Because many canals have shown patchy to poor results, there was a tendency in the past by those who charted fishing to neglect them. But to many anglers, canals are very important fisheries, since for one reason or another they may be the only waters available to them. Thus we have set out to present canal information in similar detail as with other types of freshwater fishing.
Apart from one or two rare exceptions – the Kennet and Avon Canal would be a good example – the life of the canal angler is generally a hard one, his sport often consisting of a hunt with superfine tackle for small fish in waters where the population of fish is thin anyway, due usually to the ravages of pollution and the neglect which followed the decline of the canals as a means of transportation in the early part of this century. Typical of these are some of the canals in the North West where, all too often, an angler’s interest has to be not in how many fish he can catch – but in how many bites he can getl Not all canals are like this but many could be said to be difficult and the men who regularly fish them are rare birds who obviously have a deep personal commitment to the challenge.
In many areas, canals have been cradles of match fishing, that branch of angling in which men compete against each other to see who can catch the biggest weight with money prizes the incentive, some as much as £1,000. As one well-known match angler so aptly put it: ‘It was an obvious way of making fishing for a few small fish more interesting. Clearly many still find it interesting.’
In a general sense, there are two types of canal – broad and narrow, the former, because of the greater volume of water in them being less prone to pollution and, therefore, likely to offer better fishing.
The majority of the canals in England and Wales are controlled by the British Waterways Board, the nationalised undertaking now responsible for trying to revive the canals for their original purpose as a transport system. According to the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, the body set up by the Department of the Environment underthe 1968 Transport Act to advise on all amenity matters involving canals, the Board control 1,700 miles of canal, 1,100 miles being waterways used for cruising plus 600 miles not of the required standard for cruising and, in many instances, not navigable at all. The significance of this mileage in amenity terms is that, according to the Council, it is easily accessible to some 25,000,000 people.
Relationships between the British Waterways Board and anglers have not always been good. At times, indeed, there have been great differences of opinion. The anglers claimed the Board was charging rent for water they were not looking after, either by failing to re-stock it with fish or by allowing it to become polluted. In the case of the former, the Board’s reluctance was often due to the fact that while they controlled the navigation they did not control the fishing rights, these being vested in the owner of the land flanking the canal. It was thus the owner, and not the Board, who was enjoying any income to be had from the fishing. In the case of pollution, the Board was being unfairly pilloried for two reasons. First, the prevention of pollution was not their responsibility but that of the former River Authorities and, currently, the Water Authorities. Secondly, the Board are all too often forced to accept water of doubtful quality simply to keep their canals in existence, this being especially true in the heavily industrialised areas.
The Board, anglers also alleged, were too interested in encouraging the thriving pleasure boat industry on canals at the expense of fishing because it yielded a greater income. This fact was illustrated by the first major I.W.A.A.C. Report on canals published in the autumn of 1975 which showed that the Board’s income from boating was twenty times that from angling.
Whatever the justice of the Board’s policy when allied to its sources of income, there is no doubt that more and more boats were not to the liking of the anglers for it is true that boats and fishing just do not go together especially on waters as small as some of these canals. This situation, it must be added, is changing to some extent as boating and angling factions, realising that each must find ways to live together, have met to discuss and, in some happy instances, bury their differences. Firm agreement to keep out of each other’s way at certain times has resulted in some areas, the kind of compromise which must be of benefit to all parties.
Relationships improving between the Board and anglers though many anglers still view the Board with great suspicion. Liaison groups now exist at the highest level, one useful consequence being the recently negotiated model lease for fishing rented from the Board by angling clubs and associations: any association finding itself in this situation should study this document closely. The Board have done some re-stocking in certain places and they have taken some steps to stem the pollution scourge in co-operation with Water Authorities.
In all directions, there is still so much to be done (and so little money with which to do it) that any progress is bound to be considered slow by the angling community and especially by the hardliners.
The I.W.A.A.C. Report, which received a dusty reception from some members of the Board, makes no bones about what it thinks the priorities should be. In no order of preference, they cited concentration of re-stocking efforts on canals most likely to benefit, maintenance of the depth of the central channel above any silt deposit there of a minimum of 3 ft 6 in, major weed clearance programmes, the establishment of trained fish rescue teams for emergencies, research programmes designed to bring further improvements eventually leading to the establishment of fish in canals currently barren of them. Finally, on the pollution front, the Council make the intriguing suggestion that canals could be used as part of a national grid to move potable water from area to area, something the country desper-ately needed during the 1976 drought. This, they argue, would be a useful national asset and guarantee improved water quality in the canals.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the cur-rent situation and whatever the action taken on the suggestions now being made, the information given below about our canals reflects as faithfully as we have been able, the differing quality of fishing in canals at the presenttime. It also emphasises, by its length, the enormous amount of water which could be more thoroughly developed for amenity purposes in general and angling in particular.
Since canals are used a great deal for matches, we have concentrated on presenting match catch records for them. These waters, as a rule, do not contain fish of the size found in most rivers and so individual species have only been mentioned where they have been considered of major interest to readers.