Thursday, 29 March 2012


(A blog out of sequence on the North Oxford Canal)

Light was already fading as I approached the water, flushing the obligatory pair of mallard into a syncronised vertical take-off (& yet a harrier is a floaty bird of prey?!). Sunset was to be at 6.27pm and camp was made at 5.50pm

The increased acceleration of a narrowboat could be heard penetrating the arch of the traditional brick humpback bridge as I emerged from the muffled sound within the car. The impact remained visible closer-to with clouds of silt swirling a channel like cold tea. 'One lump or two?' I murmured, as I took pole position two swims east, and concluded 'probably none!' with only a few minutes until dark and little time to build any interest

Such a long time away from such a scene had erased the memory that Friday evening was the antithesis of pleasure, as would be Saturday morning, with instant narrowboaters charging back to madly multiplying marinas at full throttle for changeover to the next...and end of school term imminent

Undeterred, I assembled the minimised kit having discarded all manner of, now pointless, competitive attachments and fry-seeking enhancements in the back room to gather dust until the Lady Burton could explain the machinations of 'sell one like this' to me

Selecting a rig from the myriad multicoloured bars of the 'gaudy fishing heaven' tray was a challenge...all too light, until I found one I could make do & mend with and attached an 18 to take two maggots

A regime of introducing 3-6 wriggly carrots & turnips every few minutes commenced, the gable of a building opposite served as a perfect target as the effort concentrated in the gap between a window and the alarm box in its reflection

Things were always going to be hard, this was at best a location from which I had occasionally mustered two pounds of fish and at worst a place to avoid an unequivocal water-licking but I was there & approaching a potentially good time of year

The water pulled left then right and refuse to settle, with locks 2 miles west and 6 or 7 miles east to battle over the water volume; the tug of war continued into the gloom until, at the point when I had again blanked-out the possibility of further disturbance, a second narrowboat with headlamp blazing chugged out of the bridge arch to my left, slowing-down as it passed - the cafuffle thwarted - but at an optimum time to terminally delay the likelihood of a bite

By this time a precious hour had passed and I reached for a headlamp to illuminate from above. An ultrasound device, seeking out the night's first common pipistrelle at around 10degC gently glowed next to the piercing brightness of my phone clock while the headlamp bizarrely picked up the reflecting white back of a common frog's eye as it passed the blazing float tip. It moved as if breaststroking against the grain of a ploughed field toward the near bank and out of view

The bat appeared at 7.10, with its slappy sound somewhat distant and fleeting, accompanied by the probable pre-nesting nocturnal peewit-ing of green plovers in a meadow to my left, abruptly returning later to forage briefly nearby and depart as instantly. 40 minutes after sunset suggested the flying marvel was a long way from its roost given that they tend to emerge after just 20.

The water continued to pull to the right and by now I was seriously beginning to contemplate the prospect of another trip without any fish on view but with the steady trickle of free maggots continuing and the float held back against the flow with a hookbait 6" over-depth it was still possible that a monster of the not-so-deep would trip over the bait so I told myself 7.30 would be the deadline

A few tiny fish had been topping just prior to dark together with the hint of a couple of their larger brethren beneath the surface but insufficient evidence to give cause for confidence as I started to chill and drew a soft fleece-lined collar over my neck

More mallards continually quietly muttered their irritation at my presence when at 7.29 the float seemed to have disappeared. I looked to the right of my float to get that additional focus of the natural human night vision ('searches schoolboy biology memory bank - rods and cones?) and became certain I struck up and left and the blue elastic extended two feet then more accompanied by the momentary suggestion of hooked heavy debris when a motion reminiscent of piscine digging commenced, after alternate spells of kiting and more digging the predicted perch appeared a deep green in the lamp beam and slipped into the net

On inspection this footballer was remarkably brightly coloured for a murky North Oxford Canal inhabitant, and notably rotund, sure enough this female fish was eating for hundreds! At 14ozs she was probably 4ozs overweight but would soon return to fitness once the excitement of spring was over

Fifteen minutes later the call of the square section potato we know as chips overwhelmed me and the scene was deserted, next time I'll remember to avoid the prime boating periods!

[Species list: Jackdaw, lapwing, mallard, robin, great tit, fieldfare, common frog, common pipistrelle, perch]

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A Medium Slice of Canal Roach Fishing

The point of it all
 This was going to be the day. Too long away from the cut, but for a handful of half-hearted visits two or three years back, made this the most important out-door day in the past fifteen years

This day though was more than just that, it was also the start of something new, something exciting. The start of a new approach to the canal scene, one taking in all ambient influences punctuated by the pursuit of big fish, fish that 20 years of canal match fishing in the '80's and '90's had told me were present but scarce, how would that have changed? Well the few visits I refer to above had given me a clue that the myriad small fish had gone, locally at least, but what had replaced them?

A month of recent small stream angling with lumps of bread flake taught me a few important lessons on a more positive bread-based approach and an opportune post
a few days ago put some welcome momentum behind the task ahead

Bread punch fishing had been my favourite tactic in the latter years of my previous canal fishing period and noteworthy aspects of this approach were set-out in my previous post (

The method served me well in netting a few 'stamp' roach on many an occasion with the outstanding feature being that the biggest fish came first and after which they decreased in size as the session progressed (on a good day!). Occasional roach hovering around the pound mark and plenty in the 3-10oz bracket would succumb to punched bread, particularly on those cool or frosty autumn and winter mornings

So, background set, it was my overwhelming desire to visit the most apparently undesirable of swims just three pegs from a bridge where a short narrow length of the North Oxford Canal was of greater depth than any other area I remembered and which I knew from past experience held (at least two!) pound roach but frankly little else. A good match weight from this area was 1 pound-plus and two pounds exceptional.
Given that the intention was to target bigger fish, and bigger fish only, no blank-avoiding tactics would be entertained but to fish big pieces of flake I knew from my river lessons that a fair weight was required to sink such a buoyant object and that previous attempts to fish larger pieces of the bait were fundamentally flawed. I had tried to use my standard light rigs which would not have sunk the hookbait any closer to the bottom than a could I not have sussed that?!, I could catch the occasional good roach on a 5-6mm punch pellet but literally NOTHING on flake

So, at this point, the aforementioned Hattian post came into play. Into the mental mincer went the method and technique with a sprinkling of past experience blended to suit the type of venue. What came out was a hybrid, rig - not concentrate!...a cane tipped body-down pole float was ripped from it's winder and rearranged with about 6no.6 bulk and then 3no.8's strung between 2 & 3 inches from the hook. Not quite the Ivan Marks 'snap an inch off a float' trick but along the same lines. The aim being four-fold:
- get the bait to the bottom
- hold the bait still
- use no.8's in the hope of avoiding the bait being spat out by wily old fish
- set the depth to give lift bites when the no.8's were picked-up

Pole and float poised for action, but would there be any?
 Early on Sunday morning a good splat of white breadcrumbs with some mashed bread included went in pretty well slap bang in the middle of the boat channel at the deepest point. The rig was set at 4-5" over depth with the float held slightly to one side of its settling point into the pull of the water so that about 5mm showed. The wait was endless, no sooner had I settled the float as I wanted it than the full extent of Cane lifted right out of the water and on the strike a substantial length of blue elastic extended towards the audible 'wahoo-oo' filled the air and the diagnostic feel of a good roach ran down my arm as it burrowed into the water at the sight of the net. In the pan and safe to keep I confess to sharing some choice expletives of excitement with the charm of goldfinches in the facing bushes, they twittered as I swore it really had worked like a dream

One 'chuck' and one pound in the net

Five minutes, later same m.o., a touch more vigorous a display from the victim this time but same outcome without the blue air...I was used to it by now - yeah sure!


Things went quiet after that for 10-15 minutes. I may have missed a possible proper bite, I don't really recall, but there I was 25 minutes in and the float pulled under contrary to the set-up's intentions. Again a sharp strike and, despite the differing preceding float movement, I was expecting the same result until that feeling of a hollow stomach that emanates from the knot between elastic and line staying where it is when the pole is lifted into the fish, now this WAS a lump!

A minute or two later after some kiting, spluttering and one almighty crash of the tail a three pound bronze bream lie in the sagging net as I lifted it clear of the drink

Three fish for five pounds in the first half hour but this could not last. The stretch, I suspected, might hold the odd further decent fish yet but sure enough that really was it for the time being. For the remainder of my two hour, pre-breakfast visit I alternated this method with a closer line of trickled maggots but stayed biteless until 9am

It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life, for me,
And I'm feeling good
 What a start to canal life after a long lay-off. The fish weren't bothering with ounces they all weighed bang-on whole pounds and somewhat symmetrically capped-off an exceptionally successful experimentation session to move forward with as soon as I possibly can and try this elsewhere. The roach will not have been P.B's for this canal but I do not recall one heavier than 1-4-0, so that (for now) will be the target, and the bream breaks my record for this canal by at least 1-8-0 so I don't expect ever to beat that, although I seem to remember an old black one over 4 pounds being caught many years ago

What a half hours' sport
 Roach are the real quest however and the next likely venue I have in mind could hold specimens over the pound if they still exist and, after today, I see no reason why they should not but it could equally have been a fluke, that remains to be revealed

[Back in the 1970's a few hundred specimen roach were stocked into the North Oxford from Draycote Reservoir. The largest I recall being caught went 1-15-0, by The Old Duffer himself no less, although rumour has it they went to over 2lbs when stocked. They couldn't still be alive I'm sure but we've all gotta dream!]

Bird list:
Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Skylark, Dunnock, Song thrush, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, Mallard, Woodpigeon, Collared dove, Indeterminate gull species.

Nina Simone
Dave Burr, 1965 All England Champion
The Old Duffers' back catalogue of captured fyshes - okay so I'm making it up now, I admit it

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Last venue of the river season

One day left then and it was back to the Leam to follow more precisely the 'laws of small river fishing'. With Jeff Hatt's timely advice fresh in my mind I left the village stores with TWO White Tin Loaves and a ladle to apply it with, perhaps I took him too literally?!

Having given myself less restriction than the customary 2 hour slot I walked a touch further than previously, commencing at the furthest swim I had formerly dabbled in and starting around 3pm by introducing two handfuls of mashed bread into that and, on the grounds that I was alone on the venue, each of the next three swims. This decision was preceded by some genuine pangs of guilt as I was brought up to fish one swim so that the others were available for other anglers but I am getting used to the fact that small river fishing would falter on that aspect alone and, as we are not talking venues where all the pegs are defined and worn, this was the time to get used to the principle

In doing so I fairly immediately questioned the wisdom of such an approach as I watched a shoal of 5 or 6 chub in the 2lb class slowly sink their black-piped grey forms into the deeper darkness of the second swim, the water so clear as to make concealment of my presence almost an impossibility

The early start could quite easily have been foregone for two or three hours' bird watching as I only enjoyed the occasion tap on the tip trying all four swims with the now customary large cube of rubbery crust on the hook in search of the target - a first ever 4lb river chub. The inclusion of the word 'river' is a bit of a giveaway clue here to the fact that, yes, I once managed an incredibly flukey Oxford Canal chub of 4.3.0 with 12 minutes of a match to go back in 1994 (on carp gear just after I'd fortuitously lost my light caster rig on a snag!) which was accompanied in the keepnet by a small shoal of very nervous gobies huddled in a corner

The final gambit was to revisit the first swim which I most fancied for the compulsory bite as the chill of dusk descended. Having neatly located a submerged branch in a deeper channel by trying to remove it from the river bed on my first visit to the swim I moved upstream a little on my return having introduced (a ladle of) more mashed bread above my previous baiting as I departed earlier to try the other swims

I was just silently and simultaneously bemoaning the fact that I'd left my head torch in the car, enjoying the clear loud hooting of the invisible resident tawny owl just 15 metres in front of me and listening to my bat detector hissing its disapproval of the low evening temperature keeping bats in their roosts when the experience from my first small river session just four trips ago must have occurred again as I instinctively struck into a savage bite and relied on the Avon to get the fish away from any snags and into the the dark

So everything went to plan with the chub's capture except the missing SD card still in my laptop from my last post meaning I had to delete an image to get this 'record shot', as birders would say as an excuse for a worse than useless photograph, of the fish

I have to say, as soon as I saw the fish in the net I could be sure the target was going to be safe until next season. It was noticeably larger than the fish I had four trips back and the scales confirmed the discrepancy to be 10ozs as they settled at 2.15.0. Nevertheless my biggest since that chance encounter 18 years ago and this time actually an intentional capture, albeit on the last possible cast of the season. As the fat lady was clearing her throat I packed away by Braille and gazed across the meadow into the waist-deep blanket of mist before walking back across the spongey pasture considering the lessons of the preceding month with a hint of satisfaction but this was more to do with 'being out there' and the last minute avoidance of a blank than the actual catch, nice though it was. So neither death (thankfully), nor glory (sadly) but a satisfactory conclusion to perhaps the last bastion of common sense in the coarse fishing calendar - the river season

My baptism has been into a different world; different approach, tactics, method...skills even; different everything, but those aspects worth remembering are noted and next season we'll give it another go, without doubt

Meanwhile I was tempted to try the same tactic on a peg on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby on Sunday where chub used to be found but without success, so next week it will be back to the canals, properly and in earnest, in pursuit of their slightly larger inhabitants and seeking to make direct comparisons to the '80's & '90's. Another interesting little episode to come, of that I'm certain

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A Stream of Ideas

Barely wide enough for the rod. Newting with a jam jar had the same feel
I tried to conujure up an analogy all the way home, all twenty minutes of it, and concluded it really was like a right-handed batsman being asked to bat left-handed for the rest of his foreseeable career

I had avoided blogging immediately after the blank on the second trip of the new era in the hope I might be able to make more sense of things after another attempt, I shirk use of the word 'session' at this point as it implies some kind of control of the situation, something I clearly do not currently benefit from

The second and third trips of the new era, given that the river season is running on empty (in fact most of the rivers are empty) and nearby is therefore good, were back on the Leam. As every venue, indeed every peg, is a novelty at this stage it is difficult to walk past any swim which looks anything less than fishable and this is exacerbated by the fact that I have been limiting myself to a couple of hours late in the day for a whole range of reasons, related and unrelated to angling. The river itself cuts through some delightful countryside enabling the distractions of the wider world to tangle with fishy deliberations and actions, particularly as darkness decends

A 10 year old companion on a narrow clear river is perhaps not the most comforting of thoughts but Parps was very careful to keep still and below the skyline keeping himself amused mashing some bread, muttering about the numb bum he'd succumbed to and later, of course, taking complete control while I knelt behind the stool in search of a solution that never came. The team match angler in me clearly has not been quelled by the passage of time as I attempted, in diming light, to avoid a blank rather than stick to the point which was to attract the same sort of violent bite I'd had the previous week

A coiled spring in stealth mode...can you see where he is?

The questions were many-fold and confounding, due largely to a lack of suitable experience. Was the water too clear, was it simply that those chub big enough to hit the rod top hard weren't present in that swim, was the rig wrong, the feed wrong, etc, etc? Had I been doing this for sufficiently long the answer would have been obvious but at this stage there are more questions than answers (cue Johnny Nash)...and the answers were often guesses as the experiences start to accumulate

So, waffling apart, trip two ended with a good old blank! Only the suggestion of fish presence conveyed by the tippy-tappy tip for a good percentage of the time was a comfort and we traipsed back to the car metaphorically empty-handed but with dreams intact

A week later (was it really that long?) I revisited to pursue the target 4lb chub again. How many challenges does an angler require I asked myself as I sat there in a far tastier looking swim for the last hour or so of daylight, plus a bit. I mulled over the factors I was grappling with and started to see some understanding float to the top by the end of the 'attempt' or, as Sven would say, 'opportunity':
  • Water clarity is more of an issue on a narrow river than on a canal it seems and it was just noticable that the water flowed very slightly more turbid than the previous week after a midweek downpour, with a sizeable chunk of crust perhaps visible to a foot or so beneath the gently wrinkling surface
  • Flow rate of the watercourse was a touch increased this time
  • A longer, deeper glide to go at before a semi-raft in mid-river was better then the previous two swims I had tried
  • Concentrating on the link leger rather than float (the latter suggesting to me a more compromising approach which would likely produce more fish but diminish the prospects for the target to be hit), even though the float would have been my natural preference
  • Being limited to one swim by time constraints when it is clear from all available advice for this type of fishing that a series of swims and a regime of baiting is the most profitable approach
  • First time with a centre-pin, which, apart from two wraps around the stem, went rather well
  • How to fish after dark? Betalite or headlamp for the tip? Gut feeling was the former - only had the latter to hand (trip to shop required)
  • and many, many, more

The attraction of the problem

Somehow though, despite this stack of odds against me, it seemed, a certain confidence returned which pushed the previous blank out of scope. The tippy-tappy tip was back and fully ignored and I was convinced that the link leger was working as it should at the correct weight and associated movement round the swim until perhaps an initially quite immaculate mute swan sailed past, some of my feed must've floated into the raft and once she had sniffed that out could I get rid of her? She was up-ending for my bait and feeding the swim was out of the question. Eventually we reached an agreement, she would stay well upstream if I fed a line for her as well as the fish and ultimately, but not until close to darkness, she drifted off to roost by the road bridge where she seems to spend most nights. At one point a kingfisher shot over her head and twice afterwards a pair, or pairs of (they weren't labelled), ravens loped by, punctuating their stuttering aerial route with a laid-back series of cronks

A stronger than normal burst of tapping on the tip produced a 3 ounce roach mid-session, there I said it!, and about 10 minutes before dark a 10 ounce roach gave a proper bite; a fish in which the swan took an interest strong enough to suggest she might try to snatch it if I didn't whip the landing net out of the water quickly!

Around this same time that massive yank I already recognise as a chub bite occurred and while I connected the fish was on for only 2, maybe 3, seconds before the hook pulled-out and certainly not long enough to speculate on the nevertheless truly monstrous size of it (this is a fisherman's tale!)

I had never tried it before but I knew from reading avidly on the subject that the period after dusk was highly prized by anglers far more experienced and skilled in such matters than I as an optimum time for fish to come onto the feed. So I gave it 20 minutes or so longer than I had intended (Scamper and Monty apparently enjoyed my Sunday dinner) and had a couple of presumed roach bites which I missed and the presence of a foraging bat overhead combined with the by now incessant hooting of two tawny owls prompted me to smell what was left of the chicken and head off

There's a bat in there somewhere
 I came away with the feeling that it was starting to make some sense and that, with the benefit of one more, more extensive, go before the end of 14th having thus far fished for a combined total of around 6 hours in three visits, I might yet end this crash-course in small stream fishing, perhaps against the odds in low and clear water, with something of a plan to set in motion toward the end of next season...if not even the target