Dave is on the Shropshire Union Canal outside Market Drayton. It’s late May and the close season for most of the country but here on Dave’s favourite venue fishing’s available all year round. It’s only mid morning but already the sun is beating down fiercely.
He’s chosen a flyer of a peg on the wooded section at Coalyard Bridge. ‘I’ve never drawn it in a match but I’ve got pretty close,’ says Dave.
This stretch of the ‘Shroppy’ is not typical of the usually featureless North Midland canals. To his left is an old broken railway bridge and on the opposite bank oak trees, pussy willows and hawthorns laden with blossom reach out over the water. On the far bank of Dave’s swim a modest willow casts a cool shade over the ochre-coloured water, creating a natural fish holding area. The heavy colour, caused by boats, is normal for the time of year.
Dave slides one of the tackle trays out from his seat-box to reveal a selection of pole winders. Each one holds the line, float, shotting, hooklength and a piece of elastic to keep the rig on the winder. ‘Best bait God ever invented,’ says Dave as he unwraps a damp newspaper parcel to reveal a pint of ‘neat’ bloodworm. Bloodworms are the bright re^l larvae of midges and fish love them. The frantic clouds of midges over the fiat-calm surface of the Shroppy suggest that the fish in Dave’s swim should certainly appreciate them.
Dave insists on getting just the right consistency when mixing his groundbait. He makes a dry mix of Van Den Eynde Supercup and Beet in equal proportions. With a little water in another bait box, he wets the groundbait around the edges. He’s careful not to add too much water at the beginning but introduces it slowly, gradually blending it in a bit at a time so that it moistens the bait right through. If he’s got it right it should be soft as it hits the water and break up after about 10 minutes. Finally, he adds a third of a pint of neat bloodworm, carefully packing away the remainder to use later if he needs it.
Dave makes four groundbait balls, each slightly smaller than a tennis ball Two of the balls are more compressed so they’ll break up after about 15 minutes. All four go straight across on to the far ledge. Ideally, they should land in a 46cm square; in a match he’d hold his pole in his left hand to use as a marker.
He makes another four, pigeon’s egg-sized balls, and puts these on the inside. They go in slightly to one side at about 2.5m .
Dave nips a swan shot on to the hook of his bloodworm rig and, using his 11m pole, drops it in at the side of the willow on the far bank. He’s got about 60cm of water and sets his float under depth so the worm’s tail will just drag on the bottom.
Next, he lays aside his pole and flirts out a pouchful of hemp and caster on to the far ledge. The proportions are roughly three of hemp to one of caster. This is for the benefit of the roach – but when’s he going to start fishing?
By starting on the inside Dave’s giving the far ledge time to settle. The white bristle of his pole float is so low in the water it seems as though only the surface tension keeps it from sinking. It buries into the soup-coloured water – a lift of the pole and the tip of Dave’s whip rattles. He swings a plump little gudgeon to hand, unhooks it and drops it into the net. ‘Not a bad sized gudgeon, a loz plus fish – fourteen to the pound,’ says Dave. He doesn’t bother to change the single bloodworm bait but simply drops his float back in. ‘In winter, when the worm’s a bit tougher, I’ve caught up to seventeen fish on the same worm,’ he says as he crunches out another gudgeon.
Though there are plenty of fish, they’re very finicky in Dave’s opinion. He’s just missed four in a row. There’s quite a strong flow, caused by the locks opening, and he’s finding it hard to get into the sort of rhythm that wins matches. Perhaps the roach have moved in on the far bank?
Dave fixes the top three sections on to the fourth section of his long pole and uses it to push his bloodworm rig towards the willow on the far bank. The length of line from elastic to hook is 1.5m – about the same length as the top two sections of his pole. The patterned reflection of nettles and grass makes it hard to see the yellow bristle. Dave could pull out the bristle and pop in one of a different colour, but reckons that in these conditions yellow’s as good as any.
The bristle’s gone – a much faster bite from a roach – but Dave’s missed it. He gently lifts the pole to ease the float back under the willow. ‘When fishing the worm it’s important to keep the bait moving all the time,’ says Dave. The bristle darts under and the white elastic appears from the tip of the pole as a better fish dives for cover.
Dave prefers to keep the elastic above the water as he draws the fish towards him so that he can see where the fish is going. He unships the top two sections and nets a 4oz roach.
Dave catches two more roach, and things are going quite nicely until the ‘Drayton Dragon’ puts in an appearance. Dave looks suitably miffed as he pulls his pole quickly out of the way of the long boat. ‘If it’d gone through like that in a match we’d have slowed it down – verbally,’ he moans.
Drayton Dragons don’t scare the fish but they do roll the bait around, disrupt the fishes’ feeding pattern and break the angler’s rhythm. It’s important to stay in control so keep feeding both swims on the ‘little and often’ principle.
Dave keeps the roach interested by catapulting a little hemp and caster on to the far side and putting a walnut-sized ball of bloodworm-laced groundbait on the inside every three or four minutes.
Dave opts to go straight back on to the far bank with his caster rig. He uses the pole to keep the rig still and fishes the caster on the bottom.
His float’s barely visible – a minute red speck against the water. It blinks twice and slowly slides away. ‘Gudgeon’, says Dave. He’s right – you can tell because the roach give much faster, stabbing bites.
He’s just caught a slightly better fish on caster – a skimmer bream – but even so it’s not going quite right and Dave admits that if this were a match he’d be worried.
He’s going to give his caster rig a whirl with hemp on the hook. He pushes his hook into the slit of a grain of hemp, shallows the rig off slightly so the bait is off bottom, and pokes it under the far bank. With a pole you can present the bait perfectly – holding it back or inching it through on precisely the right line.
The red speck creeps towards the bush. It starts to pass into the shadows beneath -surely it must go? Dave’s just about to pull the float clear when it vanishes and a quality fish stretches the elastic. Dave coolly guides it towards him, over the boat channel and into the net. ‘You can tell it’s just spawned,’ he says cheerfully, as he pops a 6oz roach into the net, ‘it’s as greasy as a bream.’
Conditions are far from ideal – it’s hot and still – but the roach have switched on to the feed and Dave’s getting into that familiar match-winning rhythm. The bigger stamp of roach are falling to his hemp bait and on packing up at tea time he had a respectable mixed bag of about 5lb .