Friday 27 November 2015

Canal Zander & Pike — Embrace the Void

If there's one thing about living right by a canal full of zander that I consider a great bonus then it isn't that I can go catch loads of them at a moments notice, but that I can go experiment with hooks and rigs and baits and what not without incurring overheads. If you have to travel far and then pay for the privilege of fishing for them, then understandably you'll just want to catch if you can and will choose the most reliable method known even if its success rate is actually horribly low. Experiments cannot be afforded. 

I don't have to worry about all that. My greatest cost is that of half a slice of bread with which to catch skimmers for my bait... 

The void between MX and PT is critical. A membrane of flesh covers it. 
The picture above is the skull of Perca fluviatilis, the European perch. It is well worth studying if you are a predator angler because this skull is the typical one of the Perciformes. All members of this huge order of fishes have similar skulls, or at least all members have the same bones in the same configuration with the same linkages between articulated jaw parts but with often very large differences in skull morphology. Marlins and sailfishes, for instance, are Perciforme but so are ruffe and sand eels. It's difficult to imagine that such vastly different fish are related at all, let alone that they all share a common ancestor. But they do.

There's just thirty or so Perciformes swimming in British waters but only a handful that attract the attention of anglers both as quarry and as bait (and often as bait for another Perciforme!). There's perch (of course), ruffe, bass, mackerel, the various sea breams, sand eels, wrasse, and the subject of this article, zander.

You'll notice the absence of pike. Pike are not Perciforme but Esociforme; a very small order of fishes that includes just two families — the pikes/pickerels, and mudminnows. By contrast, the Perciformes comprise of 160 families, 10.000 species, represent an astonishing 41% of all bony fish and are the largest order of all those animals with articulated spines like us — the vertebrates.  

On the one hand we have a narrowly specialised order that evolved many millions of years ago to exploit very particular niches and have remained almost unaltered since. On the other we have a burgeoning explosion of species each of whom evolved to exploit particular niches amongst a myriad of alternative situations and no doubt continue to do so to this very day. 

The Perciformes are, by any definition, one of the most successful orders of animals that ever populated this planet.

The skull of pike. Notice the lack of voids around the jaw
Pike aren't related to perch, nor are they related to zander (in fact zander are more closely related to wrasse than they are to pike, which seems preposterous but is true). So, the old 'pike-perch' name for zander is most misleading, though it still persists in usage. It's remarkable that bait fishing for zander is for the most part conducted as if anglers were fishing for 'pike-perch', that is to say they are fishing for zander with pike tackle as if zander were actually a perch/pike cross. 

You wouldn't fish for large perch with pike tackle and even if they grew to double figures you still wouldn't, and that's because perch fishing and pike fishing diverged centuries ago. 

The skull of zander. Notice the large void behind the jaw

Our approach to zander, though, has yet to split fully away and develop in its own right and so it remains tightly bound to pike fishing practises because the history of zander fishing is so very brief, sprouts from pike fishing in the first instance, and is yet to evolve into a separate and distinct branch of the sport.

Standard pike fishing dead-baiting approaches applied to zander are not appropriate. The only thing they share in common is that they both eat fish...

The Coventry posse established that many moons ago when just about every blogger about these parts was fishing for them but experiencing disastrous returns on (admittedly small) investment with treble hooks. So we were driven to explain why so many runs were missed without the least indication that a fish was there in the first place, when a thud was felt it might drop off a few seconds later, and when a fish seemed well hooked then one in every two (or three) might shed the hook mid-fight or at the net. 

We were losing up to 90% of chances on a very bad day. 60% on a good one. It was all wrong.

Because the canals are very easy for us all to reach and therefore we could experiment at will, within a year answers were forthcoming. It was found that the mouth of a zander was the entire problem. It just has so little flesh in it that standard treble hooks could not cope. Even in large sizes the three individual hooks were still small and worse, the hook was impaled in the back of a bait and could not turn. So they'd just skate off the bone and only find a hold by accident.

The answer was mostly a hook size and bait size thing. Small slices of fish lightly pricked through the flimsiest piece of skin by single hooks were found to be successful. And these hooks had to be large ones to work best. Sizes in the order of 2 - 2/0 were about right. This approach brought our zander fishing into the realms of normality where loss rates of 20- 30% were acceptable. And then acquired skills might improve it further. 

Missed runs were fewer and fewer between, bumped fish far less of a problem, and it soon became apparent when on occasion five, six or seven runs on the trot were fluffed then it was a pack of very, very small fish that were the culprits.

When I tried an established bass (a perciforme) hook in size 2/0 under a float I found that I'd hook zander always through the void behind the jaw and experience 80% success or greater with them.

But I'm one of those who believe loss rates should not be incurred at greater than 5% for any kind of fishing, be it barbel, roach, or great white shark...

I assure you, the picture above is no advertising gimmick. That is a real hook — the 'Mustad 39937NP-DT Giant Demon Perfect Circle Hook' — and one that will set back the big game shark hunter wanting mako, hammerhead, bull, tiger and great white on his personal best list, circa £150. 

God Forbid they should ever lose one! 

It illustrates perfectly what a circle hook is and what a circle hook does. Imagine that a great white hits a bait and takes it down the throat along with this hook. The point is set at an angle of 90 degrees to the shank and there's a six inch gap between. Because the point is facing in this direction it cannot easily catch on anything unless it hits something to turn around. So the hook is drawn out of the smooth gullet and back into the cavernous mouth where steady tension brings it to the closed jaw. Because the line is pulled against a very large float, the shark's forward motion draws it into the very corner where both jaws meet when it turns and catches around one of them. Against a float that would be the top jaw most likely.

But it only pricks. The fight is what makes it penetrate because there is no striking necessary, in fact that would be a mistake because unless the line is pulled backwards it won't come to the scissors of the jaw as it should.

I draw your attention back to the six inch gap. That's critical. Should a shark with a jaw thickness much, much greater than six inches take the bait (imagine that!) then it's not going to work very well unless it finds thick flesh and Mustad are just going have to create an even more preposterous hook!

But sharks have rubbery mouths. Zander bony ones...

Imagine we take a more reasonable sized circle hook, say a size 2/0, and then try to hook it up to various gauges of metal piping. It can only be hooked fully around pipes with exactly the same gauge of the entire gap or less because the metal is not going to give at all. 

But when a circle hook meets up with a (less than impenetrable) jawbone and wraps round it then the point will be driven in gradually by force. Not very far, but enough. And when they lock up there's nothing a fish can do to shed them. The barb is quite unnecessary, in fact. Once coiled around the jaw they just don't fall out of their own accord, in fact you can slacken off if you like. Take a tea break and let a shark do what it will for a few minutes! 

When used for more reasonable predators such as pike and zander then the same principles apply. I've trialled them recently and can report 100% success thus far. Well, 100% percent success after remembering not to strike as I did with the first two runs under a float when I dragged the hook out in error. Since then I've banked five fish by them (3 zander, 2 pike) without any trouble at all. 

The last zander was taken by a further experimental approach. I'd gone perching down the cut but had a rod made up in the quiver that I'd used on the river a few days prior to the session. It was a simple running ledger rig with a two-ounce lead and a size 1 circle hook. I had an idea. 

What if I put out that rig, hung a stick off the line as a bobbin creating time enough for the bait to enter the mouth without resistance, and just let any fish that took the bait drag the rod in? My theory was that the circle would be taken to the scissors by the weight of the lead because the fish would always be swimming directly away from it whatever direction it went. Then the hook would prick as the line was pulled tight to the rod top. And all I had to do then was pick up the rod and wind the fish in.

I never saw the bobbin rise. I was fully focussed on the perch float and only noticed the bite when the rod began inching toward the water. 

It worked brilliantly!

But it was very lazy...

Rewind to the skull picture and see why it was hooked in bone with minimal penetration

Because it swam off above a lead, then of course the fish was hooked in the bottom jaw but did not actually penetrate flesh. It was coiled around it but locked fast anyhow because the point buried in the bone and tension did not allow the hold to fail. I wonder now if I should keep going with the lead approach but also try another variation on the theme on a second rod? 

What if I use a large float...

And I think it will have to be one so very bulbous in order to create two ounces of drag that it makes me look like a bleeding idiot for using it! 

Might that work better ensuring that the hook can always embrace the void?

I have no shame. I'll try anything once...

Or twice!

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Zedvember the 54th — Southern Fairies v Northern Monkeys

Originally a one-off 50th birthday bash never intended to be repeated, the Zedvember thingy has proven itself a useful social gathering for committed and casual canal 'predheads' alike falling as it does at the juncture between the very end dregs of the summer season past and the first fresh blasts of the winter to come. My birthday is no longer the point.

It was always an excuse anyhow!

Winding down in preparation for the tough but promising months ahead and winding each other up in the process is what it's about.

A high minded thing in principal.

But in practice it becomes simpler and simpler minded over the course of the six hours between noon when it begins... and pub time around six when it draws to a close over the course of a beer or three and shared bags of pork scratchings.

A motley gang of grubby weather beaten anglers descend on my patch of the Coventry Canal, where firstly they'll chew the fat in earnest pursuit of fresh gossip, news of half-baked baiting theory and radical but dubious rig experiments, discussions about untenable claims made about predatory fish signed off and published by the unscrupulous editors of our national rags, personal stories of fishing woes, and of very near successes, the pros and cons of crayfish infestations. And the like.

Boasting is not an issue...

That is never a good idea ahead of zander fishing!

Those who have done well through summer are slapped on the back...

And then things'll progress from best through worst when they'll turn the air blue with tales of outlandish medical horrors involving the injection of nasty chemicals into, and outsize implements thrust down the knob hole, badly timed bawdy jokes, smutty humour and what not in the way of descending quality and ascending hilarity of banter.

Between times they'll think about thrashing the water to foam in pursuit of zander.

But never actually get round to it...

Well, that applies if you're local and have zeds at your disposal, 24/7. 

Not if you make the long journey up from the South where zander are rare, tricky or unavailable at worst, available on a pricey day ticket at best, and are the primary thing should you travel to where they're both wild and abundant, and also free. 

And that was never more apparent than it was this Sunday the 22nd November at the Mecca of the Schoolie Zed, Hawkesbury Junction.

Six anglers in fifty yards. Dan, James, Brian, Mick and Lee. And myself, of course

Mick Newey, Keith Jobling, Dan Everitt, Martin Roberts, George Burton and son Harvey, Lee Fletcher, Ivan Scallon, Sean Dowling and myself, are, according to James Denison, 'Northern Monkeys'.

Compared to 'The Smoke', all country North of Watford is clearly a big small place to a 'Southern Fairy' such as James and brother Richard, Brian Roberts, Russel Hilton and Ben Hennessy....

You've seen their faces often enough. Here's their backsides!
Lee, Keith, Dan, Martin and Mick

Good grief it was cold in the chill wind. And my early morning fears were well grounded because no one caught a thing for a very long time indeed. I worried that nothing would happen at all because it was rock hard.

Granite hard, not sandstone hard, mind.

This session was igneous!

Dan was my touchstone of hope.

Probably the most experienced canal zander angler in the country, he'd warned early that an hour before dusk was everyone's only chance.

And then best taken by way of a length of soft plastic...

Cheers for the pic, Mick!

Our 'Rubber Guru' was correct.

Right as the light began to fade, at last Russel had a zander on a small roach dead bait. And I believe it might have been his best ever? So he and Beth hadn't journeyed to this post industrial wilderness and endured the perishing cold and the tricky fishing for nought.

But would he retain 'best zed' and win the match outright with just an hour remaining?

There was all to play for if Danny was to be believed...

Brian then latched a pike to a shad and was in process of post-catch ritual just as I approached.  A great result and one that gives hope that the double-figure fish have returned after long absence from the local scene because it weighed ten-pounds on the nose. A great looking fish too!

Best pike was in the bag most likely (unless my crafty 'Lazy Rig' would do the business for me at the death...)

But would James break his canal zander duck?

It didn't look likely when so many experienced locals had failed to raise a sniff all day long.

Time was running down fast. But in stark contrast to the slacker Monkey contingent, each of whom have probably banked many times over what zander the industrious Fairy crew have combined, they were all hard at work flicking jigs, here, there and everywhere. While 'we' kicked back, and jawed.

In the last desperate moments of extra time...

Brian missed a savage take, but James knocked it past the keeper!

At last James nabs a Cov zed

This was what I'd hoped for — the visiting team taking home their hard won gongs with James finally catching a zed from this canal after his previous abject failures.

It was just a little un'.  But Mr Jimmy Denison just didn't care a jot what size it was.

And why should he?

This was a personal victory!

But that was that. The brief spell of activity was over in less than an hour and it was soon time to invade the pub, pull a few pints, and retire to our heated 'fishing' hut on the banks of the cold canal, where the social continued in noisy jollity till every last rod had retired home one by one.

Here, there, near and far.

Dragging my gear inside the pub and propping it near the bar's roaring fire,  Judy and I hung about for an hour or two, warmed ourselves with a few more pints, and then walked the inky black mile through the wooded cut to home.

My thanks to all who attended. It was not easy fishing. About as tough as it ever gets, I reckon.

But it was, as it always has been, and always will be with you lot about.

A hoot!

I really think you must have enjoyed yourselves just as much as I enjoyed your excellent company.

See you all again next Zedvember, I do hope!

Monday 23 November 2015

Canal Roach — Highly Unlikely

In advance of the annual excuse for a blogger's chin wag next day, Russel Hilton and girlfriend, Beth, motored up from Exeter to stay over at ours the Saturday night. We all went down to Warwick for a Chinese sit down meal in the evening and then retired to bed prepared for an early morning rise and the gift of a possible two-pound roach courtesy of George Burton.

Judy enjoyed a lie in. Beth came along...

I was full of anticipation. I'd never fished the venue before and there was the very real chance of good fishing should things go well. George wouldn't take us along to a dud. This had a proven and established pedigree for very good roach sport and somewhere along its short length likely does hold those fish of our dreams. 

But it was cold. The canal was liquid though frost dusted the ground. I would have far preferred a thin sheet of cat ice, in all honesty. That would have meant the water temperature had fallen so far it had bottomed out around the three to five degree absolute lower extreme when in still frigid air a fine sheen of ice crystals forms on the surface just as soon as the air above drops below freezing point. When that happens the temperature of these canals will remain more or less stable for months on end rising and falling just a few degrees as weather changes, the roach will have acclimatised fully, and will feed reliably early morning and often throughout the day and night too. 

However, these last few days of cold wintery weather following unseasonably warm conditions has produced a cliff edge drop in water temperature that has not yet hit the deck. Best appreciated when mashing bread in canal water for ground bait, just a week ago it was a comfortable operation. Now it means drying fingers and thumbs carefully and hiding them away in the armpits for a few minutes afterwards otherwise the chill turns them into a team of ten uncoordinated fumbling idiots incapable of precision work. 

It can only be a bad thing where cold blooded creatures are concerned. Well, not for them. What they'll do every year twice over — once in springtime and again in late autumn — is adjust to sharp and sudden rises and falls in the ambient temperature. Both are as bad as each other for anglers, though, because this necessary adjustment period really affects feeding patterns. There'll be a time each day when they will, but you have to be there in the one hour when that happens. And who knows when that will be?

Would it be around dawn on this Sunday the 22nd November? 

George put me on a likely ticket. A swim where large fish often show themselves by topping at the surface. It was dead still there. Rarely is a canal swim that. There's always some kind of water movement to contend with produced by one agent or another. This morning I could leave the line unsunk and it didn't drag the float under. But neither was it moved by the agent of change I wanted. Bites were failing to materialise.

But an hour in an extremely rare event occurred when as predicted a large roach rolled. 'Rare' because they really don't show themselves very often, and when they do it's usually some way off and out of reach unless a move is made to them. 'Extremely' because this was just a few yards away from the float. Whenever this had happened in the past it had meant an imminent catch because there were active feeding fish right by my baited spot. And it had often occurred within short minutes...

I was in with a very real chance of tripping one up. Transfixed by the tip of a motionless float that might well shoot in the air the very next moment, I sat like a coiled spring in anticipation of that sudden and decisive motion. But time wound down. And down, and again, till I knew the opportunity had swum away.

Both Russel and George struggled too. Beth wrapped up in swaddling layers but gamely reading a book in gloves really should have stayed in bed! Though George did eventually bank a small roach right after losing a low pounder, which indicated that roach were indeed willing even if they weren't exactly obliging if you could just put a bait right under their noses. 

All this put a dampener on my sincerest hopes for the coming afternoon. With a dozen or so arriving at Hawkesbury Junction around noon, if roach were not prepared to forage then what were the chances  that the zeds would go on the prowl?

I thought it highly unlikely. 

Saturday 21 November 2015

Canal Roach — American Boy

The second proper session of my winter campaign for a 2lb canal roach did not go at all well. To be honest. I'm sure something or other was worth going for, but I'm struggling to remember what exactly it was that was noteworthy about it...

I have to jot down my thoughts, though. Idler's Quest might be a vehicle of questionable roadworthiness to many but it's also a personal run-about of inestimable value to myself. It is the journal of my days. And if I don't make the effort then I just know that years hence I'll go looking for the account that contains the details of that crucial little thing that I've suddenly realised was the important one. And it won't exist...

And besides that, the act of writing often forces the issue hoiking what seemed an innocuous and inconsequential happening at the time out of obscure memory and projecting it into sharp focus.

Let's see. The two pairs of ravens whose winter lodgings are the looming pylons were very active. A pair of jays have also decided that the far bank hawthorns are a good place to hang about. The dogs walkers were up and about early and some before first light. No cyclists went past but a group of hikers did.

Err, the first boat went past about an hour after starting; the second half an hour later... 

Oh! A low plane out of Birmingham International flying off to a far distant continent passed overhead.

'Take me on a trip, I'd like to go some day.
Take me to New York, I'd love to see LA".

Hmm. Weather was bright and clear with a sharp cold breeze blowing from behind. The water was towing a little but not forcefully. And it was fairly clear at dawn before boats came through and thereafter was lightly coloured. 

I changed swim three times over. Each choice was made based on where I'd caught roach before. Each change was forced by passing boats because they wreck bread swims. 

But perhaps they don't...

Who says they do? 

I do. 


Because somehow I've come to believe that it is fact. 

Nothing whatsoever occurred in either swim, so what would it have mattered if I'd stayed put in the first and just fished on? I might have learned something that couldn't be learned by hopping around hoping to land on a shoal of fish and extracting one or two. What if I'd stayed and patiently built the first swim over the four hours I spent at the venue? Would a shoal have come along later?

Perhaps the crucial thing might have been my own impatience. An adherence to self-imposed 'golden rules' that might just be crusty old habits. 

The utter lack of bites made it feel as if I'd cast into waters that contained no fish whatsoever. That's not true of course. I know it contains very large roach if little besides. Or does it? Maybe it once did and now does not. Maybe it still does and the reason it does is because there are so few others competing for food. Let's face it, true big fish waters rarely hold vast stocks, do they? Some gravel pits hold just a handful of very large bream, for instance. And those souls who fish for them expect to sit it out for weeks for the chance of just one bite.

But this is a bloody canal! I don't know how to sit it out here...

It's - just - not - natural.

"lalalala, lalalala."

"You'll be my..."


Of course............. 

As I'd sat tapping my itchy feet on the bank in time with Estelles' 'American Boy' rotating round and round and round in my head, I'd remembered what had happened on the first session when sitting in precisely the same spot doing exactly the same thing to the very same tune...

A big red juicy lobworm had left its burrow and passed through the lush grass between.

I'd let it go about its business...

And fished on.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Commercial Perch — Marginal

The bloggers challenge is reaching that point where scores are getting harder and harder to achieve. Where I began two months late and then raced up the leader board into a heady third place in no time at all just by going out and catching whatever I could manage, now it's all about improvement and catching what has not yet shown.

It's the same for everyone. George is going to find it very tricky wangling canal points, for instance. He's now facing the task of making marginal improvement to gain extra points because his quota of easy good fortune is running down fast. His stonking eel (which put me back in fourth place) is not going to be bettered. His hybrid also. Even catching a two-pound roach will not earn him a great deal extra over his 1lb 13oz fish because he already 'owns' the 10 bonus points for that. Realistically, there's just 5-10 points available for the expenditure of time and effort such a feat would require...

And besides, he may lose those bonus points to someone else who goes one ounce better and might  have his score not inflated but deflated. Tough stuff! But that's the beauty of these game changing  bonus points. You win some — you lose some. They are not your property.

James down south faces an even tougher challenge. In pole position for what seems like months on end, he topped the 1000 point mark some time back but has not improved a great deal since. He caught a twenty pound canal carp last week for which he earned zero points having already caught better before, which illustrates his problem perfectly. Even banking a thirty is not going to help much. Carp are not big score makers. His river position is even tougher. There are points to make but really, he has exhausted the potential to make great gains there now except for the capture of a Thames zander and fairly easy improvements for pike and perch.

My position is still fairly open. Lots to go at, when I can find the opportunity to go at them. I have a very good roach to my credit but still water fish have proven my hardest challenge and I have fluffed too many chances. However, failing to catch both crucian and tench when the time was right is not actually a problem but a potential lead maker because I have vacant slots to fill next spring. Both will gain me lots of points no matter what at a time when others who have already filled those slots try to gain small margins over what they already have.

Still water perch are proving to be my usual bane. Last weekend Martin and myself went on a foray in the wind and wet to try again. Both having improvements to make and mine seemingly easier to achieve than his. However, it was not looking good at the half way mark with just a few bites between us, them from probably gudgeon, and not a single fish of any species hooked. Then a miracle happened...

Martin moved swim!

Of course I followed suit soon after because though things had been creature comfortable for many hours the wind had changed direction and now blew rain into my shelter. And I wasn't getting the right kinds of 'perch' bites either, so wasn't prepared to endure discomfort in hope they'd come by at some point later on.

So I took up a corner plot I'd fished before where casting prawn at the marginal reed beds one float buried decisively just minutes after settling down and in came the first fish of the day. A perch that matched my previous best to the ounce — so no scores there. What followed was a flurry of bites and perch but none to beat what I'd caught last month in fact they were all coming along progressively smaller. But at last, some points. Three for an improved bream at precisely 2lb. Now I hope to better that by some margin at some point and if I can't top it by at least five pounds then there's no hope for me! 

Martin then began catching perch too, only his were of a better stamp. However, I don't think he scored much in the way of points, if indeed he scored any at all. A tough day in bad weather with little to show for it then. But much fishing will improve over the winter months, I'm sure. And the rivers beckon now with lots to do and much potential to exploit...

However, winter might well throw floods at us. Then we'll be stuck with canals, commercial venues and the like for the duration!

Now I do like my perch fishing. But not that much...

Sunday 15 November 2015

Canal Roach — Ghosts

The roach campaign on the Oxford Canal is now well underway. Well, underwhelming is probably the correct word for it, because on Friday I uncovered a few home truths about my first port of call that I hadn't reckoned with. I got to fish bread at Grassy Bend without a boat passing by for an incredible four long hours. I packed up and went home frozen stiff by an increasing chill wind when the fourth hour had passed by so who knows? There may not have been another boat pass through the rest of the afternoon...

However, what that period of uninterrupted peace framed was a distinct lack of fish. In four hours work there should have been at least six or seven bites. That's what the Coventry Canal would not fail to give in such a time frame at just about any location I know of even during the toughest of times. But I had just one. 

It arrived just as it should at around the three-quarter hour mark. That's typical when fishing bread over mashed bread in wintertime. Almost a rule. It was also a typical roach bite. The float shot up in the air without prior warning and a good fish was hooked. And it really could have been that 2lb roach I set out for the way it fought. 

Jag, jag, glide....

When I saw the flash of a broad silver flank deep down in the murky water I went all jelly legged and giggly headed thinking I'd cracked the barrier first try because the fish was clearly a good two-pounder.  But then it came up in the water and rolled over when I saw a white underbelly with two pairs of pink fins. 

All ideas of roach went out the window. With the Grace of God this must surely be a simply monstrous silver bream heading for three pounds...

Only in the net did I realise that this fish was something of a disappointing freak. It looked all the world like it had to be some form of hybrid because surely it could not be a true bream. Not a hint of yellow-bronze anywhere, just a plain silvery white from tail to snout. Except for the pairs of pink ones the other fins, that should be a mid-dark grey in normal bream, were colourless and transparent. I had to turn my back to the sun to get a picture of it in the shade of my body otherwise the camera couldn't cope with the blinding reflection.

But checking the oddly wonky lateral line, the scale count was way over fifty and absolutely conclusive. Nothing more than a common or garden bronze bream, I'm afraid.  It was one of those strange 'ghost' bream I'd seen years ago swimming beneath the ice a mile up the road. 

A 'ghost' bream accompanied by dark fish of normal colouration
The shoal I saw was about forty strong spread over a large area in small groups of two to five large fish. All were the normal colour except for a couple that were pallid white. These were spotted in a group of five and I wanted to catch one from that day on just to examine them closely to see if they were indeed very large silver bream that I fancied were living amongst these ordinary bronze bream.

Shame that they weren't quite what I'd imagined they might be. At two-pounds eleven-ounces this fish would have been 83% of the current British record and a new British canal record too if they had been! 

I have to say that I always suspected that this area where I have always struggled to get bites was actually something of a desert without much to commend it apart from the undeniable fact that fish when they are caught there do tend to be large roach. Now I was certain that my past ruminations were correct. It really is very sparsely populated indeed.

Which begs the question — should I return to tough it out there or should I explore alternative options elsewhere? It's the specimen hunter's eternal dilemma, isn't it? Do you fish where a proven track record has already been established or seek to confirm a new place with all the uncertainty that entails?

Thing is, for long sessions it does provide what few other places do. And that is, as the venue's name suggests, large spacious grassy verges. And they provide a great deal comfort. Also the ravens were back on the pylons. Two pairs now. And they are quite an entertainment chatting amongst themselves and soaring around while the hours pass by, one by one.

Another try or three, I think. Early mornings perhaps...

Thursday 12 November 2015

Canal Roach — NOXC2LB5OZ

The long cold wait commences...

It's just a mile distant but I haven't fished the North Oxford Canal much since the winter of 2009. Occasionally I'll roam out that way on a zander mission because heavy boat traffic really isn't a problem where that's concerned but otherwise I'll fish the relatively quiet Coventry Canal on the outskirts of the city. 

I have ignored it since because I found it nigh impossible to fish there with bread fished under a float. And that method is my preferred one these days. The one that I have developed specifically to tackle canal roach. But it requires time to work and uninterrupted time is what the NOXC does not give. So I've concentrated efforts nearer to home in order to refine things in relative peace.

Milky white lobworms dug from a back-filled section of the Oxford Canal behind the Coventry Canal at Longford Junction. Because of a labyrinthine and controversial toll debacle when the canals were first built in 1777, the two ran parallel for a mile. The issue was resolved in 1803. Hawkesbury Junction then became what it is today — the point where both join at a stop lock, and the closed section of the Oxford Canal eventually filled with Coventry's household waste and capped by the 1920's.   

However, the head of roach in the Oxford Canal seems lower than that of the local Coventry Canal, but the average stamp far higher. I've caught just seven specimens there. Six were fooled by huge lobworms in 2009/10 but just recently I had one on bread. In ascending order they weighed, 1.00, 1.00, 1.01, 1.03, 1.08, 1.13, and 1.15. An average of 1lb 6oz compared to just 15oz for my local hunting grounds on the Coventry Canal. 

Back in 09 I thought the numbers so impressive that they surely predicted that two-pounds and better were not just possible but very likely. I'd missed that weight by just half an ounce with what was the second roach I'd banked there. How could it not be certain when the first was over a pound too?

However, averages cannot be trusted when they are drawn from such small data samples and I just could not catch enough of them. Fifty fish would be needed to validate and a hundred to set it in stone. I was catching one in every three five-hour sessions at that time. Outlandish baits sizes may have selected only the very largest but stumped the smallest. Add twenty half pounders to my list and the average would be reduced enormously. I just couldn't be certain.

A roach is 'big' only when you'll hold it close and it still looks enormous

Molly took a swim that afternoon. Springers are born impervious

February 6th 2009.  Temperature -2 degrees Centigrade

A very near miss at just half an ounce under

A fish that was warmer than the air!

Oh, my poor frozen hands 


Then George Burton began fishing the Oxford Canal for roach but some miles down the way from where I'd fished. He'd always use bread and so I'd pounce on each and every blog update just as soon as he'd hit the 'publish' button. I was fascinated. I had a brother in arms! 

Doing on the Oxford what I was doing on the Coventry, I just knew by gut instinct that he'd stick at it through the many trials and tribulations to come and therefore establish facts one way or the other. 

Perhaps he'd even succeed where I had failed and break through the two-pound barrier?

It was my sincerest hope he would...

His results, now that he's fished it three years or more, are remarkably similar and his average just the same as mine even though he has at least three or four time the quantity of roach to his credit. He had his second best just the other day at 1lb 13oz. For any canal that's a great big roach but his very best came in at just under two-pounds and four-ounces which is a truly astounding fish because that's just a few drams below the weight of the best roach caught from any canal in this country.


His account of that close call with the history books quivers with excitable disbelief. I read it again and again because it tallies with my feelings when I had my early near miss with a 'two'. I simply could not believe that such a dirty canal could produce such a pristine marvel. I wasn't concerned at all that it was half an ounce under. It was magnificent!

(And yes of course there's a link. But you can finish this first before dashing off!)

George had validated my numbers and my belief in them and gone and done something better. He'd made the Oxford Canal the truly great roach fishery it really is by banking its very first documented and properly weighed two-pound fish.

It was about then that I decided a better way must be found than fishing lobworms...

Now I must go catch a two-pounder myself, because I have set myself the demonstrably preposterous target of catching two-pound roach from river, canal and still-water all in the same winter season. I have the still-water prize done and dusted. The river prize will be very challenging locally but there's a trip to the Itchen planned for early December where such fish, though undoubtedly hard work, are more than possible for both Mr Newey and Mr Hatt.

But for the canal category, I'm afraid that boat traffic notwithstanding I must mount a long and possibly arduous campaign alone on the crayfish burrow riddled banks of the North Oxford because it is never going to happen on the City Coventry Canal in a month of Sundays even though it certainly does hold them. 

And worse still. I want to set a new canal record for roach. Currently standing at 2lb 4oz for a fish caught way back in the 1970's by Mr A. Swan fishing the Gloucester Canal — one extra ounce is what the Oxford must provide nigh fifty years on because it deserves that crowning title.

Such a roach is there for sure. The numbers say it must be. 

But they don't say exactly where!

Sunday 8 November 2015

Commercial Perch — Gimme Shelter

I don't usually endure atrocious weather if I can avoid it. However, yesterday morning we had a perching trip planned during what was forecast as a period of heavy rain and high wind. I remembered that I had a brand new fishing shelter that I'd never used stashed somewhere in the house so I thought it the perfect opportunity to test its mettle. 

It was simple to set up. Well, as easy as it could be given the wind trying its best to wrest it from my grip, but once pegged down it provided perfect protection against the elements. I'm usually quite neat and tidy having done so much canal fishing in the past where tackle must be laid out in military order so that things don't get broken by passing bikers hurtling down the towpath hell bent on beating some personal time trial. However, within the hour the interior was strewn with jumbled gear and soon assumed all the appearance of a 1980's Stonehenge free festival tarp bender on an acid trip comedown.

The fishing was pretty dire. I didn't get my first bite till the 2 hour mark and then all I caught were bream, hybrids and the very occasional roach from that point. At least I upped my hybrid score on the challenge board by 7 points...

I've never thought heavy rain a good thing where perch are concerned. Or roach come to that. And I'd caught neither by noon. Actually, the only kind of fishing that really works in heavy weather is long stay carping and the like. Then getting a bite during the worst of it is not a hardship. But when float fishing it is a busy style that demands a high work rate, so everything gets wet and muddy and there's no way to stop the gradual accumulations of these minor discomforts, Before long it's a mire and the only way to avoid it getting worse is to stop fishing till it ceases.

My swim became alive with fish by degree attracted by a constant drip of chopped prawn. Perch may love them. But so does every other fish and I was stuck with them and them only. Normally I have an answer to that problem but moving to somewhere more productive of perch was not on the agenda today. I had a shelter set up! 

2lb 12oz perch rescued

The weather broke early afternoon and the rain ceased. I continued catching bits and pieces the rest of the session but Martin finally broke through with a big perch. It would be the only one caught all day long between four anglers around the pond sitting it out for them.

For some reason my camera made a complete hash of the trophy shot. All three takes were completely out of focus and somewhat overexposed though pictures taken before and after were perfectly sharp and well exposed. Quite why automatic cameras freak out on occasion I have no idea. Luckily Photoshop can rescue almost anything except a whiteout. Good job this was not his personal best perch, though!

And before...

My only spell of excitement was evening time and finally hooking what I truly believed had to be a big perch. It was hard fighting, kept its head down, and felt quite weighty. There's no other fish in the lake that it could possibly have been except a good crucian. Imagine my face when some kind of washed out gnarly old brown goldfish with a nick out its back hit the net.

City are at home and the crowd turning out in ten minutes time and we have to avoid the traffic.

Hey! Ho! Let's go!