Sum­mer weights... in win­ter! – Tommy Boyce

Tommy Boyce lifts the lid on a stretch of the Ox­ford Canal where huge hauls of bream can be had all win­ter

Improve Your Coarse Fishing (UK) - - Inside - Words & Pho­tog­ra­phy Tony Grig­or­jevs

WHEN fish shoal up tightly in win­ter, putting your­self on a hotspot can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween blank­ing and a bumper net. At this time of year the fish may be un­will­ing to break from the com­fort of their shoal, but they still have an ap­petite to sat­isfy. If you can get your bait among them, sport can ac­tu­ally be bet­ter than in the warmer months. That’s right, bet­ter. Ev­ery fish­ery has its renowned win­ter fly­ers. On the Ox­ford Canal there is a small sec­tion that is ab­so­lutely packed with qual­ity bream and skim­mers. Lo­cated close to the Rock of Gi­bral­tar pub just north of the vil­lage of Kidling­ton, bites ga­lore can be had op­po­site Enslow Ma­rina. But if you head 50m ei­ther way from the cen­tre of it a blank could be on the cards. Tommy Boyce is a sea­soned canal fish­ing ex­pert and says you’ll strug­gle to find a bet­ter place to fill your keep­net this month. “Many an­glers think that the big fish in canals shut up shop once it cools down. This isn’t true. If you can find them you can still put some re­ally im­pres­sive bags to­gether,” ex­plained Tommy. “This is the sort of venue where a 30lb catch is a poor day, 50lb is stan­dard and 70lb-plus is def­i­nitely achiev­able. Even in win­ter!”

Fea­ture-packed flyer

A stan­dard stretch of canal is fairly bar­ren, with just the oc­ca­sional patch of shrub­bery to break up the repet­i­tive pegs. Then there are those dis­tinc­tive zones that re­quire only the slight­est bit of wa­ter­craft to give you an inkling that the fish will be lin­ger­ing close by. As well as the dozens of barges moored up on the far bank, the ex­tra width at Enslow Ma­rina adds to its at­trac­tive­ness for the canal’s fish stocks. You might think you’d need to wield the full length of your pole or even reach for the feeder to get over to where they are sit­ting. But you’d be wrong. “Although there are al­ways boats close to the far bank it’s rare that the fish ac­tu­ally sit un­derneath them be­cause of the shal­low wa­ter. “In­stead, they con­gre­gate any­where be­tween 5m and 8m out from where you are sit­ting. This is the deep­est part, and if you fished any fur­ther out you wouldn’t get half as many bites,” warned Tommy. “It is un­usual to catch such qual­ity fish so short on a canal, but they don’t feed con­fi­dently right down the mid­dle ei­ther be­cause of the boat traf­fic.” A lack of small sil­vers in the canal means that you can be pretty con­fi­dent that ev­ery time

the float dips a big bream or skim­mer will be at­tached to the other end. There are stacks of fish be­tween the 1lb and 3lb mark but it isn’t un­usual to put sev­eral bream over 4lb in the net.

Bud­get bait bill

When nat­u­ral baits such as worms, maggots and cast­ers come into the equa­tion the bait bill can quickly rise. There’s no fear of that hap­pen­ing on the Ox­ford Canal, though. In fact, a ten­ner will cover ev­ery­thing you need. “It’s vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed that the fish will be in front of you, so you don’t need to put lots of feed in to at­tract them from else­where. “All your bait is do­ing is con­cen­trat­ing them into an even tighter spot over the top of your hook­bait,” he ex­plained. Half-a-pint of red maggots, a pint of cast­ers and a quar­ter-kilo of worms will cover you, with half-a-bag of fish­meal ground­bait thrown into the mix for good mea­sure. A cou­ple of balls are fed at the start of the ses­sion by cup be­fore the cat­a­pult be­comes the fo­cus when feed­ing. “The ground­bait just gets them right in front of you but putting in any more when they are feed­ing is a recipe for dis­as­ter, as bream are very fickle and it will un­set­tle them. “It’s much bet­ter to cat­a­pult a few cast­ers in ev­ery cou­ple of min­utes. They cre­ate less dis­tur­bance and keep enough feed in the swim to en­sure the fish never ven­ture away from where the hook­bait goes in.” And it’s not just the bait costs that are low, with yearly tick­ets for the stretch start­ing at just £3!

“It’s the sort of venue where 50lb is stan­dard and 70lb-plus is achiev­able. Even in win­ter”

Short pole suc­cess

With heavy rain lash­ing down on Ox­ford­shire the night be­fore the day we’d ar­ranged to shoot the fea­ture, con­di­tions were far from ideal. There was a def­i­nite chill in the wa­ter that Tommy felt as he scooped a pint up to mix his ground­bait, and it would be un­der­stand­able if he’d been pes­simistic about his chances. “The fish might not want to move far be­cause of the wa­ter chill but I know they are sat some­where in this peg. When I lo­cate them I know they will have a go,” he said. Start­ing just 7m out, the ground­bait went in be­fore a steady trickle of cast­ers kept things topped up. Us­ing a sin­gle mag­got hook­bait is usu­ally a recipe for get­ting plagued by small fish but his float re­mained sta­tion­ary in the open­ing stages of the ses­sion. A few pin-prick bub­bles then broke the sur­face. These were soon fol­lowed by the first dip on the float of the day. Two foot of light elas­tic came out of the pole-tip as Tommy ten­ta­tively shipped back. A 2lb fish broke the sur­face and in typ­i­cal skim­mer fash­ion, lay in a dazed man­ner on the sur­face be­fore be­ing scooped up in the land­ing net. “It’s a nice start, but this is just the run of the mill stamp. I’m cer­tain we will end up with big­ger fish as the day goes on,” said Tommy with some con­fi­dence. Boat traf­fic was light due to the time of year but when one did plough through the swim, it was time to re­move a pole sec­tion and fish closer in. “The fish get out of the way of the boat traf­fic but swim to­wards the near­side as op­posed to the far side be­cause it is deeper close in. “I don’t feed any more straight away and of­ten you will drop in and catch al­most in­stantly with­out any top-up loose­feed.” That is ex­actly what hap­pened, with a 3lb bronze beauty join­ing sev­eral of its shoal mates af­ter a barge had passed. Bites couldn’t be de­scribed as com­ing thick and fast, but it was clear there were plenty of bream pa­trolling the peg, with the float go­ing un­der ev­ery 10 min­utes. Con­sid­er­ing the fish were all be­tween 1lb and 3lb, you soon re­alised a big weight was on the cards.

“The fish were all be­tween 1lb and 3lb, and we quickly re­alised a big weight was on the cards”

Four hours on the peg had yielded around 40lb of bream, skim­mers and the odd fight­ing fit hy­brid – a catch that many would see as their best win­ter canal catch ever. For Tommy, though, the day was noth­ing out of the or­di­nary. “This venue is ca­pa­ble of such fan­tas­tic sport that days like this don’t par­tic­u­larly stand out,” said Tommy. “Don’t get me wrong, I have loved ev­ery minute of to­day but I know full well that I could come back next week and put dou­ble that in the net if the fish are in a dif­fer­ent mood.” If you think win­ter canal fish­ing is all about scratch­ing around for a few tiny sil­vers then it’s time to think again.

A pole pot is used to feed at the start be­fore switch­ing to a cat­a­pult

Bites came reg­u­larly from qual­ity bream and skim­mers

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