Worms are my number one hookbait for canal tench, dawn my favourite time, and the pole my preferred method. The combination of all three at once is a recipe for tincas on the bank as far as I am concerned. But I have to work, and have a life, as well as go fishing, and my approach as outlined above is costly, messy and time-intensive. So if I want to go fishing midweek, it has to be after work, not leave me with mudlarks' hands for the following day in the office, and involve as little setting up and packing away time as possible, or else it really isn't worth the impact it has on everything else.
For this reason, I have steadily moved away from the pole, where time is short or fishing is my secondary commitment of the day. It makes things so much simpler. My approach today required me to carry just a waggler rod, landing net and a rucksack on my back. Some hemp from my freezer, and a pint of maggots purchased en route, from the conveniently situated Culm Valley Angling, were all I carried for bait. Even with a short amount of time available, I'm still loathe to rush into a swim without a proper assessment first. On a preliminary walk this afternoon, I found a small shoal of good-sized bream in a reliable old spot - perhaps 20 fish - but with the sun very high in a cloudless sky, it did not seem like the day to be targeting them. I therefore let them be and headed to a different part of the canal, where I have taken tench and good rudd in the past.
The weed never subsides completely on this canal and the last five or six years have seen it suffer very badly from an invasive aquatic plant, called water soldier, which is similar in appearance to the top of a pineapple. Multiplying at a rapid rate, this weed can choke the canal bank to bank, top to bottom, in the height of summer. I understand that the local authority, who control the canal as a country park, and the angling club, are aware of and actively seeking to tackle this issue; however, having seen the rate at which it has taken hold, I fear that it will never be fully eradicated.
In the current circumstances, it is wise to rake a swim before fishing, and this is what I did on arrival today. When fishing a waggler, a large clear area is especially important to take account of the cast and retrieve. In fact, I raked two adjacent swims, which left me with a couple of options for the evening, and around 3 hours of remaining daylight, after first prepping them both with a small helping of hemp and maggots. I then set up a loaded insert waggler on 7lb mainline to a 5lb hooklength, whilst continuing to catapult a few loose maggots over the top of my first choice swim.
I got the expected flurry of rudd, roach and perch early on, even on such heavy gear, but it took a good hour for the tench bubbles to arrive. Of the perch I had, one was heavily egg-laded whilst the other two were completely spawned out. Extra care was taken with all three.
No matter what I tried, I couldn't get a tench to take the maggots on my hook, despite the various bursts of rising bubbles informing me that there were several foraging in my swim. I found a tin of luncheon meat in my bag and thought I'd be bold, tearing off a chunk and mashing it my hands for feeding. I then left the swim, to allow the tench to become accustomed to the new bait, whilst I tried my other prepared area.
There were tench feeding there too and I decided to give them a couple of additional palmfuls of maggots before casting a baited hook over the top. More rudd responded, so I decided to swap the position of a number one locking shot with a couple of number eight droppers, to get the bait past them. Still no bites in amongst the bubbles, so I kept feeding, quite heavily.
Finally, a bite on the bottom resulted in much greater resistance, but the fish soon relented and a better rudd of maybe twelve ounces was revealed as the culprit. I checked my initial swim to see whether the fish were still blowing there, but all signs of tench had disappeared, so I never got around to making a cast with luncheon meat on the hook. The other swim, however, was really starting to boil.
I added a touch more depth and it was all the change that was required. Three tench in quick succession were landed and briefly retained, so that I could grab a photograph whilst there was still sufficient natural light for me not to require the aid of flash. The fourth came just a minute or two after their release. In twenty minutes, I had gone from tearing my hair out, wishing I'd brought worms, to absolute certainty that the float would dip from view and a thrashing, tail-slapping tench would be the result, whenever I made a cast.
And so it went on into the evening; one after another, until I could no longer see my float or the froth of feeding fish. The final tally was 25 rudd, 3 perch, 2 roach and eight dark and beautiful canal tench. Perhaps if I had fished a pole, I may never have moved from my first choice swim. In fact, I'd probably still be packing away now.