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Although perch are my favourite species, as an all-rounder I do target a number of other fish. However, when I’ve been away from them for a while, I do find myself getting the urge again. Hence, with the alarm set for an early morning start it was back on track as far as perch pursuing was concerned. I had been out for a meal the night before with the committee of a football league that I run, and waking at 4.45am I struggled as the eat-as-much-as-you-want experience was bearing heavy on my stomach. However, with fishing, and more specifically perch the carrot dangling before me, I was soon up and about hitting the day full-on. With most of my gear laid out ready, it was pretty much a case of loading the car and setting off.
My approach was one that works well for me on the canal. It might look like I’m carp fishing with rods on banksticks, bite alarms and hangers but everything is scaled down. My line was 4lb Maxima and my rig as simple as you can get with a hooklength of 3-4 inches created by a size 6 shot and a 5mm bead. The hook was a size 10 Drennan Super Specialist and bait was worm. I used brown crumb/dead maggots/casters as an attractor and added liquid lobworm to the water that it was mixed with. Fishing to far bank vegetation, I began to get interest from the off. There are lots of small roach in the stretch and they will pick at the bait, and you get to know when they are on the other end.
Then you get a take from a fish that is clearly not a small roach and you find yourself netting something like the bream in photograph 1. Having caught bream into double figures, it’s amazing how a much smaller one puts up much more of a fight than a 10lb’er. There aren’t many bream in the sections of the Staffs/Worcs Canal where I fish, so when I do hook into one it’s often only when it comes to the net that I realise it isn’t a chub. I caught a number of my target species, but they were small ones. The star of the show though can be seen in the second photograph, a cracking roach for the canal. Even though I wasn’t after roach that did not detract in any way from what was a great specimen for the venue.
On the nature front there was an otter in my swim as I arrived. There was a time, not long ago, when if you wanted to see an otter you had to go to Wales and even then it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. But I have had two sightings on the Staffs/Worcs Canal in the last year and also on the Black Country River Stour – although after it leaves the conurbation. The hedgerow was starting to come alive, with the yellow of the lesser celandine and the white of the greater stitchwort bringing colour into the proceedings. This is a great time of the year with lots of wild flowers coming into bloom. Top bird sighting was a raven, calling in flight and I also saw my first blackcap, a male singing in undergrowth.
My second visit to the canal, and on the same stretch and indeed the same swim, saw the blue of the bluebell (photograph 3) added to the hedgerow splash of colour. Whilst the carpets of the flowers that you get to see in woods are absolutely stunning, the small colonies that can crop up almost anywhere are equally as magnificent. When you get large numbers of fellow bluebells they really do complement each other, but in smaller clumps their effect upon the surroundings can be equally as uplifting. I would say that they are definitely most people’s favourite British wild flower as they are sadly often dug up in large quantities by those who then sell them on.
It is illegal, but without sounding cynical, imagine telephoning the local police. ‘There’s a man digging up bluebells in the local wood’. ‘Hang on sir, we’re on our way. A dog team, three vans and a helicopter will be with you within minutes’. I once called 999 to tell them a man was being beaten up in the street. All they asked me was ‘Is the person being beaten an ethnic minority?’. I presume my ‘No, he’s white’ contributed to the fact that after another call two hours later to find out where they were, they finally turned up an hour after that. So someone digging a few bluebells. Forget it! The same with people stealing ‘a few fish’ because that’s how it will be perceived.
The second session was again a first-light one, and as my rods are already made up, I am fishing within a short time of dropping my gear on the towpath. Apart from packing away, the only thing I hate about fishing is that period before you cast in. I love angling but threading line, tying hooks and pinching on shot are merely means to an end. Casting out, putting the rods on the bank sticks, tightening up and clipping on the hangers – that’s when it really starts. I had a number of smallish perch, one of which you can see above (photograph 4). Some of them needed the landing net, others I could just lift directly from the water. Having been on the section a few times this year now I haven’t connected with one of the bigger fish. I am hoping that the winter we’ve come through hasn’t killed them off.
But the chub seem to have distanced themselves from any negative effects of the cold, as not only have I been catching them while carp fishing of late, but I also had a nice one on this session (photograph 5). There was a time when chub were my favourite fish and I targeted them on rivers like the Sow and the upper reaches of the Severn. But it has been some years since I actually specifically went after them. I don’t know why they seem to have fallen out of favour, but they just have. In the meantime I’ve had a few really good ones while barbel fishing.
I love this time of the year, you can have a good three or four hours on the canal up to the first boat, get home and still start work at pretty much normal time. Fortunately I am someone with lots of energy, and combine that with a positive attitude, I can squeeze a lot into my days. It also helps that I don’t drink, so I never have hangovers, never wake up feeling groggy and don’t have to have a day where I let it all work through my system. Friday and Saturday nights aren’t committed to a night out on the town; the only place other than home I will be on the weekend is at the water’s edge. I’m often asked how do I find the time to do so much fishing, well 52 Friday evenings alone, that’s a decent inroad into the number of times I get out during the course of the year.
I am a keen football fan though, but having said that, supporting my local team Wolverhampton Wanderers hardly consumes much time. I have a season ticket so I know where I will be each week, and I can leave home after 2.00pm and still be in my seat with plenty of time to spare. Our living room at home is a ‘shrine’ to Wolves, with signed memorabilia, old newspapers of highlights and other such stuff adorning the walls and shelves. As I finish this piece off, our place in the Premier League next season is on a knife-edge. It was great to beat out local rivals WBA last week (more than great, in fact), but that was then and this is now. With two games left it’s like bringing a 20lb carp to the net on 2lb line. Will it make it? Or will it fall short? let’s see shall we! (Published May 14 2011)