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 (http://floatflightflannel.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/bread-roach-on-canals-and-small-rivers.html)

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 foot...how 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 fish...do 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 target...an 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


  1. George, what a comeback! Couldn't be any better way to return to the cut than a match winning weight in half an hour, could there? I wonder what you could have extracted out across the entire five (or is it six?) of a match?

    Lovely brace of roach too, but I have a feeling that the PB won't last long. My best is 1-15 from the Oxford and average is 1-07! However, they were all worm caught fish in deep freeze conditions. I'll have to make the effort to walk the extra distance this summer when the local silver bream have moved along, and fish it again if the boat traffic isn't too heavy, as that PB of mine is three years long in the tooth now, and it's gotta go!

    Great too, that at last, someone else is fishing the cut after the big fish. Now I'll have someone to compare notes with. I'm already going over to experiment with your string of small shot near the hook rather than one large one as I have been doing. It seems to have precisely the same effect, with the float shooting up in the air before you know what's happened!


    1. Jeff

      Thanks for your kind comments, I'm still pinching myself and the grin has lingered into mid-week!

      The shot poised to be lifted off the bottom was a REAL eye-opener (and I knew the bait was in the right place because of the float settling as it did) but the golden catching period for the better fish after dawn/before the boats and after that first introduction of feed is critical on heavily trafficked canals...how to extend it? Now THAT'S the question. You could easily revert to a small hook and punch but catching all-comers isn't the point...I'm torn between speculating that the catching would continue if the head of big'uns was in the swim and also knowing that fish soon lose confidence if you plunder the shoal too quickly and that is always the risk with bread being such an 'instant' bait don't you think?

      Anyway I suspect that question is more applicable to autumn/winter when extended sessions without boats are possible

      Feel free to float your comparative notes this way and I'll float them back...the cogs are now steadily ticking!


  2. George - as usual excellent and interesting reading

    1. Thanks Ian, 'much appreciated. I'm not sure if it's of any use to anyone but it keeps me amused!


  3. I've never had more than an hour fishing the boat track line undisturbed by a boat. Before the boat I've had bites coming on a very regular basis, but after the boat, the line just dies and can't be brought back to life, no matter what. Another peg along is a different matter, that can be started up after a boat, and the far bank shelf is a different matter too, the groundbait stays put and the fish don't seem to be put down by the disturbance.

    Last year I began to adopt a chub fishing approach and it worked very well. This entailed setting up in one swim, feeding it on two lines, fishing for half an hour, feeding a new swim on the half hour mark and moving along to it after an hour, but topping up the fist swim if bites had come along, leaving it if not. By the end of three hours there's three swims with two lines each fed and waiting for fish.

    Often, a line that had been ignored for three hours would suddenly spring to life, so in the end I hopped from one line to the next picking fish out of each in turn. I never got beyond three pegs fed and fished, as one line of the six always produced fish.

  4. Jeff

    The coincidental ideas are becoming somewhat spooky I actually tried another peg 20yds up after the boat that ultimately sent me packing but didn't mention it in the piece as it seemed pointless and nothing happened but it was the kernel of idea completely at odds with my upbringing to sit it out...and it's taken you to say it to make it real option

    However it will have to wait as I'm taking The Old Duffer on the next one to a spot where there are only three fishable pegs (I reckon)

    Roving on the cut is probably the answer, I agree, combined with a proper plan. Fishing the prime area for each swim and working your way round them to suit traffic, likelihood, etc, etc