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.

5lbs Canal Tench April 2017 web


Ending the season on the Avon

As I write this piece in late March, temperatures are now in the high teens and the rather gruesome winter we’ve just endured already seems like a long time ago. The carp and tench are really waking up and as soon as I get some free time, I’ll be heading out for a day to try and land a few, hopefully using a little float in the margins.
I would dearly love to make contact with one of the big crucian carp that reside in a local pool. I witnessed a chap land one of two and three quarter pounds last spring and he had already landed some other big crucians that day. My best ‘cru’ is about a pound, a fish from Somerley lakes in Hampshire.
I’ve also yet to land a 20 pound ‘king’ carp – my best is a common of 19lbs 2ozs that I hooked one April morning eight or nine years ago now. The same pool that the big crucians hide in has some big carp, and I’ve had them to just over 15 pounds there. I would really like my first ’20’ to be a dark coloured, clear-water fish – even better if it was from a river. But finding such a fish could be both time consuming and tricky. The lower Lea around Enfield may be worth a shot and the Suffolk Stour has produced some great looking fish over the years, so when the river season kicks off again perhaps I’ll spend some time looking for a big river carp.
Finishing the river season at Britford on the Hampshire Avon is becoming a bit of an annual treat. Bight sunshine and a difficult side wind made things difficult, but in the morning I managed a lovely trout, a little grayling and some small dace to trotted maggots. I settled into a favourite swim at dusk, link ledgering bread by some overhanging trees. As the sun went down a couple of taps were followed by a more substantial pull and a lumpy chub gave a powerful account of itself in the flow. He weighed four pounds and twelve ounces and was a great way to end what has been a good season.

Avon trout
A lovely trout from the Avon.

A Hampshire Avon chub
The Britford chub that fell to link ledgered bread at dusk.

So, that was autumn

 The run up to Christmas is normally a pretty steady, transitional period weather wise with the really harsh conditions usually reserved until after the festive season. But as I write this entry in late November, the country has been in the grip of a big freeze for over a week and the cold spell is expected to last for at least another fortnight. I’m sure the fish will acclimatise and the fishing will pick up at some stage, but at the moment the few hardy souls daring to venture out are no doubt finding things very hard.
Back when the leaves were starting to take on their spectacular autumnal hues, the rivers and lakes of the UK appeared to quite suddenly come alive. There were some great catches recorded in the weekly angling press as species like perch, carp, chub and barbel fed in earnest in preparation for the lean months ahead.

My local river Lea was generally low and clear through the autumn and the fish, when they came, generally arrived after spells of prolonged rain or at dusk.

At the end of September I cycled to a narrow, upper stretch of the river for a couple of hours fishing. Using a short wand style rod and simply free-lining meat I had five or six chublets and a small, fin-perfect barbel in an area that is wonderfully overgrown and wild. Very different to most of the lower reaches!

The jungle swim
A wild and over-grown swim on the upper lea.
A baby barbel
A lovely little Lea barbel.

I had a great day in October on a stretch a bit further down the Lea. Fishing worms the afternoon after a spell of heavy morning rain, I managed a nice brace of chub, loads of small perch and my final bite of the day saw a gentle pull on the quiver-tip followed by a strange, spirited fight with something that didn’t tear around like the chub I’d hooked earlier. As I drew the fish towards the net I could see it was a roach, a big roach! It weighed 2lbs exactly, but, as you can see from the second photo there’s definitely more than a hint of bream in there. Still, a cracking fish.

A big roach?
A two pound roach...?
Roach/bream hybrid
...more than a hint of bream in there!

A couple of visits to the same section in lower, clear conditions were much harder going. A single chub on each trip; both at dusk, both on little pieces of spam on scaled down tackle and both from the same tricky-to-access, near-bank chub hole. In a way, finally tempting a bite on a difficult day is as rewarding as the more action packed sessions. Netting a big brassy chub at the very end of an otherwise fishless and frustrating day feels like just reward for your efforts.

A barbel, some bream and rain in-between

Tackling up just as a heavy storm descended on the valley, I regretted travelling quite so light with no umbrella to shelter me from what was some pretty serious rain.

Although the vast majority of anglers in the UK travel to their chosen fishing venue by car, I rely on the rail networks, footpaths and cycle tracks of this country to get me to my angling destinations. A minimum of gear is beneficial when it comes to travelling by bike and suits the way I fish as well. One or two rods and a net handle strapped to the frame; a small bag with all the essential stuff including bait and an un-hooking matt to sit on (and even un-hook fish on occasionally!) is all that I need for these sort of short, opportunist sessions. 

I’ve managed a couple of productive trips recently by doing a bit of what any decent marketer calls desk, or secondary research, backed up by getting on my bike and having a good old explore around some areas that I’d not fished before. I spent a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon recently carefully walking and observing a stretch of water not too far from my home rumoured to contain that most enigmatic and handsome of river fish – the barbel. I eventually found a far bank raft where, after gently lobbing out a few small handfuls of hemp and pellets for a while a trio of golden barbel appeared. Little chunks of spam trundled over the gravel close to their weedy homes resulted in two of the three taking the bait, one lost to a hook pull and the other landed – a handsome chap of just over three pounds. A week later I arrived at a different stretch of water where I’d spotted a couple of nice barbel during a previous visit. 

Tackling up just as a heavy storm descended on the valley, I regretted travelling quite so light with no umbrella to shelter me from what was some pretty serious rain. Fortunately a group of trees and their dense summer canopy provided me with enough shelter to save me from a full on soaking. After the storm subsided, the extra water coloured up the river nicely and by the time another group of ominous looking clouds started to move into view I’d managed four decent river bream, a chub and a beautiful golden barbel of seven pounds and two ounces.   

Jungle swim
Summer swim.
7lbs 2oz Barbel
A great way to end the day.