Friday, 15 March 2013

Canal Roach & Bream — Microdots & Trigger Shots

Another shot at the urban Coventry Canal on the cards should weather conditions allow, instead of borrowing a pole this time around I decided to fish my trusted methods to see if they worked as well in clear water as they do in the coloured water I'm used to.

I went up the shop to buy bread early morning when I saw the canal capped with an inch thick layer and believed we'd not get to fish at all without an ice breaker, but on arrival Norman's worst fears were confirmed... we had cat instead of thick ice to contend with because of the slight difference in temperature between inner and outer city. He'd already mentioned that thick ice would be a good thing but should cat ice form instead it might kill sport stone dead.

The thin ice was relatively easy to clear with a bit of effort with a heavy bomb and landing net pole by breaking it into sheets and then pushing one under another. Within twenty minutes we'd cleared enough space to fish and set to work.

Norman fishing the pole on the Coventry Canal

The pegs chosen were as near as we could get to those where in the harsh winter of 2010 Mick 'Scratchcard' Hatchard broke a slot in thick ice to win a Coventry Canal Winter League fixture with a stupendous 38lb of bream and roach. That day Norman drew a peg just a hundred yards away from Mick but struggled for five pounds. That's the Coventry Canal for you!

21mm bread discs ready cut and ready to go
Norman fished the tiniest microdot of bread punch he could muster today while I took the opposite extreme by fishing the largest bread disk I'll cut — the 21mm. The difference was enormous. Passers by must think me an outright noddy witnessing what I fish with. It looks pants, that great swollen ball of mush dangling on the end of what looks to be a really coarse and heavy rig.

However... appearances can be deceptive! It might look crude and clumsy but it's very selective of big fish and the most elegant and refined method imaginable...

But, no matter how good a method is used there must be fish for it to catch and it appeared there weren't any about so my float sat sulking whilst Norman received few very tentative bites and brought in a slow trickle of tiny blade roach and skimmers. As predicted, it was tough. After two hours or so I decided a move was necessary because the way I fish canals, if bites don't arrive within the right time frame in any given swim it's never likely to work there the whole day long.

A boat passed through and that was the push needed. I had been in the peg to Norman's left so I crossed over and chose one fifty yards to his right, pitched in a handful of finely mashed bread and fished over it expecting bites straight away. Sure enough, five minutes in the float shot up in the water unexpectedly (that's usual!) and stayed there long enough for the shock to clear (that's usual too!) and a very late strike.

I knew it wasn't a roach — I'd have missed if it were because roach bites don't stay up but fall back when the fish spits the bait. This was a bream, a good one too and as usual with canal fish gave a spectacularly hard fight before it was netted. Five minutes later when Norm had packed down for a move and arrived at my peg, the float shot up again. I was prepared this time and struck firmly when it's necessary, which is before it reaches the top of its travel. No roach though, but another bream a little smaller than the first.

A brace of Coventry Canal Bream

A move was made when the expected third bream failed to show. Once again it was dead so at the last I moved once again and repeated the familiar process — a handful of mashed bread into the boat track and the big bait fished over it. After five minutes the float lifted but fell straight back down again before I'd time to react — a roach bite for sure.

Norman packed down and came along to watch. I really wanted another bite to occur just so he could witness it, and it did. A little dip signaled a liner as a fish brushed the rig, a short wait until the inevitable, and then a sudden and dramatic lift that because of alertness was struck on the rise...

Nothing! And nothing next cast either. On a tough day when roach weren't playing, the one chance I'd had passed by in the blink of an eye.

Now, just in case you were wondering ~

Lifts of the float..? Canals....? And roach..........?

Who ever heard of such a preposterous thing? Shouldn't that be instead...

Lift bites — ponds — and tench?

I should explain ~

This 'trigger shotting' I speak of is an old tench fishing method I've gradually adapted to canal roach fishing requirements by scaling down and making refinements for the sole purpose of instantly registering the shy and tricky bites that large roach give when taking large pieces of bread — those bites that do happen but won't be registered by any other method nearly quickly enough, if indeed they're seen at all.

It works by exploiting the capacity of certain 'body down' floats to shoot up in the water when the weight of a single 'trigger shot' is subtracted from their total shotting requirement. 

Any float can be made to work but it takes a special float to work properly. Those I use are the Drennan 'Glow Tip Antennae' pattern choosing those two sizes that cock with almost the entire antennae out of the water under-laden with either three or four BB shot, but are slowly sunken when overladen with one more added to the total. With this particular float one extra shot is the difference between seeing all three inches of the antennae or none of it —thats what makes the rig so effective when correctly set up and the bites so surprising.

Trigger shot rig explained

The bulk BB are pinched on 12-18 inches from the hook depending on depth, but the trigger shot just an inch from the knot. The float is held on the line not by shot but by a single rubber so that depth variations can be quickly and accurately adjusted to. The object is to have the trigger shot anchor the buoyant bread at dead depth and bring the antennae down in the water till just the red tip shows above. Over-depth there's too much showing, under-depth there's too little or none at all. It is absolutely depth-critical, takes a lot of work to get perfectly balanced and is no method for the lazy...

Trigger shot rig explained. The bite as it happens...

Then, as a fish picks up the bait the weight of the trigger shot is subtracted when the antennae lifts registering the bite in the most dramatic fashion. It can be so shocking because in calm water  reflections make even a half-hearted lift showing just the first band of green appear twice as long as it really is, and with a full-blown lift into the black, there's so much antennae out of the water that you'll not believe your eyes and fail to strike in befuddlement. That won't matter much with bream and tench because it'll stay up and even slide under eventually, but will matter very much with roach who'll pick up a bait then spit it out just as soon, so with them the strike is made well before the antennae reaches its maximum lift and sooner if possible — if you can anticipate it!

Bread is a buoyant bait!
There are no 'sail-aways' with the shot so close to the hook —you'll wait all day and never will one happen where roach are concerned. Just as with river ledgering where the strike must be well-timed against their famously tricky trembles, here the case is just the same, the rig exploiting the fact that big roach take big bread baits a certain way and purpose designed to allow bites to be read within a fraction of a second of them happening.

That's why it's the most refined and elegant canal fishing float arrangement I know of. For all its apparent crudity it's a heavy weapon with a finely tuned hair trigger that will fire should a fish so much as breath on it. The only trouble is, the bullets fired come straight at you, not the fish, who are simply the agents pulling the trigger.

Just as roach bite, you have to be every bit as as quick yourself and catch 'em in your teeth but on this occasion I'm afraid I fluffed it and got one in the eye!


  1. great write up jeff, aint it a shame the same tactics aint working up sutton stop till summer arrives!especially when weve got a canal on our blooming doorstep!!!

    When youv got a minute check this BBC video out of jon arthur fishing were you have been.. uk/1/hi/england/8273927.stm

  2. That was the last peg of the day, Ivan. Just where it was shot.

    The link is dicky, but here's the fix ~

  3. Jeff, there's more bread on your hook than I would feed in five hours on a canal ;)

  4. Russell, give it a go. You might be surprised what it produces out of nowhere on tough days. Those days when the fish aren't really having it but playing with it, you'll know as soon as they so much as touch it.

    1. Got no doubt this is effective Jeff, as you've proved! I'm just winding you up. Flake is popular on our local canal for the bream and those bread discs look far better for counter balancing the hook. I like to dip my punch in water now before I punch the bread as I find it takes out any compression of the bread at all/prevents it being tacky round the edges. Maybe I'm overthinking it...

    2. I don't mind wetting the whole box when bites come fast. That's so that the expansion is faster — if that's not done then the bread is still solid when it hits the deck, the bite comes almost immediately but you cant strike it through 'cause it's still too tough.

  5. I first used the lift method some 50 years ago, with crucian carp as the targets. Highly effective for these ultra cautious fish. Then successfully on the Macclesfield Canal for roach, nearly as long ago, but the method can be used for more or less any species. I rig it a little differently from yourself. I myself prefer that the float is such that, without the bottom shot, it would lie flat. If possible I prefer just to have just that one shot on the line, no others, because they act so as to slow down the rate at which the float lifts. Physics really. The relevant force available from the lifting float will always be less than the weight of that one shot. That small lifting force is acting, in your diagram, on 4 shot plus the float. If you can manage with one shot only, the same force will be acting just on the float, which in any case is then likely to be smaller.
    I find it difficult to use for carp, because they cause so much wash, wafting the float about, being large fish, and I find that they tend to get foul hooked near the pectoral fins quite often with this set up. Many of the bites from carp will be line bites. Good article though.

    1. I agree about carp or any large fish in shallow water. If I use this rig up the far shelf and tight to the brambles in summer often in less than two feet of water then the first indication from either tench or large bream is a usually a line bite. Because of the bulk acting as a pendulum the movements of the fish are very easy to distinguish from true bites because the float tip will move out of line or rock but without lifting. Soon enough the bait will get taken and it will lift and sometimes the bulk itself is lifted in which case the entire float comes out! I haven't had any foul hooking problems though.