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


  1. Boats and the answer to them is driving me round the bend. I just don't know what the answer night be. I caught my best canal roach on lobworms and though the canal was covered in ice that day, the boats did not stop bites coming. The same happened on other trips that winter. I caught midday and afternoon. The problem is that boats kill bread swims, and I suspect it might not be the bait that is the problem but the mash ground bait that kicks the swim into early overdrive, and quite often within minutes of casting. It gets stirred up and floats about driving what fish the swim contains elsewhere. Perhaps the answer is simply to shallow up?

    1. Some local anglers used to catch 'better fish' during matches by fishing well-up onto the far shelf with bread on the pole years ago (when the fish were there) in the middle of the day. Obviously the no's of fish weren't like today's population but it worked often enough then.

      I really don't know how much it would be worth it these days. You might get the odd one I suppose but focusing the fish would certainly be a challenge.