With the rivers now closed and my diligence to try and eek every opportunity out of them over, I find myself returning to the canals. Frankly it's about time because I get the distinct impression that I was wasting my time a little trying to wring anything out of the river as neither fate, luck nor skill seemed to be on my side at the end there. The canals though, they're a different matter entirely because my angling is born of the canal and the murky water which dissects the land holds comfort for me with its familiarity and mysteries. At this time of year when the hedgerows flanking the cut begin to spark back into life with white blossom of hawthorn, I find myself never more satisfied than when walking a tow path to go fishing when dawn breaks or heading back in the dark with the smell of wood fires from moored boats drifts along the canal in cooling night air. All in all I am happy to be back in this world of muddy paths, unexpected surprises and dog shit.
In my mind I have a map. It's a rough map of scribbled lines and marked around those lines here and there are poorly written notes. If anyone could read those notes apart from me they'd say unintelligible worthless things like, chub/night/worm/shallow. They are things that only anglers would want to know, but to me they are invaluable. On this mental map you see are twenty-eight years of fish captures covering the Coventry, Oxford, Ashby and Grand union canals. Over time the map has become bigger and the scribbled notes have covered it more. Often I have thought about drawing it out, but I always conclude that there would be no point as no-one would want to read it so why bother; I can always look at it in my head and recall a spot to go if I want to angle after a certain fish; And recall I did, a place to go for my first session back and it was a big perch I fancied.
It was Friday morning and the sun shone on my face as I skipped down the banks of the Coventry. The wind though was cutting hard down the stretch right onto the bend where I wanted to fish. The canal looked in perfect condition with a nice tinge of colour whilst still having six to ten inches or so of visibility. After land mine check I quickly set up stall before plumbing the depth of a line just off the shelf. After flicking out the un-baited rig I busied myself chopping six fat worms into little chunks before adding some casters in my pole pot. By the time I had finished, the float had settled onto the line it would always go to in line with rod tip. Baiting up on the very tip of the rod with the pole pot whilst the water was not towing, you can assume that the bait will go straight down then once it starts towing, be left to right or right to left, the scent trail and goodies should remain on the same line even it moves either way.
Conscious of the low water temperatures, I went small with the baits to begin with and cast a lob tail over the baited line and sat down to wait. This was never going to be fast and furious session and I had to wait forty-five minutes for the float to finally show signs of fish be present. A single slight dip caught my attention and I waited for the light pole float to slide away. The light nine foot road bent over as if attached to the bottom and there juddered over even further as the culprit attempted to escape in a series of big boils in front of me. Caution and a light clutch soon brought it round to the net and my canal escapades had begun with a cracker of a perch.
As I said before this session was not exactly action packed and to anyone reading, the details of a middle aged man shivering on the tow path would be boring. But what the session lacked in quantity it made up for in quality, though the single zander I caught on my dead bait sleeper did not rank high on the chart of quality fish!
After the manky zed I only received four more bites. One bite I totally missed, another resulted in a miniature version of the first perch albeit only six ounces in weight. The next one was by anyones standard, a fish with some potential for years to come.
The last and final fish of the session was in the nicest possible way a football of a fish. It felt heavy in the water and in the net looked like a slab. When I picked it up and looked from above I couldn't believe its girth and just had to get a shot of a perch you could put a saddle on and a really tiny monkey, like a marmoset, could ride.
I do love these shape of perch. Sure, I like all big perch but I love the big round ones that look like real life versions of the stuffed ones you see in glass cases rather than the long humped back ones, and it was the perfect way to finish a hard but very rewarding session with my second fish of the session over two pounds.
Two days later I found myself on a different tow path twenty or more miles away from the first. This time I scoured my mind for a suitable place to try for a big roach and the Grand Union seemed to fit the bill. Armed with a bag of fluffy white bread crumbs tainted by a hint of a morish but mysterious flavour simply called 'big roach' and a few slices of a better than normal quality bread I hoped might attract a better sort of fish, I headed to a spot with form.
My diddy and faithful nine foot canal wand was tucked up at home and for this occasion I was once again armed with fifteen feet of carbon that I am quickly developing a close relationship with. The reason I'd bought along my Greys 15ft was I wanted to fish in the same way as the previous session only further out. So far this rod seems to be living up to the expectations of the manufacturer in that it is rated for lines between 2-8lb, which I thought a wide set of post to perform well between, but so far so good. Its not so much of a rigid beast as it knocks off smaller fish and when asked, the power of the rod progresses right down the blank with plenty of power. This time I was putting my faith in it that should a roach over a pound and half or even two come along then I should be confident in my gear.
The roach fishing did not go to plan! Saying that I did catch a roach but at a mere four ounces I felt almost shameful trying to photo it and instead simply flipped it back to grow bigger likes its siblings. Luckily for me I still had the remnants of the previous sessions bait and had by way of insurance been potting a few bits of worms and casters a rod length down the tow path in the margins. After sitting for three hours staring at a float which had moved only once I was more than ready to have a look for a perch or two, which after all was what I normally fished for here and were my target when big roach have turned up in the past.
Having already established the margin swim was a few inches shallower than the track swim beforehand, a quick adjustment of the float was all that was need before I lowered a lob tail on the spot. I watched as the cocking shot sank the float down so only the red tip showed above the water. My eyes barely had time focus on the float before it quickly vanished and I struck into a good perch. It feels a lot different playing a big perch on fifteen feet of rod rather than nine foot, but as expected the soft tip action cushioned every lunge and my third two pound perch of the weekend was soon in the net.
The insurance spot it seemed was alive with fish using the bank as cover and a string of smaller perch and a single zedlit which came off filled my final hour. With only six worms left and a sprinkle of casters, I baited up one last time before resting the spot whilst checking nothing had slunk back onto the roach line. Fifteen minutes and three barges later it was time for one last go on the margin spot before I had to get off. With a fresh half of worm on the spot I waited with the preposterously long rod resting across my lap as the float bobbed in the ripple only a foot and a half down out under the tip. I didn't have to wait long though before the float moved away from the edge and sank out into the canal. Once again the rod bent satisfyingly over as boils rose on the canals surface. This was another big fish and as much as I wanted rogue roach the fight didn't seem quite right. Finally spines broke the surface followed by stripy back. A few twists and turns later the white of the belly showed and big mouth appeared at the edge of my waiting net; My fourth and final two pound perch went in the net and helped to turn what was a disastrous roach session into the second perch red letter day on the trot.