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

 

Stags, Festivals and Tench

May has been fairly hectic all-round, yet I’ve still managed to squeeze in a couple of short early morning trips on my local tench pool this month.

Spring dawn - tench time
Spring dawn – tench time

The first session right at the beginning of May was fantastic – a number of big, lumpy tench fell to simple float fishing tactics using three dead red over loose fed dead maggots.

4lbs 2oz web

4lbs 12oz tench web

The silkweed in this clear, deep venue is really thick and carpets the bottom, so the dead maggot approach works well as they don’t crawl away and they’re light enough to not sink into the weed too deeply – plus the tench love ‘em!

Unfortunately so do the great big eels that live here and the second session was tench free – despite the swim, at times, absolutely bubbling away – it was only a couple of big snakes that took the hookbait.

eel web

Still, in terms of enjoyment, I can’t think of many things to rival sitting in the early morning sun catching big and wild fish on the float from a lily fringed pool, all before the world wakes up.

We also went along to the latter stages of the annual Wye River Festival that takes place along much of the river through spring.

The 2016 festival programme saw all sorts of activities, performances and locations – including a sound installation at Redbrook and torchlight procession at Llandogo. It was good fun and you can’t help but embrace the distinctly pagan undertones running through much of the festival.

The overarching theme was: Celebrating of the outstanding landscape of the Wye and our complex and universal relationship with water – undoubtedly something all anglers can relate to!

fish

crowd

These gentle activities were in complete contrast to my mate Joe’s stag-do over in Dusseldorf, also this month. A brilliant city and great people, we had a blast. A real highlight was heading over to Cologne to take in a third tier (3. Liga) match between SC Fortuna Koln and FC Erzgebirge Aue.

We’d timed it to perfection as Erzgebirge Aue needed a win to secure promotion, which they duly did. A full on pitch invasion took place on the final whistle which we all got involved in! Both sets of fans were great and it was a real party atmosphere. Good fun.

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SC Fortuna Koln vs FC Ezgebirge Aue

Bloggers Challenge – Tench Time

So, the great Fishing Blogger’s Challenge of 2015/16 is underway! Big-up Russell, Jeff and George for setting it all up.

I think it’ll help me focus on looking for some of the more obscure point scoring opportunities through the year; encourage me to explore a bit beyond what I already know; and perhaps even force me to get out on the bank a little more. I’m looking forward to it.

My efforts began on bank holiday Monday in search of tench. My local venue is just starting to produce a few green beauties and there’s always the chance of a (locally) big fish – I had one of 8lbs 1oz this time last year.

I arrived around 6.30am, with a view to fishing until 9.30 or 10. It was calm and sunny and patches of pin-prick bubbles could be seen erupting sporadically around the deep, clear lake, showing the tench were indeed on the feed.

My plan was to float fish close-in. Nothing complicated – the old John Wilson Avon rod, 6lbs line and corn or pellet on a short hair fished over regular, golf ball sized nuggets of micro pellet laced groundbait.

The plan was to float fish - but the wind made it hard to do so.
The plan was to float fish – but the wind made it hard to do so.

I swear it was on the first cast that the wind started to filter down the lake, and after an hour or so it became virtually impossible to float fish effectively. To compound my frustration, when the wind did drop a touch I could see patches of bubbles emanating from where my groundbait was.

Time for a rethink. I switched over to a straight lead and simply watched the tip of the Avon rod.

It really was no more than a couple of minutes before the tip whacked round and I was in. After a reasonable tussle a bloody huge eel presented itself on the surface – I was already thinking of the challenge points when it found the hole in my landing net and went straight through. I tried, and failed, with a kind of reverse landing technique, swore a bit before applying brute force in an effort to land the thing. I almost didn’t mind when the hooklink parted.

I introduced some more groundbait and flicked out the bait again. The wind was really driving down the lake by this point and although the sun was warm, the wind chill made it a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately another bite and really good tussle saw my first tench of the day in the net. I forgot about the cold wind instantly. A short stocky male tench of 4lbs 1oz was my reward and I was again reminded how much I enjoy fishing for these beautiful fish. I always find clear water tench far more stunning than their murky water dwelling cousins, taking on that wonderful deep green/yellow belly combination.

Off the mark - a lovely 4lbs 1oz male tench.
Off the mark – a lovely 4lbs 1oz male tench.

I added another female fish of around three pounds to complete the brace before heading home for a bank holiday breakfast, very happy.

Something special

Part of the magic of fishing is that you never quite know when something a bit special is going to turn up…
A proper lump of a tench - no wonder I look a bit shellshocked!
A proper lump of a tench – no wonder I look a bit shellshocked!
I had this brute on a spur-of-the-moment early morning session. Float fished corn next to some pads. Thought it was a carp until I saw a big green back in the clear water! 8lbs 1oz – a new PB by some margin. Awesome!

Fishing in the Forest – Tearaway Tench

I’ve become a bit obsessed by the wonderful pools scattered around the Forest of Dean.

Online information about the various waters in and around the forest is fairly limited and clues to the stock levels and species living in these often under-fished venues have generally come via word-of-mouth from the odd person I’ve spoken to on the bank or in the tackle shop.

One place I discovered on a family outing recently was one of the most undisturbed, pretty little tree-lined pools I’ve come across in some time. Alas, further research revealed it was also off-limits as far as fishing was concerned.

The other afternoon I paid a visit to another intimate pool I’d heard held plenty of tench, my target species, as well as crucians and some good roach and rudd. My target is a relatively modest tench of 5lbs and the two people I’d previously quizzed about the lake had passed on conflicting reports – one suggested a fish of this size as a possibility, while the other said not a chance!

Fishing corn on a light float rig over small balls of ground bait soon had the tench fizzing and after a succession of roach, rudd and little, bronze bream I managed six or seven tench, the best probably all of two pounds in weight. Great fun, but I think a ‘five’ is unlikely.

A little tearaway
A little tearaway

Now it’s finally warmed up and the tench are feeding, I’m really in two minds as to whether I’ll fish a river for my next session or explore another of the wonderful forest pools in search of a tearaway tench.

Fishing in the Forest

The Forest of Dean is an intriguing and mysterious place, steeped in history and folklore. We live on the very edges of the district and one of the best local rags is the wonderful Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review – I thought I’d experienced truly local journalism growing up in Suffolk as an avid reader of the Suffolk Free Press, but the Review is in a different league entirely.

The forest towns and villages are fascinating places and some of the quieter high streets are a real throwback – a world away from the identikit, chain store centric town centres found across the UK.

There’s a bit of a pagan subculture that I find really interesting. Okay, so Sling isn’t exactly Summerisle but there are still nods to the ‘old gods’ in many of the traditional celebrations that take place in the area. And it even has a village called Bream.

The Green Man
The Green Man – not strictly a symbol of paganism, but rather one that has been adopted as a figure of fertility.

Scattered around the forest are a number of interesting lakes, ponds and pools, with many available to fish on a day or cheap club book ticket. I paid my first visit to one nestled deep in the forest a couple of weeks ago. It was somewhere I’d earmarked as a venue to try due to the fact it holds some good tench and bream. A wild, clear water, ‘proper’ green tench of five pounds is my target.

A nice tench from Bures Lake on the Suffolk/Essex border from around 13 years ago.
The green tench – This one was from the famous Bures Lake on the Suffolk/Essex border around 13 years ago. A fish of this sort of size is my target this year.

Despite the fact that it was t-shirt and shorts weather as I arrived in the late afternoon sun, the dense tree cover that surrounds the lake coupled with its deep, clear water meant proper summer conditions still felt some way off. No sign of the lily pads that are apparently present in great patches over the summer.

Gin clear water, still feeling cold to the touch
Gin-clear water and still feeling cold to the touch.

As dusk approached, the wind dropped and the atmospheric crunches, hoots and rustling sounds from the woods became more prominent. I’d managed just a few small roach on waggler fished maggot and I decided to go for broke and try corn close in. Almost as soon as the bait had settled the float dithered, and then disappeared.

At first I thought it was a bream that was thumping away in the deep water as the resistance was heavy enough, but without the hair-raising energy of a tench. I was able to move the fish quite easily up from the bottom towards the net. And then it woke up. This was no three pound bream! My Shimano hyperloop float rod whipped around as my little Drennan float reel began to give line at an alarming rate. And so began an interesting battle with an unseen adversary.

As the gloom increased and as the fish went on another devastating run, this time almost reaching the other side of the lake, I began to wonder what had snaffled my bait. I had no idea what snags lay hidden in front of me and with just a four pound line straight through to a little size 14 hook, I knew it really was touch and go as to whether I was going to ever see what I’d hooked.

All of a sudden the fish seemed to allow me to take control and I steered it towards me to within a few yards of the net.

It was then I got a glimpse of a very long, grey shape just below the surface – a pike, and a good one. It seemed to make sense. A little roach had grabbed the corn and immediately been snaffled by a big pike, lurking in the margins awaiting an easy meal. And the fight suggested as much, an initially frightening turn of pace and display of power followed quickly by a minute or so of unspectacular wallowing.

But then, just as I had the pike within netting range, up popped a most peculiar dorsal fin and with a flick of its large, equally un-pike like tail off it went on another thrash across the lake.

I really thought the hook was going to pull or the line part, but for the duration of the ten minutes or so of what had now descended into a rather indifferent sort of stalemate, everything held firm and, finally, I was able to net what turned out to be a good sized grass carp – the first of the species I’ve ever hooked.

It was a suitably surreal end to my first fishing adventure in the forest. The grass carp weighed 14lbs 1oz and, contrary to what I’ve heard in terms of their behaviour on the bank, the fish was as good as gold. After a couple of snaps I slipped it back into the dark, mysterious depths of its forest pool.

My first grass carp - 14lbs 1oz and good fun on the float gear.
My first grass carp – 14lbs 1oz and good fun on the float gear.

Commercial fishery fun

Commercial fisheries aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Featureless, joyless ponds overstocked with hungry, deformed carp. Or even worse, F1s. Has there ever been a more depressing way of describing a fish? I know it’s a scientific term from the genetics world – but couldn’t we at least call them something, anything more interesting than F1s. Crarp? Crommons?

A muddy puddle
A commercial fishery, yesterday

I’ve fished a few places not too far from this particular version of piscatorial hell. I remember one such place that the husband of a friend of my partners sister (!) recommended. Third-hand details were relayed of big fish in wild surroundings and that I should definitely get down there next time we visit.

Wild it was. In amongst the crowds were a group of burly blokes drinking lots of lager – their casting getting more and more ‘adventurous’ as the day wore on; a large group of yoooves who spent the day alternating between shouting into their mobile phones and taking it in turns to spod seemingly endless piles of pellets into their swim; and even an over-amorous couple in a budget bivvy – all this on a lake not much bigger than half an acre.

The most amazing part of the day was when the Environment Agency turned up to check rod licences. One of the lager swiggers, upon realising who the new visitors were, grabbed his rod and seatbox (still half full with Stella cans) and disappeared over the verge at the back of the pond.
His mates soon cottoned on and made an equally hurried dash for freedom.

Of course not all commercial fisheries are like this. After the close season was abolished (I can’t remember the year it was scrapped – anyone?) I started fishing a new day ticket lake at Foxearth in Suffolk during the spring.

Although the place was relatively new, it was surrounded by woods and the lake had a central island, established lily pads and rushes,
gravel bars and a healthy, mixed stock of fish. It was usually pretty quiet on weekdays and worms fished down the edge could normally be relied upon  to tempt the resident tench, bream and odd carp.

The place was sold on a few years ago and has since developed into a proper commercial ‘complex’ with all the trimmings. The lake I fished became a picturesque carp syndicate and I often wonder if the carp I had from there went on to become the 30 pound-plus monsters that inhabit the venue now.

My favourite commercial fishery at the moment is the wonderful Lake John in Essex. It’s a very well-run day ticket pool, set in the picturesque surroundings of the Epping Forest. Despite the fact it’s only minutes from the M25, it’s a peaceful and attractive place to fish. It does get quite busy at peak times and understandably so – but the pegs are nicely spread out and with bushes and trees running along the banks and rushes by the water,it’s certainly far from a claustrophobic experience.

Dawn on Lake John
Summer fishing encapsulated - dawn on Lake John

Perhaps the best thing about the pool is the great variety of fish that reside there. I visited Lake John again with an old mate, Meechy, last week. We always plan to meet up and go fishing more regularly than we ever actually do, but by the time we actually do arrange a time and date we’re raring to go.

We both float fished in the margins, using little waggler floats dotted right down. Baits included corn, maggots, little hookable expander pellets and some larger halibut pellets. We had plenty of super-strength tench – rewarding us with some epic tussles close in, countless skimmers and bream, some clonking roach, perch and rudd and a tubby crucian carp each. I managed to find a pair of carp later in the evening and tempted a long, lean common off the surface using floating crust. Great fun. Long live commercial fisheries.

Big lake John roach
A superb roach of 1lbs 8ozs from Lake John