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More ice with it


Not for the first time lately the weather has forced a change of venue on us at the last minute. Two nights of heavy frosts meant that our intended venue would almost certainly be frozen solid throughout its length. There seemed little point in driving miles only to have to turn around and retrace our steps. I guess most lure anglers would stay at home and wait for the weather to calm down , but we have been here before. It takes a lot more than two nights at minus six to stop us fishing.

Perceived wisdom has it that when the weather gets cold, when there is ice on the water, the fish 'hibernate', become moribund and sink to the bottom. There, in a state of suspended animation, they rest and acquire a host of leeches until things improve. Then, once the weather warms up, they can shake themselves out of it and begin feeding up again ready for spawning in the spring.

Some of this certainly has an element of truth, but experience has shown us that they aren't all that hard to catch when there is ice on the water. In fact, I would suggest that anglers are more affected by the cold than fish are. We have had some very good days when the canal has been frozen over. It is worth remembering that on hard frost days like this, it is warmer beneath the ice where the fish are than it is above it on the towpath. If it wasn't the fish would be ice lollies and then it really would be impossible.

When we turned up at the canal this week it looked hopeless to be honest. Even knowing what we do, we were in two minds, so I thought that it might be useful to explain how we go about catching fish on lures when the canal is frozen over.

What we need are areas of liquid water in a wasteland of ice. Top of the list for keeping things fluid is water movement. The obvious places are locks. Those with a proper run round where excess water flows down a concrete gully are ideal, but leaky gates work just as well in all but the most extreme cold. Locks are productive anyway which is a great start and they also provide structure. Structure provides both cover and a corral for trapping baitfish all the year round, but more importantly at this time of the year, the brickwork retains heat. Freezing cold nights are frequently followed by bright sunny days which help top up that warmth or at least slow down the rate at which it is lost.

If you follow that line of thinking then you will quickly realise that bridges can do the same and it is not unusual to find clear water beneath them as well. Again, they are fish holding areas anyway. Modern eco heating systems often exploit the thermal qualities of the earth. Ground temperature beneath the surface is quite consistent and that heat will mean that the margins will be the last to freeze and the first to thaw. My best fish today came from a strip of water less than a foot wide that remained unfrozen along the bank side. All you need to be able to do is get the bait beneath the surface and you are in with a shout straight away.

Water movement can be provided by waterfowl as well. Places where lots of them expect to get fed have produced many fish for us in the past. Their constant paddling and splashing about can even break up cat ice keeping things viable if the ice isn't too bad.

The last option that springs to mind is the product of experience really. There are a few places that for some obscure reason take longer to freeze. Maybe they are sheltered, I can think of one or two those, or maybe even more exposed and kept clear by wind putting a chop on the water. Only experience can tell you where they are and unless you walk the towpath looking for such places when the temperature falls you'll never find them. Mind you I have been caught out a few times by spotting ripples in the distance only to find after a long walk that they are in the two inches of rainwater on top of the ice!

Of course finding unfrozen water is only nine tenths of the issue. Presenting the bait effectively constitutes the rest. I do like using the pole for this. There is no reel to operate and no casting to be done, consequently lovely warm gloves can be worn throughout. Get a pair that you can pull off easily for unhooking or lure changing and cold hands are a thing of the past. Best of all, there are no rod rings for the line to freeze to. Personally I tend to use a favourite one to two inch lure, rarely changing it but concentrating hard on fishing every square inch of available water as precisely as possible. I start with a 1.5" fox mini fry ( Pete prefers a little Ma2 shad ) and just persist with that. I know it works, all I have to do is get it in front of a fish prepared to make a mistake.

Perversely, having my options severely limited by the ice has proved a revelation in many respects. I have to fish water that is unfrozen and it is surprising how often it produces from spots I would normally only try briefly at best or more likely walk straight past. We had a similar issue last week only instead of ice, it was leaves that prevented us from fishing where we wanted to. We still caught though which begs the question 'why don't we catch from these places normally'? I would suggest that under normal conditions we can access spots that we perceive to be better. Whether we are right or not is a moot point.

Whenever I begin to theorise on the whys and wherefores of lure fishing, somehow I always end up back at the same place. Successful lure fishing is all in your head. Week after week we fish, we fish all over the network, we use all sorts of methods, we are restricted by all sorts of problems both natural and man made and we nearly always catch fish. But, no matter where we go, how we fish or how difficult conditions are, our catches fade away after a few short hours. Even our red letter days become less productive as the hours tick by and there can only be one reason; we aren't fishing as well. Our concentration wavers, our retrieves speed up, we aren't getting as many takes and even if we were we wouldn't be spotting them as easily.

All of this is even more true and more relevant when the weather is against us and the canal is frozen, but we had a few fish to a pound plus today and having run out of spots to try were in the cafe by 10.30. It just goes to show that it is never a waste of time and very rarely impossible. How many bait anglers could expect to fish for two hours on a morning like this and catch as many fish? It wouldn't be worth the effort of lugging all the gear down there. There would have been nothing to stop us going on to another flight of locks either if we had chosen to do so. Just another one of lure fishing’s great advantages is the option of packing up in moments and being fishing again, somewhere else, in twenty minutes, so there is no excuse for not chucking the gear in the car and giving it a go on a nice frosty winters morning.


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