Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Canal Perch — Chop! Chop! The King! The King!

I've seen a phenomenal thing. Mucky stuff chucked in a swim. The results are a particle, the captures remarkable. That mucky old stuff in a swim.

Chop! Chop! The King! The King!

Good grief I always knew it was very good but never realised how fabulous this filthy finger blackening mush could be. But I was about to see...

You get a load of expensive to procure lobworms (and I mean a fishing shed load). And they are expensive one way or the other whether you dig them or purchase if you are going down this route with them. Buy or create a set of multiple opposed blades. Then you must commit the most ghastly of murders.

Finding a likely swim you sit down, then ladle the mutilated, mangled, and still twitching body parts in. You proceed to wait just a little while. But within no time at all you proceed to reap the whirlwind of your horrible deed.

Nothing I have ever come across in my fishing life is anywhere near so repulsive. It is foul stuff. And yet nothing I have ever come across is so very attractive. Fish. All fish. No matter what fish or which fish. Just cannot resist it.

And then when you've got them interested. And caught one or two. You must do the dirty deed again. And again, And again. And do it again for just as long as your bait box lasts. And that will not be for very long.

Danny reckons, 'It's a drug'.

"To the fish and the fisher, both", I'd say.

We met up very early yesterday morning for a perching session at my far flung venue. The one that was kind to me a while back. The conditions were straight out the perch fisher's textbook 'wish' list. Mist on the water, sun low in the sky, a tinge of green but good clarity, and us fishing long before the first whiff of sizzling bacon drifts down from the nearby boats.

Didn't exactly succeed at first. Well, I excelled in catching each and every small perch in a mile of water. What with my pole n'all, I was so very adept at catching these tiddler fish that Danny thought me in very real danger of turning out in decked in blue within the week and forging a promising and lucrative career in match circles.

Just seconds after my remarking that we hadn't seen one yet — he caught a daddy ruffe. A great admirer of pope is Daniel Everitt, who once a year goes to Suffolk armed with suitable equipment to get his fix of monstrous ones. I think he was more impressed with my recent multiple captures of these pretty little ugly things than my success with the perch.

It wasn't really going to plan and so after a couple of hours we moved along. To a nice looking space between boats with an attractive water feature to ponder far bank. We were in for a rare treat.

1lb 14oz canal perch

I fed a little chop beneath the stern of a boat. Danny fed a fistful just off the near shelf in open water. I had a skimmer first put in. He'd sat upon what seemed a dead peg because my next put in produced a perch near two-pounds, and then another of similar stamp that was lost while his float steadfastly refused to sink from sight.

However, he'd injected a much heavier shot of 'gear' into the vein than I had...

Over the next hours Danny's synapses were on fire. He simply could not stop them coming. Just a short pole length to his left I was now facing a deserted swim ( canal 'swims' are just a yard square!) as all the dope heads in the area queued up in his. And what fish they were. All around the two-pound mark, and one an ounce over. And these weren't repeat captures either. Each was released 100 yards left or right.

It was quite unbelievable. But the best moment of the day was yet to come... 

He'd fished a sleeper rod with a small deadbait for zander and was getting quite a few of them as his perch sport peaked. Then he decided to jig a drop shot over a crayfish corpse he'd kicked in earlier just to complicate things. He then had a run on the deadbait, missed it, when his worm float vanished and he hooked what we knew was going to be the best perch yet. But somehow he'd also hooked himself in the crotch of his pants with the deadbait rig!

It really looked like it might go three-pounds as it came to the surface. And there's Dan gingerly playing the fish, not because he's afraid to lose it, but because he's in danger of spiking himself in the nads should he get off his seat! I performed the netting honours as instructed.

After such a run of like-weights who'd begun to look smaller and smaller as the day progressed I think we were a little overawed by the sight of this future brute. It wasn't quite the three-pounder we'd thought. It was the same weight as my opening capture last week at 2lb 6oz. But with a very different body shape.

The conditions were straight out of the perch fisher's textbook 'don't bother' list. Bright cloudless sky, sun overhead, the water as brown as bacon breakfast tea, and us fishing through lunchtime. Yet Dan hadn't ceased hooking, sometimes losing, but mostly banking these large perch for what seemed an age. I fluffed another fish meanwhile and did land a small zander of about a pound and a half on the worm. When I butchered and pitched in all my remaining meagre supply bar two kept back for bait, I hooked up again and banked myself an exact 'two'.

2lb canal perch

By noon it was becoming very busy. By 1 O'clock a chain of boats passing through every few minutes with passers-by a constant stream behind us. "Caught much?" many would ask. "Yeah, we've had a few tiddlers", was Danny's deadpan repeat reply. And the more often repeated the more comical that phrase became.

We'd both overstayed our allotted time frames by two hours. Then he had the shock result of a half-pounder... Things were coming to a close! But I'm sure if we'd stayed on into the late afternoon and evening we'd have caught all day long. We finished with eleven perch between us. If I'd dug another fifty worms and slaughtered most, then it may well have been twenty or more.

I didn't mind one little bit my banking only two good fish when Danny had nine. It was a great day's sport and a session to remember for the rest of my life.  In my canal fishing experience it has to rank in the top three eye-openers. Those sessions when you realise that these tricky venues where many struggle to succeed are often stuffed with special fish that you can catch regularly if only you have the guts to put in the graft to firstly discover them, and the nous to figure how to.

My mind was agog at the sheer volume of large perch we'd sat down on. You have to understand that prior to this season the average catch of perch local to me would have amounted to a sum weight of two or three-pounds and the best specimen I'd ever caught just 1lb 7oz. Today I'd seen ten perch to beat that and had exceeded it twice myself. And if you know anything about my perch fishing history and its painful perplexing defeats then you'll know why this session will be such a memorable one.

Perhaps the best feeling was that of knowing that the next bite would be from a really worthwhile fish. Seemingly, there were no small ones there to catch. But nor were there any really impressive ones.

Of course all that will change by next weekend when we plan a return.

But for better or for worse...? 

We'll, I don't think either of us really care, either way. Canal fishing is never so predictable. The next day seldom the same as the last.  

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Avon Zander — Our Accidental Jack

Martin finally improved and put his summer long 'double' dearth to bed the other night. Three in the one session he had, and all were ten-pounders. My theory that all the tens of eight and nine-pounders he'd caught beforehand had gorged on subaquatic lifeforms released from their weedy safe houses in the early autumn die-back seemed to be holding water. 

I don't know. All barbel look the same to me. Sleek brown sporty numbers rolling off the production line, one by one. A pound here or there isn't much of a difference and a 'double' probably the lowest bar to leap over and the most arbitrary of targets in coarse fishing.

They ain't two-pound roach, are they? A fourteen-pounder might just be the equivalent of that...

But they don't half pull back!

I wasn't there so couldn't say if weed was floating downstream or not. But this afternoon it was and in rafts. For this session I believe he'd shortened his hair rigs tight to the bait and for once was seeking to not deter chub. I think he might have been chub fishing, actually. But with the chance of a double, of course. 

Double figure Warwickshire Avon barbel at 10lb 14oz

My plan was to go after primarily, zander. But eels and perch, accidental pike, perhaps roach, the chance of tench, carp, dace and bream, chub too. God forbid, barbel also! My light rod would break clean in half. But that's the kind of menu you have when you ledger a worm on the right hander and float fish a slice of skimmer bream on the left, isn't it?  

Well, the float vanished half an hour after pitching it in. But the strike met with a familiar thud followed by slack line. The trusted hook pattern that has safely banked so many zander over the past few years had failed once again. It may have been a very small fish, or this, that, and the other. But all the while it's been failing so miserably that's what I've been telling myself.

The ledgered lobbie was ignored. For two hours. One of those baits that is always bound to raise interest from something — it was as if I'd cast a jelly worm and expected that to tempt without animation. But the sky was bright and cloudless, and the water gin clear, and this, that, and the other...

"When the sun goes down, they'll bite" was what every biteless angler about the place agreed upon. But when it finally reached the cloudless horizon the effect was unbearable. My swim had me facing directly toward twinned incandescant orbs of light and the closer they came together the more intense the torture became. So I pushed a bankstick into the mud, hung my hat upon it, and hid behind. 

Roach began porpoising. Textbook John Wilson stuff. Head and shoulders out of the water and all the rest.  When a large swirl was seen I cast the worm straight to. At last a worm bite came, a fish was hooked, and it felt a proper lump of a roach too. Shame it weren't! 

I've had far too many of these from the river this year. Can't seem to avoid them. My certainty about the utterly non-selective catchability of lobworms had kind of worked, though I'd expected such an accident to befall the fish bait. I retired the worm rod, re-rigged the float rod for ledgering, and set up a second ledgering rod for an all out zander assault into the approaching night. 

The earth turned and the terrible twins went away. Bats batted both high-set lines so I attempted a photo. It failed of course, but the flash scared them off and so the rod tips were motionless thereafter. When it was too dark to see them against the fading glow of the sun I thought I'd attach a couple of old red starlights, but they were so very old they failed to light up...

So I removed the long rests, pushed in short ones with buzzer bars attached, and hung bobbins of luncheon meat from the lines because I'd left the plastic ones on the kitchen table. They worked very well. They weren't moving very much, but they weren't moving just perfectly. But then the left hand meat bobbin twitched and very slowly rose upwards. Picking up the rod line was still paying out. So I struck and was briefly attached to a fish. Yet again the blasted hook had failed to catch!

The right hander was rigged with a circle hook. I had no idea if they would work any better because my trials with them are in their infancy. But they couldn't do worse, so hey ho. Nothing to lose. Then the right hand bobbin rose just as the left hander had. Slowly and deliberately. Winding down to take up the slack but not striking because this was a circle hook and you mustn't, there's the satisfying sensation of a well-hooked fish. And hopefully a big zander because it felt like it might well be...

But nearing netting reach but still in deep water the fish took off on long powerful runs so I knew I had another 'accident' coming my way. Nevertheless, it earned me a few challenge points because it was twice the size of any of the previous accidents I'd met with. And better still, the circle hook hold was perfect. 

All I had to do now was earn a few points for what I'd set out for. Again it was the circle set up that was to be tested and proven good, bad or indifferent.

Taking up slack and just winding in is all you have to do. It feels odd. None of that sweeping the rod over the shoulder to set the hook. It does the job all by itself finding a hold around the jaw bone and padlocking the fish to the rod and line.

In principal!

But it worked twice. The hold felt secure. None of that rectal clenching in anticipation of imminent failure that all zander anglers must suffer each and every time they hook up. If this was what I hoped for and not our accidental jack, then she was mine.

Deep down in ten feet of clear water there's a bright spot of light emerging. Caught in the beam of the headlamp — the eye of a zed. No powerful runs here. No problems at all but the one of a tricky full stretch netting job to perform across a shallow marginal shelf covered in rotting weed that looks way too risky to step out onto after dark.

Oh, and the hook-hold?

Was padlock tight.

Warwickshire Avon zander at 4lb 4oz

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Canal Perch — Signal Success

There's a popular stretch of canal way beyond walking distance from home where I'd heard a few independant reports of decent perch fishing. Lots of them available apparently. And the occasional specimen in the net, so I heard. Local news I always take with a hefty pinch of salt. But large perch reports are not like large roach reports which are invariably about hybrids mistaken for roach. I thought them strong enough to make it worthwhile biking out a few extra miles to investigate. 

Canal ruffe
Chopped worm is mucky stuff!
Glad I made the effort because the short session was to become rather fascinating...

Choosing a likely spot I sat down on the grass with whip in hand. Nipped on a worm and dropped it on the near shelf. And then proceeded to make chopped worm. I don't move a bait so very often with a rod and reel once in place but for some reason with a pole or whip I find myself jerking it about constantly. 

Frequently I'd snag upon something. And I was frequently snagging upon something all over the place. The hook always came back clean, but often the worm had gone. Curious. Very curious...

I kept twitching the bait about. Then I did snag a large twig so I thought I had a rotten branch out front and should probably move along elsewhere. 

But then one of these 'twigs' moved off at the 'brisk' pace of a very big and determined specimen of that carapaced pest that I'm seeing far too much of lately. Heavy is what it was. And deliberate. I could not easily shift it against the elastic but anyhow, the hook pinged out before I could try harder. 

No great loss there. A large 'signal' is hardly that!

A River Blythe signal crayfish with a claw span of about a foot

However. Despite having not only a branch in my swim but possibly a horde of crustaceans too, I couldn't help feeling that something was not quite right. Often these sensations of 'snagging' felt much like hits from predatory fish. And besides that, I've yet to see a canal crayfish anywhere near the scale of the lobster-like beasts of the River Blythe who grow twice the size of the average canal specimen and who would be resistant to being hauled off the deck on a whip.

So I stuck around a while just to see what might occur should I...

Introducing the chop and fishing straight over with a still bait, the response was instant. The float dragged under very slowly and I struck into another of those 'crayfish'. Only this one seemed just a tad faster than before and when it began swimming mid-water, pulled out a yard of elastic, and then fought back hard and fast I wondered what the hell I'd hooked because it sure didn't feel like a perch... 

But it was! 

Canal perch of 2lb 6oz

Two-pounds and six-ounces of perch to be precise. Easily the largest I've ever caught from a canal. And I have no doubt whatsoever now that that first 'crayfish' was none other than the self-same fish or more likely its like-sized shoal companion. 

Clearly I'd sat down right on top of them. Of course I hoped for more and better but in hindsight I should never have put in the chop because I truly believe you should never feed over the lucky find of a shoal of already feeding fish till they won't bite again without it. If only I'd known better, All it achieved was the undesirable effect of drawing hordes of small perchlets, tiny zanderlings, and later lovely little yellow ruffes, of whom I had four specimens on the trot around dusk.

Nevertheless. A more than satisfactory result. A new personal best for the canal. An interesting and valuable lesson learned.

And no red signal to halt me on the track when I go back! 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Canal Zander & Perch — What Freddy Did Next (pt 2)

Freddy five minutes beforehand. He was no different afterwards
The hook was down his throat. Not far, because my traces are six-inches in length, but out of sight. He hadn't pulled on the line and I hadn't pulled on the trace so I doubted he'd got hooked in the gullet. Pricked perhaps, but not driven in. 

Good grief! If only it had been the circle rig he'd eaten rather than the usual one. Then I could just have pulled the entire thing out easily and without any chance of hooking him in the throat in the process. 

I packed down hastily and we returned home so I could take a more studied and unhurried look down his gob but when I tried the trace had vanished. He'd swallowed the lot and the offending article was now in his stomach...

Dominic arrived and Judy was back from London just after so we took Freddy, who was completely unconcerned, to the PDSA. I was in there just a few minutes before I walked out in disgust. The quote for immediate treatment — because we were now 'out of hours' till Monday morning — was just eye-watering. 

A sum total of £1000 for consultation, an X ray and removal of the hook by minor endoscopic surgery. Half up front. And now, please. 

So much for charity! How does that stack up when a benefits claimant who can afford to buy and feed a brace of pitbull terriers has their squabble wounds stitched up by this organisation for free and gratis, out of hours, or not?

We paid the consultion fee of £130 for what was about two minute's work of gullet and belly squeezing by the vet's assistant, her going backstage for the quote, and Judy taking up valuable desk time signing shit and coughing up the dough. And dough was exactly what Freddy had when we got back home. Half a loaf of brown bread to bind the trace up in. He may have been bemused by the fuss, but that bread was wolfed down with gusto...

Dom was raring to go next morning. I waited for Martin and we all met up a little later in the basin just round the corner from home. Freddy slept well, wasn't showing any signs of distress, and so for now there was only the concern of what might happen later because nothing had yet. I really wasn't in the mood for fishing. But I fished anyhow having nothing better to do than await Freddy's fate. 

But all the while I was timing the progress of the trace through his gut. By now I thought would be through the small intestine, entering into the large intestine, to be shat out some time in the afternoon. It takes us two days or more but healthy dogs get it through fast. From meal to crap in just 8 -12 hours if they don't have to retain till walkies time comes around. 

And they can eat almost anything. Molly once ate a good part of an empty beer can she'd found in the grass. She shredded it (still does this if I don't catch her at it) and chomped on the tasty bits. Came to no harm. Didn't even cut a gum.

And it all came out the other end soon enough...

These trains of thought are why I could not fish. What if that hook was now dragging through the gut not bend down, but point down? Would it, could it, snag?

And what if it did? 

I prayed it wouldn't because then we'd have major surgery on our hands and a stark choice between coughing up multiple thousands of pounds or having young Freddy put down...

'Trust in nature' was my mantra. 'Let nature take her course'. 

The fishing was terrible anyhow so I wasn't missing much. Dom had a few perch on lures, Martin similar on worm. No zander were banked though I did have a few missed runs and lost one fish. I was glad of that. My current perplexing run of failure where there's always been assured success gave me something technical to mull over other than the soft mechanics of Freddy's gut. Who was just fine according to Judy's next phone call asking about our present location and about to walk the dogs down the canal.

Half an hour later I spotted them across the far bank, so I called her back. Freddy had just expressed his absolute disinterest in our worries and concerns in the form of a firm and distinctly 'bready' chunk of crap with a somewhat battered and acid etched trace in it... 

Thank Mother Frickin' Nature for that! 

Checking for dog turds as you must, I knelt down and kissed her lush green towpath grass. Half an hour later still, Molly and Freddy and Judy were seen bounding and striding down the same lush green towpath toward us and on their way back home.

All was well with the world. And I was off the hook.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Canal Zander — What Freddy Did (pt1)

What with Dominic Garnet up for the PAC conference in Kettering and staying over at my place Saturday night for a roving session on the Coventry Canal early Sunday morning with Martin Roberts joining us for the day, I thought I'd better spend a few hours there on Saturday afternoon to see how the zander were behaving beforehand. I also thought it'd be a good idea to take young Freddy along...

Why ever not? What on earth could go wrong?

He was fine. Just roamed about but never too far off. Without Molly around he was attentive to things, behaving well, and of course every now and then dogs and their keepers passed by so he was in his element. However, he was a little too fond of sliced skimmer bream for comfort, so I kept a tight lid on the bait box.

Casting to usual haunts proved a little slow. Tight against boats, and by 'tight' I mean there's a splash of water up the hull at the waterline, was not productive at all. In winter it can be deadly, but it seemed not so effective in early autumn because the float stayed untroubled all the whiles it sat there 

The gap between moored boats always seems to hold zander. Well, some do and some don't. You just have to drop a bait into each to see which does. When such a gap holds fish it might give a run within five minutes and three or four in twenty minutes if there's a pack in residence. This particular gap provided one zander to the first cast but just a small one. It failed to provide any more.

With plenty of gaps left to explore but the hull line inactive the second bait was placed in the track. Where nothing happened either. The last gaps to try were those between three boats moored right across the widest section of the basin. The casts there were not nearly so easy as those short underarm lobs I'd made down the narrow straight. These requiring full-blooded overarm casts of 60 feet to get the decidedly non-aerodynamic rig and bait out. And when I did get one right on the spot I found it tricky sinking the line and keeping the floats in place. So the small 10mm diameter float I had been giving its first trial was placed slap in the boat track and left to fend for itself while I attempted keeping my usual and well proven 18mm float still.

Within a few minutes the small float bobbed and vanished (a problem that) and but the bite was missed. I struck when I shouldn't have, because I'd clean forgotten that that experimental float also suspended an experimental circle hook rig and you don't strike with 'circles', you just wind down and pull up slowly so it can find a hold in the scissors. Strike and you'll pull the hook straight out the mouth most times.

I decided to bring the large float into the track too. It was off on a run within no time at all and I knew that I'd found today's hotspot, This time a strike was made because this float carried my usual rig and usual hook. A trusted wide gape pattern that has fared well in the past and not failed so often that I'd cause to abandon it, though it had not performed quite so well as the remarkably effective Mustad 'Ultimate Bass' Hook, I have to say.

The fish was hooked and it was a good one too. Heavy, and not a splasher. Nearing the net the hook hold failed and I was left watching a large boil of water dissipate.

Oh well. back to the track.

The circle rig vanished again. Without being able to watch the float run across the surface as the large float always does, I could not see which direction to strike. That's important to know because if a run comes toward you then striking means pulling the hook straight out the front of the mouth where's there's nothing but bone and teeth to catch on. Of course I didn't strike anyhow, this was a circle hook rig after all!

I did hook the fish, and again it felt worth banking, but again it got free.

This was not going at all well...

Experimental zander rig. Light float and circle hook

Whenever a boat passed through I cast straight into the wake of silty water thrown up by the prop. By now a theory was forming. I thought perhaps that the zeds were there because of the chance of a chopped skimmer lunch. I tried further off and nearer by but I could not get a bite elsewhere but in the boat track. And then the small float bobbed, vanished, but for a brief moment reappeared when I could see the direction of movement. Which was along the track and to my right making things straightforward. I lifted slowly and pulled tight gradually. This fish was hooked and stayed hooked, the bait mangled but the hold perfect. And was exactly two-pounds heavier than the first of the day at 3lb 7oz.

What followed was a half-hour lull and then a pack of small fish passed through. When every strike meets nothing in the way of a thud, what you have is a stack of 12 inch juveniles in the swim who cannot hope to get even a two-inch chunk of fish in their mouths let along a whole one but are simply running off with the prize to rip it apart and devour it piecemeal. 

Coventry Canal zander of 4lb 7oz
4lb 7oz of impending disaster

They departed and then there was another lull of an hour or so, when the larger fish returned. I failed to hook the first, lost a couple more and was beginning to believe that all my rigs both experimental and trusted were rubbish. They certainly required looking at back home and in detail because I had not experienced this level of failure in many years. But then the large float was off to the left, the strike was successfully made, and I managed to guide a good fish to the net and bank it. 

The process of unhooking, weighing, and photographing takes a little while, doesn't it? And it takes a lot of busy attention to detail, don't you think?

It was all done and dusted and the fish returned when I noticed Freddy — who'd taken a great deal of interest in this zander — gagging on something. Opening his mouth to remove whatever it was he'd eaten that'd got stuck, I was horrified to find him trying to eject the wire trace trapped beneath his tongue.

Biting it from the line I probed deeper...

But the skimmer section bait and 2/0 hook were nowhere to be seen.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Canal Roach — Cronk, Cronk

Had a few hours spare this morning so I thought I'd go to my projected winter canal roach venue and run another experiment — to see if roach were actually there to catch, because I've seen precious little of them lately! 

Even when this particularly busy cut is covered in thin ice they still make life difficult. If they can break through they'll travel. so last time there I tried helicopter maggot feeder tactics to see if they would survive the boats and allow reasonable amounts of daylight hours in which to fish effectively.

Of course I still intend to float fish in the brief hours when I can. And float fish bread because it is the best bait for the job.  Or at least has proven itself that so far. And so, I set out with a rod, a net, a seat and a box of bread disks to see what I could achieve with them.

One roach would do. So long as it was over a pound in weight, I'd be encouraged...

Along the way a fish topping a hundred yards round the bend from my intended swim was an encouraging thing. A rare sight hereabouts. There's a nook under the far bank cover where i wanted to cast as tight as possible and into two feet of water and less. A boat came through just as soon as I'd established dead depth. However, I'd not put in any mash by then. So, no problem.

Just as soon as the water had settled, In went the mash. But I waited a little while before casting above it. Meanwhile I watched the local raven couple who regard this particular area as their sole territory see off another pair high in the sky above. 'Cronk, cronk'. They called out. 

Which means 'F-off' in bird lingo! And they did.

When I cast five minutes later the immediate result was a one-pound roach! 

Good work...

1lb 1oz Oxford Canal Roach

I didn't get a second bite though. So after another half-hour had passed by, I went home satisfied. 

Below is a video of the beautiful method. Not the bite. Just the way it hangs together and the way it settles down. You'll no doubt be appalled at the sheer size of the bait used. At 18mm that's not even a big one. I'll use 25mm in the depths of winter with utter confidence that it'll pluck every large fish from the swim should they be there. I will try to film a bite but not at this venue because I'll run down the battery trying and then what ever will I do with the two-pound roach that falls just after?

There's enough here to go on should you want to understand it. Click on the video, go to 'Watch on YouTube', read the description, shuffle back and forth to view things, and you can work it out for yourself.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Canal Roach — Kinda

After testing things out near home and satisfied that things would work having hooked and banked a roach/bream hydrid at the lower end of the size range of roach I hope to catch, I went to the venue earmarked for my winter roach campaign to see what trouble would lay in store when two helicopter rigs were cast into the tricky place.

I've started out fishing these rigs wrongly on purpose and for good reason. I do know how is best. They should be fished on a very tight line to the rod and the heavy bobbins clipped on high to register only drop backs. I used them the first afternoon mid-way, so that I could view more of the truth of the matter. That this might make them less effective meanwhile is not the point. Seeing what happens during the bite is. Clipped up tight it's all or nothing. I want to see rises and falls and drops and lurches. All good information to my mind

Secondly my hook links are currently at six inches length and set to hang from the mainline at about 7 inches up from the feeder. They should be 4 inches or less and set just half an inch higher up the line than that so the hook cannot snag the top of the feeder. However, having them work perfectly all the time every time from the outset is not how I learn things. I want to see how they work when set up incorrectly.

And I soon learned something that demands that I must change things to suit this venue.

Boats passed by without problem. Fishing the inside of a long and very wide right-angled bend meant the track was way off. Those that came all took this line and missed my near shelf casts by miles. No rewinds necessary then. However, then came along a convoy of three genuine working boats with professionals at the helm.

I'm always happy to watch this kinda craft pass through. Their skippers are expert!

Strangely, I was just thinking about why I'd not caught perch... and then one appeared!
These fellas don't tiptoe round the corner afraid of what's out of sight. They really gun it hard to get their very long and fully laden vessels round in a smooth clean arc. You should see one towing a butty of equal length round the sharp 360 degree hairpin outside the Greyhound Pub. The missus pumping that great big rudder to not only steer but power it round. It's very impressive stuff. All in a day's work. But this show of gumption churns up the bed no end and chucks all the rubbish about. A lot of which was found festooned around the rigs on retrieval.

The second and more serious problem was that the long hook lengths were twice found tangled in looped knots around the mainline and itself. Turbulence on a tight line had caused them to do the propeller motion they were designed for, but the long supple link had been able to turn in on itself.

However, I did not shorten them. There was more to learn. 

First fish I had was fish in name only. A crayfish. And recasting to the same place I received more bites from them so I cast elsewhere. Then there were a few short pulls of the tip that never shifted the bobbins.  These were from fish. The maggots were expertly skinned so probably from roach, but I was not to discover which species actually caused them. I suspect the incorrectly set up 6 inch rigs had failed to prick as they always should when tied up 'right'.

Big roach don't need to be given nearly an inch to take a mile out of an angler! An inch or two will be subtracted next time... 

2lb 7oz Coventry canal hybrid
What a two and half-pound canal roach kinda looks like...

I left the place satisfied that I'd identified what needed to be sorted at home and then tracked back down the towpath and set up for the last hour of daylight in a banker swim. A fish topped that I fancied was a very good roach indeed so I cast to it And then the heavens opened and I was caught in a long, heavy  and persistent downpour of rain. Of course, the bobbin dropped to the floor during the worst of it when I found myself attached to a strong fish that I wondered might be a small tench.

When I saw it in the water I then had the thought it might be a very large silver bream indeed and one to smash my personal best. But at the net I knew it was another hybrid. But I wasn't complaining. At 2lb 7oz it was a new personal best for roach x bream. And was slap in middle of the size range that I predict for true roach at the venue where I'd just been instructed in advance of wintertime pursuit by boats, crayfish, and purposely ill-tied rigs.

'Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted'. 

The rain wasn't easing any time soon so I attempted a quick shot of the fish straight off the ground.

Kinda worked...

But room for improvement.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Canal Roach — Round the Bend

Had an idea going round in my head lately. There's this canal, you see. And it contains roach. Big ones and proven ones. Not ordinary roach, mind. I truly believe that it holds monstrous roach that you would not believe the size of. In excess of wildest dreams, if my calculations are correct...

The trouble is, the venue is almost impossible to fish effectively but through the night and very early morning times and that is because it is plagued by an endless two-way procession of you know what. That thing I cannot abide. Those once essential but now pointless contraptions that make life hell for the canal roach specimen hunter. 

Imagine, if you will, that one day the motorway system becomes redundant because technological advance renders the vehicles that ply them redundant. They moulder. But Mother Nature transforms them into pretty strips of weathered and crumbling tarmac on which weeds grow tall, butterflies flutter by, hares frolic, and on which pedestrians and cyclists might get to work or take a casual stroll along after. Then imagine that business-minded upstarts buy up all those rusting articulated trucks, punch holes in the sides for windows and kit them out with galleys and bunks. And then rent them out to holiday makers who'll burn tens of gallons of diesel fuel in pursuit of joy by making pointless journeys to nowhere and back again. 

Did I digress? 

Now I said, specimen 'hunter' because I meant just that. A person who goes out and actively hunts prey. Moves around. Does this and that to improve chances. Changes tack. Changes mind. And all to put himself at some small advantage in trying to gain a winning edge against very tricky quarry. Anyone who knows me well will testify that I cannot sit still for long in any swim unless I get the right kind of bites or expect them to come with certainty. I am a hunter by my very nature and never more so than when roach fishing.  

I am not a natural specimen 'trapper' by any means. It is not me who digs a hole in the ground, covers it with sticks and leaves, puts a morsel of food on top and waits for as long as it takes for prey to follow the scent trail and fall in it. That is what I never could abide. All those fruitless hours spent wondering if things are right. Are the rigs correct? Is bait is the right one to use? Was it cast to the right place? All the million little concerns that plague the trapper's waking hours. Who has no idea till his hapless prey falls in when he's fast asleep whether or not it ever will... 

It's no wonder carp anglers buy so much tackle. They have a lot to think about while they wait, and wait, and wait. Maybe this will work better? Maybe that will work better? After yet another blank session during which the uselessness of an approach is revealed, they'll go straight out and buy the answer. And then take the new kit to the bank along with the doubtful stuff just in case it was right after all but the prey were asleep at the time. All piled high in a wheelbarrow. 

Well, I think I have no choice but dig my holes and prime my traps if I want those roach I anticipate, because this venue demands I do. I really don't see any way round it. I cannot keep a float in the water for nearly long enough and when I think I might get a whole half-hour of interrupted calm, round the bend comes yet another.

It's not that I hate the drivers. I don't know them. And cannot judge them. I can't see what kind of footwear they've chosen to go with their appropriately broad-brimmed but usually ill-fitting style-free headwear.  And if you cannot see a man's shoes then you cannot make character judgements about him. Ask any woman if you don't believe me. Women always check your eyes and then your shoes before smiling your way — for the quality of both together belie a man completely. 

The only one I ever saw wearing equally great hat and shoes was a woman...

Surprised I noticed at all when I couldn't take my eyes off her lovely bum. 

An 18 inch roach pan and a very compact outfit

So, anyhow. I digress yet again and must get back on track. This morning I began by tying up helicopter maggot-feeder bolt-rigs and then went round the corner to my test bed swim to see what might happen. I was hoping for roach but didn't know what I'd get. I suspected lots of small perch and skimmer bream. Maggots draw both like nothing else...

The buzzers have no batteries in em. Merely convenient rests. I like to be alert at the wheel and may not buy any for the planned future. The rods are little nine-foot Shakespeare wands teamed with ABU reels. Both are excellent at the job in hand and the outfit fits neatly into the confined spaces of canal towpaths. The feeders are two little green things once given away for free on the cover of some magazine or another. Very small capacity of just twenty grubs. I added extra weight to them by cutting up scrap lead flashing found in a skip into strips and folding it around the original too light pieces. I don't want to spend money I don't have to, and over-feeding on canals is the kiss of death in every instance. 

1lb 7oz Coventry canal hybrid

I was most surprised at sitting about for half an hour without so much as a touch. Fishing the near shelf and at almost a straight line along it I survived three boats in a row without a recast. Something of a miracle that every one passing by actually stayed in the track when yesterday one misjudged and crashed into the bridge by making too wide an approach on the bend. I was just beginning to doubt my traps when the right-hand swinger twitched, rose and fell, and then slammed into the rod. This was not a roach and neither was it a bream. The creature was mad as hell and somehow that I still cannot figure, managed to get under and then cleanly over the other line to be beaten and banked on the left side of it.  

It was a hybrid, of course. But I was very happy with that result because it was very 'roach like' and if the rig would catch such a fish then it would certainly catch my roach too. Experiment concluded. But I stayed around for another half hour to see what else might occur.

I had one more bite and a small skimmer to show for it. But at least there was just the one to show for it. And not even the slightest sniff of the dreaded gorge swallowers. Believe me, where I'm going that is going to matter very much.

If I can beat both of them and the boats too then I think I'm in with half a chance.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Avon Chub — 5-1

A fortnight since I last caught a decent fish, last night I went down the Avon with Martin, carrying along minimal tackle but also the burdensome determination to break what has been something of a dearth of pleasurable activity of late. He was to try cracking a glass ceiling of his own. I was planning to roll meat down a fast chute of shallow water in search of big chub. 

Yep, that's right. Rolling meat — not for barbel. 

This tiring grind has dented my confidence in proven baits, trusted rigs, and my own abilities. It's seen me fishing at local free fisheries, mostly, and trying hard there to find tench, crucians, roach and carp. What I've found in place of all, are respectively birds, weeds, skimmers and crayfishes... 

For tench I turned up at a reedy lake armed with a box of hemp and corn and stupidly fed my shallow gin clear marginal swim with pouches of the mix. Coots arrived as if led by radar and proceeded to eat me out. I moved to deeper water thinking that would defeat them. It did for a while as they contented themselves with those stray yellow magnets that had fallen short. But of course, then they turned their attentions toward the more difficult dives over my baited areas and pushed me home. 


For crucians I thought I'd have another crack at the little lake nearby where I'd heard reports of their capture. Last time I'd tried it had been too weedy to fish anywhere but the deepest places. This time I  found much of the lake surface choked with mature duckweed fern. In this red mire there was just the one viable swim. A shallow area under deep shade where the duckweed had not flourished so well. All I got for my efforts there were a few tantalising liners as fish brushed the bulk shot, but nothing besides.


Roach fishing has become a matter of jostling for desired pegs and then wading through skimmer bream. Bread takes a while to attract roach in this canal unless dropped amongst them. It takes no time at all to attract little bream who seem to have flourished after a couple seasons of very successful recruitment. However, this population explosion is creating a very popular venue. So much so that five or six anglers are seen every day in popular spots. Three or four years ago I'd only see that many in a fortnight. 


Carp were a target because I'd inadvertently found some the week before. I'd turned up with my pole in search of silver bream, baited a likely looking dent in the far bank brambles with hemp and caster, and dropped in. Not two minutes later a large swirl erupted under the trailing briars. Attention fixed upon it in wonder at what might have caused it, I looked back to the float but it wasn't there. I found myself attached to what felt like a sodden sofa cushion. But it was not that. It was moving the wrong way. I fancied I'd foul-hooked some kind of large fish.

Or at least I presume it was fouled, because no amount of effort on my part would shift it and it seemed to think it had snagged a scale on a thorn. Rising in the shallow water, the fish rolled sideways when I saw the orange/brown flank and large individual scales of a big mirror carp. It succeeded in shifting the hook and vanished quite unperturbed.

Of course, having witnessed at least two carp and large ones at that, meant effort had to be made to catch one. So I pre-baited that swim every morning for a week with the same mix and the addition of a little corn. Early one morning I fished again suitably armed. But succeeded only in having the hooks stripped clean of corn by the crayfish that my hopeful campaign had drawn in from all around. 


And then I went with Martin one evening to a new water. Reputed to hold crucians in excess of four pounds it seemed worth a shot. I could not buy a bite yet Martin two pegs along caught from the outset and continued in that vein of success through till dark Eventually I did manage three F1 carp, who looked remarkably crucian like. Well, that illusion didn't last for long when Martin brought down a real one for comparison and then had two more, and tench too. 


Rolling commences at 6 O'clock. The river level is very low but in the chute it seems plentiful enough. Fast paced, gin clear, and with the bright pink bait highly visible I believe I cannot go wrong. However, a few short trots down brings forth nothing. A few longer forays finds a single pluck. It's only when the bait reaches such great distance downstream that hooking fish will be to court disaster that I begin receiving indications that I've discovered the lie of my quarry. 


That spot happens to be at the head of the next swim downstream. That peg happens to be vacant. So I occupy it. There's a tricky problem though. The fast water there is some distance out from the bank. And there's a large pool of still water to be negotiated between and flanked each side by dense beds of reeds. Reaching where I'd found the fish to be is a matter of wading out half way, stripping loads of line from the centre-pin and luzzing the meat out to them. But it proves hopeless. Fifteen yards away and fishing at right angles to it, I cannot control the bait in the flow and I'm not in touch with it. It feels plain wrong.  


So I return to the bank and hatch a plan. There's a second rod in the quiver. Trouble is it's been used for fishing single grains of corn for carp, it's now too dark to tie on a hair, and I don't seem to have brought any along ready-tied. To compound matters the weight is three-ounces. That means I cannot cast all the way from the bank and have a hope in hell of keeping the soft bait on the hook without a stalk of grass jammed in the gape because the weight of the lead plunging through the water at speed will rip it through most every time and leave me fishing bare-hooked. But if I should employ a stalk to achieve a trusted cast that will then impede the strike.

I'm on the horns of a dilemma. 

So I hook the meat through, push the float stop up the line turning the bolt rig into a running rig so that the buoyant bait may pull a little line through the eye of the swivel when the heavy lead enters the water. Hopefully cushioning the shock. Then wade out and lob the rig as low as possible to where I want it hoping for a soft splashdown. I think it's OK. Returning to bank I find I've left my rod rest heads at home and have three useless sticks. Never mind. I wind the bank-stick camera swivel attachment in and rest the rod on that. 

The tip bangs hard over, springs back, but no there's hook up...


I repeat the procedure. A really savage take but a hopeless, fumbled, late strike


And again! 


It's now dark and wading out a matter of safe route memory. I have an iPhone torch but no lanyard and no fish is worth that cost. Time has all but run down and this will be last chance cast should I risk it  Nevertheless, I trust my footings by now so out I go. Once out there all alone up to my waist in the drink and the dark I consider staying put and fishing by touch alone, but don't. I feel that the only way a fish is going get pricked and hooked with such sharp and violent bangs is not by my flailing away, but by having the hook pull through the meat on a very tight line. 

I can just see the rod now. Then I've an idea. I flip the bait runner off then wind the spool back till the rod tip is bent right over against the weight of the lead but just below tripping point. A sprung trap. Should a fish take then I'm betting it'll dislodge so violently that the work will be done hands free. Within a minute the tip twitches, springs back straight, and then lurches toward the water.  Fish on! 

There's a little night vision coming on by now. So I wade again to control the angles of the fight. Glad of that when the fish becomes weeded. From the bank that would have become a real problem but beneath a vertical line extraction should be a simple matter. And then, when I have it beaten, I'll just walk it back to the bank and chin it out. The fish emerges into the clear, gradually tires, arises in the water, when I see a pair of big white lips.  

The takes may have been strident ones but all along I knew they were never arising from barbel. Too many in too short a time. Chub are what I set out for and eventually, that's what I get. My best for some time and since 2009 the only five-pounder. And I'm sure of that as I heave her onto the grass.


That's her weight , and the scores! 

5lb 1oz Warwickshire Avon chub
Martin, who's camped in an upstream peg in pursuit of his first double of the season, has yet another single to add to a capture tally standing at 12. Made of sterner stuff than I, he's quite unperturbed.


I couldn't bear it!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Canal Chub — Checks and Balances

'Jim Sidebottom was fishing the Coventry Canal when a chub 22 inches long took a liking to his lobworm hook bait. 
Jim didn’t have any scales or a camera with him but estimated the fish at 9lb, and the catch was witnessed by two other anglers. Whatever its true weight it’s another example of the potential of the Midlands canal network'.

This report from the Total Fishing website intrigued me. Wouldn't it intrigue you if you were me, lived just a stone's throw from the water in question, and by way of local towpath gossip had gained a very good idea of where it was banked? 

Simon Daley and his big Stour chub
A 9lb chub is a very, very big fish indeed. But at 22 inches just does not seem long enough to me. I'd say somewhere between 23-25 would be about right for such a fish with normal body proportions. However, I have seen a 7lb chub up close because it fitted into my roach net (22 inches long from spreader to frame) and quite comfortably for the purposes of weighing. That fish was from the Dorset Stour and caught by Simon Daley on a size 20 hook to one pound bottom. It was remarkably short, but very, very broad and deep . It had all the proportions of a small carp. 

Nice cropping, Hatt...

So I went back through the blog archive (my essential and indispensable log) to the very first month and the account of the capture of my largest ever chub — a fish that I weighed at 5lb 9oz.

It was approximately 22.5 inches in length and 5.5 inches deep gauged against the 4.5 inch width of the Okuma centre-pin reel in the picture. But that fish was weighed on luggage scales. I bought them from Lidl on the way to the Severn at Montford Bridge where it was banked.

I think they may have been the first set of scales I ever owned!

I still have them hanging in the shed as a curiosity and am glad that I kept them by as such. Because just a little later and thinking that reading a little low for what was a really chunky fish, I proved them to be some way out of whack and bought a new set I could rely upon...

This train of thought precipitated my annual scales check. So I got all my current sets out, hammered a nail into the shed door frame to ensure absolute verticality and stability, and then checked each in turn and one against the other with a 2lb weight. 

Maximum capacities left to right.  4lb — 32lb — 11lb

All were fine, accurate, and most importantly they were in agreement giving readings just over 2lb because of the thick Lidl carrier bag used as a sling. And so my long standing PB roach weighed at 1lb 15oz 8dr on the rotary set still stands. 

Still can't squeeze that extra half ounce!

4lb brass Salter in 1 ounce divisions — 2lb weight plus carrier bag

Out of curiosity I then slung the 2lb weight beneath the luggage scales when I received the shocking news of the incredible underestimate of just 1lb 4oz...

Imagine what excess baggage charges must have damaged the shallow wallets of hapless Lidl customers having relied upon these contraptions at Heathrow!

Next I slung exactly 5lb 9oz beneath one of the good sets and checked it against another. Agreed weight. Then slung that weight beneath the Lidl set. Oh dear! 'Some way out of whack' is just what they were and at some considerable margin under.

So I added bits and pieces to the bag hung below the dodgy set to have it read 'exactly' 5lb 9oz and then hung that weight beneath the good sets. 

Crane 50lb set in half-pound divisions reading approximately 5lb 9oz. here or there!

11lb brass Salter in 2 ounce divisions accurately reading 6lb 5oz for the previous Crane 'estimate'.

6lb 5oz!!!

Good grief. That's quite a chub PB for a Coventry angler. Shame I'm stuck with 5lb 9oz till I beat it with a fish weighed on the good ones! There's no backtracking, I'm afraid. 

But at least I do know my current sets are all performing perfectly in tune and singing the same hymn...

So. About that chub report. Can it be believed? 

Well, 22 inches is not nearly enough length for a 9lb chub to my mind. 6-7lb perhaps, and at very best. Still, that's a very large and desirable fish and one that I'd love to have on my PB list. But not a potential record shaker, I think. 

What do I know? I've never seen a big old Coventry Canal chub, have I?

But I do have reports of where one or two might live. 

And they're not so very far away... 

PS. Mick Newey's comment with a link to the Chub Study Group proved useful. I drew a median average line through the table and got a reading of an average weight of 6lb 12oz for the length of 22.5 inches. It was a summer capture, and though a chunky fish across the back, probably not at full late winter weight in the belly. So I think 6lb 5oz more than reasonable for it. Subtract up to half an inch for good measure and it still seems spot on.

Still can't and won't claim it though!