Thursday, 8 December 2011

Canal Roach - Ronny and Reggy on My Manor, and other Tales of Hope & Woe

The trouble with blogging about angling is that any angler's blog is, at a basic level, a diary for the blogger to scan back through from time to time in search of archived information. They are just the most effective means I have ever come across for such a purpose as Google's Blogger kindly gives us the means, in the form of various clever sidebar widgets to index and re-access the information at light speed. For instance, I have been beating myself up over canal roach over the last few weeks and so I wanted to compile a list of all the captures of said fish made over the life of Idler's Quest, which is exactly as old now as my Midlands angling adventures because I started both at the same time when I moved up here from London in 2008. It was easy, and most enlightening.

To return to 'the trouble with' bit before I get sidelined by roach stats, the blog also functions as a means of information relay to, and general light entertainment for, the public. They have an audience these blogs, and like all audiences, this audience (that'll be you!) demands some level of quality and every now and then a fish picture or two. Trouble is, what do you do if, a. you need to enter all the blanks as diary entries for the first mentioned requirement of it being a complete diary of days, red letter or not, and b. also be entertaining?

You could ramble on about how crap the fishing has been but there's limits to how long that is going to occupy anyone's attention span unless the blanks be the kinds of blanks one experiences fishing a five hundred acre pit stalking a record carp, say, when the quest itself might be so interesting that failing time after time is not only what the audience expects but forms the backdrop to the final capture, if and when it ever comes. But fishing for a roach of two pounds on the local canals, no matter how much of an achievement finally nailing one might be, is not quite fishing at that level, is it?

To get the diary entries out of the way it will suffice to say that Lee came over the other night for a crack at Grassy Bend, but the oil slick, which was confined to the corner by wind on my early arrival spread out all over the place when the wind fell to nothing and invaded every useful swim. I did set up and fish before it got so far, starting off nicely by throwing the short end section of my landing net pole in the water as I carelessly extended it. Rolling up my sleeves, I tried to fish it out with the net but it had disappeared too far out to reach without a pole.

The net did, however, pull up the first live signal crayfish I have ever seen on the local canals, which was a depressing find made more depressing later (the net was attached to a spare bank stick by then) when a jerky little bite was missed and the recast brought another identical bite that resulted in a much bigger cray than the first. This will change everything about these canals - things are never the same again when these blighters move in to a fishery. The only benefit is that the perch, because they like to much the little ones whole, might pile on some much needed weight eating all that top grade crustacean protein as they rarely get big enough to bother with around my way

I went up to the pub to meet Lee at five thirty and we went and fished Longford Junction instead, which is just around the corner from my house, where we both blanked in the dark. The junction saw me again yesterday evening for a couple of hours into dusk, where I fished bread punch and had two bites in the only bit of calm water in miles, but poisson? Nada.

Back to the stats.

I made up my list on another handy Google thang, the Google Docs' spreadsheet, which can be pasted straight into a blog post and which automatically updates live on the blog every time you make a change to it in Google Docs. Nifty.

I hadn't fished on as many occasions or caught anywhere near as many roach as I thought I had! Only 35 over 53 roach fishing sessions in three years which is a depressing figure when one considers that I've caught nearly as many roach of the same stamp as these canal captures from Stratford upon Avon in just six trips. It's a rock and a hard place, this canal fishing lark. If you lived right next one though, and you knew full well that two pound roach were swimming about in it somewhere nearby, then believe me, you would fish it, and the quest for one would shove a knackered landing net pole right up your fundament too, driving you just as loopy, as Yours Truly.

There is some comfort in the figures though. I catch half the time having blanked only 27 times (I thought it was more) and the overall average size is wonderful. Even with all the half-pounders included it's an impressive 15 ounces. The first apparent truth is that maggots are the worst bait possible for canal roach as they catch small roach infrequently amongst a plague of sub-decent perch. The average size of a maggot caught roach is just 11oz, which is still quite high for roach but only what you'd expect on any good roach fishery.

The average size of worm caught fish is really impressive though, which is exactly why I'm prepared to spend long blank hours with them, because at 1lb 2oz I very much doubt there's any better way to ensure that big roach, and big roach only, are caught. Then look at the average size of Grassy Bend roach, which were all worm caught fish, and sigh at the average weight of them - 1lb 7oz! Of six fish caught, all have been over a pound, and half of them over a pound-eight. I doubt there is anywhere else in Britain where the roach run so big on average as they do there and every bite I have my heart in my mouth expecting the unthinkable. The near miss 'two' was a young fish that is probably a two and a half pounder by now and there doesn't seem to be any small ones there at all! No wonder that I'm prepared to spend even longer blank hours on that sweeping corner with its electrified air in their pursuit  -  but if only they could be captured more often than not....

I can dream.

Longford is a better option for higher catch rates. The area throws up far more fish than Grassy Bend and the average there is 14oz, which isn't at all bad when you consider that lots of maggot caught tiddlers are bringing the figure down - take them out of the equation and the average would be about a pound and two ounces, which is very good indeed. Excellent in fact.

The worst equation of all is long hours spent wading through perch whilst float fishing maggots in Longford. Miserable. Don't bother...

The best equation of all is even longer hours spent patiently quiver-tipping lobworms at Grassy Bend. Miserable. Don't bother...!

The nicest equation of all is float fished bread at Longford, with an average fish of exactly a pound so far and promise for the future. Lots of bites this way with the majority infuriatingly, but interestingly, missed, though that can be perfected away, I'm sure, and it also throws up plenty of technical things to occupy the mind, unlike ledgering which can be the dullest form of fishing when bites are hard to find. No blasted perch too, and with the added bonus of the occasional tench and silver bream in the offing, it has to be the way forward.

And what could be nicer than a pristine fat roach caught on the float, eh?

Float fishing bread at Grassy Bend would have been the very best equation of all: I should have tried it earlier, but now Ronny and Reggy have turned up there, bread groundbait is going to pull them in to the detriment of the fishing. Then again, two cray bites in the ten hours I have put in recently isn't suggesting a plague of them just yet, so I might just give it a whirl when the high winds die back after hopefully blowing the oil slick up Rugby way.

I might even put out a trap and eat the oncoming hordes in their spidery tracks...

Oxford Canal Crayfish En Croûte. Yum Yum. 


  1. Another great read Jeff. Your thoughtful prose can make even blank December sessions on a Midlands canal sound interesting! Genuinely looking forward to the book.

    You seem to have really embraced the switch from London. Are you glad you made it? I’m about to make a similar move, away from the capital to live in Wales. Equal amounts of dread and excitement. At least there’s a wealth of angling to explore!


  2. you are right more fish and photo's or your off my favorite list

  3. Thanks Ben. Glad you appreciate the words even if I can't catch! Moving to the midlands was a fishing revelation - so much water, so little time. London has little to offer by comparison and I'm sure that Wales will just as much as a revelation to you. Barbel on the Wye, nightime fly for sea trout on the Taff

    Ian, harsh, but fair! I'll try my level best...

    Come on Hatt, do better!

  4. Steve in Colorado9 December 2011 at 01:46

    I'll be having a copy of that book meself, though I must say the angling experience seems dramatically different on our respective sides of The Pond...
    Around here the presence of crayfish (AKA crawdads, mudbugs) indicates big bass and walleye may well be about- said crustaceans being a staple part of the diet. I've also caught some large trout using crawdad=patterned lures and flies...
    And for some 20 years now I've harvested them using a simple trap modelled on the classic lobster pot. Boulder Reservoir and Carter Lake are favorites- both produce large numbers of big 'dads and when boiled up with a Cajun recipe and served with a cold Lager may well convince the Infidels you haven't wasted your time on the water...

  5. The effects here seem similar Steve, where the crayfish are, the predatory species grow large on them. This should mean an upturn in the size of perch and zander on the canals for instance.

    The trouble is, because the American signal crayfish is an invasive species escaped into the wild from crayfish farms some time back, they have eradicated all the native white-clawed crays in territories they have colonised by spreading a disease that wipes them out. They also tend to completely dominate the ecosystem and eat everything in their path including fish eggs.

    On the river Blythe near Coventry the infestation is so bad that in places you cant use bait as they'll get to it first every time. Then again, a 30lb pike was caught there a couple of years ago which is a big fish for such a small river so maybe it was a crayfish eater?

    A balance will be struck when people eat them as a matter of course as you do in America but we have no tradition of crayfish cookery and the British don't seem to want to adopt one. If a few TV cooks and chefs were to advocate harvesting and eating them then maybe we'd get a balance returning?

    However, because of the threat to the indigenous white claw by movement of signal crays or trapping them by mistake alongside or instead of the signal cray it's a criminal offence to harvest them without a license so that would deter people from having a go at catching and eating them.

    A guy was caught trapping crays in Scotland - probably had no idea which was which. He trapped white claws and was fined a total of £3,900! No wonder its not catching on...

  6. Argh not the dreaded Signal Crays Jeff.

    We have to many down south,the bankside erosion caused by these critters on rivers like the Kennet and Loddon is pretty bad in some places,let alone the fish egg destruction.

    We do have regular trappers on some areas as well,but despite many kilo being trapped,it just never seems to ever dent the populace.During summer one of the lakes local to me had over 60kilo of Crays trapped and removed in a 24 hour period.

  7. Steve in Colorado10 December 2011 at 03:08

    No tradition of crayfish cookery, and yet the original invaders escaped from a farm? They were being raised and harvested for whom?
    Surely some jammy lad can introduce crayfish 'n' chips to the national consciousness... ;)
    Harvesting these tasty mini-lobsters in Colorado requires nothing more than the standard fishing license. Last I checked thirty was the daily bag limit.
    And I'm not an aquatic or piscine biologist but I expect the signal cray doesn't eat anything your native white claw didn't already...
    But I do hope things come to some equilibrum over there.

  8. Sorry to hear it Mark. They are buggers aren't they?

    I think the businesses were originally sideline ventures on trout farms, Steve. From what I can gather they were used to clear up the trout droppings and keep things clean. Then they were farmed for the food trade but the demand collapsed and now there are only 4 farms in the UK out of a total of 100 in the early nineties.

    And they do eat what the white claws eat but are so voracious in the habitats they colonise that they can cause a complete collapse of the ecosytem, quite literally eating themselves out of hourse and home.

    The scientists are 'desperate' to find a way to cure the problem, they'd have you know, but not so desperate that they are actually putting in place any effective means of control. What they say is all the usual guff that gets spouted when it comes to fisheries with little action coming forward in the end.

    Breeding vast quantities of sterile males and introducing them would have been effective. The only trouble is that the agencies responsible for the protection of our wildlife habitats were slow off the mark that the crays have all but won the battle. If they had nipped the problem in the bud when it was first recognised they might have won the race, but now it would require hundreds of thousands of tons of sterile males for even medium sized river catchments just to have a hope in hell as a viable strategy.

    I think they should be breeding these sterile males right now and introducing them to river systems and other places where the problem hasn't yet been seen to arise. If and when the viable crays do start their inevitable march inwards, because eventually they will, they would encounter, because the introduced steriles live for fifteen years or so, an existing population ready to dilute their breeding attempts.

    It would seem harsh to introduce sterile males to the wark's Avon, which has no population yet , I think, but not so bad as failing to halt its impending inundation. It's only a matter of time, as they will not stop for anything.