Many canal wides, bays and basins are hotspots for all sorts of fish, especially bream – but others are next to useless. So be sure to pick the right one.
Casting his mind back some 25 years, Mark remembers how – week in, week out – he, his Dad and his brother Paul would spend hours on end fishing the same three pegs on their local Stratford-upon-Avon Canal at Hockley Heath (in what is now the West Midlands). Those pegs were in the turning bay by Wharf Lane Marina, where the canal widens from its usual 10-11m (ll-12yd) to a full 25m (27yd) – room for even the longest barge to turn safely… and room for plenty of fish. ‘To say we had some bumper days is an understatement,’ recalls Mark. ‘We caught everything there: bream to two pounds, tench to three pounds, perch to a pound, and roach – 10oz a chuck, brilliant sport.’
All shapes and sizes
All canals are typically of uniform width and depth, but all also have places where they are significantly wider. Wides, or passing bays, are where canals widen out so two narrow-boats can pass each other safely. Away from them, although there is usually room to pass, the margin of error is small and boats occasionally collide, or ram the sides of the canal. Sometimes they try to pass on a tight bend and jam each other fast! Passing bays are therefore essential. They can be anything from just one or two metres widei»than normal to double the usual canal width. Turning bays are where canals open out wide enough for a narrow-boat to turn around. Basins, or boatyards, are where boats are moored. Often they are near locks and at the junctions of two or more branches of the same canal or different canals.
Good or bad?
On a canal where there is no longer much, if any, boat traffic, the wides, bays and basins are often so silted up that they are actually shallower than the main canal. The fishing in these wider places is usually pretty poor. Canal fish don’t mind very shallow water, just so long as there is the sanctuary of deep water nearby. In the shallow expanses of a silted up bay or basin there is no such sanctuary.
On canals with a lot of boat traffic, however, the wides, bays and basins are in constant use and the water in them tends to be slightly deeper than in the main canal. This makes them highly attractive to fish.
In summer, wides, bays and basins with deep water offer fish a degree of shelter from the constant buffeting of heavy boat traffic. In winter, the deeper water is attractive because it is slightly warmer than that of the main canal.
Year-round holding areas
Bream are the obvious species to expect in wides, bays and basins where the water is deeper than the main canal, but what fish you find depends on the particular canal.
Some canals, for example, have good heads of chub but few, if any, bream – and vice-versa. Furthermore, one stretch of a particular canal can have a lot of, say, carp in it, while another stretch of the same canal has almost no carp at all.
Bream usually shoal up wherever the water is deepest in the deep wide, bay or basin – usually the middle. Chub, perch, roach, tench and carp, on the other hand, tend to be found at the sides and near the far bank – wherever there are features such as weeds, reeds and moored boats.
That said, when there is little or no boat traffic — at dawn and dusk in summer, and throughout the day in winter – roach, tench, perch and carp can all be tempted into the open water of the centre. Only the wary chub is usually reluctant to be drawn away from marginal and far-bank cover.
Conversely, when boat traffic is at its heaviest – throughout the day on weekends and public holidays in summer, especially when the weather is fine – all the species present, including bream, tend to avoid the open water of the middle.
Around noon on a hot summer day is rarely the best time for any kind of coarse fishing, anyway. The best times to fish deep wides, bays and basins in summer are therefore the same as anywhere else: the first and last few hours of daylight, preferably on a weekday. At these times, boat disturbance is minimal, and low light levels encourage fish to feed.
In winter — again, as elsewhere — the best time to fish deep canal wides, bays and basins is usually the very middle of the day, when the water is warmest. As elsewhere, though, on very sunny winter days the better fish — especially big, shy roach — often don’t feed until the light starts to go in the late afternoon.
Bream from the towpath
The waggler is the ideal way to catch bream in deep bays and basins, as it allows you to fish beyond the range of a pole. A 3-4BB peacock waggler with a sensitive peacock insert works well. Bulk most of the shot around the base and have just two or three no.8s or no. 10s down the line. Fish at least 15cm (6in) overdepth with the bottom shot just off the deck. This way, even the slightest bite registers.
Cautious feeding is essential because, although the water is deeper than in the main canal, it’s still rarely more than lm (3ft) deep. This means it’s all too easy to spook the bream with heavy-handed feeding.
Start with three or four tangerine-sized balls of soft groundbait loaded with squatts and a few casters. Don’t feed again until you begin getting bites. At first you might experience line bites from bream milling around the swim before they have got their heads down. When this happens they brush the line, causing the float to dip or lift. It’s essential not to strike at these, otherwise you risk scaring the fish away before they have settled.
If you’re getting just liners and no proper bites, start lightly loosefeeding a few cast- ers and the occasional pouchful of squatts. But once you start catching, cut back on the feed completely, resuming only when you feel the fish are drifting away.
Should the canal pull or the wind make presentation difficult, it’s better to leger to present a dead-still bait.