With its almost unbroken line of overhanging far bank trees, virtually every swim below Stewponey Bridge looks the part at first glance. Surely, then, it doesn’t matter much which one you choose to get stuck into the resident gudgeon and roach? Walk the towpath and take a second, closer look with a canal crack like Mick, though, and you begin to see that some swims are more equal than others.
Mick Downes checks out the first few pegs below Stewponey Bridge. The canal widens out into a bay on the towpath side here, making this a good spot for gudgeon holed up at the bottom of the inside shelf, away from the main flow which is towards the far bank. The tree-lined Staffs & Worcs Canal below Stewponey Bridge (above) looks uniformly fishy, but you must pick the right oeg. The chap in the foreground is on the noted tree-stump peg . In the background, Mick’s peg is almost as good. The low towpath hedge
makes a handy support when you feed your pole back behind you but Mick was careful to choose a spot with no trees in the hedge.
The towpath is wide and flat all along this stretch, giving you plenty of room to lay your tackle out without any danger of passers-by treading on it.
In summer, when boat traffic is very heavy, roach take up residence under whatever far bank cover they can find.
But before you choose a peg, look carefully to make sure the vegetation is not just overhanging the surface without actually going down into it . It must dangle right down into the water .
Kinver Freeliners AC control the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal below Stewponey Bridge, which is near Stourton in Staffordshire. Day tickets can be bought on the bank. To get there, turn off the A449 on to the A458 opposite the Stewponey & Foley Arms and park in the road by the bridge.
Mick doesn’t think much of this peg. It’s only about 7m wide, so the fish can’t escape the boats in summer. And in winter, although the towpath is warmed by the sun, the water is not because of the tree canopy overhead. Mick nets another roach from his chosen peg on the Staffs & Worcs Canal below Stewponey Bridge. Half the battle is choosing the right peg to start with.
Having chosen the right peg, you still have to fish it properly. A tidy afternoon bag of roach and gudgeon shows Mick got it right.NNot to be wiped out by boats, but narrow enough not to need a very long, expensive pole.
A bridge too far
Mick’s immediate advice, when we meet him on a bright but chilly winter’s midday, is not to walk too far. Most pleasure anglers fish the first 20 or 30 pegs, he explains, quite simply because they don’t fancy walking any farther, so these are the swims where the most bait is put in. Naturally, all this free food attracts and holds fish.
The first few pegs below the bridge are particularly good for winter gudgeon, explains Mick. The canal widens out into a bay on the inside here, so the bottom of the near shelf offers gudgeon steady-water shelter from the main far bank flow when the locks are operating – and, as today, when there’s extra rain water in.
Mick wouldn’t fish these pegs in summer, though. The mooring posts at your feet tell why – boat traffic is heavy in summer and sod’s law says a boat is bound to want to moor up in your swim as soon as you are tackled up and ready to start fishing.
Moving on, Mick notes that the wide tow-path with a low hedge behind makes this a comfortable venue for fishing the long pole. The wide towpath gives you plenty of room to lay your tackle out without any danger of passers-by treading on it. Meanwhile, the low hedge makes a handy support when you feed your pole back behind you – as long as you don’t choose one of the occasional pegs with trees in the hedge behind them.
Don’t waste your time
Mick stops at a peg that he reckons is a real no-hoper, summer or winter. First, it’s at a spot where the canal narrows to only 7m. Being so narrow, the fish have nowhere to hide from summer boat traffic. It also has an overhead canopy of far bank tree branches – in winter this prevents the sun getting on the water. Finally, the swim has no far bank cover.
Havens for roach
Farther on we come to a peg with a small bay in the far bank. There are quite a few similar pegs along here. According to Mick they are brilliant summer roach pegs, because the bays offer the fish warm, shallow water and sanctuary from boats. The only drawback is that you need a very long pole to fish them. The waggler is no good because of the constant back and forth lock movement of the canal.
Stumped by a local
Rounding a slight bend we find a local on what Mick says is a real flier. It’s easy to see why. A tree stump sticking out about three-quarters of the way across screams roach. Like a beacon, it calls anglers to home in on it. This they do, and with bait regularly being fed into the swim, roach have even more reason to live there.
Mick had hoped to find the peg free but, undaunted, he chooses another one nearby that, a tree stump excepted, has everything going for it, summer and winter.
In pole position
Mick’s peg is some 9.5m across – not so narrow as to be wiped out by boats, not so wide as to require a very long pole. It also has no overhead tree canopy, so on a cold winter’s day like today the sun can get through to warm the water slightly. And on the far bank a tangle of vegetation dangles invitingly into the water.
In summer, Mick would expect roach sheltering right under this foliage. But he would be careful not to position himself directly opposite it. If you do, it’s very hard to tuck your float underneath or strike without tangling. It’s far better to sit to one side, so you can fish right up against the feature and strike without coming a cropper. All along the canal, pole floats hanging from far bank branches bear witness to the wisdom of this advice.
Tackling the swim
Reading the water correctly doesn’t end with choosing the right swim — you still have to work out where to fish. In summer, Mick would expect gudgeon on top of the near shelf, and roach under the foliage on top of the far shelf. In the winter, he would usually look to catch gudgeon and roach respectively in the deepest, warmest water at the bottom of the near and far shelves. Today, though, he reckons the extra cold water will have pushed the fish halfway up the shelves. Whatever the season and conditions, then, careful plumbing is essential to work out where to fish.
In summer, Mick would loosefeed one far bank spot with squatts and another with casters – both for roach. For the gudgeon on the inside he would feed squatts in ground-bait. In winter, feeding joker and fishing bloodworm is best for both fish. Today he feeds three golfballs of joker in groundbait on the inside and three cups of raw joker across, both lines to be topped up regularly with nuggets of raw joker.
A happy ending
Because of bankside disturbance from the reporter and photographer, the near line fails to produce at all, and for an hour or so Mick can’t buy a bite on the far line either. But eventually the bites start coming on the far line, initially from gudgeon, then from roach.
Mick attributes this partly to the reporter and photographer backing off for a while and allowing the fish to move in undisturbed. But he also points out that, in winter, the fish often feed best late in the afternoon when the light starts to go and the water is at its warmest. This especially applies to roach.