Thursday, 2 May 2013

A Crescendo of Big Fish Populations

A non-descript modest canal but currently full of surprises
So what to make of all this currently exceptional angling on the local canal?

Over the past few weeks I have posted details of catches enjoyed from a wide variety of pegs along the central and eastern sections of the canal and even the areas with no previous pedigree for producing any number of fish have offered unbelievably good sport

It is, as they say, 'a known fact' that zander have been present in the water for decades with their initial impact being seen in the loss of gudgeon and then ruffe shoals. All these years later the impact is seen in a different manner with the previously predominant small fish below three ounces now in the minority and constantly being controlled by the alien predator resulting in larger fish dominating the extant biomass

More surprising still however is the number of fish over a pound now being caught. When I quit fishing back in the late nineties matches on the canal would often produce the odd big roach or skimmer and also the occasional big perch or two thus proving that anything over a pound was a rarity. Whereas nowadays fish over that weight are caught on, almost literally, every trip and regularly, recently, in multiples

The cut is reasonably deep in some areas, over six foot, but generally it's depth is not unusual and historically it has not been noted for big fish nor high populations. Indeed back in the 1980's a pound of small mixed species of fish was a run of the mill weight in matches, although I do recall a couple of seasons when ounces were all that was required to do well, so poor was sport, and then in the 1990's catches improved such that one was fishing for two pounds or more to make the frame but, even then, weights over 4lbs were exceptional red letter days for the lucky captors

Other changes have taken place too; the percentage of hybrids has increased with one or two being taken in the majority of catches and roach over one pound are quite literally commonplace as are bream and good perch in the right areas...and then there are the zander too of course

Personally I have never been what I consider a specimen hunter, i.e. an angler prepared to stake-out a location for days in pursuit of the fish of a lifetime, much more for me the incessant anticipation of a bite through the guile and thoughtfulness we now call watercraft, and all that goes with it, in short sharp bursts and it may therefore be that a few even larger specimens exist now and perhaps may also have been present in the past.

Certain Rugby, Warks-based anglers of yesteryear; 1960's England International Hubert Noar, Norman 'Ted' Adderley, Johnny Knee and Maurice Smith or (to a lesser degree and in a different style) Bedworth's John and Steve Haynes spring to mind as those who would not be averse to hanging-out a significant lump of bread (or even paste or cheese) and consequently would from time to time, and often in bursts, enjoy some success with the odd big roach or skimmer, and sometimes maybe up to four or five of them at once, to take the honours in locally run matches. Those few circumstances apart however the present situation is unprecedented and, in terms purely of roach, must currently offer some of the finest sport on offer anywhere for the early riser, for, after the passing of the first narrowboat, the going is instantly less than average

It has been noticeable that since the end of the extended cold winter the fishing has improved beyond belief. There have been times through the coldest spells when bites always seemed possible but often with just one or two occurring per trip and, between mid-December and the end of March, sport was hard with not a single roach over one pound taken and the ceiling during that period being 13 ounces. Once water temperatures rose past seven or eight degrees though things began to change dramatically. Catch weights went from averaging under one and a half pounds in January to three pounds in February/March are I've just calculated were in excess of seven and a half pounds for April

Recently, while basking in the unmistakable and unavoidable ensuing glow of a roach of over 1lb 7ozs, I became engaged in conversation with a dog-walker who explained that a new marina was to be built nearby and, being a nosey so-and-so, I sought to investigate this upon returning to the Burton Roost. Apart from the sheer scale of the proposal, approaching 600 moorings(!), two things struck me - first the depth; marinas are apparently constructed with a water depth of 3.5m, quite an eye-popper; and, secondly, that apart from the area loosely based around Rugby there is only one 'proper' offline marina between there and Oxford. This latter point was not something I had previously considered but, as with many of these things it becomes immediately obvious when pointed-out that this is indeed the case

So why is this relevant you may ask? Well if the fish are not there at certain times, and I am a great believer that if they are there then more often than not you are going to catch a few of them, why are they not there at other times? There are a few new marinas and a few old established ones that could influence the situation in this respect but the one factor they will all have in common is that they will not have many trees on the banks, they will generally be lined with boardwalks and interlocking steel sheet-piling. The upshot of this is that in order to spawn the scaled inhabitants need to run the gamut of heavy day-time boat traffic to find that shallow water with roots in which to deposit and then fertilise their eggs that simply will not be present in the marinas particularly in respect of the needs of roach, bream and perch

At other times of course the depth of the marinas will offer shelter, especially below the propellor line, particularly in the depths of winter which would appear to explain why fish were scarce just two months ago and yet now are present in impressive numbers. It would also explain why they are so large with the vastness in volume of the marinas enabling them to thrive and grow to sizes previously unimagined on narrow canals and, with the zander also benefiting from the same advantages, they continue, in the absence these days of annual electro-fishing by, then, BW, to effectively cull the small native fish with their own inimitable team-work

The acid test will come when spawning time is over. The fish cannot have appeared from nowhere and there must be some logical explanation for the sudden upturn in excitement so if they disappear as quickly in June as they turned-up in April I suspect we can be fairly certain of the answer. Of course it is just possible this phenomenon may have occurred, presumably to a lesser degree, in the good old days when close season rules applied to canals, but we would never have known of course

So what price a two pound roach now then? Are they still genuine canal fish or a form of lake fish? Time will tell


  1. The marinas certainly exert an influence on the populations. Size wise, they seem to put a percentage on, but in my experience the largest fish come from random swims elsewhere.

    Then again — Exhall Marina entrance has provided...

    Canal PB — silver bream, zander, pike, tench and carp — not bad for one peg in a million possible permutations over so many hours spent elsewhere.

  2. ...and

    You're right about our local canals, They are big fish waters now...

    What we don't know is just how big.

    1. I haven't actually fished in a marina mouth in recent years but it's a thought.

      At the moment though, as the fish are undoubtedly happy in the canal, I'll be sticking to my haphazard swim selections, but maybe later in the year...?