Dylan Vincent on the Oxford Canal at Wolvercote

30 fishing at the Oxford Canal at Wolvercote

It’s the first mild day after three weeks of frost. A week earlier the canal was frozen over, but overnight rain and thawing have given it a slight but definite flow – though the water is still quite clear.

Dylan is on an out-and-out flier. Dense willows on the far bank extend almost to the middle. Carp and chub live here, ghosting in and out of the roots and branches, but the banker fish are perch, roach and skimmers. Gudgeon are the mainstay on the cut, but he reckons this bit is too shallow for them in winter.

A large hole in the willows almost directly opposite looks inviting, but the water is only 30cm (1ft) deep over there and you can see the bottom in it today. ‘In these conditions you’re better off fishing the deeper, darker water,’ says Dylan.

Plumbing up with the pole, he finds the bottom of the near shelf at 4m (13ft), where it’s 1.2m (4ft) deep, and the bottom of the far shelf at 6m (20ft) – a metre short of the trailing edge of the willows – where it’s 90cm (3ft) deep.

At 6m he feeds one big cup of neat jokers, which angle down to the bottom in a billowing crimson cloud. He tops this up with three lobworms chopped into a bloody mash of quarter-inch pieces – he feeds lobs rather than redworms because the perch go to 2lb (0.9kg) here. At 4m he feeds one big cup of neat jokers.

Dylan also starts loose-feeding a third spot with a dozen big red maggots every few minutes. It’s a few metres to his right, half a metre out from the willows. This spot is just on the edge of the far shelf and is about 75cm (2 lA ft) deep. The aim is to draw carp and chub out of the cover.

For the 4m and 6m lines, where he expects to find roach, skimmers and perch, he has No. 1 elastic through one top section of pole. You can use such fine elastic on canals in winter, he says, as these fish don’t fight very hard in the cold water at this time of the year.

Depth and flow are greatest at 4m, so here he uses a rig with a ‘spread bulk’ of eight no.8 shots (he rarely uses Styls – or Olivettes, for that matter), so he can hold his hookbait back without it rising in the water .

On the shallower, slower 6m line he uses a lighter rig with 10 no. 10 shots equally spaced between float and hook .

With both rigs, he has a metre of line between float and pole tip.

For the maggot line, Dylan has No. 7 elastic through one top section of pole. ‘I only put it through two sections for carp in open water,’ he says. ‘When you’re fishing by a feature you need short, tight elastic to have any hope of getting them out.’ On this even shallower and slower line he uses a simple rig comprising three evenly spread no. 10 shots , with 60cm (2ft) of line between float and pole tip.

Starting at 6m, Dylan baits his hook with a single bloodworm and pushes the pole out. The float settles to the very tip of the bristle. He lets the hookbait run through a few times with the flow, just off the bottom: no joy. He tries holding it back over the feed: again no joy. Every few minutes he cup-feeds both the 4m and 6m lines with a thumbnail blob of neat jokers.

He is soon getting bites by holding back hard, but they’re extremely shy and he just can’t hit them. ‘Tinies,’ he says – and this is confirmed when he at last connects with a bite and hooks an inch-long roach. It drops off. ‘That’s a bad sign, that,’ he says, shaking his head.

Dylan has two minuscule perch in the net, but now he can’t buy a bite. ‘Well, this is terrible, this is,’ he moans. ‘I’ve drawn some really bad pegs along here in matches and caught more than this.’

A small carp rolls just below where he is feeding the red maggots, and peering into the branches you can make out the outline of a chub cruising around. But it’s too soon to try over there, he reckons. ‘No, it’s not happening, this,’ says Dylan. ‘By now I would have expected at least a couple of pound of fish.’

He tries the 4m line, still with single bloodworm on the hook. The float settles and keeps on going. He lifts gently into the bite and the elastic streaks out as a goodish fish kites downstream. Up it comes with a sudden flash of silvery white flank – a skimmer. He plays it in carefully and scoops it out, landing net dripping – about 12oz (340g), he estimates. Sport has taken a definite upturn!

Before resuming fishing he feeds another big cup of neat jokers on the 4m fine. ‘If there’s a shoal of skimmers about they’ll soon mop that lot up,’ he says. A big cup of jokers also goes in again at 6m, plus a couple of chopped lobs.

Out once more at 4m Dylan has a run of small perch, then another good’ ‘un is on! A much livelier fish, this one, it jags to and fro before revealing itself with a flurry on the surface – a splendid 12oz (340g) roach, in almost perfect condition, and great fun to play on such soft elastic.

Puffs of silt show on the maggot line, then the outlines of a couple of carp. ‘Shapes,’ says Dylan, reaching for his maggot rig. Baiting with two scarlet grubs set to fish on the bottom, he deHcately manoeuvres the float into place. Five minutes later it hasn’t gone under and he puts the rig aside. ‘I think I’ll leave that a bit longer,’ he says. ‘Let’s try at 6m again, and rest the inside line a while.’

He baits with a small redworm this time, hooked once through the nose. But try as he might, he can’t raise any interest. He tries single bloodworm – and gets a porky 10oz (280g) perch. ‘He’s got a belly on him, hasn’t he? That’s what we should be getting on chopped worm.’ Only littl’uns follow, and the bites are cagey: ‘Normally they gob it straight away,’ he says.

Back at 4m with single bloodworm, he connects with a real lump of a skimmer. Staying down, it circles ponderously under the pole tip a few times — first one way, then the other — before yielding up to Dylan’s steady hands and keeling over into the landing net with a slimy flop – another 1 lA lb (0.7kg) for the keepnet.

The canal is running a touch harder now — enough to set the rubbish on the bottom moving, since every time Dylan hits a Tdite’ it produces a battling twig or dead leaf. ‘It’s died a death down there,’ he says.

He tries again on the maggot line, where puffs of silt are still coming up, but nothing happens. Hard times call for desperate measures, so he decides to ‘suicide it’: he swaps the rig for a similar one, but with a different float (one he won’t mind losing as much!) and only 30cm (lft) of line between float and pole tip 326). He pushes it right into the branches.

Half an hour goes by but the carp and chub aren’t playing ball. ‘I reckon we’ve flogged this swim to death,’ says Dylan. ‘It’s been a disaster. With hindsight, I think I should have fed the joker in the deepest water, down the middle.’ He sets himself high standards, does this man – and anyway, hindsight is always 20:20 vision.

Dylan isn’t in a hurry to get home, and he doesn’t think he has done himself or the venue justice, so he moves to another swim a little way upstream. The canal is wider here, and consequently flowing slower, but what really attracts him is the reedbed opposite – it screams roach.

The cut is shallower here, too, and he finds only 90cm (3ft) of water down the middle at 5m (16ft). He baits this spot with one big cup of neat jokers and fishes it with the same rig he used in the first swim at 6m, where depth and flow were much the same. He also feeds a big cup of neat jokers at 8m (26ft), a metre short of the reeds, where it’s only 60cm (2ft) deep. On this line he uses a very light spread-shot rig , again with a metre of line between float and pole tip.

Down the middle, Dylan’s single bloodworm hookbait is sucked in straight away by a tidy half-pound (230g) roach. He misses a few bites, then two net-perch fall quickly to his near-perfect bait presentation. A few minutes later the float slides away again, and something ploughs upstream, making the thin elastic sing. Whatever it is, it comes off— possibly it was foul-hooked. ‘That’s definitely going to spook that line for a while,’ he says, topping it up with half a cup of jokers.

Out at 8m the water is bubbling! Forty minutes, four big roach and one good roach/bream hybrid later, Dylan looks as though he is settled in for the afternoon…