Want to improve your canal fishing? If the answer is yes then you simply cannot afford to miss this guide from Graham West and Lee Newson.
Canal anglers don’t come much more experienced than Preston Innovations’ Lee Newson and Graham West. The dynamic duo have put in thousands upon thousands of towpath hours over the years, and certainly know how to keep those fish coming.
We decided to put them on a popular stretch of the Grand Union Canal at Three Locks, near Leighton Buzzard, to see how two different approaches can yield some amazing results.
Lee’s Squatt And Punch Attack
“I am all about catching large numbers of fish. It is what I have always done since serving my apprenticeship under mark Pollard on these very venues. Mark was always exceptional at catching big bags of small fish on this 137-mile waterway, and I can safely say I learnt from the best.
“For me, I believe that getting to grips with building weights of small fish will stand you in fantastic stead for any type of fishing. Cutting your teeth as a younger angler on canals such as this teaches you so much and it certainly proved to be a great learning ground for me.
“Catching between 150 and 300 fish is what I do best and I believe it to be the safest way to put together a good weight on this canal. This sounds like an awful lot of fish, but you won’t see an angler who is appearing to rush here. Catching small fish quickly is about rhythm, not speed. Some of the best anglers at catching numbers of fish barely look like they are rushing, but they make sure they come back with a fish every time they ship back. Efficiency and smoothness are key.
“Simplicity is another big part of what I do. Everything is kept simple, from tackle to baits, but everything is done for a reason. My bait table for today consists of a pint of squatts, a handful of pinkies, a few big maggots, two pints of liquidised bread and half a bag of groundbait.
“I am going to just fish two swims today, breadpunch at five metres and a groundbait and squatt attack at about 10 metres just going up the far slope. These two areas will allow me to keep fish coming for the duration of this session.
“Starting on bread is a great way to have a strong first hour. Just one ball the size of an apple will draw plenty of fish to get your match going. It’s important to make the most of this as bread fish are often a good stamp and 2 or 3lb can be caught in no time. This is where my no-nonsense approach to rigs scores – but more of that later.”
Breadpunch usually guarantees a few early bites.
… and for his groundbait and squatts line.
Westy’s Quality Fish Approach
“Like Lee, I have grown up fishing the Grand Union and there is no doubting that the small-fish approach is a consistent way to target this venue. But, this canal is stuffed with quality fish that can be caught from almost anywhere, and nowadays I like to hedge my bets a little and try and catch a few of them.
“Big perch, bream and smaller skimmers are all very realistic targets on most pegs here, especially if you target them in the right way. It’s too easy to try fishing large hook baits and before you know it you are three hours in with hardly anything in the net.
“I much prefer to use baits and rigs that still allow me to catch smaller fish, but also give me the best chance of picking up those all-important bonus fish.
“Today I am going to fish three lines, the first of which is a groundbait and pinkie swim at 10 metres. This will be fed regularly with balls of groundbait with pinkies and the odd squatt. However, I won’t loose feed all of the time, like Lee. I will feed every now and then with a full pouch of squatts to keep the fish on the bottom. Fishing baits like single pinkie, single maggot or double squatt on the hook isn’t too selective, but just seems to single out those better fish from the shoal.
“The second swim is positioned down the inside shelf but is actually fished at 13 metres down the canal. I find this to be a great area to catch really big perch, so I feed it with chopped lobworms and a few casters and chopped maggots – a real perchy mix!
“The final swim is right across the canal, touching the boats on the far side. On some days this is the only place where you can catch, especially when the boat traffic is heavy. It is only two feet deep across to the boat but nevertheless it is often the best place to catch bream.
“This is going to be fed with small balls of groundbait laced with worms, along with some casters.“
A Flying Start
Lee is the first out of the traps and as predicted his breadpunch approach has got him off to a great start. It is noticeable how quickly and effortlessly he is catching dumpy weight-building fish, fish that many anglers would have to play and net!
No messing, no faffing around.
“I really don’t mess around on this canal. Over the years I have tried all manner of rigs and tackle, ranging from the absurdly light up to the heavy. Let me tell you that on this canal, if you are on fish then you really don’t need any super-fine tackle or light faffy rigs.
“My rigs are simply a bulk and one dropper. They feature Preston Innovations F1 Maggot floats, which aren’t exactly your standard roach float for the canal, but they are great; I dot them down into the surface film and find them easy to read. I also think shotting a float like this gives you superb presentation, as the floats sit perfectly in the skim that can affect lighter floats.
“The elastic is also beefed up. You won’t find any soft set No2s here – I use a No5 through just one section of pole. I find this soft enough not to bump fish but it also gives me the clout to swing most of the fish I hook. This is all about making the most of the sometimes short catching window. If I can catch 3lb in the opening hour (very possible, too) then it sets me up perfectly for a good match.”
In stark contrast, Westy has quite a slow start. He is picking up the odd small fish but nothing like what Lee is catching. “I would expect my swim to come on strong as the session goes on. Skimmers in particular are funny fish and can take a while to get their heads down. The same goes for big perch; they patrol these canals in numbers looking for a snack, so it can take time for them to arrive. This is where fishing a pinkie over the groundbait works as I keep catching a few small fish to keep me ticking over.”
Westy Fights Back!
“Although it isn’t a match today, there is always a competitive edge to sessions so to see Lee so far ahead is a little annoying! Fortunately my peg is starting to come good. The perch haven’t turned up yet but luckily some good skimmers have started to feed and I soon add 10 to the net. A single red maggot is proving to be their downfall, presented on a heavy 4x14 rig slightly overdepth.
Fewer but finer.
“Interestingly the far-bank swim hasn’t given up any fish yet and the lobworm swim has only thrown up a small wasp-like perch. The canal hasn’t moved much today and the boat traffic is minimal, so maybe the fish are happy sitting down the middle of the canal in the deeper water.”
Poetry In Motion
Lee switches to his groundbait and squatt swim, which has been loose fed for a good 90 minutes now, and it is absolutely solid with fish!
Specially made to fit in your hand.
“The bread really started to slow up despite a great spell on it, and my gut feeling is that the fish had backed off and were only too happy to feast on the loose-fed squatts.
“A switch to this line has got me flying again and I am also picking up the occasional skimmer too – lovely bonus fish. I only fed two balls of groundbait at the start on this line and try not to top the swim up again. Sometimes, though, a boat can be going a little too fast and really stir up that horrible silt. If that happens then I will feed another ball just to ‘reset’ the swim after such a dramatic disturbance.
“Loose feed is the key, though, and I try and keep a constant stream of squatts going through the swim to hold and attract fish. Again the simple positive rigs are all that’s required. Just like Westy, I also like to try a bigger then normal hook bait and a pinkie or single white maggot are favourites of mine.”
Against the boats is usually a reliable perch swim.
A Great Session
It has to be said that both anglers have absolutely bagged up today! Lee has caught 20lb of roach and skimmers on his simple two-pronged attack, while Westy hasn’t been far behind and, as predicted, his peg became incredibly strong in the home stretch with lots of hand-sized skimmers. He even managed a late big perch (although it was taken on a pinkie and not his ‘perch’ swim).
It was no surprise to us to see why these two anglers are such feared competitors on the canal circuit.
This is canal fishing at its absolute very best.
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Modern-day commercials are full of fish, but in match conditions, it can be anything but easy to catch them as soon as those nets go in. Des Shipp explains how to maximise your results.
Such is the angling pressure on modern waters, particularly the more heavily fished ones, that the stocks seem to have wised up to sloppy approaches and mundane feeding tactics.
That’s not to say that these fish can’t be caught. Some days they give themselves up far easier, but when the weather conditions are cooler, or overnight temperatures drop, they can be anything but ‘easy’.
I’ve brought the Match Fishing cameras to Ivy House Lakes today, in Wiltshire. It’s a place I have some knowledge of, having fished here a little. One of the recent matches was tough going, but a thoughtful approach to tactics and feeding kept me in touch with the fish on what could have otherwise been a very bleak day – no pun intended.
Many on the match struggled, such were the conditions, so I kept things lighter on the rig front in anticipation of a tougher match.
Having drawn in a corner on the day I thought a long margin line, slightly into the deeper water down the shelf, would be key. It proved to be, so that’s the area I’ll concentrate on explaining in most depth for this feature.
I fed several lines on the day, as I have also done today; the other main one of note being an open-water swim straight in front of me at 14.5 metres.
The rig for this is made using a 0.4g Preston PB Inter 2 on 0.13mm Reflo Power to a 0.11mm hooklength. A strung bulk completes the rig along with a size 16 Preston PR 434.
The rig for fishing towards the margin, in around three and a half feet of water, is a 4x14 Preston PB Inter 8 mounted on the same line and using the same hook. The shotting pattern is taken care of with strung-out No10s to allow a slow fall of the expander pellet hook bait. It’s all about lifting and dropping the relatively light rig and allowing the hook bait to ‘work’ for you as naturally as possible.
Now, this is the key area to success really. I have plumbed two lines across to the right-hand margin, one at 14.5 metres and one at 16 metres, but both the same distance away from the bank so I can use the same rig in two swims.
What I found on the match was that the fish were hanging off the back of the feed. So, I only pot bait in at 14.5 metres and intend to fish on that line to catch ‘mug’ fish, but fish past it at 16 metres when they back off.
Loose feeding is a key part of the strategy, with the aim being to loose feed bait over and just past the 14.5m line. That way I can always work the rig on the 16m line, which will be at the far extreme of the feed area where the ‘crafty’ carp hold back and venture onto the edge of the feed.
These fish have become wise to piles of bait and, as such, hang back with caution. Therefore a few pellets ‘flirted’ over the area with a rig offering a slow fall of the hook bait is THE key way to approach them.
The open-water swim is a key go-to area while you build the margin line as it’s important not to exploit the margin until fish, hopefully, carp, have built in confidence feeding there.
Bites on the margin line are often delicate too, hence I dot my float right down to maximise the rig sensitivity.
Des targeted the skimmers while he built up the margin line.
The open-water line on today’s session proves important for catching the resident skimmers – something that’s crucial on trickier days to help you to keep putting weight in the net while you build your other lines.
I want to briefly cover why I have not put my margin rigs right up against the bank in the shallowest water. This is simply because the fish aren’t wanting to feed there confidently at the time of shooting this feature, so coming away into three feet or so where the water is deeper is a more logical place. Don’t always assume these fish want to be right up in the ‘rat holes’. On many days you will reap better rewards by targeting them where I am today. Plus, it’s all too easy to get distracted by waving tails when you’re fishing in very shallow water – you won’t have this problem in three feet. This also has a knock-on with your feeding: when you can’t see the fish it’s less easy to get carried away with piling too much feed in and destroying your swims.
Des potted in pellets...
After two hours of nurture and with half a dozen good skimmers in the net it’s time for a look up the long margin swims. I have been potting modest amounts of bait on the 14.5m line, consisting of micro pellets and softened expander pellets (the same as I will be using on the hook).
... and pinged a few over the top.
I have regularly been loose feeding softened 4mm pellets over the top too, in frugal quantities to create some noise and keep that all-important bait going through the water column.
My swim-building is rewarded by a small but perfectly formed carp, but the next drop-in reveals no bites, liners or indications. Now the extension goes up the back of my Preston M90 pole to get the rig to the far extremes of the feed area at 16 metres.
The light proves tricky and the reflection on the water from the still bare surrounding trees is doing little to help.
The same rig was used at 14.5 and 16 metres.
The approach is a success, though. The float dips sharply and wham, another carp is stripping my 11H elastic from the pole as it makes its getaway.
Working the swim in this way is exactly the right thing to do. Now it’s a case of try and repeat.
By that I mean try the 14.5m line again and if no bites occur then I pot a modest amount of feed in (see image) and continue to loose feed just six to 10 softened 4mm feed pellets over the top between the 14.5m and 16m lines without feeding past where the rig will be when presented at 16 metres.
This approach has helped me to secure many a match win either in trickier conditions, or when fishing heavily pressured fish, or both.
Small but perfectly formed
I’ve ended the session with several carp and a handsome net of fine skimmers. These skimmers are so important to build weight elsewhere (usually in open water) while you nurture other swims. I haven’t truly exploited these silvers today as the nature of the shoot was to demonstrate the margin approach first and foremost. However, with my considered approach, you will be conquering crafty commercial-water carp in no time!
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Top Kamasan Starlets team man, and Preston Innovations brand manager Scott Geens explains how the key to consistency often lies in targeting multiple species…
Good anglers win matches, but great anglers win leagues. I have always really enjoyed league and team matches as you always have something to fish for – whether it be one point or ten the incentive is always there for you to keep going.
As much as I enjoy the occasional open match too, they are often very predictable, with certain boss pegs or fliers dominating proceedings, if a good angler happens to draw them. There are also ways that you can turn average pegs into winners, but often these involve fishing in a feast or famine type way – which isn’t conducive to consistency.
Whether it be a team match or a league, the key to scoring good points is almost always keeping busy, and keeping some small fish going in the net – and this is going to be the focus of my feature today.
To illustrate how I like to approach this type of ‘points based’ match I have brought the Match Fishing cameras to the beautiful Packington Somers Fishery near Meriden, a former host of big matches including the Sensas Challenge, and also a venue that runs a lot of its own league matches.
Alongside a big head of hard fighting carp, Geary’s Level where you join me today is rammed with silver fish. These include some real quality skimmers, crucians, tench and roach. A stocking that lends itself perfectly to the catch-everything attack that I am going to employ today.
So let me clarify first what I mean by ‘catching everything.’ After all, there is little point having a busy day putting together 30lb of silver fish if you need 100lb of carp to score good points. You must bare this in mind too – and always look to cover your options. If you think there is a chance of a good weight of carp, make sure that you feed lines for them and crucially fish for them when and if you think that they are feeding.
How many times do you see anglers targeting carp, but not actually catching them though? This is wasted time – especially given the fact that so many of our commercials have such a big head of other fish that these guys could be using to build a weight, and give themselves a better chance of coming away with valuable points at the end of the match.
My golden rule is almost always to try fishing for carp if you think they will figure, but set yourself a keen time frame and stick to it. Don’t ever fall into the trap of sitting and waiting too long for something to happen when there are other, albeit smaller, fish to catch.
The Right Bait
Let's talk about baits first and there are two key things that you need to think about before deciding what baits to fish. Firstly, the size of fish that you are targeting. If, for example, you know that you are targeting a large number of small silver fish, but you need to catch a big weight of them, you should be looking to fish the short pole so that you can catch quickly. You also need to fish a bait that will get you a bite relatively quickly, something like maggots, pinkies or small pieces of worm.
Double caster often sorts out the better fish.
By contrast, you might find yourself in a situation where you are looking to catch quality fish, and again you have to tailor your approach accordingly. This is the situation that I am in today. The lake is relatively shallow and I feel that these quality silver fish will feed more confidently further out from the bank – so this is where I target them, on the long pole at 13m. If you are shipping a long way and targeting good stamp fish, you don’t want a bait that will attract the attentions of small fish, so a decent sized piece of worm, a piece of corn, pellet, or caster will most probably be the choice of bait.
The second consideration when it comes to bait selection is the temperature and wind. Warm weather and more importantly high water temperature means that the fish will feed aggressively, so you should be prepared to be positive. To me, this means feeding fishmeal groundbait (I use Sonubaits Match Method) rich with worms. I will pot in a fair amount of bait at the start (six balls rich with bait today) and top up aggressively when bites subside to hopefully bring more fish into the swim.
Scott is the man behind the Preston inline plummets
By contrast, colder weather might see me more inclined to feed less bait, and if the water temperature was really low, I might even introduce a sweeter mix (Sonubaits Lake) without any fishmeal in there at all.
Also, pay careful attention to the wind. Remember, if you are to catch the biggest fish you will have to present your bait well, so if you think that the wind could hamper your presentation, don’t fish too far out. A breeze or slight wind can actually be a really good thing when you are looking for a big mixed bag, so never be reticent about coming closer in these conditions. Secondly, make sure you take the wind into account when deciding on your rigs, which is the area that I will look at next.
The Right Rig For The Job.
I have already mentioned the importance of good bait presentation when it comes to putting a big weight of mixed fish together, and 90 per cent of this is down to the rigs that you choose to use.
One of two distinct patterns invariably works for me. We will call the first one the ‘ligger’ and as the name suggests, this is for presenting a bait hard on the bottom. If there is a breeze or a wind on the water, this will be your main attack and the key thing to be sure of is that the weight of your rig is heavy enough to hold your bait still against any wind movement or tow. Use a pole support if necessary and fish up to 12 inches of line on the bottom if you think you need to. The key thing is your bait is presented still and where you want it.
My second mode of presentation, which I think will be important today is what I call an ‘on-the-drop rig.’ This doesn’t necessarily mean that the fish will eat your bait on the drop by the way, more that they will often watch it as it falls through the water, then follow it down and eat it off the bottom.
Light floats generally work well when it comes to this kind of rig although it is important again to think about how quickly you need to catch. If you are looking for a few very crafty fish then fishing super light floats (3x8 or 4x10) can be devastating. If however, you think that the fishing will be relatively good as I do today and so need to catch a lot of fish, you need to fish a float size that allows you to do this. This means a 4x12 for me today, with a string of seven No11 shot.
Finally elastics, this can be one of the most difficult things to get right when targeting a wide variety of species. Today, I am using a Preston No7 Hollo elastic in conjunction with a Rolla Pulla Kit. Importantly, this means that even the smaller fish that I hook don’t splash on the surface when I hook them, but any better quality specimens can be brought under control at the netting stage thanks to the Rolla Puller Kit.
Reading The Peg
After cupping in my initial balls of groundbait, I go straight in with my ligging rig and a piece of worm to see what has come to the party!
This ball is going striahgt to the bottom
A couple of small roach, a stockie carp and a small skimmer come in quick succession, before my swim goes quiet. This can often be a good sign, as it means something bigger has moved into your swim and pushed the small fish out of the way.
I sit biteless for around three minutes, before my float slides away and my first big skimmer of the day is hooked. At a little over 2lb, it’s a welcome bonus, and is soon greeted by the waiting net.
The next thing for me to try and work out is how to top the peg up. Sometimes, a ball after every fish is required to keep better fish coming. Other times, simply loose feeding casters over where you are fishing is all you need to do to keep catching. Most commonly though, something between the two extremes is best.
The only potential drawback with loose feeding if you are not careful is that it can cause fish to come up in the water. No problem if you plan on fishing shallow – but when you don’t have a great amount of depth like today, and with a multitude of species present, I would rather try to keep the fish on the bottom where I can catch them easily.
The best tactics today seem to be to introduce a large pouch of casters after every couple of fish, and top up with groundbait only when I go a long spell without any better quality skimmers making an appearance.
After around four hours fishing, we call time on the session, and I pull out my net to reveal almost 40lb of mixed silver fish, with a few of the venue’s small stockie carp thrown in for good measure. Interestingly, as we drive off the lake I notice that the arm to the right of where I have sat is absolutely heaving with carp, which are shoaled up together ready for spawning. No doubt in a match situation, the pegs in this area would have beaten me. But my catch-everything approach would almost definitely have won me some coin and eked out a result from an area where I don’t think there were a lot of carp to catch.
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Inside Out Method
Fishing with my hookbait outside of the feeder has been very effective over the past couple of months. It can be a deadly way of fishing the method feeder when the fish aren’t attacking the feeder confidently.
Light Is Best
I always try and use the lightest float and line I can get away with at this time of year, it definitely catches me more fish. As the water starts to warm up I will step up my tackle, but using light lines, floats and smaller hooks works best for me in the winter/spring months.
Less is More
It’s amazing how little bait you can feed on commercials, but still catch loads of fish. F1’s in particular respond to the tiniest amount of bait at this time of the year. Literally, three maggots or five micro pellets is enough bait to get an initial response from a fish, then you have to be patient and wait for a proper bite. I see far too many anglers feeding with massive CAD pots and ruining their pegs. I use a small sprinkle pot, this holds more than enough bait! The ‘less is more’ statement couldn’t be more applicable at this time of the year.
Make Some Noise
Making noise is very important in fishing, even at this time of year. Fish are inquisitive and they’re attracted to noise so I always have a line up my sleeve where I catapult or throw bait. You’ll be shocked at the difference making noise can make.
This is an area that lots of anglers get confused about but I think it’s simple. I fish 1 to 2” over depth on commercials, to the bottom of the body of my float. I’ve found this to be the most effective way to plumb up, no matter what bait I’m using or what fish I’m targeting. I’ve been using a Line Safe Plummet for the past six months and it’s essential for gaining pin point accuracy.s’ 5 Commercial Tips
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