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What Lies Beneath…

Pole Fishing joins Rob Wootton on the Grand Union Canal at Market Harborough – an idyllic stretch of the country’s largest canal network.

I don’t take much persuading to venture out on my local Grand Union Canal so after a chance conversation with PF editor Alex Bones about the tench sport on offer down my local ‘cut’, it didn’t take long before a date was set and I was making my way down the towpath to a likely looking peg.

The stretch of canal I’m fishing today is actually the Market Harborough arm, which leads off away from the main Grand Union for around six miles and, in fact, around 500 metres to my right the canal comes to a dead end.

After several conversations with the local experts I think I’ve managed to find the peg that has been described to me in detail over the phone. Talking to the anglers who regularly fish a venue is always important, as with their advice you can quite often have a brilliant day on the bank; whether they put you on the right track with bait, swim location or how to feed the peg, this local advice is often invaluable.

For today’s session I’ve made sure that I’m on the bank reasonably early; like many canals this stretch sees a lot of boat traffic, and although I don’t feel that the boats put the fish off feeding the time spent out of the water as boat after boat passes by can get a bit tedious.


Rob picked out a real ‘Mr Crabtree’ swim. 


The swim that I’ve chosen looks great, but just as importantly I’ve walked past several other pegs that look just as good and this whole stretch of canal just screams fish. There are lily pads everywhere, bushes overhanging the canal and loads of different types of weed that fringe the margins. All these natural features are often obstacles for the angler but they are great for holding fish and they also help by encouraging them to feed confidently.

Today for me is all about catching a net of bonus fish; the matches on this stretch are usually won with less than double figures and weights of around 6 or 7lb often take the main prize, so if I can catch a similar weight I’ll go away happy.

My bait tray represents the attacking, big fish approach that I’m employing today – dendrabaena worms, casters, red maggots and a tin of corn are sitting on my side tray and are all great hook bait and feed options. Lots of anglers would prefer to feed lobworms on a natural venue such as a canal, but I quite often find that tench and skimmers prefer dendrabaenas; maybe it’s down to how they taste or it could just be that they prefer the smaller worms.

Before I feed any bait I need to make sure that I plumb up extensively. The canal is chock-a-block with weed and finding a clear spot is going to be important if I want to have a chance of presenting my hook bait anywhere near the bottom. Ideally I’m looking for two swims; that way I can try different feeding approaches to see which works best and, as on most summer canals, I try to find areas that are out of the main boat channel and also next to or close to any fish-holding feature.

The areas of the peg I’ve settled on today are in perfect positions – the swim to my left sits under a large tree 14 metres from my fishing position and my right-hand swim is right next to some lily pads just 13 metres away. Both swims will utilise the same rig set four feet deep. The rig revolves around a 4x12 Malman Roob; the canal doesn’t tow here very much so I can get away with a lighter than normal float. My main line is 0.18mm Shimano Exage to a hooklength of 0.16mm and the hook is a size 14 Matrix Feeder Rigger hook that I’ve tied knotless-knot style. I’ve been messing around with hooks tied this way when fishing in extreme swims and it’s not let me down yet. Elastic is red Hydro, which hopefully will be called into play to pull a tench from its weedy home.

The feed for today is going to be a mixture of all the baits on my tray but, as I’ve mentioned already, both swims are to be kicked off differently. The left-hand swim gets a large dollop of bait (around half a potful) and the right-hand swim gets a much smaller amount (about an egg cupful) with view to building the peg as the day goes on.


The feed was a little of everything on the bait tray.


I’m starting off by fishing the right-hand peg and instantly my double dendrabaena hook bait sees me attract a string of perch and rudd. This isn’t a problem as they are all a reasonable stamp and any fish going into the net is building a weight. Several of these smaller fish come to worm hook baits before I reckon it’s time to re-feed and try the more aggressively fed left-hand swim.

First drop in on the new swim and again it’s small perch and rudd that come to the bait, but then the float shoots under and I feel more resistance but the red Hydro is more than a match for the 1lb-plus skimmer that has snaffled the worm hook bait. In fact, Mr Skimmer struggles to pull more than four inches of laggy from the pole tip.

Bites soon dry up on this line and to be honest, despite a re-feed, the heavier fed of the two swims just doesn’t kick into life. This may have been down to the lack of lily pad cover or just the fact that I overcooked the peg from the start. Back over to the right-hand swim and things are looking up as another skimmer finds the net, plus a feisty perch of just under 2lb. I find that the best way to feed the peg is to drop a small amount of bait into the swim after each sizeable fish or every three or four small fish.


The first decent fish of the day.


As the morning draws on and the sun climbs higher in the sky bites start to dry up and even the small perch and rudd do a disappearing act, but as the short session nears its end and just as we are looking at finishing the day tenchless, the float slowly moves to the side before sliding away. The strike sees a couple of feet of elastic fly from the pole before the classic head-shaking dogged fight of a tench is played out in the relative safety of the boat channel.

I make sure the fish is well beaten in this weed-free area of water before bringing it closer to the net – tench are well known for their last-ditch efforts to bury themselves in any nearside obstacle. Within a minute or so of hooking the fish a green beauty sits in the landing net, a great end to a really enjoyable session.

I lift the keepnet out and I’m pleased to see a weight approaching double figures – superb fishing in lovely surroundings and I can’t wait to come back.


Rob’s best perch of the day was this 2lb specimen.


Rob’s canal big-fish tips 

  • Use big baits, I think nothing of using two big worms for big fish on natural venues, but even then small fish can be nuisance.
  • Gear up accordingly. Bonus fish on canals are generally pretty hard fighters so there’s no place for light elastics and small hooks.
  • Fish away from the main boat channel. In the summer boat traffic can be heavy and naturally pushes the fish into shallower water.
  • Be patient. Canals aren’t like commercial fisheries and there aren’t tons of big fish to go at, so it can be a waiting game.
  • Choose the right time of day. Big fish tend to feed very early in the session or as the light starts to fade, so plan your session around this.
  • If small perch are a problem then try sweetcorn. Tench and bream love the stuff and it avoids the attention of most smaller fish.
  • After catching a big fish it’s often wise to re-feed the swim; when a big fish or two comes into the swim they can quickly eat all your loose feed.
  • If the venue is weedy it’s always best to pot all of your bait for accuracy rather than using a catapult; spreading bait too far into the snags will just make the fish harder to catch.
  • Strike hard and keep pulling! Every bite could be a bonus fish and in the blink of an eye they will find a tree root or weed bed, so get the upper hand on them as soon as possible.



A real mixed bag from a great ‘natural’ venue – why not try your local canal?


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