I reckon it's safe to say that we have actually been enjoying a bit of an Indian summer this year. The leaves cling stoically to the trees and only now as we reach October are we beginning to feel that night time nip. As for me, I've been waiting for autumn to arrive so as to begin fishing the canals again after what seems like a long summer absence. This late heat has held me off for a while, as the lack of bad weather means the canal system is still rife with boats and there are only so many smiling boaters bidding me good day as they steam through my swim I can take.
Turns out it was an unplanned session that sent me back to the tow path though. I have been trying to align the all the stars correctly so as I could fish one last time for tench at Napton on a warm day, but every time I get a chance a fly lands in my ointment. This time it was a heavy downpour of overnight rain that got me thinking today was not the day. Lying in bed questioning what four hours of heavy cool rain might have done to the fishes feeding, I concluded a change of tack was in order. That decided an inventory of available bait was taken. The casters I had purchased might well compliment the worms I always keep around just in case, and if I am plying chopped worm and caster I may as well do it for big perch, and as I know a big perch honey hole on the canal I might as well take some dead baits and fish for zander!
So off to the perch honey hole I went with a bit of bait, my 9ft Shakespeare wand and a dead bait rod for good measure. The area I was heading to does seem to attract boats to moor up there for some unknown reason, so as I walked the tow path I was hoping it would be free, as fifty foot of narrow boat can really ruin this swim. Luckily even though there were boats moored up overnight in the area, the spot was clear and free, so I located myself dead centre of the sweet area and quickly baited up just off the shelf with a couple of pots of chopped worm and caster.
As the free bait stewed, sending its oozing scent off to draw in customers I set up the dead bait rod and placed the rig down the wind from the bait. Zander I know love worms and even though the bigger ones might not be concerned with rooting out small baits like worms as they did when they were smaller, they are still attracted by the smell, and a well placed dead bait in the scent trail is always a good place to start I reckon.
The rig I began with on the worm line was very unlike the normal rig I use in these situations. This was because with the brighter than normal conditions I felt I needed even the slightest edge, so the chubber float was done away with and replaced by a sensitive pole float. Normally I fish the three pound mainline direct to the large hook, but today a fine fluro hook link and fine wire size fourteen finished off the final foot. Even my bait was scaled back on this occasion and my normal split lobworm was replaced by a much smaller dendrobena.
Without blowing my own trumpet. Paaaaaaaaarp! My scaling down was pure genius! The thin red tip sent out the tiniest of ripples followed by a hint of a dip. Then after settling a moment it sank half way and I needed no second signal to strike. The rod took on a bend instantly and the standoff between man and fish was reached with the float out of the water only halfway up its carbon stem. There was a pause, with the float just hanging still above the turbid water... then the fish whipped off banging away for freedom. The well set clutch gave line perfectly and I just held as the rod absorbed the fishes power. It was a powerful fish and judging by the swirling water its might matched its size. I was almost disappointed when no spiny fin appeared and what looked like a decent hybrid rolled over. But then in the sexiest turn ever, she came up on the surface all silver with red dazzling fins and a face of a true thoroughbred canal roach.
What can I say of such a stunning fish, other than is there any better way to return to the canal in autumn than by catching a perfect and massive roach. Even more shocking is this is my third canal roach over 1.14lb. Surely this year a two has to come my way.
I was pretty stunned after that start and had a almost involuntary smile on my face when the zander exploded onto the scene. The first tiny one took a worm as I dropped it gently back onto the baited spot. As I released that one, out the corner of my eye I watched the small float tootling off under the water as another made off with the roach head dead bait.
After that they were like buses tracking up the wind to my bait. Simply put, every time I got the bait perfectly placed at the edge of the trench another zander would locate it in minutes. The average size was nice as well, with most of them being over three pounds and a couple closer to four.
Throughout the flurry of zander runs I was barely able to keep the worm line active in the water, though somewhere in the mess of dead baits, teeth and spines I had thought to keep the bait going in on the worm spot. When the runs eventually dried up I once again deployed the pole float rig and my attention to it. First drop in and the float never cocked properly. I struck just in case and was immediately playing yet another small but rather aggressive zander that had the biggest tail I have ever seen on a zander.
The swim eventually went quiet and it seemed the perfect time to try and top it back up with more worm and caster. The worm was topped up with one large shot and this time I held back on the casters flicking out six or so every ten minutes, until finally the swim sparked back into action. Finally a small but well proportioned perch turned up with a mouth full of casters. That single perch heralded the arrival of the striped crew. A few more small but good looking perch snaffled my worm before an unwanted crayfish made off with my bait and got a heel to the head for its trouble. The crayfish's corpse had barely made bottom before I had checked, re-baited and recast the rig onto the spot. The next bite was very confident, with one good dip before the float sailed off and I was finally playing a decent sized perch. A huge humped back and spiky fin was seen just as the net slipped under it.
The big perch had finally arrived after the little ones had led the way. I had another one of this near two pound stamp and several smaller ones of 10oz - 1lb before disaster struck. There had been boats passing me all morning and so far I had kept cool and calm fishing on the inside away from their track. The problem occurred when I spotted two narrow boats moving towards me from both sides. It didn't take long to figure they looked as if they might cross right in front of me. All I could do was watch as they slowly plodded towards me, as if in an old disaster movie where it takes ages for the punch to arrive. When they did finally cross things went even worse than I could have expected; one the boats was a rental and the inexperienced pilot cracked just as he crossed bows with the second boat. In a panic filled moment reverse gear was engaged and the tiller was pushed hard over for some unknown reason before forward thrust was re-engaged with extreme prejudice. In the blink of an eye my carefully prepared spot was decimated back further than it was than before I started.
My silent response to the boater's apology I think was more than enough to convey my anger. As tons of metal and wood chugged away from my swim the water swirled like the Severn in full spate. Rather than scream into the sky I quickly concluded it had already been a brilliant session, and rather than stick around to try and rebuild I opted to quickly pack up and disappear like a magician whilst the cloudy water hid my exit. As I walked away I tallied up seven zander and ten plus perch with a couple of near twos among them; good for relatively short session, but add in that superb roach and it adds up to an amazing return to the canal which really has me looking forward to future canal sessions and what surprises they could bring.