Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Silver Scaled Springtime Shocker

At this time of year a tench-like weakness overcomes one of the less common of our canal species.

It's oversized eye seeks out the bread and maggot of anglers' provision; it fights in a frantic manner reminiscent of the crucian carp yet passes most anglers by as 'another skimmer'.

The Silver Bream is one of my favourite of fishes, in fact if a giant roach gives me palpitations on a scale of 10/10 a silver of similar proportions would certainly score 8 or 9.

Strangely they only get caught in any numbers in late spring. Tench-like indeed


They have been showing well in the past few sessions on both Oxford and Grand Union Canals and any fish over a pound is a specimen equivalent to a roach of around one pound eight ounces. Sean Dowling ('Off the Oche, Down the River') has recently taken them to one pound fourteen, a true specimen, and yesterday evening, for the second time in two weeks, pound plus fish have fallen to the f,f&f hookbait just as it was barely possible to see the float at dusk.

Maybe, like the Zander, those big eyes suggest nocturnal or perhaps crepuscular feeding habits. Why would they evolve in that way otherwise?

Yesterday's fish caused some excitement overseen by HonGenSec on a visit to a swim he should have frequented but the tables were turned in comedy style.

It went like this:

F: "Are you there yet?" (Thinking I'd go and watch for a bit to surprise him)

H: "I'll be leaving in 30 mins"
I drive to venue but get there first...then deciding to fish for the last hour and a half of daylight and set-up to test the new perch/zed method again on a second rod, together with the usual bread rod.

H: "Too much to do. I won't be going now".

F: "Oh! I've just cast in".

H: "Okay, I'll come down"

On arrival -

F: "Did you bring your stuff?"

H: "No, I'll just watch"


The session itself was surprisingly hectic but, with a boat going through as I walked to the spot and contemplating turning round just 50 yards away but then abandoning manoeuvres and ploughing the far shelf for good measure, the prospects appeared somewhat slim.

Yes it's narrowboat rental time. Imagine being sent out to drive a bus on the road with just a few minutes tuition.

While not rushing to cast in, as the milky complexion that filled the watercourse fell back into black tea, bread mash was fed heavily. With an hour only ahead, there was little point taking it gently. Specimen or bust it was.

The worm rig sat 5 yards to the right. It's upgrade intended to avoid wasps and zedlets by presenting whole lobworms in a more definite manner to avoid inevitable failed strikes when the fish has simply got hold of a hookless loose end of the bait.

A silver bream of around five ounces started the ball rolling followed by hybrids and more silver's of up to ten ounces.

Then a surging run on the worm and a heartily scrapping perch of 1.6 was followed by another of a pound before death by crustacean descended on both lines of attack.

Signal crayfish abound in most of the places I fish on both Oxford and Grand Union canals. Their presence given away by silly little runs and dips and dodges of the float. Very unusally is one connected with but three were this time and all suitably dispatched according to the law.

A massive swarm of midges glowed like orange fireflies in the, all but horizontal, setting beams of the source of life through an historic bridge arch to my left.

And so it went quiet.

Darkness descended.

HonGenSec said his goodbyes and as he turned to go a raging lift bite on bread and a good scrapper was on. "Hybrid!", we both exclaimed. No, a really good silver bream and both combined excitement and astonishment on my part.

On the scales it plunged the proverbial needle to just a tad under one pound eleven.

Immediately I declared it a p.b. but, driving back, I started to have doubts, rightly so as, checking 'the book' at chez nous, it was bettered by a 1.11.8 Grand Union fish last year.

A cracker nevertheless and an Oxford Canal best at the very least.

With luck these beauties will continue to offer themselves up for a few more days but there can certainly be no better time to pursue them than late May into early June.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

So How's it been Going?

So how has it been Going?

Three weeks into the challenge today and the starting tactic of filling some common stillwater & canal species in before June 16th is underway.

The main target has been stillwater fish as it's not something I've done much of in the past.

Any points scored on such venues are a bonus but the water has only just crept up to the sort of temperatures associated with catching a few fish and thus good days can be often followed by bad.


Writing, I sit canalside, the breeze keeping the fingers moving searching for a degree of warmth. The glowing dome of the zed alarm wiggles like a florescent catwalk model in the flow of lock water.

Earlier it was exciting.

Fish came to bread and worms regularly resulting in the springtime early morning catch of around ten pounds.

The aim was a good hybrid, to 'up' the bream figures and also find some big perch.

Only the bream played ball but the fish are spawned out; battered, beaten and bruised now. The three pounder having shed at least 5ozs earlier this month.

Skylark serenade on all sides here though and whether the plan works or fails there is pleasure to be had. Indeed with the tackle neatly and firmly tucked, zipped and tied away I continue to sit. The gentle throb of the tenth approaching narrowboat contrasting an urgent, flickering sunlit ripple on the rushy bend.

Manky flotsam adorns the once uninterrupted clear surface, but that's why we're here. If the wind blows the blossom petals, twigs, ripped vegetation and crisp packet debris here then fish will be below, gleaning what nourishment they can from the propeller-scoured base of this murky water snake.

The species count is impressive given the oftdays simplicity of the approach.

Warburton's best dragging roach, silver bream and bronze bream into instant feeding activity; and worms with a trialled new perch and zander tactic slowly producing both species (in tiny sizes!) and two good bream, best just a stickleback over three pounds, the other shedding the hook of a size most commonly observed at sea.

Today the Grand Union was chosen despite being the first boat-intensified day of the little darlings' school break.

It was inevitable the session would be short.

It's now 09.30 and already the early bath & prospect of bacon beckons. Sat waiting for the remnants of the action to dry from the crusting mesh, contemplation of the traffic begins. Numerous vessels have passed and always the compulsory, every man for himself, throttle-happy nematode amongst them. It's only to be expected.

Meanwhile the sedge warbler has rattled, trilled and squeaked-out his incessant song from various perches. The sun has risen and the heat now bakes the knees through long-since superfluous waterproofs.

So the upshot is a few more bream points and likewise for perch but the latter can wait until winter.

The pursuit of summer fish that cannot be relied upon in the winter must now prevail.
Carp, crucians, Stillwater bream, rudd, etc. These must be the quarry, together with those odd species that I never fish for but are nonetheless listed and relevant in the challenge.


The stillwater tench campaign has been a reasonable success given the paucity of local options for  big fish, by that I'm thinking 7lbs or more.

Around twenty have been banked, the best this cracker of a female at 6.4

but outdone in the beauty stakes by an earlier 4.13 just two days ago.

No comparison.

Among the above fish came a complimentary roach just under a pound and a half which was very welcome, and we'll aim to beat next winter, together with decent rudd and perch, but both stand to be usurped, with any luck, later in the year too.


The biggest challenge though will surely be the summer river period. A situation I naturally associate with small fish of many species.

THAT will need to change.

Friday, 12 May 2017

A Long Weekend Off

So what would the weekend bring?

The first of three consecutive daily sessions on a stillwater, concentrating on continual baiting of one swim. The swim no one wants, but today there could be a twist.

Yesterday on Birdguides, the serious birders sightings news app., a bearded tit, no doubt on passage migration back to breeding grounds east of the midlands, was posted and mentally noted by yours truly.

Now only once have bearded tits graced the eyes and ears with their beauty and twanging, and that was on a very rare visit to a proper bird reserve in Norfolk some decades ago. Not tits at all of course but we British do like to rename things to suit ourselves don't we? Which reminds me, I just get some Bombay mix on the way home.

They are in fact the only British representative of the parrotbill family and they tend to frequent marginal reeds and little else. Plenty here.

After a quick chat about prospects of tench with a friend who had started early, and had one already, the decision was made to bait the chosen, otherwise neglected, swim and then seek out the bird before settling-in for some fishing and to make my usual general list of birds now to be found under the "The FLIGHT bit" tab above.

The trot round the lake produce the embryo list topped, at that point, by a chattering lesser whitethroat.

The north east wind was still quite light but enough to make one walk that little bit more briskly to resist the bone freezing effects that were to afflict me the following day when the optimism in the number of clothing layers proved my undoing.

A flush common sandpiper, always a welcome sight in these parts, followed by a second brightened the journey as I approached a likely reedbed I stopped to remind myself of the sound they make via the infernal gadgetry and no sooner had I started than the target bird was flying toward me to defend itself, my face now the target. As I fumbled to stop the noise my panic make me do everything other than achieve the result until eventual composure got the better of the situation and relative silence descended.

The glorious male beardy now looked on, quietly quizzical and lingered while record photos were taken on the same gadgetry.

A prime example of why bird song recordings should not be used to find them. The bird temporarily distracted from its instinctive routine exposed to predation and subject to a perceived intruding male when, in fact, it was likely the only one there. Suitably embarrassed I was.


...and the day hadn't started yet!

Returning to my perch, in two senses as it turned-out, the angling day gradually came to life but never frantically, just a steady trickle of fish to maggot feeder-tempted entrapment. The two potential prizes of which, presumed tench, got the upper hand; one to a submerged snag and another to a weak spot on the line probably due to chafing on the rocky bank.

Meanwhile Little George had visited on a detour from his walk, his head straight under my seat and nose straight in, chomping on the groundbait! A "No you don't", and a hoik of the collar and he was turned back up the bank to his apologetic master. Little bugger.

Come mid-afternoon however the bizarre succession of perch around the one pound mark was interrupted by a solid weight on the end of the line. Not feeling huge, but certainly noticeably different, initial thoughts turned to a foul hooked somethingorother.

A flash of a flank, then a hint of silver. Then gone from view, but soon back and a bronzy hue. A bream or hybrid.

The bream very rarely show here. When the do they are said to run up to 7lbs or so, which made this a baby, but very welcome at 2.10. It seemed a shoal had found the now flying magic maggot carpet as another of exactly the same weight and a third of 3.5 were taken.

Now as a, largely, canal angler the prospect of a twenty pound catch is not to be sniffed at and, totting up the swag on the gadget, I was a few ounces short with 30 minutes of play remaining before stumps would be drawn.

The gadget died. Too much excitement.

Three missed bites ensued.

Of course! That had to happen.

Then..."What the...", I inwardly blurt.

Binoculars rushed to face. The agile, floaty, white rumped, flexi-streamered sight of a solitary globe-trotting arctic tern. Straight onto Birdguides that went, to join the earlier visual treat.

Then a three ounce perch succumbed but unable to remember how many ounces were needed and the I.T. Dept defunct I felt another fish should be enough insurance, after all the size of the fish had averaged a pound so one more made it a certainty - didn't it?

Nine ounces of perch followed that one, and, still not sure if I had done enough, I headed off to Chez Nous. Around the dinner table a quick recalc and by one ounce the elusive twenty pound catch was confirmed; all but half of it thanks to those three afternoon bream.

Quite a day, QUITE a day.


Blog update:

The eagle-eyed, ultra-observant, Sherlocks among the readership will no doubt have noted the new tabs at the top of the home page.

These have been created to display firstly, the Bloggers Challenge fish we are required to publish before claiming the points, the scoreboard will be up there soon too, and secondly bird lists from wherever they were collated.

The latter is a touch dry at present as it's just acting as a vehicle to record sightings but in time it will include record shots and a bit more information.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


Notice the title has been upgraded from 'Big'


Way back in the dusty and rusty old days of this blog the scaly subject of the likely maximum size of canal roach was broached.

At the time dear old Jeff Hatt & I figured that two pounders must currently exist locally, we live 13 miles apart by road, based on our collective experiences. Jeff's with hard won, deep winter, whole lobworm-suckered fish of up to a few drams under the magic weight and my own with sheer numbers of pound plus fish.

At the time we both felt the North Oxford Canal offered the greatest chance of that fish. Zander infested, otter plundered and historically supportive of fish over a pound, even thirty years ago, with a good depth and with the small fish constantly cropped leaving the survivors to grow, and grow fat. A stock of roach well over a pound and approaching two was introduced from a trout reservoir decades ago and their progeny must form these contemporary shoals.

Since that time things have moved on to the point, and I would never have believed I would say this, where it is now possible to catch a fish well over a pound to order if conditions are right. How much over is down to dedication, knowing the water and it's foibles, and luck.

Three September's back Jeff considered a fish I took of 2.3.10 was the biggest authenticated canal roach ever but immediately this was usurped by one over 2lbs 4ozs from the Gloucester Canal.

The research Jeff put into historic roach records, taking him into waters that even the likes of Mark Everard and Mark Wintle knew little of, was as extensive as one would expect of the blogfather of angling, but it threw-up very little in the way of authenticated catches. That's not to say there haven't been any in the past of course, there will have been, harvesting it and squeezing the pips from the fruit however is another matter.

Plenty of stories - zero science.

Even the now legendary Albert Oldfield stories are not beyond reproach it seems and, generally speaking, when it comes to questions like, "...but did he weight it?", mist descends over the tumbleweed

I came across a mounted fish on eBay a couple of years ago, labelled as from New Bradwell canal, Milton Keynes to you and I, which from memory was supposed to have been two pounds, eight ounces. My memory may mislead me there but it was certainly in excess of the 2.4 recent best. The fish however would come with no certificate and lacked authentification by anyone who knew the circumstances of capture.

It is surely inevitable that larger, heavier canal fish must exist but there are obstacles to their capture and surely the greatest of these is a dearth of potential captors. One usually feels an extensive rutiloid furrow is being ploughed armed only with a Billy Lane ducker.


It is against this backdrop that news of big roach is a welcome surprise but always received with an element of doubt. Most anglers catch roach but a good proportion would not weigh a fish. There could be a number of reasons as to why but these aren't particularly relevant here.

So when a reliably informed bankside contact advised that a big canal fish had been taken nearby it could not initially be ignored. He showed me a photograph on his phone that looked convincing enough as often one's immediate impression on seeing such images is one of rejection.

I had to know more. A little detective work via The Lady Burton's Facebook account brought me into contact with it's tamer, one Jack Williams, a tackle shop worker, who just fancied a late hour by the canal until dusk.

A blend of pole float tactics on rod and line was Jack's favoured method feeding maggots in the boat channel and fishing two on an eighteen hook. Apart from the pole float a fairly standard approach one might say.

On this length of canal though a session's success can hinge on that one sudden bite and sure enough the only indication of interest in this visit produced the goods in, first the strength, and then the shape of a rod-bending roach of mind-bending proportions (we came close to getting Uri Geller in there!).

Once in the net...wonderment.

But how big?...and was it big or HUGE?

The trusty lightweight dial scales came to the rescue and, incredibly, the needle twizzled round to a massive two pounds, six ounces.

To my mind, and let's face it there aren't many others out there with an interest in such matters, on the face of it comfortably the biggest authenticated roach ever from an English canal.

And this is what the trophy shot looked like...

Jack and I entered into some brief correspondence during which it was decided he would check the accuracy of his scales and we would endeavour to work out the length of the fish.

Many times the impact on fish size attributable to offline marinas has entered and crashed around in my psyche. There are many in this part of the world...more I suspect than anywhere else.

To produce, now proven, multiple roach over 2lbs, hybrids over four and bream, the peak size of which are not yet fathomed, but clearly also over four pounds, from what is a plain, narrow canal with little respite for its stocks from weekend and holiday boats...no, this cannot be chance. The coincidence of these safe and plentiful offline growing-lakes has an influence without a doubt.

Sadly Jack's scales showed a six ounce disparity and now languish awaiting refuse collection day but that should not cause us to underplay the fact that this was a two pound roach. To my mind a genuine fish of a lifetime and a truly marvellous fish from such an unlikely source, the humble cut, and, yes, a HUGE roach, without doubt.


So how big do they go then?

Wouldn't it be awful if someone told us?

The mystery is all.

Monday, 1 May 2017


May 1st, 2017. 

For F,F&F an early cast to add whatever points could be gleaned on Bloggers' Challenge opening day to the board...the new 'season'.

I had been sussing-out the local reservoir I covered last time up as stillwaters have always been a mystery to me and so have spent much of the period since the river season ended trying to get to grips with the venue.

I had fished the swim the day before without much success but with plenty of bait and so expected early bites on maggot feeder over the leftovers, which was key, as I had to leave around 10.15am to get to the races for a different kind of gamble.

First cast and a small tench of 1.12.0 got the score ticking along then this was immediately surpassed by a 3.4.5 example next chuck out.

Bites came regularly at first and the species total mounted. I was quite pleased with a rudd of 0.11.13 as the best I have seen there is only 1lb 1oz and soon after that a roach, below par, at 0.7.3 joined it.

Further feed went in but frankly I made complete Horlicks of it and sprayed it everywhere except where I was aiming, so it was not until the last two fish, a perch of 0.8.2 and a fifth tench of 3.7.0 that any further points were raised

Not the best of days for big fish although a nice early a.m. catch of 16lbs-odd in less than four hours' fishing but it's just nice to get started!