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Looking for water

I hope that you find my journal interesting and entertaining. If, having read this, you think that I am talking rubbish then at least you have stopped and thought about it long enough to come to that conclusion which is something of a result in my book. If you would like to comment on this article or anything else relating to my website, please feel free to contact me using the adjacent form. Feedback is always greatly appreciated and very helpful when it comes to improving both my site and my angling. Thank you for looking. If this form will not work for you, please e-mail me at editor@ericweight.co.uk
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Water with fish in it anyway. I guess we all are and if somebody has already pointed you in the right direction it is pretty easy. Frankly if that is how you find your fish, then we are looking for something different from our fishing. I like to find my own fish for a couple of reasons, not least of which is that I believe that lure fishing pressure ruins sport faster than anything else. That is a bit unfair on the person who gave you the nod although he really has no-one to blame but himself. Pressured fish are harder to catch. Looking for them in less heavily, even un-fished, water will lead to more good days fishing in the long run. Results seldom get better and the first push is likely to be the most productive. After that you are pushing string uphill and things get rapidly tougher. There are no absolutes in fishing. Pressured water still throws up big fish and big catches, but that is more to do with the number of anglers. The law of averages I suppose. Reading a glowing catch report from an over fished piece of water can be very misleading in that a lot more anglers will have put in a lot more hours before that special fish came along. Your chances have been diluted.

That is not the only or even the main reason that Pete and I seek new water. We prefer our own company and the company of those we fish with and trust me that is very few anglers. Searching out a new and productive piece of water is half the fun and we have paid for it over the years by wasting plenty of time on some absolute lemons. Even then I tend to believe that they may well still hold fish of the calibre and numbers we like to catch and that we just haven’t fished them as effectively as is required. I am always looking for the key that fits the lock better.

All of this aside, finding fish on a river is usually a piece of cake compared to finding them on canals. Still waters seem to be more a case of fishing everything over and over until a pattern emerges. Canals in some respect are the same but because we fish them more, the clues are a little more easily uncovered.

Its hard to say with any certainty that this feature or that feature is going to hold fish. Like everything else in lure fishing it is a matter of playing the percentages. Over the years more fish come from areas containing particular features than come from others, that at first glance to the angler, appear equally suitable.
So it is that we find that a disproportionately large percentage of our catches come from around structure and wide, especially concrete lined, bends. It doesn't mean that every bridge or lock is productive or that bends are nailed on certainties to hold fish. It does mean that they are all worth intensive and thorough attention. Results will then weed out the 'look good but aren't' ones. Time and effort is far better spent in these areas than in for example, narrow, heavily overgrown and tree lined ones.

Structure is, like most of the Americanisms that we like to smile at, pretty self descriptive. On canals, the most obvious examples are locks and bridges. I think that almost everybody must understand that by now, so I shall gloss over them other than to mention that old dilapidated crumbly ones are usually better than more modern, smooth concrete ones. The really hard bit is pinning down fish in miles of open, equally attractive canal. In fact I realised as I was typing the last sentence that the biggest, most misleading features on canals are the attractive ones.

Who can resist casting at every one of the thousands of overhanging trees and bushes that line the banks. Actually I mean the far bank, because precious few of us pay as much attention to the features that line the towpath side and we should. Why? Well for a start there is rarely any worthwhile depth of water under the far bank. Because it is usually privately owned land and inaccessible to the CRT mowers and slashers, it tends to be overgrown and boats cannot moor there. The overgrowth pushes boat traffic away from the far bank and closer to the towpath side. The wash then scours the bottom and stirs up the silt which can only really settle permanently on the far bank where the boats don’t go. I have caught a fair few fish on the shallow water, predominantly in areas where very heavy traffic has sent the fish off looking for less turbulent and disturbed water. Nine times out of ten however, those fish will be jack pike, and personally I have no interest in catching them at all.

Occasionally a bush may reach out over water deep enough for fish to feel safe in and those areas can be productive, but if you want to talk odds, I would suggest that for every fish holding overhanging bush that you fish, a hundred or probably a lot more will prove fruitless. Increasing the number and size of the fish you catch on canals has a lot to do with how often you show your lure to hungry or aggressive individuals. I wouldn’t waste a lot of time on an overhanging bush on the far bank if I were you. Maybe a quick cast each side and move on.

I realise that so far I have written more about features that don’t hold fish than about ones that do, so lets look at from the other direction. The near bank is a good place because it is close to a permanent feature that provides protection from one side one hundred per cent of the time with very often enough water over their heads to hide them from view. I wouldn’t bother fishing shallow water on the near bank where you can see the bottom with polaroid glasses on. Often 12-18” of water is enough to hide the fish if boat traffic is heavy and I do know of at least one perch specialist who walks the banks of his local canal at night searching the margins for big perch with a powerful hunting lamp. He can then return during the day and fish the areas where he has found them.

 

Trees overhanging the near bank can have enough water under them if boats moor nearby. It isn’t unusual for the boaters to tie the boat to such a tree when they park up. Then running the engines to power the generator or revving them to move away will scour out the bottom. Anywhere that boats tie up will have hollows in the silt that fish will sit in and where fine silt will collect and nourish bloodworm, that in turn will feed perch and zander both directly and indirectly by attracting baitfish.

Incidentally, specialist sea anglers use the same reasoning to target conger alongside the steps on stone piers. The constant boat activity will scour hollows into the base of a concrete pier in which the eels will hide. Imagine then how many hollows there are under a canal bank reinforced with simple sandbags of mortar.

A year or two ago I saw a feature on the restoration of the regents canal in London. The towpath was completely undermined in places to a depth of several feet due to boat-wash activity. All those places where the towpath has collapsed were once caves that will likely have hidden some nice perch. Some of those are surprisingly large subsidences and could well have held a great many fish. Those may have collapsed but at least as many will still be there. We catch a staggering amount of fish right under the bank in less than two feet of water. Last week Pete and I hooked three perch in the two pound bracket in just a few minutes fishing a spot exactly like this.

I reckon that maybe three quarters or even more of the fish that we catch are caught on the towpath side. Some of those will have followed the lure for a while before taking, but equally I have seen many shoot out from under my feet to hit the lure as it approaches. When I use the pole, I can only rarely fish the far side of the boat channel so fish aren’t really chasing my lures from the across the cut, but even so, it is a rare day when I can’t catch at least the same as everybody else using a short ,fixed line.

Those concrete lined bends I mentioned are always worth a look and rapidly becoming one of our favourite features. While canals do have a natural direction of flow, and obviously that is downhill, it is less pronounced out in the countryside and away from flights of locks. Out there, it is the boats themselves that, albeit intermittently, create water movement, eroding the canal bed and banks. I have already mentioned that they scour hollows in the canal bed wherever they are moored, but when they are in motion it is worth noting the line that they tend to follow. On bends they have a tendency to swing towards the outside of the bend so that they can see further ahead and around it. Their very passage will move water powerfully under and alongside the craft, so while there is no current in the same sense that you get in a river, similar effects are caused by their movement through the water. While I have just spent some time and wasted a lot of words slagging off the far bank, the outside of a bend with and open, less vegetated bank will be well worth a shot, whether that is under your feet or on the far side.

Concrete banks have another huge advantage. They don’t leak silt into the water. Areas with hard banks take longer to colour up and when they do, that colour falls out much quicker. That is fortunate because more power is often needed to get the turn in, and that, yes, you guessed it, scours the bottom out more. Incidentally moorings are frequently concrete or tin sided. Boaters in our experience are a pretty considerate lot, especially towards other boaters, and that means they will cut their speed when passing moorings and that means these areas can stay cleaner for longer.

 

A boat doesn’t have to be moving through the water to scour out the bottom. Water movement is speeded up when a boat passes. The displacement will force water under moored boats and thanks to the venturi effect it will speed up even more as it passes beneath the stationary boat. Boats moored long term will have a nice hollowed out area beneath them, which fish love. Residential boats will vent their washing up water straight out of the side of the boat, delivering bits of spaghetti and left over food straight to the fish and as if that wasn’t helpful enough, the owners often throw their waste food and of course bread, over the side for the ducks.

I don’t know why, but we are having a lot more success on wider sections of canal than narrow ones. Presumable it gives the fish a more comfortable amount of room to get away from the traffic. Perhaps the boat channel is wider there as boats are not so constricted by the banks. I doubt if the scouring action of passing vessels leaves very much headroom, so anywhere that the channel is wider will allow fish to move to one side as they pass without having to leave the channel altogether and the channel does hold a lot of fish in these places.

And one last thought. The vagaries of terrain can sometimes result in bends that trap windblown leaf and weed debris in one place. This will eventually sink and rot, possibly creating a good food resource out of the shrimps, slaters and bloodworm feeding in the detritus on the bottom. I would never walk past a raft of leaves trapped on a bend without giving it a try. Those kind of places have given up a lot of good fish in the past.  All the same, a big bend turning away from the towpath, with deeper water under the rod tip and concrete banks will do for me all day long.  

 

If you look closely at this picture of a section of the Grand Union taken back in 2010 after some muppet had left the gates open all night you will quite clearly be able to see that the boat channel is closer to the outside of the bend and that the water under the trees which have been trailing in the water is going to be a lot shallower than it is on the towpath side. Look even closer and you will see that the permanently moored barge is sitting in its own scour in the mud and that there is a large hollow in front of the bow. Oh, and the much vaunted far shelf is just a figment of the match angler’s imagination.