but actually are not.

Anyhow, I chucked that rod out left and fished a standard J hook rig at right. Both employed corn — two grains side hooked on the circle hook and two hair rigged on the standard. Martin fished two rods with worm on the hook and large feeders packed with groundbait and chopped worm.

He had the first run. A perch. I had the second. A roach.

I thought it a good enough roach for a photo considering that just two years ago they were unheard of at this venue unless young blades caught by the occasional match angler. They started to show up as by-catch on tench rigs at around the half-pound mark and have come in well over the pound recently. This was a lovely looking fish of 14 ounces.

On the J Hook ?


It was caught on the circle hook, was hooked perfectly in the lower lip, and that's food for thought...

Then Mr Rat made a visit and then Mrs Water-Vole too. Rodent bait spill battle entertainment whilst we whiled away the hours for the first of the expected tench of our evening

Martin had the third run. Another perch. I had the fourth run. A tench at last!

It was on for a minute or so before it was gone. Gape slightly too small I'm afraid and no doubt I'll explain exactly why that was the case at some length and in great detail at some future point but in a nutshell, the gape of the hook I was using will hook up but never let go of every tench that takes the bait up to a certain size but will not hook any fish above that weight. However, I don't actually know what the watershed weight for this particular gape size is!

Sounds mad? Circle hooks are...

But when they work... they're super bad!

Fifth run was Martin's. A perch exactly the same size as both of his previous brace. Worms won't work for tench here then...

There was no sixth run. So, we had our lake mate, James, take trophy shots of ourselves holding a couple of stand-in specimens we'd caught earlier...

And I'll tell you all about them...

Soon enough!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Book Review — Dominic Garnett's 'Canal Fishing - A Practical Guide'

Weighing in at an impressive 2lb 2oz, Dominic Garnett sets not only a personal best but smashes the old British record with his first canal fishing hardback. It's a true rarity. So far as I'm aware the last specimen of the particular species was banked by Kenneth Seaman back in the early seventies and apart from Bob Nudd's impressive list of video hybrids which though important contributions don't count as thoroughbreds, not one has been seen in the meantime.

Old timers I meet on the towpath still wax lyrical about the old days when canals were very important fisheries and the backbone of the match circuit. Polluted, and in a local case gin clear but heavily coloured by acetate dye, they were apparently very productive of stunted roach, the one fish alongside eels who'll survive almost anything bar an excess of oxygen.

Then came carp-on-tap, canals were cleaned up, redundant commercial boats made into abodes and holiday hire vehicles cleared the choking weed and stirred up the water. They became forsaken places where only those too poor to afford the petrol, bait and ticket to fish the local commercial for the swimming wounded whiled away long destitute hours in fruitless pursuit of what had seemingly vanished — quantity and lots of it.

What happened? Well, let's look at my local cut, 'The Cov.'

Clean canals are full of food. Lots of food produces either lots of small fish or few big fish depending on circumstance. Zander whose diet is small fish and hunting preference coloured water make their way through the system forcing pike whose diet is large fish and prefer clear water into the background. In a decade or two the canal becomes a specimen filled venue because of this peculiar pruning regime where the excess of ravenously hungry stunted prey fish is continually culled but the mature specimens left alone to grow large on their now super abundant niche diet. 

Your canal might be very different to mine. You need to find out for yourself. Which is where this book comes in right on cue because canals all across the country are, and for all kinds of reasons, fishing at their very best right now. Unfortunately, that's a fact known only to those few in the loop; those anglers (myself included) already bound up in what is something of a 'cult of the cut'. But it's a fact that needs to be broadcast to the largest audience possible and be made mainstream knowledge. 

A 'practical guide,' it does not seek to make things either easy or hard for you nor does it preach or proselytise, just lays the basic foundations for your own practise should you want to give canal fishing a go and that's just what a practical guide should do. Well written, as you'd expect, and with a wealth of stunning pictures it is also expertly edited and beautifully laid out which makes for an effortless enjoyable read. Well done the editors and typesetters at Merlin Unwin!

For me it's a dipping book. A little bit of what inspires today and I'll put it down to inspire again tomorrow. I'll never read it cover to cover all in the one go because that's not how my brain works, nor is it how my fishing works, and not really how this book works either. Designed to get you out the door and down the cut before you reach the end of a chapter, if you manage to finish one and start another without grabbing the rod bag, bait and nets then it fails in its mission!

But it succeeds. I went out twice on the trot because of it. Failed both times to find roach, but hey, I fish bread and they are roach, after all...

You can't expect a book to answer such questions as they pose!

Lastly there's a contribution of my own to mention. Right at the back of the book is something very special — a list of all the current British records for the species found in our canals. I laboured really hard compiling the original list (one that even included a capture or two of my own) but with sterling work on the part of Russel Hilton and valuable contributions from Mark Wintle, between us we eventually hammered out a believable and firm basis for a further one (and pushed me out the running!)

No longer my list or our list —  it is now your list. 

Dominic Garnett takes our work, tweaks it, adds a few more, publishes, and now it's just a BRFC committee meeting short of official — but in the meantime these are the targets to beat at should you be aiming to add your own name to the updated list in the 2nd edition...

You should. Most are do-able. Roach for instance at 2lb 4oz — the record that George Burton only failed to clinch because of his commendably honest refusal to round up his recent 2lb 4oz 10 drams Oxford Canal specimen to 2lb 5oz! Silver bream too. If Keith Jobling wangled a British record of 2lb 1oz out the GU without even trying for them, then you can bet they run bigger still...

And there'll be a second print run if I have anything to do with it!

Now, you lot bugger off and buy the book while I bone up on canal tench. There's a record with my name on it just round the corner from home...