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...


  1. What particularly tickles me is that many wear heavy hiking boots but also have maps slung around necks with compasses too! I mean, what's there to know? Walk starts here, and well, it goes there along a dead flat and even track without even the slightest noticeable incline or anything like an obstacle to twist an ankle upon and arrives the destination without the slightest chance of not getting there in five miles time. Why not wear a life jacket too just in case?

    And you're right about the challenge. Once you peak it's difficult to top it. I think that hybrid just goes to prove the point about the 2lb roach, If they grow that big then what's possible? I've never caught even a bream that size on the Coventry Canal!

    1. Yes that thought went through my mind too. "If hybrids grow this big how big do the biggest roach grow?"

      ...and again only predators on worms and only hybrids, bream and roach on bread. They know their place.

  2. You really need a bigger landing net George. Mind you, if you got that eel in...

    Really enjoying the blog at the moment. Head of that hybrid almost looks a bit ruddy.

    1. Well it's become a lucky charm. The bigger the net I take the smaller the fish I catch and vice-versa. It is getting a bit silly though!

      Glad you're enjoying it

      I'm pretty confident it was roachXbream it's just the angle of the pic I think

  3. That's a cracking hybrid George. Sounds like you had a good couple of days there. The odds for a two pound redfin are shortening I think.

    1. It never cease to amaze me the levels of angling that can be enjoyed before the first boat, and after that pretty much zilch. So many of these catches are condensed into about two hours' crazy activity after dawn.

      As for the 2lbs roach...we can hope!