Thursday, 19 September 2013

Canal Roach — Magic Numbers

For years I've believed that roach to surpass that 'magical' two-pound weight were not only possible to catch from the canals of the midlands but certain if only enough anglers bothered to try for them. For at least three years I know for certain that I was the only angler in this country who was concerned with trying after that fish and underwent the Labours of Hercules to prove it. I failed over and over, coming so close though that I truly thought that at least one other angler would finally believe it possible and back up my claim with his own efforts.

One-pound, fifteen-ounces, 8 drams. My best remains a cruel half-ounce under critical weight.

However, backed up with plenty of mid one-pounders and stacks of fish around and above the benchmark one-pound weight telling you it's worth persevering, I thought that the sheer weight of my numbers would convince, but I was wrong. Two-pounds and in excess is for some unfathomable reason the only number that will make anglers take a roach venue seriously enough.

That's very sad. A terrible indictment of modern angling if only when there's proof banked in excess of an arbitrary numerical target do people want to bother.

To all intents and purposes, my best fish was a two-pounder. The difference a gob full of water...

But it wasn't above two-pounds. And that was crucial. A fish that more or less proved that larger fish were swimming in the same shoal and that simply couldn't have been the best the canal had to offer was ignored as evidence they were there in numbers!

The numbers say they must be. Numbers are never wrong.

Then George Burton arrived on the scene. An angler who fishes canals nowadays for specimen roach but was once a canal match angler who'd scratch a net of blades for the same weight as one good fish, he took my work seriously. He's also a great one for numbers — though not arbitrary ones — as proof.

George began to adapt my outrageously heavy methods for the pole, refining and refining till the rig was a fraction of the size, the baits tiny by comparison and the feed as fine as powder snow. He caught good roach and plenty of them but failed over and over to break through the one-pound four-ounce barrier for what seemed like an age.

Then abandoning refinement he went as coarse as I (and you) should like.

Bread discs the size of a quid, roughly mashed bread with chunks of crust in it for feed. Suddenly he'd bagged a pound and half roach.

I wasn't at all surprised. He'd discovered for himself what I'd worked out through my own experiments — that big canal roach like big canal baits, coarse feed and plenty of it, and that big canal roach do not respond at all well to tiptoeing delicacy.

Employing scales of approach seemingly ridiculous on venues considered fit for only the finest methods and microscopic baits, we'd discovered what everyone else had overlooked. That our canals are no longer scratching venues but true specimen waters ranking alongside any other and surpassing many, where two-pound roach are numerically commonplace, but where serious roach anglers who might catch convincing numbers of them are not...

While George fished I'd hardly wet a line after the canal's roach. Dabbling now and then but never too seriously, it's no surprise that I caught few in the meantime because you can't do it lightly and get away with it. Canal roach require all the attention you can muster and your effort must be entirely focussed upon them. Failure is certain otherwise.

I'd taken a long break from it content to watch as George plucked fish after fish from the murky waters till his total in terms of numbers caught matched my own and his results in terms of catch weight data matched mine perfectly. What we then had were two sets of proof that argue very convincingly what truly great roach fisheries these canals are. And they are — beyond any shadow of a doubt.

And then... finally... it happened.

George surpassed my achievement (but not my unswerving belief) by supplying the proof in cold number that others will require in order to bother themselves when he banked that 'fish of a lifetime.'

So. Rifle through the back catalogues of both blogs and you'll get the gist of it. The way to go about it is explained both here and there. And, we'll see you on the towpath, no doubt, soon enough. Where George has set the bar high...

But believe me, they run bigger still.

Numbers are never wrong.

Float, Flight & Flannel — Big Bend Theory


  1. Fantastic!...You just need to catch one now Jeff!
    There's a few over 2lbs get caught from canals close to me, though not by design. I keep meaning to try your methods out on them, but it's heavily match fished by the bloodworm + joker brigade. I've tried at night, but 3lb bream appear from nowhere, even when it's well below freezing.

    1. I haven't even tried for two years Mike, too busy with other things and burned out from doing little else but think about them for the three years before. The roach never leave the mind though and I've been planning an assault this autumn. After dark is good for canal roach I found. I've had fish up to a pound and a half as late as 8pm mid winter, and that's four hours after sunset so there's potential there for experiment.

      My two pounder will come by when it's good and ready! I just have to put my back into it once more.

  2. So what next?

    Well, the same fish in January might be three to five ounces heavier as we are only a fortnight into the fattening season...for starters

    The potential for the future, as long as the predator ratio stays high, is huge as fish just over the noteworthy one pound are regular, in fact probably averaging one every 5 hours or so over the past two years, at a guess...and they ain't gonna shrink

    I feel the kernel of a post coming on!

    It has to be said, while you are very generous in your post, that were it not for your bravery (yes, that is the word), we (I) would still be using fine punch crumb and be perfectly happy catching a few two to six ouncers with the odd bigger one on 'the punch' for ever more. You pencilled the sketch, the two pounder merely inked it in.

    Exciting though ain'it?!

  3. What's next indeed...

    Some way to maintain a bread swim after a boat! Or is that an impossible dream? NIght fishing works though, and I've had plenty of roach up to a pound and a half on both lobworms and sweetcorn in the middle of the night in winter and summer respectively. I see no reason why that wouldn't hold true with bread. No boat trouble then!

    As you say, George, it's the zander making the high stamp possible. Weeding out the tiddlers and leaving the larder for the survivors.

    The shoals are much larger than catches suggest but we catch only a tiny proportion of them. Sometimes It seems as if the fish are loners but they ain't. Roach never are. If only there was a way to catch more than two or three in a session... or more than one pound plus fish 'every five hours,' which is more or less exactly my time/catch ration too.

    Anywhere else, river or lake, roach fall one after the other once located. That's simply not true on these bloody canals though, is it?

    Crack that problem and well see what they really can do. But, I've been scratching my head over it for years. No closer to a solution now than when I started out!

  4. Hi Jeff,
    Long time no see.
    Remember our session at Electric Wharfe, and how i said that the fish will follow a timed pattern after a boat has passed when using bread ?
    The fish see thousands of boats, and must be conditioned to them passing by every so often, but for some reason they always follow a pattern after a boat has passed. It's not always the same amount of time, but once you have figured out the number of minutes, you can predict bites as if by magic.
    I've not wet a line since our last session at Grassy Bend !!! so its well past time i dusted off the gear and got my backside back on the towpath.
    The first post mentioned Bloodworm and Joker, maybe we could have a session using the little red fella's ?
    I'll be in touch mate, tight lines.


    1. Sure thing Norm.

      There has to be a way of bringing the swim back to life after a boat. Never managed it with my standard approach yet, but introducing feed back at a well timed point may be the answer. Because, if I move along a peg pr two and prepare a second swim after a boat the timing is the same as before. A new swim it doesn't matter, an old swim it seems to...

  5. A wonderful achievement. I'm struggling to write something that does it justice. I can't really. A 2lb plus fish ( or one of 2lb 15oz 8drm ) is a truly magnificent Roach in this part of the country, especially by design. I'm left wondering what condition it was in, almost untouched or showing it's age, will we ever see a picture ? To my eyes there's very little else to compare with the sheer beauty of a naturally coloured roach of even just over a few ounces.

    Mark Valente

    1. It's a lovely young looking fish Mark. Click on the link at the bottom of the page and it'll take you to George's site where you'll see it