Breadpunch fishing from the towpath

Punch fishing is a proven method for torpid canal roach in the depths of winter – not just small ones, either. Team Browning Trev’s Dave Vincent, a true master of the art, outlines the basics of his approach.

Like chopped worming for perch, punch fishing for roach has really come to the fore in recent years as a winning method on clear, cold, winter canals. It is often the only way you can catch roach in any numbers on really hard days, especially where bloodworm and joker are barred.

Winter redfin territory

Look for the roach at the bottom of the near and far shelves, where it’s deepest, darkest and warmest. On a very narrow canal the bottoms of the shelves are often effectively in the same place, the middle. When there are many anglers on the towpath you also find roach up the far shelf.

Depending on canal width, then, you have two or three possible lines of attack. It definitely pays to feed them all and fish them in turn, taking a few roach from one then resting it while you try another. Incidentally, if you suddenly stop getting bites on one line, it often means the roach have moved to another line, rather than that they have stopped feeding or have vacated the swim altogether.

Choose your weapons

Shortline with a pole and elastic (Zim No. 2 or its equivalent, through one section) every time, except when fishing over the far shelf, where a waggler is less likely to spook the roach in the shallow water.

On the near line (or middle line on a very narrow canal) you can fish to hand when the roach are small (up to about 3oz/85g) and biting freely. But usually they are of mixed size and bite cagily, so shortlining gives better presentation, and therefore more bites, as well as making it easier to hit the shy ones. Some anglers prefer to use part take-apart/part telescopic whips for shortlining and fishing to hand, but elastic gives more chance of landing bonus fish.

Pole rigs for the punch

When there is no tow, use a slim-bodied 0.2-0.3g float and shot it shirt-button fashion with no. 10s, then a no. 12 and a no. 13. You aren’t looking to catch on the drop, but the roach can see your bait coming and usually only take it if it sinks slowly and naturally.

When the canal is towing you need a more stable rig, so use a rugby-ball bodied 0.3-0.5g float with a spread-bulk of no. 10s just below half depth, then a no. 12 and a no. 13.

Both floats should have wire bristles for extra sensitivity and should be dotted right down. Roach just suck in the bread and if they feel the slightest resistance they blow it out again immediately. With the float dotted right down even this makes it go under, and every dip means the hook is in a fish’s mouth — so strike every time.

Finally, allow 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) of line between float and pole tip, so you can fish with the pole to one side of your baited up spot rather than directly overhead. This way it is less likely to spook the roach.

Far shelf waggler rig

Use a 2-4BB+ waggler with a very fine insert and shot it shirt-button fashion with no. 10s then a no. 12 and a no. 13. Never use a spread-bulk, even when the canal is towing – it stops the float casting properly and scares the fish in the shallow water over the far shelf. Again, dot the float right down.

Fishing the punch

Many punches have heads that are too deep – they don’t compress the bread enough, so it falls off the hook too easily. You can get round this by steaming and rolling the bread, but the real answer is punches with shallow (1-2mm deep) heads. These compress the bread properly so it stays on the hook – sometimes, when the fish are coming well, you can catch several on the same bait.

If you can’t find any shallow-headed punches, buy some deep-headed ones and, depending on whether they have metal or plastic heads, file or cut them down.

That said, it’s worth having a few deep-headed punches as well because occasionally, when you’re missing lots of bites, less compressed pellets work better.

You want punches with four different head diameters: 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm and 3.5mm. Half a millimetre really can make all the difference. The ones you use most are the 3mm and 3.5mm, matched to a size 20 hook. The smaller ones, matched to a 22, are for days when the fish are all very small.

Use fine wire, microbarbed, silver hooks with a wide gape, such as Kamasan B511s, tied to 12oz (340g) hooklengths (0.06mm line if using one of the high-tech brands).

Start by fishing about 10cm (4in) off the bottom, rather than at full depth. Contrary to popular opinion, roach don’t rest hard on the bottom in clear, cold water — for some reason they prefer to hang a few inches off it. By fishing just off the bottom, therefore, you are more likely to be presenting the bait right in front of their noses.

Punch can catch roach of all sizes, but it’s hard to pick out the bigger fish, which tend to glide in and out of the feed area, torn between caution and hunger. Fishing slightly overdepth can work but your best bet is to plug away at the smaller ones, taking the odd bigger one that comes along.

Feeding for the punch

Coarse white crumb (’punch crumb’), ordinary white crumb and ordinary brown crumb all have their devotees, but liquidized fresh, sliced white bread (with the crusts removed) is best.

There is no need to dampen liquidized bread if you have kept it in an airtight container or bag. Start by feeding two gently squeezed golf balls on each line. If you have squeezed them just right they should float momentarily then sink slowly, breaking up as they go. If the canal is towing, squeeze them a bit harder so they don’t start breaking up until they are about halfway down.

Subsequent feeding is a real fingers-crossed job. It is all too easy to overfeed. When you are bagging you can usually get away with a thumbnail every other fish. On most days, though, you have to gauge whether to feed a thumbnail every few fish or a golf ball at longer intervals. On hard days, or where there is only a small head of roach, the initial feed can be enough, and putting any more in can kill the swim. Liquidized bread that has been frozen works well in this situation, since it is drier, finer and less filling.