Turn your canal results around – Mark Pollard
When it comes to canal fishing, you’ll struggle to find better sport than that provided by boat turning bays, says Mark Pollard
WE’RE currently in the throes of the closed season, and with that thousands of anglers come searching for exciting opportunities while the rivers are out of bounds. A large percentage of these natural water enthusiasts wouldn’t even dream of becoming commercial fishery regulars, and often see canals as the ideal alternative to rivers. But if they have one criticism of their closed season comfort it is the lack of mystery. Visit a bubbling weir pool on a river and it’s anyone’s guess what lies beneath the turbulent surface. Hard-fighting barbel, giant chub and even big shoals of bream are all a possibility. It’s a very different proposition on canals, though, and the long and often barren straights can be somewhat predictable. A featureless swim is likely to only hold silverfish with a few hungry predators lurking nearby, while an overhanging bush or submerged tree is a banker for bonus fish such as carp, bream and tench. But there is an exception to this rule, and it comes in the form of boat turning bays. A narrow canal that is perhaps only 13m from bank to bank suddenly springs open and can be more than five times wider than the rest of the venue, allowing narrow boats to manoeuvre. These unusual areas are a magnet for fish, and have the potential to hold literally every species present in the canal. Dynamite Baits and Matrix-backed angler Mark Pollard made his name on the nation’s canals and experienced some of his finest-ever sessions on ‘the cut’ when pitching up on the banks of a turning bay. “You really don’t know what you are going to catch, and in the past I’ve caught everything from good nets of roach right the way through to big carp,” explained Mark. “There is so much water to go at and each area of the swim can hold a different species due to the varying depths and level of cover.”
Bagging on a budget
As with most types of canal fishing, your bait bill isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg, and ‘Polly’ believes that three or four different baits are all that are required to make the most of the opportunity. “You need to pick baits that will give you a chance of catching fish of all sizes and species. The first thing I use is breadpunch as a hookbait, feeding Dynamite Baits Pure White Crumb. “This is ideal for roach of all sizes and also picks up skimmers. Pinkies are great for roach as well, and are a better option if there are a few perch present in the swim. “Finally, a pint of casters is worth carrying just in case you are on a lot of bonus fish such as bream, tench and big perch and you want to avoid the small silvers. “You don’t need large quantities of each bait and you’ll probably spend around a tenner and have every option covered.”
When I first got into a conversation with Mark about just how prolific turning bays can be it didn’t take him long to mention the Grand Union Canal with an air of giddiness in his voice. “I remember having some fantastic days at Fenny Stratford in Milton Keynes – it used to be full of fish. How about we go down and see how good it is these days?” said Mark, as we discussed the topic over the phone. Located close to a busy main road, it has all the hallmarks of a typical urban hotspot, with a modern housing development behind it and an industrial estate on the far bank.
Day tickets are priced at £5 and are available on the bank, with nearby housing estates the place to park the car for the day. A date was swiftly pencilled in, and on a typical spring day with a light breeze and warming sunshine peering through the clouds, Mark set about showing that turning bays have a knack of producing the unexpected. Chucking a feeder over to the far side could have been an option, but Mark stuck to the pole, utilising two lines. “I’m going to fish around 13m out in about 4ft of water with bread, and I am also going to fish down the edge towards a bridge which goes into a small marina with pinkies,” he said. “I’d expect to catch small fish and a few bigger stamp bonus fish close in on this peg.” It was an approach that had served him so well in yesteryear on the venue, but would the fish stocks that helped him fall in love with this canal system still linger in the area? Only time would tell...
The end result
A tangerine-sized ball of Pure White Crumb was fed on the long line and a light rig shotted with a strung-out pattern was lowered in. The float sat motionless for around 15 minutes before it eventually dipped and a small roach came to hand. The slight grimace that had been developing on Mark’s face was quickly exchanged for a relieved puff of the cheeks as the dreaded blank was averted. When one roach turns up there’s usually a shedload more to plunder, but that theory proved to be off point in this case, with just a few more small silvers responding in the first hour. A change of tactics was needed to stir a response and Mark started firing pinkies in via a catapult down his edge and also on the long pole line. Shortly after making that move it was as if a switch had been flicked and the swim came alive, with the float dipping under on every drop-in. Roach from 1oz to 4oz came thick and fast, with chunky perch and quality skimmers getting in on the act from time to time to produce the mixed bag turning bays have a reputation for. “It’s amazing how a simple change of hookbait can transform things. The fish were there all along, they are just in the mood for a moving bait today as opposed to a static one,” Mark said. The swim was also clearly alive with predators, as hungry zander made their presence felt. Many times, a huge swirl saw hundreds of tiny fish break the surface in unison as they made a dash for freedom. It was clear the swim was alive with fish, and after a dull start Mark bounced back in style to end up with more than 15lb in the net. “There was never any doubt in my mind at the beginning that the swim wouldn’t come good – honest!” he said. “But on a serious note, there’s something about turning bays that draws fish in like there’s no tomorrow. If you are looking to put the mystery back into your canal fishing, they should be your first port of call this month,” concluded Mark.
Breadpunch on the hook and white crumb feed pulls in the canal’s roach
Turning bays hold every species you’d expect to find in other areas of the canal
Surprisingly big bonus fish can be caught right down the edge on the pole
Pinkies fired in over both pole lines got sport back on track after a quiet spell