Thursday, 19 November 2015

From the Murk, Diamonds

The limitations to fishing on highly trafficked relatively shallow canals are obvious to those who have experienced the dubious pleasure but perhaps to those more used to lightly-used, wider, deeper venues it may be difficult to comprehend.

Canal fishing life revolves around two main factors, the weather and boat traffic; and to benefit most from the undoubted pleasures of the cut decisions need to be made based firstly on water colour and then wind direction.

My angling backyard, as regular readers will be somewhat sick of reading, is the Oxford Canal north of the conjoined Oxford and Grand Union's from Braunston in Northants to north-east of Coventry where it meets the Coventry Canal. The majority of the cut is in Warwickshire, an area of largely clay-based surface geology, and consequently the incoming run-off or flood water from fields and ditches leaves fine beige silt behind.

Fishing early morning has become more critical during my lifetime and evening fishing is all but pointless with narrowboats active often until dusk.

The couple of hours one can often enjoy before the boats can be, at certain times of year, of quite unbelievable angling quality. Spring and autumn are those times and currently, with unseemly weather conditions prevailing for the past month, we are experiencing one of those periods.

The average weight of fish to be caught in these heady days is usually between three and seven pounds an hour with the number of fish in a catch usually averaging around a pound each.

Sounds great doesn't it? Imagine a five hour canal match in which one could take fifteen to thirty five pounds of fish based on those averages! Well, as you might gather, it isn't quite like that. The canals are not overstocked commercial fisheries after all.

Two things influence that catch; the fish population and the first boats of the day.

The North Oxford, or 'NOXC' as I have come to abbreviate it, averages around five feet, six inches deep along the boat track. Some areas are a touch deeper, others shallower. The width varies from just 8m to perhaps 20m-odd, but the average is around 12m. The consequence of these limited dimensions, heavy boat traffic and an unsurprisingly commensurate lack of weed growth is a dearth of natural food and an associated low fish population.

Fishing can therefore be challenging outside these peak times and within them one to three hours' action is as much as one can expect to enjoy.

Being little deeper than the length of the narrowboats' tiller the disturbance by the first boat of the day is often devastating, such that fishing-on if the boat passes at any great speed is the least desirable of the two options available. The settled silt overnight prior to an early start will leave the canal with a certain turbidity first thing. After long frosty periods and reduced boat movement some areas can go almost perfectly clear but this is unusual and the majority of the time a certain amount of colour is present due to suspended sediment in the water.

The two baits I tend to favour most these days, bread and lobworms, both work better when the water isn't too heavily coloured but thankfully if some stretches of the NOXC are blighted by a complexion like milky tea after downpours there are usually other (elevated) sections that will remain sensibly fishable.

Yesterday at 09.50hrs this happened...

It is possible to appreciate the water colour prior to the boat going through by looking at the undisturbed patches of water on the far side but within minutes the canal would be like pea soup all over, the fish scattered and the likelihood of more boats would then far exceed the possibility of sitting it out successfully for more fish worth catching.

Prior to the first boats however this happened:

and then this:

Note the water colour at this point.
and there were others...

Three roach of between 1.1.0 and 1.4.0. A hybrid of 1.8.0 and string of perch to 12ozs for a total weight of around 7.8.0 from a surprisingly shallow peg.

The effort is indeed worth it

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Predicting the Unpredictable OR the Winter 2015/16 Big Roach Quest

The midlands canal network can be a treacherous place. Boaters slip into locks; country gentlefolk fall into the water near pubs after dark; ponies are drowned and, most worryingly of all, gongoozlers sell cheese.

If you are indigenous and wild there are natural threats. Kingfisher, otter, pike, heron, signal crayfish and of course zander together with the universally disliked mink, not to mention the occasional diving bird, may seek to harm you.

It's a tough world out there.

How tough, is best encapsulated by the following image taken at about 9am today (Saturday) which depicts a group of women afeared of the challenge that walking the towing path might set them. Now admittedly I took the difficult route to the water by descending brick steps but it didn't occur to me for one moment that I would need dayglo clothing and not one but two hi-tech walking sticks to make this dangerous journey. I know for next time however.

Why did I never notice the hazards before? Sometimes I am so stupid. Thank God for Humbrol fluorescent paints. The Walking Wagglers have saved me, and now you I suspect, from a grizzly end, without doubt. Take heed canal users out there, the towpath comprises a route almost as risky as the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands.

Todays risk didn't end there though...

Midweek, the gauntlet had been well and truly thrown down with...(I was going to use the word 'gay' here but, now that the meaning of this word is in its third incarnation in my lifetime, I no longer know what it stands for. So I'm going for a different word as it suits the mood)...dangerous abandon.

The target is to catch a canal roach so huge it will beat the Idler's Quest Authority (IQA, not to be confused with IPA which fuels the associated engine) - accepted British Canal Record of 2.4.0.

Eager for first blood I returned to the spot from whence the 1.13.0 roach, covered in the last post, appeared. It was colder now though. Six degrees C overnight and rain forecast from 9am.

An early start was, as usual, key; especially at a weekend.

In terms of light levels, I had peaked a little soon as I struggled to focus on the yellow-tipped float which sat, apparently motionless, before me. Some twenty minutes it was slumped low, between changes in ever-increasing bait size. The gloom started to lift as the first dog walker of the day appeared to view as far as one could see to the right - a resting carp angler, in uniform, strode toward me with twin sheep dog types afore. Dramatically the float lifted and I struck into a very solid fish. It seemed bream-like and then took on extra power as it headed south causing me, very unusually, to leave my seat and follow it toward where I assumed stealth mode man to be. Only visible by his dogs.

"'Got one on?", came out of the blue, or should that be khaki.

"'Sure have!"

"Ah, there's some lumps along here. Some big Zander too". 

Funny how everyone becomes an expert when they see an angler and yet no one fishes the canals.

"Well it won't be one of those on bread", I replied.

"Unless it's taken the roach that took the bread!", he blurted as he wandered further on...and then stopped as the lump surfaced. I had to ask him to repeat himself as I was strangely distracted at this moment.

"Slab", he said, all matter of fact.

"Hybrid", I said, matter of accuracy...and off he and they went to plot the rounding-up of some named fish elsewhere.

The shocks continue.

There are canal hybrids and then there are super-charged over-sized monster North Oxford Canal hybrids. Like that eel a month or more ago this one needed threading into the net sideways as, even head on, it would only just have fitted.

A couple of years back I recall taking a series of ever-increasing hybrids week by week, peaking at 4.0.3 and growing to love these the most pointless of naturally occurring fish. 

This was clearly over three pounds by some margin. A very roach-like example (if only!) but as chunky as a bag of sugar in the body.

I hung the presumed infertile beast on the scales, knowing the Little Samsons would be somewhat overstretched and feeble, expecting nothing specific but when the read-out hit 84.6 ounces I also knew this was a special moment. Deducting 12.6 for the net was a trifle and I was left with a round 72 ounces and a simple calculation of four pounds eight ounces.

Simple and yet bewildering.

One of those rare moments when the overwhelming desire is not to return the fish but continue to admire it. To do so however would be contrary to our ethos as anglers of course and so, reluctantly, I slipped this comfortable P. B. breaker back to observe the power as it surged back into the depths, it's strength recovered.

Despite this incredible capture to add to a run of them recently I expected little more on the day, and little more I got, for the time being at least.

Soon enough though the urge to free-line whole lobworms centrally down the cut to my left set-in. Action was immediate with relatively small perch coming to hand regularly. Then one of a pound six followed by another powerful hybrid of 2.6.0 as the only other bite on bread, apart from nibbling, tugging crayfish.

The perch continued in a steady procession right down to a one ounce fish but then a proper head-banger (pursued closely by another one of 1.6.0) sealed the day putting 1.14.0 and another three pounds of fish onto the tally as a working boat came through spoiling prospects as surely as the spots of rain would send me packing.

The total catch equalled sixteen pounds five ounces and beat my previous best ever North Oxford catch by some three pounds-odd.

The quite staggering run of canal sport continues and, as I write the temperature has risen to around eight degrees above this morning's with moist tropical air blowing in from the south-west ensuring that tomorrow might offer another opportunity to tap into this  geyser of big canal fish before it freezes up.

The bloggers challenge scoreboard is now a struggle. Points are limited with most obvious species categories now pretty much peaked so this hybrid, and the few ounces I managed to add to roach and carp in recent days, may prove to be crucial moments.

For the sad record - Somebodies former pet carp, minus top lip. Obviously someone previously caught the fish in kit form. 4lbs 2ozs.

So that was yesterday.

Today (Sunday) started with a better plan.

Or so I thought.

Get there before sunrise and walk into the wilderness towards known big roach territory and seek a quiet spot out of the gales and impending rain.

Technically this worked a treat. Not a ripple. Wind ripping overhead and rain delayed, no doubt by the same phenomenon, and, as I it here around lunch time, still no rain

Usual tactics were deployed but as it grew light the water appeared somewhat changed by yesterday's rain. Visibility was reduced to only 4 to 6 inches down and that required something of a squint.

The bread rig sat untroubled for some time.

The whole lob rig however bent round first cast. Two early and unimagined Chub both just knocking on three pounds, from an area I have never seen one before, followed by a stream of Perch from three ounces to 1.5.2 made up for just two fish on bread, both roach and topped by one of 1.0.3.

The interest this morning though wasn't the fishing but the fish.

Now that may sound a bit odd but nearly all of the fish were streaked with sores if above half pound in weight. Early-on I had seen two cormorants in flight descending and heading for the canal to my left. I can think of no other culprit that could cause this damage.

The location is very secluded and they could comfortably spend an hour or two each morning trying to arrest the escape of anything they can attempt to grip. I have never seen such wholesale harm to a net of fish and can only assume this is indeed a regular hunting ground.

Now dayglo coats would not help these little guys but it just goes to show the Walking Wagglers were right. It just ain't safe out there

...if you're a fish.

The catch totted-up to fourteen pounds two ounces today, boosted of course by 6lbs of Chub in the first three casts. Big fish straight-off at the start is the continuing trend. 'Twas ever thus early on the cut but as long as this ridiculously mild weather continues I see no reason why the fishing should not remain so good and the next few days are forecast to be similar. Now, I need to find those roach again...

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

What Price a really Big Canal Roach this Winter?

Sat, as I was, on the outside of a bend I had meant to but never actually fished before with two fish in the (though bagged up at home) net, so to speak, a wonder of technology interrupts me from deep in my pocket...

"What do you reckon the chances of a NOC 2lb roach this winter? 

They don't seem to be shrinking. By your recent results I 'd say not. 

There's a very big surprise out there you know, George. 

I'm certain".

It's 06.45 hours and the recently christened 'Blogfather' is pestering me, having recently remembered I am an early riser. How to reply to Jeff?

I ponder.

Why was I here?

Because it would be out the wind, dry and full of promise, but promise of what? Truth be told I had arrived with no great intentions other than to 'go fishing'. The previous evening had been consumed with financial stuff and it was simply an opportunity to get out there for a couple of hours before a 10am appointment.

By now a hybrid of around 1.8.0 and a tiny perch had succumbed.

A reply grew in my mind. Just answer the question I thought, what do you really think? Well, I was fishing the roach method and expecting whatever came along on large flakes of bread (I've gone past punches to squeezes now, as we've progressed) plus the usual quivertip to one side with whole lobworm, enticing not much of any size as it happened.

"Trying to catch one as we speak!
Pretty good I would say, albeit my latest ones have been on GUC".
I kept plugging away but I was pestered by various chattering walkers and lost concentration missing many bites in what was a 'bite a chuck' session. Roach to 9ozs, Bream to 1.4.0, Perch to 7ozs, Zander to 8ozs and a lot of topping small roach told me this wasn't the swim for bigger fish. It was however a peg I would definitely have run to in a match back in the 1980's.
With 45 minutes to work time I moved the other side of the road bridge, next to which I had been sat, on a particularly narrow and featureless stretch of the North Oxford Canal. I could fish past middle without letting any line out on the 12' rod.
In went two hands full of mash and, first cast, up popped the float and an initially pathetic battle commenced, soon enough though young rutilus realised this was for real and had a proper go at getting away, at which point I too had a realisation that he maybe wasn't so young
A cracking roach surfaced and slid without fuss in to the waiting cradle
Pictures taken with a bait sample for scale and the scales deployed to show he went 1-6-12. From memory the best NOXC roach of the season
Well, it is I early November, it is mild and the canal colour did scream, "Bread!". So what else should I have expected when combined with Jeff's prompt?!
Then a boat. Then another boat immediately, the other way, but, being near moored craft, they were very slow and by the time I'd moved somewhere wider, three pegs further along, the silt was already settling out of sight.
Three more hands full of mash went in and out went the rig.
The phone rings, it's work. I take the call and hook, play, land, unhook and return a bream of around a pound during the call. Time was short, no time to waste
"One more cast", I tell myself
Instantly up pops the float again and this time something more solid risks its secrecy and fights with vigour. It can only be hybrid (perhaps not powerful enough though) or roach; and if it's a roach it's better than 1.6.12!
Soon it is in view. It's over a pound and half for sure and it has red fins
Then it gets tangled round a rope a boater has left dangling from the piling under my feet, unseen 'til now. I can see it underwater and decide to net it in that state but only succeed in pushing it off, further out, and the fight recommenced but very quickly was over once the fish was given a gulp of air 
Preoccupied at having almost lost it, I momentarily lost sight if it's sheer size. A smartly dressed country gentleman with dog appears over my right shoulder and snaps me back to reality. Yes, it was landed.
"My goodness that's of some size! What sort of fish is that?", he exclaims.
Being at this point somewhat chuffed with myself I tell him, "Roach. A two pound roach is the fish of lifetime and that must be a pound and a half so I could not be more happy". "At least", he replies and trots off with Fido into the fields
Opening the net and gazing at this otherwise concealed beauty of the canals I am dumbstruck. A quick clear photo and he's in the bag being weighed, scales zero'd twice for certainty
One pound thirteen ounces on the mark.
The fish takes the, drug-free, silver medal without dispute in the all time F,F&F all canals roach table
Both fish were relatively young and so, yes Jeff, I think there's a chance of a 2lb North Oxford Canal roach this winter. How far beyond that they may go I dare not guess, but I'll be out there searching too