In advance of the annual excuse for a blogger's chin wag next day, Russel Hilton and girlfriend, Beth, motored up from Exeter to stay over at ours the Saturday night. We all went down to Warwick for a Chinese sit down meal in the evening and then retired to bed prepared for an early morning rise and the gift of a possible two-pound roach courtesy of George Burton.
Judy enjoyed a lie in. Beth came along...
Judy enjoyed a lie in. Beth came along...
I was full of anticipation. I'd never fished the venue before and there was the very real chance of good fishing should things go well. George wouldn't take us along to a dud. This had a proven and established pedigree for very good roach sport and somewhere along its short length likely does hold those fish of our dreams.
But it was cold. The canal was liquid though frost dusted the ground. I would have far preferred a thin sheet of cat ice, in all honesty. That would have meant the water temperature had fallen so far it had bottomed out around the three to five degree absolute lower extreme when in still frigid air a fine sheen of ice crystals forms on the surface just as soon as the air above drops below freezing point. When that happens the temperature of these canals will remain more or less stable for months on end rising and falling just a few degrees as weather changes, the roach will have acclimatised fully, and will feed reliably early morning and often throughout the day and night too.
However, these last few days of cold wintery weather following unseasonably warm conditions has produced a cliff edge drop in water temperature that has not yet hit the deck. Best appreciated when mashing bread in canal water for ground bait, just a week ago it was a comfortable operation. Now it means drying fingers and thumbs carefully and hiding them away in the armpits for a few minutes afterwards otherwise the chill turns them into a team of ten uncoordinated fumbling idiots incapable of precision work.
It can only be a bad thing where cold blooded creatures are concerned. Well, not for them. What they'll do every year twice over — once in springtime and again in late autumn — is adjust to sharp and sudden rises and falls in the ambient temperature. Both are as bad as each other for anglers, though, because this necessary adjustment period really affects feeding patterns. There'll be a time each day when they will, but you have to be there in the one hour when that happens. And who knows when that will be?
Would it be around dawn on this Sunday the 22nd November?
George put me on a likely ticket. A swim where large fish often show themselves by topping at the surface. It was dead still there. Rarely is a canal swim that. There's always some kind of water movement to contend with produced by one agent or another. This morning I could leave the line unsunk and it didn't drag the float under. But neither was it moved by the agent of change I wanted. Bites were failing to materialise.
But an hour in an extremely rare event occurred when as predicted a large roach rolled. 'Rare' because they really don't show themselves very often, and when they do it's usually some way off and out of reach unless a move is made to them. 'Extremely' because this was just a few yards away from the float. Whenever this had happened in the past it had meant an imminent catch because there were active feeding fish right by my baited spot. And it had often occurred within short minutes...
I was in with a very real chance of tripping one up. Transfixed by the tip of a motionless float that might well shoot in the air the very next moment, I sat like a coiled spring in anticipation of that sudden and decisive motion. But time wound down. And down, and again, till I knew the opportunity had swum away.
Both Russel and George struggled too. Beth wrapped up in swaddling layers but gamely reading a book in gloves really should have stayed in bed! Though George did eventually bank a small roach right after losing a low pounder, which indicated that roach were indeed willing even if they weren't exactly obliging if you could just put a bait right under their noses.
All this put a dampener on my sincerest hopes for the coming afternoon. With a dozen or so arriving at Hawkesbury Junction around noon, if roach were not prepared to forage then what were the chances that the zeds would go on the prowl?
I thought it highly unlikely.