On the face of it, one canal looks pretty much the same as another. After all, what is a canal other than a bit of murky water trapped between a couple of parallel, stone-lined banks? Well, to Steve and Stuart Conroy, the answer is: much more!
The Conroys fish for the Highfield match group and they live and breathe canal fish- ing. If they aren’t on the ‘Bridgie’ (Bridgewater Canal) they’ll be on the ‘Lankie’ (Lancaster Canal), or the Leeds-Liverpool or the Trent and Mersey – certainly a canal somewhere – and to them, most canals are as different from each other as chalk and cheese.
Out on a Lymm
The Bridgewater Canal at Lymm Village in north Cheshire is one of the Conroys’ favourites. It’s a pleasant spot and it’s stuffed with fish – like much of the Bridgewater. Steve says that he has lost count of the double-figure catches that he and his brother have had from the canal: ‘A 29 lb, 19, 16, 13… and the list goes on. Tony Hardy had an all-bream catch of 33 lb at Atlantic Street.’ (Atlantic Street is a spot just outside Altrincham town centre.) Double figure catches are rare for any canal, but for one to produce them consistently is exceptional. Nevertheless, you’ve still got to sit in the right place.
Ducks hold the key ‘If I was going to tell someone where to go for a bit of steady bream and skimmer fishing, this would be it,’ says Steve.
We’re actually opposite the market. Today is Thurday – market day – and the village is full of shoppers. Stuart is just to the left of an overflow on the opposite bank and Steve is about 10m (11yd) to Stuart’s left. But why is this area so special?
Wide basin These few pegs (where you might fit in three good-natured anglers) are on a wide bend. To the right the banks converge before passing into a sandstone cutting. To the left the bend sweeps round towards The Golden Fleece public house and then bottlenecks through the humpbacked road bridge. It continues in the same narrow vein. In other words, the Conroys’ chosen spot is like a village pool.
According to Steve and Stuart, wides are often good spots because they give the fish that extra bit of water. The boat channel itself is wider and fish can move out of the way of boats while remaining in fairly deep water. This is a great advantage in summer when boat traffic can be heavy.
Being accessible from both banks, the fish can be subject to disturbance from both sides but again — because of the extra width — they have room to move into the centre of the canal if they wish. There’s usually somewhere they can settle down and feed confidently without being disturbed. Duck food Visitors to the market often stop by the canal to feed the resident flock of mallard. Ducks have a habit of snapping at the soggy bread with their beaks then sifting through the particles. But many of the particles are swirled around by the ducks’ webbed feet and escape their attention. These particles are what attract the roach and skimmers. Even when there isn’t a market on, the ducks may still be fed several times during the day and Steve and Stuart reckon this is the main reason why there are always fish in this area. Says
Stuart: ‘It’s great for bread punch fishing. Steve won a match on this peg in 1989 with 14 lb of roach and skimmers (skimmers on the pole and roach on the waggler).’
How far across?
A good depth can be important — especially when the weather is cold. With about 1.2m (4ft) of water in the boat channel these pegs are pretty deep as canals go.
The peg where Steve is fishing has the usual canal profile. On the inside there’s 75-90cm (21/2-3ft) of water. The ledge starts sloping away into the boat channel about one rod length from the bank. The brothers tend to concentrate on the water from the middle to two-thirds of the way across.
There are plenty of small roach on the 11-12m line. These average around 20 to the pound (0.45kg). The skimmers tend to be farther across and range from 8oz-1 ½lb (0.23-0.79kg). But Steve recommends that you don’t start fishing too far across straight away. ‘Something I learnt from watching an angler called Jimmy Byrne: always try to catch as short as you can because the shorter you catch the longer you catch. Jimmy is the best wag-gler angler that I’ve seen and I probably learnt more from him than anyone else.’ In other words, you may catch sooner by casting right over but bites will probably dry up earlier. ‘Obviously, the shallower the water, the more easily the fish are scared.’
Stuart’s peg is about 4-5m (13-16ft) wider than Steve’s because of the mouth of the tunnel (overflow) on the opposite bank. The shadowy waters in front of the tunnel look very tempting but looks can be deceptive. Says Stuart: ‘It’s damp [shallow] over there. There’s only about one foot of water and if you stand on top you can actually see the bottom.’
Stuart takes a stroll
You might not be able to get on the popular pegs in the village, so Stuart takes a walk and talks about some of the other pegs. Too narrow Just where the canal enters the sandstone cutting—to the right — it narrows to about 9m (10yd). ‘These pegs are poor,’ says Stuart. ‘There’s nowhere for the fish to go if a boat comes through.’ The ivies A few pegs farther on, the canal widens slightly and an ivy curtain cascades down the red sandstone wall on the far bank. The ivy stops just above the water and the fish live underneath. ‘You can catch small roach by going right across on the pole,’ says Stuart. Brookfield Bridge Another half a dozen pegs on, the canal widens considerably where Brookfield road bridge crosses it. Says Stuart: ‘You often get bream next to this sort of bridge – simply because of the width. But not by the hump-backed ones — where the water is constricted.’ The boats Past the bridge on Peg 857, two boats — Crimond and Invincible — rest nose to nose. ‘It’s only about one foot deep over there, but in summer you can catch chub by fishing caster right over — between the boats. There are carp from 3-10 lb here too, but they average 5-6 lb.’ Peg 849 ‘This peg has got everything,’ Stuart explains. ‘There’s that holly bush on the far bank to the right and another to the left. That gives you two distinct swims to try for a chub. Then there’s the inside. Most of the pegs don’t fish on the inside, but for some reason this one does. In summer you can usually manage about 8 lb of small fish on the 9.5m pole.’