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
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!”
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