By Andrew Kennedy
I'm sure that if I told another angler that I knew of 2,000 miles
of mature, hardly-fished water; much of it with specimen potential
- they would either think I was lying or be eager to hear more! Well
it's true. Right here in Britain we have a huge network of unexploited
angling waters, which aside from a few matches, rarely see any angling
pressure at all. They are easily accessible, with comfortable banks
suitable for disabled anglers and chances are that wherever you live
in this country - even in the centre of a city, you live just a matter
of minutes away from one of these waters. If you're still wondering
where on earth I could be describing, I'll spell it out to you...
Whilst canals have long been regarded by many as sparsely populated,
infertile waters, where you might be lucky to catch on a pinkie and
size 24 hook; there are a number of species which have managed to
thrive on neglect and grow in both size and numbers, virtually unnoticed.
I'm talking about species such as carp, tench, chub, bream, perch,
pike and even zander. You only need to read a few canal match reports
before you come along a description of a winning bag containing a
"number of big perch" or a couple of "bonus tench".
This information, along with a few reconnaissance sessions over the
past few seasons, has brought me to the belief that the majority of
our canals really are untapped specimen waters.
It may be daunting to think that, say, the Grand Union Canal is some
135 miles in length and is generally quite featureless, but I firmly
believe that a structured campaign at your local longboat-highway
will throw you up a few surprises. There are so many attributes canals
have which give them potential as specimen venues: They are vastly
under-fished; boaters often feed the ducks or throw food scraps overboard
(some of which will inevitably end up as fish food); canals are all
linked to rivers, meaning any river fish could enter a canal (as could
lake escapees which get into rivers during floods, etc.); ... the
list goes on. Canals are also very similar in make-up to drains, with
shallower marginal shelves dropping off into a deeper main channel.
When the drains were in their heyday you couldn't move for anglers
queuing up to catch their resident bream, tench, pike and zander.
The only main difference between drains and canals is depth. Many
of the large drains have a good depth, whereas canals are generally
Canals make perfect eel fishing venues - acting as arterial
routes between major rivers
obvious downside to canal fishing is boat traffic. More of an issue
during the summer months, for obvious reasons, boats can be a real
pain. In my experience, if you're easily visible, most boat drivers
will slow down as they approach, and pass you with care. That said,
there is always the inevitable plonker in a hire boat who doesn't
know or care about showing anglers a bit of courtesy. It is against
the law for most boats to travel in darkness, so if your local canal
resembles the M1 in the daytime, my advice would be to fish evening
sessions, staying as long after dark as you can. Arrive at your spot
an hour or two before dark and you will have plenty of time to set
up, and more importantly, bait up your swim before dark. Most specimen
fish feed more confidently after dark, so this scenario is perfect.
This hard-fighting 12lb leather carp came
from a stretch of canal not known to contain carp!
A "turn up and chance it" session may catch you one or two
fish with the odd surprise here and there, but If you want to tap
into the most consistent action, with a good chance of big fish, you
really need to employ a pre-baiting campaign. If you choose to pre-bait
with groundbait, use a heavy blend, maybe with some leam or molehill
soil mixed in. This way most of your bait will remain where you put
it, even with a few boats passing overhead. The same could be said
if choosing to pre-bait with particles - use larger or heavier particles
to ensure they stay put. If you want to be extra-sure that your pre-baiting
doesn't become dispersed by boats, try baiting the far margin (on
the opposite bank to the towpath.) The water is typically not that
deep in the margins, but if you're going to cast after dark towards
a bank which no-one ever walks along, then most species will feed
quite confidently there and you'll still catch.
just a few trips to a local canal, I've caught perch, chub, eels,
carp, bream and ruffe - all to worm fished hard on the bottom. I've
also hooked and lost some hard-fighting fish, which I never managed
to see. One fish gave me such a bizarre but powerful scrap that I
was convinced it must be a catfish! More likely a foul-hooked carp
or pike, but you just never know! There are several canals which are
already famed for their heads of double-figure carp, running to over
20lb and I'm sure there are plenty still out there which have never
seen a hook. In the winter, if you pick your stretch carefully, it's
surprising just how many canals hold double-figure pike, along with
specimen sized perch and good zander. If you adopt a roving approach,
as is popular on the drains, you will cover a lot of water in a day
and give yourself a great chance of coming across a number of good
fish. I'm not for one minute declaring that every canal in the country
is bursting at the seams with specimen fish, but in every canal there
will be at least a few specimens of a multitude of species. The key
is tracking them down or attracting them to your chosen swims.
Shhhh... My first 20lb+ pike was caught from a canal!
So think about it. When was the last time you considered a specimen
hunting session on a canal? Forget your preconceptions and get out
there and give it a go! I guarantee that with the correct approach
and a bit of persistence, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise...
Good fishing to you all
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