Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Glorious Fifteenth!

How to remember the dates of the close season? Well it doesn't initially come naturally when the start is on the 16th and the end on the 14th does it? Every season a trip is mentally planned for the 15th March before the realisation sets in that the period is 15th March to 15th June inclusive

On the strength of that the decision was made to visit a short, but quite specific, stretch of canal I hadn't fished since being a schoolboy in the late seventies to recommence the search for big roach with the close of the river season leaving the four pund chub target hanging enticingly in the air. In those days, before poles were on the agenda, I had the ability to flick a small Billy Lane 'ducker' under the overhanging branches of far side bushes in search of small fish without snagging but, one thing was certain, that wouldn't be happening these days. We would stick to the boat channel!

(A ducker was a short balsa-bodied dark-varnished waggler with a cane stem and we used 2-3BB versions, with Billy Lane's signature on, adding lead wire wrapped around the base peg to reduce their shot-carrying capacity to just two 'dust' shot, i.e. 2no8. So they were great to cast and showed sensitive bites if dotted-down to just the merest pimple)

This session was to be an experiment, going the whole hog and leaving the long pole at! The old specialist 11'6" canal waggler rod was dusted-off from the pre-1995 vault and my favourite light reel, great for careful light waggler fishing and suited to my girls hands and finer lines - was attached. For me if it worked on the day this would be as positive step back but, as with all experiments, there would be risks

Arriving to start at 6.30am the gear was prepared to commence at that precise moment, when, also at that precise moment, that deathly 'ptug, ptug, ptug' of a narrowboat pervaded the chill air and diverted my attention from the mashing of bread. Now I have never been one to complain to or shout at boaters and see no benefit in spoiling theirs' and your own day except that is pass the time of day but boy was I tempted to ask one or two (im)pertinent questions on this occasion. A lock was only about 10-15 pegs to my right, in the angler's standard method of measurement, and yet it was an hour and a half before it eventually opened confirming that the answer to the question 'Is this really necessary?' would have been a resounding 'No'...and that wouldn't have helped. No, the best bet was to bite one's lip, until it bled if necessary, and then concentrate on the job in hand which would not be easy in any event

So there I sat, with a lap full of blood, pondering that the usual approach would be to deposit a walnut sized blob of wetted coarsely-liquidised bread which had hardly seen the blender and then wait 30 to 90 minutes for a bite. This time I mashed a single slice of bread in my hand then added some liquidised to soak up the spare water and, after plumbing to find the foot of the far shelf, threw three blobs of total volume equivalent to a small orange into the requisite spot covering about a two to three foot circle. The quantity of feed far exceeded anything I could possibly have entertained in the past and yet the quantity one can introduce on a river for instance, albeit much of it is washed to waiting fish further downstream, had recently taught me not to worry so much about quantity in pursuit of larger fish as it was only likely to be the smaller fish that would be choked-off and that was actually a good thing

No duckers to hand these days, I attached a old 5no4 'canal grey' locked with just 2no10 and with 2no6 on the deck to secure the bread and the remaining bulk about 15" above that. The float had a very slender tip and would show the lift-bites I sought quite dramatically. A silver wide-gape crystal bend 16 hook completed the set-up and constituted the smallest hook I had used since returning to fishing over a year ago; mainly selected on the basis that I had very few 14's left and 12's in this pattern are a bit springy, although they would, probably, be better suited to rod and line than pole. None of this was possible however before I had inadvertently dragged the top off my float tube and deposited them in a side pocket and mud, breaking two ancient Image canal wagglers one of which was the original clear varnished ones from the very first run they did...serious disaster...worse than the early boat in fact!

First cast, without the pole, knowing I would wait some time for bites what with the early boat and then general scheme of things with this method, gave time to arrange the peripheral kit. One thing I really I miss, always travelling very, very light, is a side-tray or bait-waiter and so, leaning down to make the bread more reachable for hookbaits, I looked up to see the stem of the float waving around and yelling 'strike ya ejit!', which I duly did, and the light rod designed for catching small roach took on a fearful bend before it relaxed to its normal state and the fish was gone. I guess some twnety years on since last use it was always possible that it would take some getting used to. My concern however was that that single event could easily have trashed the swim and may well have signalled the end of sport before it had even commenced

I quickly re-baited and swung the rig back out. Within seconds the same thing happened and I was into a good fish. While playing it with the tip to middle action of the rod performing beauitifully it reminded me of a time when I was playing the biggest canal bream I have had in a match and I couldn't lift it through the water to the net with this very rod but this one wasn't quite in that bracket, thankfully. As I went to drag the netted fsih toward me one of the arms pulled out of the joint and left a tangle of mesh and bronze bream; very little slime though it being March and all that goes with it in the fishy cycle

Now, this being a dedicated big roach session, I left the keepnet at home; at this point regret came to the fore as a bream these days on this canal usually heralds the start of a stream of them and given that the point of catching the species is to assemble a nice catch of them I now wished I had it, not least because, if my suspicions were correct, I would be wandering two pegs along to release them rather regularly until boat traffic killed sport. A quick weigh put it smack-on two pounds and out went the rig again this time with a tiny cube of crust as I resumed tidying the pitch...really, sometimes all I lack is a stripy windbreak and guy ropes with some beach towels drying and I'd look quite the part

One difficulty was setting the rod down. If it was just laid on the bank it couldn't easily be adjusted for line taughtness to get the float sitting correctly for the lifts to register and if propped on bits of kit they were inevitably the bits I wanted to use. Holding it was best so I started sitting on the handle match-style and it helped no end while fiddling about with other stuff

Soon a slide-away bite occurred, typical of bream when the set-up is geared to the opposite!, and I struck into another chunky fish with a bit of fight about it. The first time it became visible pink fins were evident and another hybrid to follow the many caught since Christmas was on it's way to the net. After a few more lunges, admirably cushioned by the rod which, by this time, I was beginning to fall in love with all over again, the fish of around the pound mark slipped over the rim of the triangular shallow net revealing the eye of a nocturnal feeder. Immediately it registered that this was going to be a silver bream, and quite a beauty and PB too at 1-4-2. The cracking (cracking!) fish was duly reintroduced to the murky depths 40 metres to the left...and some compensation for the lack of roach. A check of 49 scales on the lateral line, 8 from 'wrist' to tail, 23 branched rays of anal fin and that big goo-goo eye, twenty-five percent of the length of its head, confirmed that silver, not bronze, took gold for the session

At this moment the decision was made to feed a lobbie line 5 metres out and to my right, in readiness for the far line tailing-off and in the hope of a predatory fish to conclude

The bread line continued it's rich doughy air bubble of form for about an hour when, at the appearance of weak sunlight, as is usual, the line completely died. Further bronzes of 1-14-2 and 0-11-0 and another small silver at 7ozs added to the catch and by this time a short 'sleeper pole' with a whole brandling was showing signs of life too as I struck into a perch or zander, confirmed by the line twanging along the stiffened dorsal fin, spine by spine. A rotund 11 ounce perch came to the top quite meekly and in standing-up to take it along to the release spot the rod and reel were knocked clean into the water! Fortunately it briefly floated and was rescued with the reel taken apart and dried there and then. On attempting to attach the pole cup to put more lobworm bait in I managed to shatter the last three inches of the tip so that will now become the big fish top set with the no1 completely removed!

One more small footballer completed the set for the morning and after just an hour and a half both lines were then dormant

After two hours boats crossed in the peg, one of which was towing another and particularly low-slung signaling the metaphorical final whistle. Rarely can such a brief session have been so disastrous and yet so rewarding. The final insult was to knock the rig winder into the cut at the last second, it sank but was retrieved with all manner of algal stodge in the already dried and packed landing net. The fish totalled 7-2-4 which is no bad effort for less than one and half hour's intensive action and, so engaging was the pursuit this particular morning that, at no time until the walk back was I conscious of the bird life, at one point during which the noise a flock of squalking starlings and a lustily singing chaffinch filled the air to perfectly complete the trip


  1. That's a lovely big silver bream George! Great to see them coming up at specimen size from the Oxford Canal now. Never had one from that cut but I'm fishing it again now so let's hope!

    Grassy Bend yesterday — saw a sparrowhawk catch a blackbird, a pair of ravens cronk cronking on the pylons, hopefully about to nest on one, but the bad news was what I believe was mink spraint.

    No rare fish though! Just one skimmer...

  2. I must admit I don't tend to worry about mink these days as they reached a 'natural' balance some years ago. In fact I can't recall the last one I saw but around the 1980's you woul see them everywhere!

    As regards the lack of roach, we're gonna have a bumper harvest when we find 'em...and I just have an inkling where they'll be, but we'll see

  3. I heard they're a problem for the water voles on the North Oxford Canal?

    The roach don't seem to be feeding do they? It's all those lobworms they ate when it was wet — I see loads on the towpath when it's like that, no doubt plenty make a mistake and go over the edge!

  4. I don't think we'll ever see water voles on the local cut unless they have a reintroduction programme. I can't remember the last one I saw and yet they were common pre1980, of course there are other issues for them...many more boats causing disturbance and less natural banks

    You may well be right about the worms!