Monday, 2 February 2015

The lure of the canal

What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, on the mildest day of the year to date, Pete and I shared a brace of pike apiece, a further three threw Pete's hooks, and it seemed as though we'd "cracked it". Today, on a much colder day, with the air temperature never rising above 2.5 and spending most of the morning hovering around zero, we blanked without so much as a follow. The water was the colour of thick pea soup, and despite throwing, plugs, spinnerbaits and soft plastics into the canal we knew, pretty quickly, that the likeliest outcome for the day would be us getting, as the Americans call it, "skunked".
But, despite all that, I love fishing the canal in a way I would once never have thought possible. Prior to moving to Leicestershire and discovering the Grand Union, canals were at the bottom of my hierarchy of water types, occupying a place even lower than the oft derided "commercials". I'd always assumed that they were almost uniformly, dirty, urban, covered in graffiti and the hang out of layabouts, drunks and drug users and fished only by grim faced matchmen catching stunted fish using bloodworm or joker on the pole. There are- doubtless- stretches of the Grand Union which conform to that image, but the stretches I fish are rural, quiet and attractive and contain a good head of predators.
Now, it would be a mistake to think that because there are a good head of pike and perch (and some zander) that they're easy to catch. They're not. Or at least, if they are easy to catch, I'm often making hard work of catching them! It's rare to actually blank, but the reward for a couple of hours of lure fishing is often just 3 or 4 perch of about 4 ounces each, and the pike are mostly modestly sized specimens, like the one pictured above. With miles of towpath available, locating fish is half the battle, and while the obvious spots, the locks, bridges and vertical structures are productive, it can be hard knowing which swims to fish and which to walk past when time is limited, as for me it usually is.
With over 2200 miles of navigable canal in the United Kingdom, these once great industrial highways now exist almost solely  for leisure purposes, and although this means sharing the towpath with hikers, dog walkers and (sometimes frankly moronic and dangerous) cyclists, and the water with pleasure craft and (equally often moronic) canoeist's there seems to usually be a friendly spirit of bonhomie and "live and let live" about the various categories of person enjoying the watery surroundings and I've grown to love the sight of colourfully painted barges- especially when they're moored, sheltering fish and not churning up my swim! After years of neglect and pollution the Canal and River Trust and armies of volunteers have done a magnificent job in cleaning up our canal system, and the demise of the canals to the once burgeoning railways has, in the fullness of time, proved to be angling's gain.

I'm aware that if I'm to really master the canal I'm going to need to "up my game". To broaden my skill base and gain confidence in drop-shotting and jigging, the latter of which I'm sure would be the key to catching zander on a regular basis. I'm also going to need to keep exploring, not just sticking to the same old areas that have proved productive in the past. In addition (with the exception of scratching around for half an hour to catch a few livebaits) I've only floatfished the canal once in the three years I've been fishing it, which is a definite oversight - to catch a nice perch on a floatfished worm, red maggot or prawn has to feature on this year's "to do" list. Pike have fallen to livebait and to a variety of lures, but I've yet to experiment with deadbaits on the canal, and so there are lots of projects yet to be undertaken. I suspect that this year, as last, with the exception of a couple of months in high summer when carp fishing (in its most casual form) will distract my attention, the main focus of this year will be the predatory species of the Grand Union Canal. So many puzzles to solve, so many miles of towpath to walk ... why did it take me half a lifetime to discover the joys of canal fishing? To use a word that fits well with my vocation, when it comes to canal angling I'm well and truly a "convert."

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