Monday, 18 March 2013

Canal Roach — Poles Apart

Grassy Bend this time around and for me, a second crack at mastering Norman's loaned pole. It felt warm as I stepped out the house when he advised me that contrary to earlier reports about mild weather persisting, now it was set to rain. I fetched my brolly just in case and it was a good move because within minutes of setting up the predicted began to fall.

First thoughts were about the mistake I'd made in not wearing waterproof over-trousers. I might have been cosy and dry under shelter but unfortunately poles are very long and collect an awful lot of water which wets hands and soaks legs. Second thoughts were about the mistake I'd made in not bringing a hand warmer along because then it began to sleet, within half an hour was snowing horrible stuff that settled as slush on the pole, and soon it'd turned my pinkies blue.


A sparrowhawk hen flies straight across the canal expertly shooting through a seemingly impenetrable barrier of hawthorn twigs and disappears from sight. A few minutes later she returns to the woodland behind us clutching a dead cock blackbird in her talons. I take this as a very good omen because it was at this very spot in February 2009 I caught my best ever canal roach and that was the day I saw her last — in the snow, with a blackbird.

As an experiment I was using my standard trigger-shot rig with a float the same capacity as I'd use rod fishing. The pole lost badly to the rod when it came to adjustment speed needing an entire ship in, top kit removal, adjustment and ship out just to have the rig set properly for the line chosen, an operation that might have to be repeated three or four times and accomplished in a fraction of the time with a rod, but it won hands down when it came to sheer ease of control once perfectly set.

I found I could have the float exactly where I wanted it, move it without trouble, inch it up the shelf or down and get exactly the right amount of tip showing removing most of the problems encountered with a rod in one fell swoop. When half an hour into fishing I saw three inches of float tip suddenly protruding from the water screaming 'strike!' it was effortless and direct without having to take up line and straighten angles.

Then the rod nudged back into the lead once more when I realised that the skimmer I'd hooked was taking rather too long to bank, in fact it was proving really hard to gain control of. Without a reel to take and give line with at my discretion and judgement, elastic did what it could in compensation, however, I found it an automatic operation out of my control so a skimmer that would have been safely banked by rod in twenty seconds or less took almost two minutes to net. If instead of a one pound juvenile bream it had been a large roach or, God Forbid, a two-pounder and a new PB — then I'd have warmed my cold wet trousers.

"Cronk, cronk..."

A pair of large black birds settle on the towering pylons across the canal. At distance and perched upon such massive structures they look like crows, but when they fly from one pylon to another are certainly not with their diamond-shaped tails. A bird I've only ever seen on the lawn at the Tower of London, they don't look so large as I remember. They call to one another — and though I've never heard their voice in all my life, there's no mistaking it — they're ravens.

A raven flies from perch to perch, pylon to pylon. Just a speck at such distance but they weren't coming any closer

Norman has been steadily catching roach to six ounces or so by fishing tight to the far bank but eventually hooks something substantial enough to pull his elastic to an alarming degree (well it looked alarming to me...!)  We're both afraid it might and praying it will be roach... so I start taking pictures of the tussle wanting a shot as it slides into the net...

The fight seems to be taking quite a long time and with no clear idea about how large fish behave caught on such light tackle and thin elastic, I'm fascinated because it seems to be something really big careering about at Norman's feet, and perhaps something really astonishing...

Next morning after a good night's sleep I return refreshed and warm but Norm's still there, net in left hand, top kit in the other elastic stretched out with the fish still plodding around!

I jest. But here's that problem again only this time it's not a relatively large size 14 it's hooked by but a miniscule 22! He can't bully the fish like I had (and by comparison I did!) but has to gently tease it up in the water inch-by-inch. When at last it reaches surface the tension evaporates when a decent sized bream is seen, but a few minutes later the tension in the elastic relaxes too as the fish escapes the hook. In a match no doubt it would have been a time-waster, but today a two-pounder was no great loss unless roach in which case it would have been a heartbreaker.

With the pole I can appreciate the edge it gives, but can't see how the lack of control over the fight can be compensated for. With a rod Norman probably would have banked the fish safely in less than a minute. The big roach I caught at this very place was netted as swiftly but I dread to think back to my heart-stopping first glimpse of those huge red-finned silver flanks, and then imagine myself controlling that fish not by flexible dependable rod, reel and line but with stiff stick and stretchy elastic.

A sticky wicket this and something of a dilemma. Because I fish for specimen-sized fish requiring finesse to catch but who will fight back — I reckon the pole will hook more fish than the rod — but the rod will bank more fish than the pole.

Each with clear advantages and each with obvious drawbacks...

They're poles apart.


  1. Jeff,

    There are no drawbacks with fishing a pole UNLESS your elastic/rig is too light or too heavy for the target species.
    I think the elastic in the pole you used was a number 4,and the elastic in mine a number 3.In all honesty those size's of elastic are not ideal for 2lb skimmers,had we used heavier elastic and heavier rigs with bigger hooks,there wouldn't have been a problem landing the fish more quickly.
    My set up was exactly what i'd use for fishing punch in a canal match,where i'd be targeting roach/skimmers between 1/2oz and 8oz,with the possibility of maybe connecting with the odd bigger fish.The set up is fine enough to set the hook and land smaller fish,but does have the ability to land larger fish if a little care/time is taken.Had i set up with heavier elastics and heavier rigs it would have been almost impossible to get bites and/or hook smaller fish,but i would have been able to bully heavier fish.
    The elastic and rig you used wasn't ideal either,but i will try to up the anti for next time by using a heavier elastic and rig for you to try.

    I'll email you later mate.


  2. Jeff, Those bloomin skimmers! We really need to find the roach again

    I appreciate we don't want to be copying precisely each others approach (or else we make no advancement) but, having spent a year or so on the pole, adapting and religiously applying the traditional lift bite method to it, I have found no6-8 elastic through two joints best with around 3lbs high strength low stretch line to be ideal, straight through

    That apart, the main difference between our rigs is that I use a proper pole float with a long cane tip fixed top and bottom so that I just pull it sideways against anchor shot (varying from 2no6 to 3no4 spread 1/2" apart) until it is showing about 1/8"

    I really enjoyed the disastrous session with rod & line recently however and, though I didn't say it in the related post 'The Glorious Fifteenth', the one thing that 'struck' me was that when you strike into decent fish on r&l they are dragged IMMEDIATELY away from the killing zone and that is not always possible with big roach on elastic as they can tear through your swim on impact too easily. For this reason I have settled for no8 elastic but even then there is sometimes the risk that the hook will pull on soft-mouthed big roach...and the bigger the hook the more unlikely it is to be set with elastic, again I've settled on fairly light 14's (B611).

    So, yes, after just one session, I am already convinced that r&l might just have the edge...AND you can fiddle about with a 'sleeper' option of short pole or quivertip which is impossible when fishing a long pole (I have a plan here which I am keeping up the slime-stained sleeve until it has been tested!). Of course if you are fishing to features the pole cannot be beaten

    As always, very interesting experiments. All the more fascinating as you go 'my' way and I go 'yours', a combination of both approaches to suit circumstances will be the answer I'm sure!

  3. I think I understand all this elastic talk, well I will in time. The line has to be a lighter breaking strain than the elastic so the elastic is chosen for the breaking strain of the line and the breaking strain of the line determines the delicacy of the rig... hence multiple top kits?

    In a match situation then you'd choose to change when bigger fish were on the cards and go back fine again when scratching bits?

    George I agree about the removal of fish from the zone quickly with rod & line. They just seem to come to the near bank really fast don't they? As for the bigger roach — where the hell have they gone?

    Have you tried the B560? Superb for roach, really fine wire wide gape and hook far more fish when ledgering bread in rivers than any I've tried before.