Monday, 15 April 2013

Going Back for More

Striding-out through the base of the deep cutting in the half-light under the continuous giant many-fingered interlocking ash hands over-arching, accompanied by the crashing alarms of pheasant, ring and stock dove as they burst from their slumber into the ever more intrusive light of the day the angler emerged into the steaming, rolling pasture shaped in sine wave undulations by all but forgotten generations of man labouring over his livelihood in the truest sense of the word. 
Two centuries old canal courses abandoned either side of the now healed scar that is the straight and then snaking course of the contemporary route of the canal

It was here, in the depths of the incessant deluge of a year ago, that he vowed to return. That had been a day of reacquaintance, of water coloured like tea with too much milk and four whirlpools left by the rudders of fish that could only be imagined, and certainly never seen, but of sufficient imagined magnitude to inspire the need to 'go back'. 

The damp air drifted uncomfortably across his face as the earth's furnace strove to burn through the blankets that insulate it. At first it failed.

The angler had struggled with his burden these one and a third miles, yet, as the coolness faded into day, tiny birds sang their hearts out after flying from as far as Africa on no more than a stomach, as small as it's mates imminent eggs, filled with flies
This land was cleared no more than five millennia prior as the need to sustain the anglers' wider ancestral growth took hold and the staple of that advance so long ago would be the basis of this man's stealth on this day - bread

Prevailing circumstances were all but perfect, perhaps a tinge too much colour in the water though insufficient to dampen belief
Handfuls of wetted bread were tossed into the water and the challenge of enticing those monsters of before commenced
Half an hour had passed when the first sign of interest produced a strong battle from a cross-bred fish that broke through the silence as innumerable tail-splashes punctuated the surface film. Eventually it was beaten and a hybrid of a pound and a quarter gently dropped into a waiting net
The hint of chugging boat and then confirmation as the prow became visible to him in the shrouded cutting. Reed bunting, robin and blue tit set up their incessant spring choruses as fieldfares chuckled in the hedges contemplating the long route home and the prospect of furthering their kind


Two boats in quick succession gently slipped past as the angler rested and took sustenance welcomed after the strain of the journey. A large lion-like hound nudged his arm as he stumbled through the perforated hedge behind followed by a kind-hearted and jolly white-bearded man with a tail or two to share. As they departed on their purposeful expedition a muntjac barked by the disused cut and caused the dog to briefly attempt to seek it out until brought to heel
Soon the water re-settled and more bread was used to tempt larger fish to find the will to feed, and feed they did. An extravagant bite and a strong tussle with a roach which when it broke the surface triggered the exclaimation, 'Oh, that's a good fish!' and the ensuing great care over it's capture. Captured however it soon was and it clearly was an exceptional canal fish. At a touch over one pound seven ounces this certainly was an excellent specimen and one the angler had sought specifically for over a little over a year. A welcome reward for extensive and intensive effort, and the largest roach he had ever seen from such man-made watercourses in all his years

Francis Lee-Fish

Soon the fish was back where it belonged but not forgotten as a second substantial school mate succumbed immediately after. This one a fraction under a pound but probably not of the same school year

The education here however was simply the present day comparison with the anglers' long-recalled experiences of days gone. Days when a similar net would have comprised 30 or 40 smaller examples of various fishes interspersed with occasional larger intruders, often fledgling bream but a comparable biomass nevertheless and just as scientists would have predicted
The three took his scales to three pounds ten ounces which the angler took satisfaction in but no greater pleasure that the barrel chested Francis Lee of a roach, not a perfectly formed beauty but a beauty none the less

Sunlight making the fish look dry but all were carefully returned unharmed by the experience and the wiser for it
Well slept, and keen to avoid disappointment, a contrasting challenge was set as another morning broke. This time with breezes causing the muscles to tense against it. A bend in the same unnatural watercourse some miles to the west was to withstand the onslaught of piscatorial pursuit centred around the conversely natural Earthworm in search of spiny predatory fish
The success of the previous day however encouraged additional persistence with bread to bait an area away from the worms were offered, and at the same time, as the day ahead would bewildering in it's complexity and available hours severely limited

A tail of earthworm was laid on the canal bed with sufficient shot simply to tighten to and left to one side. Otherwise thoughts were no more advanced that the approach of the previous day with three handfuls of macerated bread thrown into the middle of this featureless bend
The activity of the fish was all but immediate as a good roach, not quite of the proportions of the fish of yesterday but a fraction over one pound for certain, fought well against the finely balanced rod and line
A pied-headed male reed bunting chirped his simple tune, "one, two...testing - one...two, testing" almost within reach, as a pair of buzzard soared over the hill and a chaffinch 'pinked' in the distance

Soon the previously still tip pulled extravagantly round to the right and an adversary took delight in plunging to the depths and immediately rising to the surface, shaking it's narrow head violently as the surface foamed in abject resistance to the appearance of this hefty sail-finned gladiator. An alien it was and so was it a monster. The net being only just large enough to accommodate it's torpedo-like two pounds nine ounce form

Following the demise of two further tiny aliens a period of calm descended, disturbed only by passing friends caught up in the excitement of a long-lost relationship over two decades prior but the period was abruptly halted and another large contender picked-up the bread...and ran! A momentary forceful pull with backwind switched-off and tightened clutch appeared to be destined for a parting of ways but the soft through-action of the rod, another old friend, took the power of the lunge and brought a large canal bream to rest, as it floated on the surface it spotted an opportunity to escape but succeeded only in finding the sunken net

A first swallow of the unfolding spring flitted past seeking to replenish the wasted resources of the incredible journey now behind it, for the time being  

At the close of this brief dalliance with the outside world seven fish had been fooled for a combined weight of seven pounds eleven ounces

Yesterdays super-sized roach the biggest from any canal; today's bream the biggest from the North Oxford and the zander just an ounce short of a canal best. Those, combined with further roach approaching and just over a pound, made for an excellent weekend's sport as the angler returns to become husband and father again.

With temperatures on the rise, and more rain in the offing, conditions should be good for the immediate future too. 'Looking good, at long last!

Saturday species list:
Barking muntjac, Bullfinch, Raven, Rook, Carrion crow, Woodpigeon, Stock dove, Mallard, Mute swan, Moorhen, Blue tit, Blackbird, Mistle thrush, Robin, Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Reed bunting, Fieldfare, Blackcap, Skylark, Canada goose, Green woodpecker, Wren, Buzzard, Jackdaw, Roach, RoachX bream hybrid

Sunday species list:
Mallard, mute swan, moorhen, dunnock, swallow, reed bunting, blackbird, goldfinch, buzzard, chaffinch, skylark, great tit, Indet gulls.


  1. Well done George — at last, that big roach you've been hunting! Not an easy thing to achieve but PB's come along like buses don't they? Who can tell what's next?

    1. Up to your level at last! Yes, it is odd how these things come in bunches but canal fishing conditions were perfect at the weekend. Looking forward to your next post, have you lost the urge at present?