Learning to love canals

I’ve never been a great lover of canal fishing. Back in the day when I fished in the West Middlesex Winter League I always volunteered to run the bank for canal matches and stuck to what I knew best on the rivers. Catching tiny roach on squats or breadpunch or scratching out a bag of gudgeon down the inside never really did it for me although I admired the skills of guys like Clive Gingell and John Wright who could catch a section winning haul from seemingly featureless pegs. As a result I steered clear of my local Grand Union canal and carried the prejudice with me with regard to the Kennet and Avon when I moved to Reading. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, the K&A can provide great perch fishing in places and is a good floodwater alternative in this part of the world. The appalling weather over the Xmas break meant that the rivers were not a realistic proposition although I did manage a five fish haul to 2.08 from a slack on the upper Kennet but this was the only spot to produce a bite from a mile of river. All of which explains why my mate Paul and I decided to join a local club with a particularly attractive stretch of the canal with a reputation for some decent perching.

The Kennet and Avon Canal between Bath and Reading is a cracking perch fishery
The Kennet and Avon Canal between Bath and Reading is a cracking perch fishery

Our first session was a short one,  a three hour afternoon stint in the pouring rain amongst boat moorings. We opted to fish the bomb and lobworm with ultralight quivertips over chopped worm and casters. There was a local guy already fishing a few pegs down and he was struggling to hold his pole against the far bank cover in the howling wind. When all he put back was a few small fish I reasoned that we were better off on the tip with a bigger bait. By alternating between two patches of cover overhanging the far bank ledge I was able to winkle out four nice fish between one and just shy of two pounds. Interestingly I found I could also induce bites by casting 15 yards down the canal to the far side of the boat channel and twitching a lob back ‘upstream’. As the light was now fading fast I resolved to come back and give this technique a proper try out.

We picked a different section for our second session with more cover and less moored boats. Despite two sexy looking bits of cover opposite my peg I couldn’t buy I bite by fishing across. Time for plan B so I catapulted a few casters, red maggots and pieces of chopped worm down the swim to where I estimated would be the far side of the boat channel. The rig was a simple paternoster with 8″ bomb link and a 20″ hook link. I used 4lbs Drennan Supplex straight through as there a some lumpy carp in the stretch and wanted to be in with half a chance a getting one in should they appear. The hooks were the ever reliable Carbon Specimen size 8s which are perfect for either half or a whole lobworm tipped with maggot. I much prefer the paternoster for big perch as it gives resistance free bite registration and casts the potentially awkward combination of a heavy hookbait and light lead much more easily than a running rig. The last thing you need when trying to place your bait in a tiny gap in the brambles is the lead flying back up the line and dragging the worm out of position.

First two pounder from our new stretch of the K&A
First two pounder from our new stretch of the K&A

I left the new spot alone for ten minutes after feeding, rearranged the rod rests so my tip was angled outwards rather than parallel to the bank and went for a stroll.  First cast down the swim and the tip flickered indicating that at last I had found some fish. Two minutes later and after a sharp twitch of the worm the quivertip pulled round and the first perch of the day came bristling to the net. Unlike the shallow far bank spots which would only produce a couple of bites at a time it seemed that the perch were happy to feed more confidently and for longer in the deeper water against the ledge. Over the next couple of hours I took a further dozen fish, most over a pound with best a respectable 2.01. I tried to increase the catch rate by switching to a small blockfeeder with chopped worm and maggots but it seemed that it was the twitch that induced the bites rather than just the introduction of the feed itself. This was food for thought for the next trip.

Some of perch in a 20lb plus bag that fell to the 'worm-twitch'
Some of perch in a 20lb plus bag that fell to the ‘worm-twitch’ – sorry about the shite picture, my mate used to teach photography believe it or not !

Our third a final session of the holiday saw me dusting down the pole tackle to see how it fared when compared with my twitched lob technique. Now I’m a pretty average pole angler so this was not a fair trial but two hours fishing down the track with a dendra over cupped chopped worm and caster just produced a run of tiny fish that failed to stretch the elastic. Perhaps the larger specimens would have shown later but I was keen to get twitching. We moved down to a section with some tasty looking far bank cover which I resolved to ignore. This might well hold the fish but I wanted to catch them in the deeper water down the shelf. No feeder this time just plenty of loose feed to draw the perch into the strikezone. It took a little while to get them going but I got into a nice rhythm of feeding, casting, waiting 30 seconds, twitching back a yard, spotting the bite and striking into a fish. If the bite was missed I would simply twitch again and more often than not the perch would come back for another go.

I reckon that in the clearish water the perch were homing in to the splosh of the worm entering the water but would hold back and wait. Once it twitched one of the pack would grab it either out of sheer predatory instinct or to avoid missing out on a free meal. A missed bite might spook the fish in question but a second twitch would be enough to prompt a strike from one of its mates that was keen to profit from the situation. I guess this was really a bit like fishing a soft plastic worm for the movement over a bed of loosefeed to establish a feeding frenzy. Either way a cracking bag of good sized fish lay nestling in the net at the end of the session which I doubt I would have caught by sticking either with the pole or a more static approach.

I am now thinking about combining lure fishing with some swim priming with chopped worm and maggots in an attempt to winkle out my first three pounder from the K&A. That’s what is so interesting about this fishing lark. You are never old to discover new tricks and it’s never too late to learn to love your local canal !


While I was busy ordering some top perch plastics from Angling Trust lure guru John Cheyne I had a phone call from former friend Paul who crept back this arvo back for sneaky session on his own and bagged a 2.12 on one of my left over Aussie softies. That canal three pounder is getting near !

5 thoughts on “Learning to love canals

  1. Great read. I’m in a similar position myself, discovering my local canal (the K&A) after living close to it for many years. My background is a little different though having predominantly been a sea angler for the last 20 years. My journey here comes from a healthy and growing obsession with lure fishing – specifically ultra light lure fishing (Light Rock Fishing / LRF) – and a discovery that Perch are perfect adversaries for my favourite style of fishing (mainly fishing 2 to 4-inch plastic lures).
    I’m by no means a competent canal fisherman but my own observations of catching jumbo Perch is that it’s best to stay mobile and cover as much structure as you can. Success definitely feels linked with mobility.
    I look forward to reading about your future successes.
    Tight lines.

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