From the water’s edge

December 2015 - 48 hours...

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..... is all it takes to turn a great new venue into a mean and average one. 48 hours is all it takes to sap the life out of all that optimism which kept me awake for most of the last two nights, dreaming of more big perch. Monsters that would surely fall for my perfectly mounted, fresh out of the packet mini fry. My lure box had been tidied. Lures that haven’t produced much of late were either relegated to my reserve box for emergencies or ditched altogether, cast onto the ever growing pile of ‘these will do the business’ lures that didn’t do anything of the sort. I wanted to run down the bank this morning and get my bait back in that swim such was my confidence that I had seen a glimmer of promising light where once there was none.

Winter weather laughs in the face of optimism around here. The temperature had fallen overnight and was lying, like a whore’s drawers around the ankles of hope. The cold wind was slight but it drilled into our wrists, necks and ears like a nagging and tedious dentist’s drill. We were persistent though and we beat relentlessly on the back of those shoals of reluctant fish, insisting odd ones out here and there. It was never busy but we didn’t blank; neither did we find any of those bigger perch either. It just wasn’t the same.

I don’t think we have ever seen so many tiny zander as we have caught this year and we saw three or four more of them today along with a handful of equally small perch. One or two fell off, but we never missed much. The biggest was the last and that probably cleared a pound by an ounce or two. Not a record breaker I know but it did suggest that Wednesday’s fish were not just a small transient shoal but part of a population comprising plenty of small prey fish with a fair number of better, more entrepreneurial specimens following them around.

Despite their reluctance to feed we saw a fair number of small fish swirling and flipping out. I think we may perhaps have found an area that overwinters a healthy population of prey fish. The question is will we go back there again next Wednesday or try elsewhere? I think we might have to see what that weather does next. If it is going to chop and change a lot, we will need to go somewhere we can count on. The closures are coming to an end as well. Maybe we should be making the most of those while we still can?




For all the pontificating that we do, the truth of the matter is that if you put your lure, whatever it is or however you fish it, in front of a hungry fish, you are likely to get a hit and probably catch it. The trick is to get that fish to feed when it isn’t hungry and can’t be bothered to chase. Solve that riddle and catches will multiply in leaps and bounds. I have said many times that our solution to the problem is to get the lure right in the fish’s face and keep it there as long as necessary to provoke some sort of interest. It works brilliantly, but like every other technique, refinement or wonder lure, it only ever works if the fish are there in the first place.

There are a myriad of nailed on swims on the canal, swims that you can count on 80% of the time to hold fish and they all contain what the yanks call ‘structure’. I’m giving away no secrets here, most people have worked that out already by now and therein lies the problem. Despite the best efforts of the Canal and Rivers Trust and the few matchmen who cling on like grim death to miles and miles of canal so that twenty of them can have a moaning match on two hundred yards of it once a week in the winter, the number of lure anglers on the canal has risen dramatically over the last three years. This has put enormous pressure on the predator fishing at least as far as lures are concerned. Fish caught on lures never derive any benefit from the experience and quickly learn to avoid them or that once reliable hotspots are dangerous places to be. Remember that for them, there is no gain in the form of free food, only pain and/or inconvenience in the form of rubber and plastic.

Some of the results that I have heard lure anglers raving over these days would have been considered average a few years ago, or are now shared much more thinly between far greater numbers of anglers. We are always looking for the next edge, but while most anglers expect that to be found in the lure suppliers catalogue, I believe that the truth is in technique and location. If everybody else is using it or doing it, its effectiveness will peter out.

I am a grumpy old bastard, I like my privacy, peace and quiet, and I don’t like sharing my fishing, but I don’t regret the fact that it gets harder. In fact in many respects, I relish the fact. Once we move away from the obvious hotspots, life gets a lot harder. Even the electro-fishers will tell you that they can go a mile or more along the open canal before finding any fish, and then they will turn up in numbers. Searching that kind of water can and has taken years, but there is an awful lot more of it still to be fished to its best effect.

Perversely, the average angler who casts and retrieves his way along a mile or two is as likely as anyone else to find a hot area because searching that water is generally the key to success. The problem for him is that unless the fish are chasing, he will more often than not fish straight over them without a sign of a take. I know, we have done it ourselves many times. A stretch is written off as useless because we fished it once or twice on a duff day. Not catching fish never proves anything only catching fish does.

So how then do we find pockets of fish on long, beautiful, stretches filled with absolutely perfect, classic-looking swims, most of which hold nothing? Well from here on this is conjecture with merely an element of experience to back it up, but worthy of consideration all the same. The key is food. It has to be. Food definitely, and shelter maybe, but then food will still trump everything. And where is the food supply in a canal? Close to human beings for a start. Where they feed the ducks, where they rinse their washing up straight out of the barges kitchen into the canal, where they discharge sewage and the like. Moorings then are good and they offer shelter as well, but we are looking to get away from what are after all still the most obvious places.

Out in the open country, it is harder. There will be a certain amount of insect matter in overhanging or emergent vegetation, but I have never found any quantity of insect life in any that I have pulled out. Pete tells me that back in the day ( he is very old) between the death of the commercial boat traffic and the rise of the leisure industry, the canals around our way were full of weed, reeds, lilies and the like. There would have been food there for sure, but today the boat traffic is too heavy. It clouds the water, cuts out the light and physically tears up any plant that has the temerity to try and grow there. No plants means very few aquatic insects particularly of the seasonal kind. So what are all these fish eating?

Probably the three commonest types of insect food available in this area would be shrimp/slaters, bloodworm and gnat/mosquito larvae. The last one probably doesn’t do so well in the highly disturbed water of the main canals, I have certainly never been bothered by midges while fishing them. I suspect that bloodworm and shrimp/slaters are key. Matchmen certainly believed that bloodworm were a major food source. Both of these will require decomposing vegetable and animal matter to thrive, along with, in the case of bloodworm, silt. There must be a lot of this kind of food, carp are thriving well after all, growing to over thirty pounds locally.

Wherever there is a build up of this kind of debris, we should find a food source that should attract both the second tier, more omnivorous predators like perch and zander and the bait fish that they also feed on. The clues to these areas are floating around at the moment in great rafts, but have you ever stopped to notice how certain areas collect more of them, driven into some places more than others by the prevailing winds?

The more I think about it, the more edge pieces fall into place. It is not the solution to the whole puzzle but it does make some sense of a disorganised pile of pieces. At this time of the year, boat traffic is light so they are not re-distributed as much or as often, winds are strong and directional so they are firstly stripped from the trees and then herded into corners and sheltered areas. Ever found bends to be good?  Ever noticed that the wind always blows along the canal whichever direction it comes from? And that around the corner it is blowing the opposite way, herding that debris into the corner? Overhead cover while they float, decomposing vegetable matter when they sink, and rarely fished? Ever walked away because the leaves are a bloody pain and make casting and retrieving a chore when they float and snag up your lures when they’ve sunk? Not a problem that with the pole by the way ;))

loose connections

artificial lite
loose connections.

artificial lite



journal 2015.


journal 2015.