Saturday, 11 October 2014

Bread head to Zed head

In the dim and distant, the short stretch of canal ventured to this dull dawn would occasionally produce a cupro-nickel adorned weight in local matches but it's rush-fringed banks flattered very much to deceive the matchman of yesteryear. The best catch I recall was around three pounds of silver skimmers and often in winter matches catches were limited to those in the range of twelve ounces to a pound and a half; summer ones were often won of the farthest end peg, with the colour dropped out of the water overnight and the nervy inhabitants pushed-along with anglers' footsteps

I have passed these pegs and failed to be drawn-in by their long forgotten potential ten, or maybe a dozen, times in the past 2 years but this very day lax and amnesic events, in equal measure, lead to camp being set-up slap-bang in the middle of that very place

A new pole, over-gunned with new fangled puller bungs and heavy duty elastic, was the draw to the canal as a post-purchase test waggle and the option to use the travel Avon quiver was there as back-up if the worms had survived a five weekdays in the car

The freak event was threefold. Last Sunday I managed to step 6 inches left of where I have sat many a time over the past two winters and went up to my left thigh in the River Leam. Fortunately it wasn't too cold and I managed to fish-on for an hour in wrung out clothes before the masking effects of three small fish and the flask started to wear-off and I felt it was starting to get silly. So the wellies went into the porch to dry and consequently were left behind when departing for the canal today, which with the benefit of hindsight was good, as I have since discovered they were still soaking. The result of this little distraction was that I had to walk to the peg in my Scarpas which was okay to a point; the point being reached when water started to seep in which also happened to coincide with the aforementioned rushy bend

As is so often the case now the banks were unfished and unkempt so a little gap was sought and one or two strategic stems bent over to allow access for shipping the matt finished, yet super-slippery, beast in and out, aided by a neatly positioned remnant of fence behind. Investment in end caps for all of the four largest joints enabled roving with the smallest pole for the job and even though we had inherited some savage looking elastic the experiment had to be completed to understand the difference between the usual no6 and this stuff, the like of which I last saw on It's a Knock-out (albeit everyone on that show may well now be banged-up for all I know, or care) whereas this stuff certainly wasn't going to be taking any prisoners if indeed the hook held through it's apparently fearful red power

Obviously to the pre-summer (self-imposed close season) reader the actual method wasn't going to change as big roach would be the initial quarry closely followed by perch on the worm if circumstances pointed that way. So three handfuls of mashed bread, crusts and all, hit the surface with a splosh and a splat 10m out and there the float sat with quite massive pastry-cuts of sliced bread on the hook and it wasn't until we'd got down to the 20mm disc that bites occurred you wont be surprised to hear. The first one pulled-out and I immediately blamed the elastic of course. Second one was not in the same bracket though and staunchly drew 8 or 9 inches out of the sadly stumpy tip (no1's still awaited). This was a fish with the right attitude but not that of hybrid, and not the slovenliness of a bronze bream. It certainly felt like a roach, and it was. A good one. It proved a worthy adversary as it hit the near shelf trying to take full advantage of every overhanging root, stem and branch in striving for it's William Wallace. It did fail, for the time being though, despite the lightest of hooking in it's upper, outer lip.

1-4-6 of battling beauty
The first boat passed at 07.30 just half an hour after dawn and this fish followed, closely chased by another at just under a pound, before the traffic rendered the channel a less than attractive option but, soon, a corvid-powered fracas drew the attention across the damp pasture to the far hedge where a female sparrowhawk was pursued my the mob until she found shelter within a suitably dense hawthorn and they resorted to gathering on nearby posts, wires and dead branches until they lost interest, and drifted back to their morning ground-level foraging as ravens wheeled and tumbled overhead

Four lobs were chopped and introduced under a nearside overhanging ash to my right and whole lobs on a size 6 with a single swan link dropped in after them. Bites came in an instant and it soon became noticeable that the fighters were down the shelf not under the actual bush

The first fish put up a tremendous fight, a perch of 1-6-14, and from that moment forward the tip was regularly twanging with perch and then a burst of lost fish when, every time, the lob had wrapped over the hook point! Soon though a heftier specimen with an altogether deeper, more doughty action and the, now familiar, rasping of line along it's erect dorsal as it twisted beyond sight. A zander predictably flashed at the surface and a p.b.-nudger it appeared too. Unusually in my experience of North Oxford Canal zander it indulged in some surface thrashing before flopping into the submission position for netting. These fish are always immaculately presented, confirming their rapid ascent to top predator role in this devastated, devastating and still evolving ecosystem

2-11-14 was 14 drams over the previous p.b. and it certainly made the
net for rounder fish forms up to 4lbs look somewhat inadequate 
It was clearly the case that these fish wanted a large bait and two lobs brought instant responses from the sail-finned mercenaries of murk. Two or three undoubtedly bigger fish simply let go of bunches of worms with the hook fully masked by flesh of worm, one of them was really solid but remains untroubled, perhaps to fall on future quests

Soon a flock of sipping and churring long-tailed tits were all around, then just as suddenly. silent and gone; leaving just the ubiquitous wren to fill the morning with his tnt-sponsored song

What started with the bread head on as a roach session to test the pole (and brought forward some very useful information) became an equally, if not more, enlightening zander event and has set the mind racing in the manner only the real world can

An experimental 10-15-0 mixed bag was about half the potential given the prey on (and off) the hook during the four hours' activity and should have blown the previous 13lbs-odd NOXC record well and truly out of the water, but the fact it didn't makes it all the more enticing and the p.b. zander with top ten canal perch and roach make me wonder why so much time has been spent on a low and clear river to date


  1. Lovely, colourful net of quality fish there George. Are big worm baits every bit as good for the zander as fish baits do you think?

  2. I really wouldn't know Russ, I'm not sure about using fish, dead or alive, as bait...too many question marks to get through in my mind...but I do need to work on it as there are some good 'uns to be had I'm certain.

    I'm pondering how to hook a bunch of worms and leave a chance of hooking a fish at the mo plus a massive source of free lobs is required as they'll only consider lively bait. I feel some midnight mooching coming on as it's an expensive exercise to buy 'em

  3. A nice bag full there George and congrats on your unexpected PB.

  4. Thanks Mick, unexpected all round really which makes it all the more enjoyable of course

    1. I've not targeted my local canals for fish other than Zander so you got me thinking :)