Monday, 13 May 2013


The influx of milder air has presented with it the opportunity to experiment further with the approach for big canal roach

Regular followers will appreciate that despite the bream and hybrid fest that my local canal has offered these past few weeks it is really the big roach that bring a smile to the face and a sharp intake of breath everytime something with a bluish hue to its scales breaks the murky surface, and bread is the bait to tempt them to bite

Up until this spring the tactic had been to mush-up a slice or two of white bread and over a period of two to three hours the equivalent of about four hen's egg-sized balls might be introduced to the water. Contrast this with an old 35mm film pot, or two, of dry fine white bread crumb introduced over a similar period for bread punch fishing

I had always been of the opinion that bread fished in matches had to be very carefully planned so that the fish did not get overfed on those odd days, or perfect venues, when they could feed for an extended period on the bait and thus provide the opportunity to do well on that method. The idea would be to introduce a pot full of dry crumb on still canals at the start, at three-quarters the width of the cut but mixed so dry in fact that it would initially float and then slowly sink in an ever-increasing cloud. A large (5mm) bread punch would then be fished over it laid-on about 6", then 3" and then off the deck to see what was happening. On fish-filled venues a lack of action would result in the rig being chucked up the bank and another option pursued, but, on hard venues, it might have been persevered with in the hope that a few fish that others might miss-out on could be brought to the net as bonuses

I, and others, were very much of the opinion that successful punch fishing was all about not over-feeding the fish as there were many of those harder venues which simply would not respond to more than one or, at the most, two feeds of crumb before the swim would completely die and Plans B, C, and possibly even D, would be called for. The largest fish often came first and it was rare on most of the canals I fished in excess of 15 years ago to be able to keep them coming for more than an hour

So, it was against this backdrop of fifteen years' extensive bread punch fishing experience that I set about trying to catch big roach this time around commencing in 2011 by way of a newly emerging approach to angling and, with match fishing now well and truly out of the system, results were fine in a 'that would have nice in match' kind of manner but when it came to the crunch this fishing purely for pleasure was not satisfied in that manner and I again drifted-off into other worlds. Early in 2012 however I stumbled over a post by the Idle Quester himself Jeff Hatt that set the metaphorical hare racing in a totally different direction - backwards, in fact

Jeff set-out an old fashioned Fred J Taylor-esque lift-bite method for big canal roach on rod and line and I simply had to give it a go on the pole. First trip out it produced a 3lb bream and a brace of 1lb roach in the first half hour, followed by nothing. The baiting method was much the same as the old days but with sloppy bread crumb in similar quantities and, over time, it became apparent that this approach was fine through the winter when one didn't necessarily expect many fish but it was often a case of one bite only and this could sometimes take over an hour to materialise so, once it came and went, one could quite comfortably head-off home in the knowledge that the day's sport had been enjoyed

All this kept me perfectly content for quite sometime as catching big roach so regularly was still new to me, and something of an eye-opener in general. However some parts of the picture were blurred, much like the new varifocals the Lady Burton and I are wearing; the odd fish here and there is fine but it's all a bit one dimensional; it was difficult to stop these larger fish occasionally tearing through the fed area of the swim like mad things as the balance between an elastic choice to set the hook and yet not pull-out of the delicate mouths of the fish was finely judged but, more importantly, how could these regular odd fish be increased in number?

Chub fishing on the River Leam gave me some ideas. I was amazed at the quantity of bait that could be introduced to choke-off the small fish and yet not over feed hungry bigger fish. Was it not time therefore that I realised big canal fish had similarly proportioned stomachs and appetites contrary to my indoctrinated match angler's opinion?

The next step therefore was to try mashed bread instead of liquidised. It took some of the hassle out of getting ready too as the bread could simply be mashed by hand on the bank. The result was initially quite similar and perhaps the only noticeable thing was that more hybrids and bream started to be caught but catch numbers and the pole associated issues remained

Eventually I took the plunge and dusted-off my old light 11' canal roach rod, built for building weights of 1-4oz fish in the days before zander when such a thing was possible. What struck me immediately, or really 'struck the fish', was that the act of striking itself drew the fish away from the baited area in one sweep of the rod. There had been a couple of occasions when heavy fish, around 3lbs, had simply caused the no.6 solid pole elastic to stretch on the strike which adequately set the hook but, in fact, the fish hadn't been moved thus causing it's subsequent actions to wreck the remaining fishing, not so with a rod

For a few weeks I again remained happy with this approach until, with the advent of warmer weather I one day piled some more feed in at the start thinking it was worth the risk in a noted area as the fish were now feeding more avidly and yet I also knew that the initial feed was the one most likely to result in a reasonable catch as subsequent feeds never produced as many fish, nor for so long. Bread is after all an instant bait when the receptive species of fish are in the swim already (roach, 2 bream species and their hybrids), that I am sure will never change

The prospect of waiting for bites remained but now there was a difference. I had come to realise that those days when fish took a while to bite, so to speak, were often preceded by their own form of 'silent dawns', that is not to suggest the birds weren't singing but that nothing would top at that crucial visible activity time for roach during the hour after sun-up. The sign had been obvious but my past made me blinkered I was having to learn some of the watercraft I had missed-out on by fishing so often through the middle of the day in the past at a time when a topping big fish was probably having some kind of fit and on a peg that I had been forced to fish. So the fish weren't there then, it was that simple, but they would go by at some point if the boat action was later rather than early in the morning

This uncovered the key point, it was this quantity of initial feed that, in simple terms, determined, within limits of course, the size of the catch. I am not suggesting that the more feed you pile in at the off the more fish you will catch, that clearly would be nonsensical, but it would be true to say that there needs to be a fair old dollop of food there for them to hold their interest as they pass through and the cup of fine white crumb or liquidised bread was just not up to the task, under those circumstances it was more likely that one of the fish passing by in the shoal would pick up the bait anyway without the feed having influenced proceedings at all, and that is too much like pure luck to be of interest to the thinking angler
A now somewhat typical mixed bag of bronze bream, hybirds and a pound plus roach
Once this apect of feeding became clear the situation changed beyond belief, helped by increasing water temperatures into spring, the use of various rod types has helped to refine the method when combined with a centre-pin, rather than a fixed spool reel, such that, currently, early morning three-hour catches probably average around 6-7lbs comprising 3-10 fish. Occasionally the three to four hens-egg sized balls of mashed bread will produce a nice net of good roach when combined with a large punched (15-25mm) disc of medium sliced bread if they are present but it is also filling the net with bream, big hybrids and occasional silver bream like the 1-5-8 PB taken just yesterday first cast from a swim I last visited as a boy with The Old Duffer (who tells me he is close to getting back on the bank after a whole year out of action - he'll miss his first bite out of over-excitement of course!)
Almost as good as a big roach but certainly a higher percentage of the national record. A silver bream of 1-5-8 taken first cast at 5.15am on 20mm punch 

Much of this type of fishing relies heavily on the first couple of hours before boat traffic gets moving and so the need to hit the fish hard early is essential to make the most of those sessions. A start before 5.30am is the order of the day with bites often immediate. The fact the canal has been fishing unbelievably well to this method for around 6 weeks does help of course and, come the winter, this may well change but for the time being this method is quite excellent and, combined with the occasional sortie with lobworms for perch, is a more than satisfying distraction from the intensive Monday to Friday life

Drill bit cases cut in half as over-sized punches. The inner sleeve is bunged with cotton wool soaked in glue


  1. 25mm is a big bit of bread, George, even I blanch when I mount one, but, congrats on the new PB silver. They love a bit of bread too big for their gobs!

    They spawn late, mid June I reckon, so that PB won't last long should you be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time...

  2. Thanks Jeff. Even this piece about big roach got usurped by bream and hybrids!

    I've had two silver bream now, first chuck, within 200yds of each other this year so suspect I know where they might be congregating, an old boyhood haunt...and June it is!

    If you ever fancy a dabble there let me know