Monday, 9 April 2012

The Big Canal Roach Conundrum (or is it the weather/bank holiday traffic/wrong bait excuse?!)

The Old Duffer and approaching Nemesis (not the name of the boat)

So, I'd the opportunity for three consecutive visits to the North Oxford Canal to plan before the bank holiday weekend and, despite the prospect of heavy boat traffic, was confident the early starts would negate any risk of poor fishing

The venues would be selected as follows:
- Likelihood of big roach (1lb+)
- Areas I had fished in the period 1975-96
- Moored boats might be avoided in key swims

Saturday saw me plan to walk between to the furthest flung bridges to seek-out areas which used to be match fished when access was available but which, due to changes in land ownership, are no longer possible. I was going to walk as far as I could manage and revisit pegs which used to produce decent roach catches to bread and caster and occasional skimmers together, as it happens, with good perch to maggot and worm

After walking about 20 pegs a narrowboat was moored facing the way I was walking. Now I'd encountered this before, and I hadn't forgotten the consequences, so did I walk past it and risk waking light sleeping holiday-makers who would then set-off early and pass me before I'd done much fishing on a venue (indeed - canal) which suffered badly from the after-effects of boat traffic due to low fish populations, high subsequent colouration and an associated difficulty keeping them together with regular passing boats?, I decided instantly to stop at the most suitable peg just short and out of view of it. This happened to be close to a former turning bay with plenty of overhanging bushes but, due to cattle being run in fields opposite in recent years the far bank was crumbled into the water resulting in very wide, shallow stretches each side of what had now become a spinney

I had recently bought some new white crumb which neatly set like a self-levelling screed on a previous trip and so had reverted to liquidised bread, a feed which I new from experience not to have great confidence in, but it was all I had

The first bite on flake, naturally popped-up about 2" off the deck, came at about 20 minutes into the session and, while it felt somewhat breamy and lethargic, it turned-out to be a big roach, a real beauty that I instantly thought might push my North Oxford p.b. to the wire. I have long held the belief that fish in a keepnet lose weight between capture and release and so, in another step away from match orientated thinking, I weighed it straightaway and was really pleased to see it take the scales down to 1-3-0 (I weighed it again at the end and it was the much for that theory!). I had guessed in a previous post that my biggest roach from the canal had been 1-4-0 but, on checking back, found it to be precisely 1-3-12 - a fish weighed separately in a match on beam scales in 1993, so the record was still safe but with three roach of a pound from the canal in the past three trips it was suddenly looking a bit precarious...or so I thought...

A Cracking Roach (Gromit) made into a monster by my (girls) hands

  A small roachxbream hybrid of 6ozs was added but an early stream of expected boats put paid to any further action of a fishy type. It would be narrow-minded not to mention however the pair of reed buntings that flitted past, a particularly persistent chiffchaff and an unexpected fox which approached the water crouching low directly opposite and with which I had a 'who will blink first' stand-off as I tried to grab my camera and each time I moved it looked up as if thinking, 'I'm sure that thing just moved'...and it did, and each time it did he did it again until he or she was just out of view when the thing managed to get a picture of the end of it's brush!
In keeping with the natural balances associated with growing confidence in angling situations I then endured two consecutive dawn blanks on different stretches, punctuated only by a signal crayfish which I even failed to keep to the letter of the law with when it fell off as I swung it in due to it having only one claw!
So why was this apparent fishy disappearing act evident? Was it the excessive daytime traffic sickening the fish?; the spawning time drawing them to suitable locations?; was the bread not Warburton's (no! it was Kingsmill, the shop has nothing else)?; were there no big fish in the pegs capable of taking a large piece of bread flake?, was it the liquidised bread feed?, etc, etc

Cue one serious experimentation session...
When I got home I set-up a tank to see what effect various sizes of flake had on the three strung no.8's I had been using 2-3" from the hook as a lift-bite rig, see photographs

A 5p sized piece of flake settled with all 3 no.8's on the bottom

A 10p sized flake resulted in the third no.8 staying on the deck

A 50p flake suspended all 3 no.8 shot from the surface

I then compared this with my old light match rig with a 20 hook and a string of no.7 styls. What was interesting about this was that if I didn't squeeze the pellet of punch it floated up to be suspended off the bottom by the distance to the first no.7 styl - about 6"

This pellet of bread is stopped from floating to the surface by a single no.7 styl. The rest of the rig is hung over the edge of the tank but the bulked styls can be seen in the water, next the the float. This begs the question - how many fish did I catch in the past with bait well off the bottom when I actually thought I was laying-on? Admittedly I did habitually squeeze the pellet but not every time I am sure and often started a punch fishing session with the hook laid around 6" on, which would often produce the biggest fish before I came up off the bottom slightly to keep the 1-3oz fish coming as long as possible

All interesting stuff and logged for future reference. I just hope the prospects improve soon, perhaps a change of canal is due, or even a stillwater ('never thought I'd ever utter those words again!)

[Species list for three trips: Wren, dunnock, starling, robin, fieldfare, robin, blackbird, blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, chaffinch, bullfinch, yellowhammer, reed bunting, skylark, meadow pipit, green woodpecker, woodpigeon, feral pigeon, magpie, carrion crow, jackdaw, buzzard, indet gull, moorhen, mallard, canada goose, mute swan, fox, rabbit, signal crayfish, roach, roachxbream hybrid] 


  1. NIce roach George, getting bigger too. Interesting bread experiments, not unlike my own. I've lengthened the distance from hook to shot to three inches recently, just to see the difference from two inches, and find as many dramatic lifts as sail away bites then, whereas with two inches sail away bites never occur.

    It slows the bite down considerably. Which is a good thing when bites are hard to come by as dramatic lifts do tend to be a little too shocking then! So, I think I'll start off with three and move back to two when the bites are coming thick and fast.

    I've had no bream at all recently, which is decidedly odd though...

    1. I shalln't bother to pester you for a session after the silver bream just yet then Jeff!

      I apologise if I had inadvertently repeated an experiment you had already shared on your blog. One thing which was also apparent was that a squeezed pellet of punched bread slowly expanded vertically from the bottom but never started to float up. The pieces of flake of course were only squeezed on one edge to get the hook-hold necessary. I have been amazed how long flake stays on when hooked in this manner

      I can't say I've had enough bites yet in order to deduce the frequency of sailaways with any robust statistics but it's currently 7-1 with a 2" 'tail' in favour of shocking lifts but evenso there's little doubt where it's heading I suppose


  2. Anything that goes towards cracking the big fish problem on 'modern' canals is a good thing in my book. Looking into the science of bread fishing is an eye opener. Don't think I've ever come across the buoyancy issue mentioned in a book or mag article before, but it is crucial to understand it. That blog entry of mine, 'My Way with Bread,' is one of the most popular posts that I ever made. There's clearly an audience for a discussion of bread and how it really works.

    A further discussion of roach, bread and canals, and how they work together is wanted. Then we'll really see what canals are capable of where specimen roach are concerned, because they are there to be caught.

    I'll let you know when the silvers appear though. Be good to meet up.

  3. Fascinating George, both the canal experience and the experiments. I've always added bouyancy via (for example) plastic maggots when I've wanted to pop up bread - I've just realised that I may have been inadvertently popping up the bait on every other occasion as well!

    By the way, could you drop me an email on so I can discuss something you raised in a recent comment on my blog? I'm sure it exists, but I can't find any way of sending you a private message here!

  4. It's always great to have fun with canal boat and get some experience of adventure and beautiful moments.

    LindaJ@ Thames boat hire