Long pole fishing on canals

Canal fishing has been revolutionized by the excellent bait presentation possible with the long pole. Mark Addy sets out to show just how easy the method can be.

Before the advent of carbon fibre poles in the late 1970s you had to use wagglers to fish the far sides of canals. Many a time anglers wished they could present a still bait just off the bottom, but tow and skim made this impossible with the waggler.

As Benny Ashurst (famous father of England International Kevin Ashurst) once said, a waggler has to present the bait correctly in the right place for only one minute to catch a fish. But on canals, most of the time it can’t – so you can see what a god-send the carbon fibre pole was when it first came out. With the pole you can hold your bait dead still against skim and tow.

The long pole gives three other great advantages over the waggler. First, it makes it far easier to hit bites. Second, it allows you to fish much lighter – with floats taking as little as a few dust shot rather than a few Bbs. Third, it lets you lower your bait gently into place, avoiding the fish-scaring splash that even the most skilfully cast waggler inevitably makes.

Buying a pole

Buy a pole of at least 12m (40ft). If you get a shorter one, you soon regret it and find yourself forking out for a butt extension, because a 12m (40ft) pole is essential to reach the far side of most canals. The number of anglers who ignore this advice and buy an 11m (36ft) pole is unbelievable -don’t be one of them.

Apart from the expense – butt extensions are by no means cheap – any 11m (36ft) pole you buy is not really designed to cope with a butt extension. When you put the extension on, the pole invariably bends like a banana.

Keeping your balance

You must match line and elastic strength. With 0.68kg main line and (0.45kg) or 12oz (0.34kg) hooklengths, use Zim No. 2 (’Fin’) or No. 3 (’Moyen’) elastic (or equivalents). Fish this combination with fine-wire hooks ranging from size 22 for squatt or bloodworm to 18 for caster, for fish up to about 2lb (0.9kg) – gudgeon, ruffe, perch, roach and bream.

For bigger, hard-fighting fish – tench and chub, and carp up to about 6lb (2.7kg) -match Zim No. 4 (’Gros’) or No. 5 (’Fort’) elastic (or equivalents) to 3lb (1.4kg) main line and (0.68-1.lkg) hooklengths. Use forged hooks from size 22 to 14, with bloodworm or caster as the bait.

It’s no good fishing with No. 4 or No. 5 elastic, a fine-wire 22 and a 12oz (0.34kg) hooklength, as every time you strike you risk breaking off. Equally, it’s pointless trying to set a forged 14 with No. 2 elastic. You must get the balance right. Low diameter lines Increasingly nowadays pole anglers are switching to low diameter brands of line. These have less stretch than ordinary brands but this doesn’t matter with elastic, which acts as a shock absorber. The advantage they offer is a higher breaking strain for a given diameter. This means you can use a lower diameter line, so improving bait presentation, without losing line strength.

Tensioning the elastic

It’s a good idea to use a tensioner with elastic. It allows you to adjust the tension of the elastic and also lets you store extra elastic so that when the elastic at the pole tip wears, you simply unwind some more from the tensioner, cut the worn bit off, tie the Stonfo connector back on and re-adjust the tension.

Sound plumbing

Plumbing your swim carefully is crucial if you are to get the best from it.

In winter the bottom of the far shelf, in the boat channel, is the deepest water and is usually the most productive spot, when boats are few and far between.

In summer the warmer, boat-free water over the far shelf normally holds most fish.

In autumn you typically find the fish halfway down the far shelf.

The right rigs

Nearly all of your long pole canal fishing should be with Styl rigs. The only time to use an Olivette rig is when you can catch nothing but gudgeon and ruffe. These fish are daft and aren’t fussy about bait presentation, so you can use an Olivette rig to get your hookbait down fast and increase your catch rate.

Roach and other ‘silver’ fish aren’t so silly and require much better bait presentation.

A simple but effective rig when there isn’t much tow or skim is one with evenly spread Styls. Set the hook just clear of the bottom with squatts and bloodworm. With casters it usually pays to lay a bit of line ‘on the deck’. For more stability when there is a fair bit of tow on the canal, move the Styls down the line.

Line length

All these rigs should usually be fished with about lm (3ft) of line between pole tip and float. The only time you should shorten this is when you want to fish under a far bank bush – shortening it to around 30cm (1ft) allows you to poke the float right under the bush.

When the water is clear and very shallow, lengthen the line between pole tip and float to 1.5-2m (5-6/2ft). You miss more bites, but it’s better to get the bites in the first place than get no bites at all because the pole is spooking the fish.


When the canal is pulling and the wind is in the same direction, always use a backshot midway between pole tip and float to steady the float. It’s amazing how often you see an angler struggling to steady his float when the wind is blowing his pole tip and line about, so making the float zigzag in the water.

The backshot should hang a couple of centimetres below the surface. Any deeper and it drags the float under. Out of the water and it doesn’t do any good at all. So you must match the size of the backshot to the strength of the wind. It could be anything from one no. 8 to one BB.

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