Canal Tench – A World Away

I’m sure most coarse anglers have a strong affinity with tench. For all the ‘misty dawn’ clichés, they really are an exciting species to fish for and there aren’t many more satisfying angling experiences than slowly building a tench swim and watching those small clusters of pin-prick bubbles begin to move around the baited area.

I’ve fished many different venues for tench, but for me it’s the more natural venues, with clear water and plentiful weed growth that offer both the most authentic experience and best looking fish.

Stillwaters in their many forms, from ponds to meres and gravel pits to reservoirs, are the most prolific environments in which to find the species. Canals and, particularly, rivers are generally considered to be a world away from the type of places tench would be likely to thrive. And yet, a favourite tench fishery of my youth was the Suffolk Stour, just outside Sudbury. I had fish of over six pounds from the Stour and bags of two or three fish over a short session were common. Float fishing, either early morning or late evening, was the best tactic.

Six pounds two ounces Suffolk Stour tench
A 6lbs 2ozs Suffolk Stour tench

I’ve enjoyed reading Russell Hilton’s South West canal tench fishing exploits over the years. The rich, clear, weedy and often secluded canal venues Russ has blogged about have always reminded me of my old stomping grounds on the Stour. And in appearance, they’ve always looked a world away from the cold, sparse and featureless characteristics I’ve (wrongly) long associated with canals.

The canal, just after dawn

After inviting myself along for a canal tench trip, Russ had kindly identified a suitable looking area, raked it and introduced some bait a couple of days before we fished.

It was interesting to note Russell’s sparing, particle-based baiting approach with light scatterings of hemp and maggot forming the basis of our loosefeed. Again, this approach mirrored how I used to fish on the Stour. I always found heavily baiting for tench – particularly with groundbait – highly detrimental.

The session was hugely enjoyable and we had to work hard to finally get our reward – a brace of chunky green tench each. It took a while to coax the tench from their weedy sanctuary a few yards below our spot and bites mainly came around mid-morning as opposed to early on.

Russ had good numbers of rudd and the odd perch too, while I managed a solitary rudd of just over a pound – my best in some time and a lovely fish. But it was a very powerful five pound tench that really made my morning, and I was glad I’d opted to use a six pound line straight through to the hook as opposed to the four pound line I’d spooled on the previous evening.

 

Welsh Carp Challenge

From Jeff’s canal carp quest to Mick’s hunt for a canal double figure zander; James’ search for giant chub or finding tench in the Kent marshlands – the idiosyncratic angling blogger challenges often make for really interesting, and at times gripping, reading.

Personally, targeting and catching a few bigger perch became a campaign of sorts, I had a very half-hearted go for a local canal carp and the first bloggers challenge was great fun – but I’m just not single minded enough to set myself a dedicated and sustained fishing mission.

However, I really enjoyed getting back into carp fishing last summer. The gnarly old mirror carp I had from the Grand Union Canal near Hemel Hempstead with my old mate Rob was a real highlight, but I enjoyed stalking carp on floating baits from a local pool just as much.

Returning a memorable canal carp.

I’m certainly not ready to ditch fishing for other species yet and become a full on bivvy dweller, but I can see myself doing a bit more carping this year.

So I’m going to create my own little challenge – catching a carp from as many open access Welsh waters as possible. I’m planning to include all the venues I’ve caught carp from previously in the challenge, which gives me an excuse to get out and fish some new venues if nothing else. I’m determined to find a few from places slightly off the beaten track, as well as from more established venues.

The only rules are that the waters must be in Wales and open access (ie anyone can get a ticket or fish for free). And of course the carp must be, erm, #carpy.

I almost certainly won’t be doing nights or fishing windswept, sparsely stocked mega lakes in search of uncaught monsters. I probably won’t use chods or spods and I definitely won’t be extolling the virtues of the latest wonder boilie. But hopefully I’ll have a bit of fun and catch a few fish from some interesting new places. I’ll record what I’ve been up to here.

Winding down on the Wye

I invited Russell up to try for chub and barbel on the Wye just before the close season.

It was an odd day. We arrived to find someone playing a nice barbel in the first swim we passed, and I honestly thought we’d have a decent session after the prolonged spell of mild weather.

However it was tough and between us we only had a few bites through the day, with no pronounced feeding spell ever materialising.

But there aren’t many more scenic places to wind down another river season. We’ll be back for the next one.

 

Wye Perch – Gatecrashers

The Wye has been well up over the last fortnight after remaining very low and clear through the winter. In the low conditions the fish tend to shoal up tightly and even productive stretches can become very ‘peggy’.

The extra water sees the fish spread out and with the water warming up I expect some really good fish to be caught before the close season.

I ventured out for an afternoon last week on a warm, sunny day as the river was beginning to fine down. Armed with maggots, worms and meat, the plan was to try the float or maggot feeder and get a few bites before switching to worm at dusk in the hope of a perch.

I had a few dace and a chublet over the first couple of hours, but it was quiet and I wasn’t getting many bites. I decided to flick out a chunk of spam while I enjoyed a late lunch in the sunshine. Just as I was about to tuck into a Kit Kat, the rod flung round and I found myself attached to an angry barbel – the first of the day’s gatecrashers!

The afternoon was very quiet and as is so often the case on the Wye, I knew dusk would offer the best chance of a perch.

I’d tried a few swims without luck, and with the light fading fast I was starting to think it wasn’t going to happen. However a final move saw me connect with a perch first cast, to a worm presented tight under a tree. And it was one a chuck. Until it went quiet. I selected the largest lob and flicked it to the zone.

The bite came and I thought I’d hooked a giant perch at first. But then it absolutely tore off into the middle of the river and I presumed it was a barbel. But then it started coming up in the water and I thought it may be a nice pike… For a while an odd kind of stalemate ensued with the fish holding mid river, me not giving any line and the rod stuck in a dramatic curve. Slowly but surely I managed to get the fish closer and it wasn’t too long until I got a glimpse of an enormous trout or salmon.

I got it just a few inches from the net before it bolted down to my left and bit through the line. Damn. I think it was certainly seven pounds, maybe bigger, and though I’m rubbish at identifying game species, I think it was a very big trout. Still it made for an exciting end to the session and I suppose you can’t rely on gatecrashers to behave as you’d like them to!

 

Wye Perch – Perseverance

It was a pleasant morning on Saturday with just a hint of spring in the air. After a slow, steady rise in temperature through the week and with the now noticeable extra daylight, I was sure the Wye perch shoals would be starting to spread out and get on the feed in preparation for their imminent spawning rituals.

We’d had a decent amount of rain earlier in the week and I was confident the river would be in good shape. I arrived shortly after lunchtime, just as the sun burnt away the last of the cloud cover and warmed the valley. The river was very low and very clear – not what I was hoping for!

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I opted to try trotting a few swims with maggots in an effort to at least find a few fish, but it was desperate … I must have tried half a dozen before I managed a tentative bite from a micro grayling – my first from the Wye.  I had a couple more, both small, but eventually they disappeared. On a previous trip a local angler explained grayling are the kiss of death on the Wye, as he felt coarse species would simply be elsewhere and never with the grayling. An interesting theory.

A mini Wye grayling
A mini Wye grayling

I persevered with the trotting for a while, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I set up a link ledger and moved upstream to my favorite perch spots with the idea of trying a few swims leading into dusk and settling into one once I’d located them…

After an hour or so I knew the perch simply weren’t in the area. Even in difficult conditions, they normally give themselves away once a lively lob worm is presented tight to their snaggy refuge.

I probably had three-quarters of an hour left, but instead of settling for a perch blank, I went for a walk.

And it was worth it. First cast into a new swim, well away from the usually productive areas, fishing tight to a smallish bush, I hooked into a good perch. And in the space of half an hour or so I had five, as well as losing a couple. All were lovely, fat fish with the best two weighing 2lbs 3ozs and 2lbs 4ozs. Magic.

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Two on the Tone

I met up with Russell on the banks of the wonderful river Tone for a few hours’ grayling fishing on a bitterly cold afternoon recently.

As I ambled my way down the M5, I was struck by the number of rivers I went over on my way down into deepest Somerset. The Avon, The Yeo, The Blind Yeo, The Kenn, The Banwell, The Lox Yeo, The Axe, The Mark Yeo, The Brue, The Huntspill, The Parrett and finally the Tone. And that’s not including the numerous rhynes that weave their way across the wide open spaces of the Somerset levels. I’d really enjoyed my first trip to the diminutive river Chew in December, so I was looking forward to trying another new local(ish) river. I’m keen to have a go on some of these other waterways sooner rather than later too.

It was my birthday weekend, and after a couple of glasses of red too many the night before and a kid’s party in the morning (ouch) it was around 1pm before I finally arrived on the bank. Russ had kindly sorted out tickets and bait, so all I had to do was turn up and fish his prime spots! In the cold weather, the grayling is a reliable species for a few bites and the Tone is a prolific grayling river. Having grown up on the Suffolk Essex border and then spending nearly 15 years in London – none of which are exactly grayling hotspots – it was 2009 before I ever saw one. And the first grayling I ever saw was one I caught – from the Avon in Salisbury weighing two pounds exactly, promptly followed by one of two pounds and three ounces that remains my best.

A stunning autumn grayling
My Hampshire Avon grayling of two pounds

Russell’s advice, as ever, was sock-on. He advised trotting maggots, spending no more than half an hour in each swim and to try even the spots that look as though they wouldn’t contain fish.

We had grayling from just about every swim we tried. One deep, sweeping bend really did produce a fish a chuck for me – I must have had over 25 from that one spot towards the end of the day – all immaculate fish between 8 and 12 ounces. That’s well over double the number of grayling I’d previously ever caught in my entire life!

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However it was a curious, overgrown little run that produced the best fish of the day, with Russ and I taking it in turns to trot through the depression and each taking a couple of pound plus fish.

What also struck me was how differently the grayling fought – with some really thumping doggedly, others twisting and running at speed and some even giving a good impression of a small and especially bored bream.

Between us we must have had over 100 grayling, and on a bright, cold mid-winter day I think that shows what a little diamond the Tone is. A fascinating and hugely enjoyable few hours in great company.

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