There was a time when you would have been laughed off the towpath if you were daft enough to fish a flatbed Method feeder on a canal. These days, though, the nation’s inland waterways are a much different proposition, with many specimen-sized fish and big catches regularly made. The reasons for this are a combination of neglect – something that all fish thrive on – and the use of commercial baits and tactics such as the flatbed Method feeder that have transformed catch rates. One angler who has been a lifelong fan of canals and the fishing they offer is Shakespeare’s brand manager, James Robbins. He told IYCF: “There is a popular misconception that canals only contain tiny fish and to catch them you have to use gossamer-thin lines and size 24 hooks baited with half a bloodworm, but nothing could be further from the truth.” A conversation with the local tackle shop owner or checking match results will often put you on traditional bream-holding areas of a canal. If there’s overhanging cover on the far bank it’s even better, as bream seek shelter here from flying predators. To illustrate what great sport many of us are missing, the 41-year-old Kenilworth rod took us to the Grand Union Canal near Hatton locks just west of Warwick to target the cut’s huge bream with a Method feeder approach. “With big shoals present, the Method is a great tool to attack the swim,” said James. “Just like on a commercial, if the fish are feeding confidently, the Method feeder is unbeatable. Not only is it a great bolt rig, due to its inherent mechanics, it also helps cut down on the number of line bites you receive, meaning you can sit on your hands and only need to lift into a fish when it is properly hooked. “Even though these places have changed greatly, they are still wild waters and the fish are not used to seeing loads of bait, especially pellets. By starting too positively, you will probably kill the swim before it has had a chance to begin.” With this in mind, James always starts cautiously using a small, traditional, open-end cage feeder containing crumb, chopped worm and caster. Hookbait is a worm, but rather than wholly burying it in the ball, he allows the worm’s tail to protrude, so the finished product resembles a small mouse in profile. Because the hook is buried, another advantage is that there’s no way you can get snagged when casting tight to the far-bank vegetation. The further the far bank flora hangs over the water, the happier James is. Not only does it offer the fish a larger area of shelter, it also means that he does not have to cast so tight to the far bank, and is more able to target the deeper water, where deep-bodied species like bream feel more comfortable. Preparing two swims For today’s session, James had chosen a pair of swims, at 10 o’clock and two o’clock, both 45 degrees from where he was sitting. The advantages of this are two-fold. First, it gives him two distinct areas to fish. While one is fished, the other is resting, allowing the fish time to regain their confidence after realising that some of their shoal mates keep disappearing! The second plus point is that once a fish is hooked, he is able to guide it away from the rest of the shoal and into open water where he is free to take his time playing the fish to the net. To enhance both spots, James recommends prebaiting prior to the session if possible. Although this is not a deal breaker, priming the areas will help to speed up the catching process. “If I had turned up today and started fishing, it might have taken two hours for the bream to find and settle over the loosefeed,” explained James. “Having prebaited last night with 10 large balls of brown crumb and a handful of casters and micro pellet in both areas, catching has been almost instant, as the feed has helped localise the shoal in one tighter area.” Keep your hookbaits simple James’ bait tray holds no surprises, housing worms, casters and maggots, plus a little corn as alternative hookbait for the Method. With the cage feeder primed using a pinch of chopped worm and then sealed with crumb, James made his first cast towards the left-hand bush. Sinking the line before carefully tightening down to the feeder, ensuring it did not move, he put a slight bend in the tip and waited for his first bite. He didn’t have to wait long! As the tip confidently pulled around, he lifted into the fish, winding down into it in one fluid motion to pull it from the shoal, which was just as well. Once into the open water, the decentsized fish fought like mad, much harder than its 4lb would suggest. This was quickly followed by a second, then a third. The bream were obviously feeding, so it was time to switch to the Method feeder set-up.
Bream and the odd large 3lb-plus hybrid immediately started to make their presence known as they ripped into the tempting piles of mixed krill groundbait and crumb piled high on the flatbed feeder. Just like on the commercials, each time a bream sucked in the hookbait, it immediately hooked itself against the base weight of the feeder, producing unmissable bites as the quivertip pulled right round, and stayed round. By the end of the four-hour session, we had to help James lift his keepnet out of the water, as he was struggling to hoist an estimated 80lb of slabs!
An 80lb+ net is a good day on the commercial pools, but on a canal it is outstanding. Even though he had enjoyed a most extraordinary session, the result is not unusual for such a venue. The nation’s canals are very much back, and anyone who begs to differ obviously has not fished them recently. Like any natural venue, as long as you apply a little watercraft and fish well, the rewards are very much there for the taking. All you have to do is enjoy the day.