Fishing the Trent and Mersey Canal

Once upon a time, a pall of thick smoke hung over an industrial conurbation in North Staffordshire. Not much fishing went on in The Potteries (as it is known) because no one could see anything- least of all their floats. Eventually, though, the smoke cleared and a vista of bottle kilns, neglected warehouses and canals appeared.

As sweat shops dwindled, the saggar makers and bottom knockers of the bone china industry found time on their hands, and they turned to the canals for their leisure. Fishing matches were held and powerful teams began to emerge!

The Trent and Mersey Canal at Rode Heath is greatly improved. Swims like the Bay are now capable of yielding double-figure catches of roach with the chance of skimmers and carp too.

The Trent and Mersey Canal in south Cheshire

Gradual improvement

Heading North out of Tunstall – the most northerly of the Five Towns (the others being Fenton, Hanley, Burslem and Longton) — the Trent and Mersey Canal straightens before plunging into Harecastle Hill. It reappears nearly two miles farther on —just outside Kidsgrove railway station — looking very orange indeed. Anglers seeing it from the train are liable to write it off as polluted and Ashless. In fact its colour comes from the clay it passes through.

big roach taken on pole

A typical catch of big roach taken on pole and hemp from the Bay in only two hours.

Two miles on – approaching Church Lawton – the canal has crossed the border into Cheshire. With the colour improved -but still looking rather yellow — it starts to attract a few anglers. But they’ll be lucky to winkle out more than miniscule gudgeon and roach along here.

blodworms and snails

Just after sneaking under the A50 the canal does a sharp right-turn and runs straight for about 300m (330yd) before bending to the left. Often, during May and June and into July, you can see roach of 4-6oz (113-170g) topping here. A luxuriant growth of large-leaved butterbur – which fringes the towpath along most of this short straight – means that the roach sometimes come in very close, but catching them isn’t easy. Big bream occasionally show here too.

Thick beds of sedges

Thick beds of sedges are what attract roach and carp. To the left of the Bay there’s another bay where the bank is shored up with ‘tins’. According to Jeff it is even better for carp.

A scenic stretch

The straight after Cherry Lane Bridge in Rode Heath is very popular and it’s not hard to see why. First down to the water on the opposite bank is the bowling green, then come the gardens of canal side dwellings. Here the concrete and tins of the far bank give way to beds of sedge, overhanging tree or hawthorn. Gudgeon are bigger and more plentiful and you can take bags of decent roach on caster. In summer, early morning or evening sessions may produce a surprise carp or tench. On the whole though, this stretch looks better than it fishes.

The Bay

At the end of the straight there’s a brick bridge which carries a track over to the usually shallower. The Bay gives fish somewhere to go for safety when a boat comes through and that’s really the key to what makes it so good.

A thick bank of sedges runs right around the far side of the Bay and on a canal where there is little weed growth this is just one

Broughton Arms on the other bank. The pub has long been a favourite with locals and its canal-side beer garden, restaurant and fine ales are responsible for way-laying many a travelling narrow boat. About 50m (55yd) along the towpath you reach a large bay – the first outstanding feature in what is otherwise a largely featureless canal. This swim is quite remarkable. Boat traffic on this canal can be heavy during summer and even in the colder seasons it remains fairly constant. If the canal was deeper this mightn’t affect the fish so much, but even in the deepest parts the water is unlikely to exceed 1.5m (5ft) and is more point in its favour. Roach love sedges and it is around these that you’ll find beautifully conditioned fish of 4-12oz (113-340g) with the occasional one over 1lb (0.45kg).

In the mid-1980s carp used to show fairly regularly too but then they disappeared. Now they’re back! There are commons and mirrors from 1 ½ lb (0.68kg) to double figures and in the summer of 1992 they went absolutely mad!

Locks are what make a canal flow. Even when the gates are closed, water still passes through the overflow above a lock and through the gates – especially if they are old and leaky – causing a steady pull. When locks are opened to allow a boat through, the canal pulls harder still.

A boat passing through Thurlwood Lock (just round the corner) or Church Lawton locks (to the right) causes an increase in the right to left flow. In most swims – where the banks are parallel — the water goes through at a fair old rate — scattering the feed and the fish and making it awkward for the angler to control his tackle. The Bay, on the other hand, disperses the flow slightly. This allows you to build up what is already a good swim, helps you to keep the fish there and to present the bait exactly how the fish want it.

The best spots to fish are on each side of the Bay—just on the point where the sedges start to curve into it – rather than smack bang in the middle of the bay itself, where the water’s too shallow.

A 13m pole pushed about 30cm (1ft) in front of the sedges puts your bait into 45cm (18in) of water which, although it doesn’t sound a lot, is still enough for the roach -the carp too. About lm back from the sedges the depth increases to about 60cm (2ft); another metre back it’s 86cm (2ft l0 in) and at 10m it drops into the boat track, where there’s a depth of 1.2m (4ft).

If you can get the roach feeding a couple of metres away from the sedges by drawing them out with the loosefeed, then so much the better. This means that if the fish start to wise up they can move back rather than sideways and possibly into someone else’s swim. Then you can follow them by simply adding another section of pole. Other species include gudgeon and perch – which you can catch on the nearside ledge, where there’s a depth of about 90cm (3ft) -and skimmers, which are sometimes caught in the still waters of the Bay itself. There are very few pike.

On the whole the canal has improved greatly in recent years – let’s hope it continues to do so in the future!