From the water’s edge

October 2014 - Grubbing around under bridges

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Lures come and lures go, fads and fashions change, and I am never sure that new is any better than old, or whether it is just in my head. At one time all I had in my box were small spinnerbaits and I caught plenty of good fish. It was a long, long time before I ever managed to get a fish on a plastic shad, although all my spinners and spinnerbaits sported trailing plastic grubs.

Shads were so ineffective that I can still remember the first two takes I ever got on one. Two missed knocks on the Gloucester canal that I would now recognise as classic zander takes, plagued my waking hours and filled my dreams of thoughts about what I had done wrong to miss them both. It must have been a full year before the first zander I ever caught took one on the river Wreake.

These days my box is filled with 1,2, 3 & 4" versions and I would not expect to go more than thirty minutes without a take on one. That is a better return than I ever used to get on my once invincible spinnerbaits. So I have moved on, but I still carry a couple of the old metal lures as a change bait. Even so, I cannot believe how hard, by today’s standards, it can be to get a take on one.
Looking back, it occurs to me that for obvious reasons, spinners and spinnerbaits are at their most effective when the fish are actively chasing and most likely up in the water too.

I reckon that the single biggest factor that has led to the great improvement in our catches has been our switch to slow retrieves close to the bottom which catch whenever a fish is prepared to open its mouth, whether it is active or not. It is not that the lure has stopped working, more that we have learned how to catch fish in circumstances where spinning baits cannot physically be fished in the necessary manner. When the fish are up in the water dashing about, a shad is just as effective anyway, so while still being effective at times, spinning metal has lost its place at the top of the list of go-to baits for me.



Another bait that had slipped down the snakes on that list was the humble curly tail grub. Just recently however, it has been climbing ladders thanks to a change in my tactics which have suited its particular qualities well. I am of course talking about dibbling in the margins. Today was a good example of why I have filled a box with them, spent some more money, and re-promoted them to the top of the pecking order.

For Pete and I, lure fishing is fundamentally all about getting more takes. The single most important part of the equation is finding the fish. Preferably fish that have not seen our lures before, so we regularly leave our comfortable, well-understood spots to seek out new ones. The quick and easy way to find fish on a canal is to head for the structure and human activity around locks and moorings. The hardest places to catch are in open countryside. The majority of those beautiful tree-lined, reed lined, nailed-on, classic looking swims are fishless deserts. Some aren't, but we have never been able to identify the good ones without going through the whole soul-destroying process of fishing miles of empty water.

Dibbling has given us a glimmer of hope though and today we set off to a stretch of the kind we have always struggled with. Two miles of virgin water, all overhanging trees with no locks or boats to speak of. What it did have was four, old farm bridges. Two weeks ago, somewhere else, we sneaked some decent perch from the margins and most of them took small, dibbled, curly tails. In an effort to have more options when takes were few or were dying away, I ordered some more colours and makes from agm.

I like curlys for dibbling because they have movement in the tails even when held still. The waft of a passing boat or a trembling hand is all it takes to instil life into the plastic.

Given that perch are extremely omnivorous, and that a large percentage of their diet is invertebrates, it is not hard to imagine why curly tailed grubs should be so effective.

My current selection  was pretty safe, yellow, always yellow, and red. Tripple ripple grubs from Bass Pro back in the day when the postage charges weren’t high enough to buy the whole damn plane, they were shipped on. Never had a problem with them, they have always worked well, but one wrinkle that we rely on more and more is to extend the catching potential of a swim by changing colour and sneaking a few extras out after the standby colours have stopped working.

My package arrived just in time, some pearl, some white (tripple tails), yellow with reddy, orangey, flesh coloured tails (hornet), black glitter, and at last a few Orka marmaids in black and red.

The tiddlers had disappeared, time to tread new water and the packets came open, the gloves came off, the pearl grub was sent in to do damage.

My timing couldn’t have been better. A boat passed just as I lowered the bait into the water beneath the rod tip. All manner of shit was swirling to the surface. Great vortices of black leaves and God only knows what else. The lure went down the rod tip went up and the first one pound perch of the day was on its way to the net.

Hmm. Interesting . Back in, 12 oz. Crikey, that’ll do. More followed from the other bridges, but a change was called for. 2” yellow shad, that hadn’t seen action for a bit. Out it went, in it came. Decent fish that. A good pound or so .

Pete was doing the same. We stopped and fished only when  we came to a bridge or a particularly wide bit or a particularly narrow bit and the score edged upwards, ever upwards.

Pete found a spot he had fished years ago and bingo, they were still there. That happens a lot, canals don’t change much , if a spot was good in the sixties, it is quite likely to still be good in the next century.



It was an interesting postmortem in the pub. We have struggled for years to come up with a plan for those great long stretches of apparently dead water and now I think we have the makings of one. Stick to bridges, extra wide bits and very narrow bits, then expand the effort for twenty or thirty years each side. Walk past those long average width, sexy looking bits with reeds and bushes and stick to the very exceptional variations and then just push the boundaries a bit in each direction before moving on.

And grubs. Grubs are good, grubs are great, grubs are cheap and grubbing around under bridges is the new rock and roll as far as I am concerned.

artificial lite

journal 2014.





journal 2014.

journal 2013.