This article originally featured as part of Jon Arthur’s popular End Peg column that featured in Match Fishing magazine:
End Peg – April 2005
After a typically hectic summer I always look forward to things slowing down a bit over the colder months. The first few months of the season always involves fishing all over the country with my team. As soon as I get used to an alien venue my team commitments drag me off to a completely different one. One day I could be balling it on a river and the very next day I could be paste fishing on a commercial. It might be rich and varied fishing but preparing for a different kind of venue every week takes its toll. Towards the end of the year my fishing can finally start to settle down, enabling me to concentrate on more familiar venues and methods. For me, that means bloodworm and joker fishing on canals. At this time of year you’re always up against the very best in the business as anglers from all over the North and the Midlands flock together to fish the same circuit. Winning is never easy against such tough opposition but you can normally be assured of a few bites to keep you busy – and warm.
I’ve been doing quite a few matches on commercials all season so a Winter League practice on the Shropshire Union Canal at Soudley was a very welcome change. My favourite bloodworm and joker baits were allowed so all I needed was a decent draw. True to form I drew in a very average section with only an outside chance of framing if a few bonus fish fed. I drew exactly the same peg this time last year and, that day, I won a very close section with exactly 2lbs. This time around I caught the same weight of fish but was ounced into second in section. It was one of those matches where I could’ve easily caught a few more if I’d stuck to catching bits all day but, as it was an open match, I had my sights firmly set on trying to frame. Spending far too long on the caster, in the vain hope of an elusive bonus fish, cost me the section but it was the only way I was ever going to stand a chance of framing.
Two double figure weights led the frame and my team mate Dave Brown was second with a fantastic 12lbs of roach. Talking to him after the match he had Preston Innovations backed Ant Roger’s on the next peg to him. Ant came up to him after the whistle and said, “What do you reckon you’ve got, Dave? About 6lbs?” Apparently Dave just smiled until the scalesman arrived. Ant’s face was a picture when Dave plonked double that estimate in the basket! I know how sickened Ant must have felt. On a number of occasions my hopes of framing have been shattered by totally underestimating what the anglers either side of me had caught.
It was the usual suspects in the top six. I remember a time not so long ago when I was one of those lucky drawbags who was always on a few. This season has brought me right back down to earth with a bang. I don’t think I’m fishing that badly, just lacking that little bit of luck we all need at the drawbag. At least I’m, not as unlucky as my team mate Paul Turner. He had to contend with a bloke on the barge opposite him chopping wood for the first half of the match before sitting down at the end of the boat and playing the banjo for the next two hours. It probably goes without saying that Paul never had a bite against the boat and after an ‘entertaining’ five hours he didn’t trouble the scalesman.
The following week I was involved in the teams of four match on the Dams and Lock section of the Birmingham-Fazeley Canal. The scalesman was a tight git for not giving me 5lbs so I had to settle for 4lbs 15oz 8 drams instead. Shakespeare’s Dave McCall had just over a pound to my left and Saint’s Ian Blakeley only had ounces to my right so I thought I had done well. Thoughts of a section pick-up soon vanished when I heard that it had fished a lot better the other side of Tyburn Bridge. One look at the weight sheet proved that I was at the wrong end of the section as four out of the last five anglers weighed over 5lbs to relegate me into fifth place. It had been a decent day’s fishing but yet again I had failed to pick up any brown envelopes.
The following Sunday I was back at Soudley for the penultimate round of the Winter League. I was praying to be drawn on a few fish but my head dropped as soon as I discovered that I was in the same poor section as the previous week. The organiser assured us that the entire section would be pegged in the trees to make things fairer. I had a quick walk along the towpath to find my peg number and couldn’t believe it when I found my peg three pegs past the trees and in the middle of cyanide straight! This area is normally so poor that it’s often left out completely. The pegs to my left all had trees and bushes. The pegs to my right all had boats to fish up to. What did I have in front of me? A barbed wire fence, some cows and a bloody great big bull – none of which were going to attract fish. I dragged my feet all the way back to the car to get my gear, making sure that everyone else knew how crap I had drawn on the way.
The wind was bitterly cold and rain clouds were threatening to break so I quickly donned my waterproofs before slipping on my thermal boots. As I put on my second boot I almost jumped out of my skin. The boot liner was dripping wet – I’d only gone and left it next to a soaking wet keepnet all night! There was no way that I was going to fish on such a cold day wearing a waterlogged boot so I had no other option than to dry my foot off and fish the match wearing just one welly. I was not in a good mood!
Wearing one welly and one trainer I ignored all the finger pointing and trudged back to my uninviting peg to prepare for a disappointing five hours. Thankfully the peg plumbed up okay with a decent depth three quarters of the way across. Like many of the pegs on this canal there was weed on top of the shallow far shelf that ruled out that line. My approach was therefore going to be pretty simple – a couple of lines down the far shelf, a couple of close in gudgeon lines and a caster line down the track. I predicted that I would struggle to beat the anglers pegged in the trees so it was going to be an exercise in damage limitation. If I could just get my head down and keep putting something in the net I would hopefully still come back with reasonable section points for the team.
An hour into the match I had got over 40 tiny fish in the net for an unimpressive 12oz. My gudgeon lines had already faded and my far lines were only yielding tiny four-to-the-ounce blades. I slipped on a caster and dropped it over one of my joker lines fully expecting nothing to happen. I couldn’t believe it when the float buried straight away as I struck into a decent fish. I knew that whatever was on the other end would be worth mega points so I gingerly played it all the way to the net. It was a very welcome 12oz roach. “Must be a straggler”, I thought to myself as I had another cast with the same bait. It went under again, and again and again! In the next two hours I managed ten big caster roach and a bonus perch. I couldn’t believe it. Not only was I now in with a chance of a section win but I was also well on the way to a framing weight!
I was just starting to plan how to spend my winnings when the brisk wind inexplicably dropped, leaving the canal flat calm. On top of that Mr. Bull and his harem had decided to pay me a visit. In the clear water conditions the four-legged skyliners, together with the flat calm conditions, signaled the end of my catching spree. For the last part of the match I struggled to muster more than a few ounces of bits and knew that any chance of framing had all but gone. I ended up with a very respectable 5lbs 14oz and a comfortable second in section. One angler in the trees had also found a pocket of caster fish and caught them all day to win the section, and the match, with around 9lbs. After such a dismal start to the day I was glad to have caught a few but disappointed that I couldn’t keep them coming.
The following week it was Soudley yet again for the final round of the Winter League. This time around I was happier with a draw on the boats at the section known as The Barn. The area can sometimes throw up a few weights so I was fairly optimistic before the start. It was another bitterly cold day with a biting wind reaching gale force at times. Unfortunately the cold weather had put a dampener on things and it was one of those days when the gudgeon weighed more than the roach. I had caught almost 200 fish but there were more silvers than gudgeon when I plonked a couple of pounds of fish in the basket. It turned out to be a closely fought section and at the weigh-in two anglers had just pipped me into third in section. One angler beat me by a couple of ounces and the other by only a few drams. The worst thing about this was that I was one of the last to weigh in and I was the actual scalesman! I’m too honest for my own good sometimes! Our captain, Scott Geens led by example by winning the match with 8lbs of chub and perch and, on the team front, we managed to hold onto our position to win the league. It had been a fantastic six rounds for us as a team but I was disappointed with my own results as an individual.
With the Winter League semi final on the same venue I hadn’t seen the last of the Shropshire Union Canal. I’ve had some of my biggest bags of roach from the Shroppy yet it’s not a venue that I’m particularly fond of. It’s a notoriously peggy canal where one angler could have double figures of roach whilst the angler on the next peg struggles for ounces. It’s great when you’re on ‘em but it’s painful when you’re not. The Birmingham-Fazeley Canal on the other hand is a far more consistent venue and that was where I found myself the following Saturday. The roach still shoal up tightly on this venue when it goes cold but, in their absence, there always seems to be a few pounds of perch in most pegs to keep you busy.
As soon as I found my peg I knew that I wouldn’t see a roach all day. I was the first peg the other side of the KFC Bridge on the old Fosters section. I’ve found that the roach rarely congregate near busy bridge-holes on this canal. Instead they prefer the middle sections where it is often slightly wider and where there is far less disturbance. The canal was also unusually clear – so clear in fact that you could see objects on the bottom five metres out. It was only an attractive diesel slick on the water’s surface that prevented you seeing even further across the crystal-clear venue.
It was a teams-of-five match and, with perch the main target, I fed most of my lines with a minimal amount of raw joker. I fed nine lines in total with the intention of picking a couple of fish from each in rotation. Having several lines on the go allowed me to experiment with how best to top up. Perch have a habit of gorging themselves and filling up too quickly if you feed a lot of bait at the start. Because of this I fed my swims quite negatively and thankfully the perch in my swim responded to my drip-fed approach. After five hours I had a very rewarding 4lbs of perch for my efforts. Apart from a solitary bonus on caster my respectable bag of stripeys looked like peas in a pod. My weight was enough to beat the next couple of anglers along in the section, including Trentmen’s Darren Bickerton and Drennan NorthWest’s Andy Billington, two scalps that anybody would be proud of beating. Four or five pegs further along the roach began to appear before Saint’s Paul Hughes plonked a match winning 9lbs of skimmers on the scales.
Paul’s impressive catch was enough to make me think twice about one of my biggest superstitions. I always try and avoid wearing bright colours when I fish – and I particularly steer clear of anything red. I’m so fussy about this that I wont even use a keepnet if it has red rings on it. Like the rest of his squad, Paul Hughes wore a bright red top as he bagged up on skimmers in the clear conditions. He even lost a tussle with a carp at one stage during the match. On a ridiculously clear canal I was sure that wearing something so bright wouldn’t help to conceal himself from the fish. Paul isn’t exactly the smallest bloke in the world either, so there was probably even more red on display than a ‘regular’ sized angler (I’m gonna regret saying that!). Perhaps keeping still during the match was the answer? Well that theory was thrown out the window as I spotted him getting up several times to let motorcyclists through the gate next to where he was sat (The joys of an urban towpath, eh?). My theories on bright colours spooking fish seemed even more ridiculous when I returned back to the pub for the results. Not only had Paul won the match but the rest of his ‘Red Army’ had done fantastic to annihilate the match on the day. On top of that they also managed to relegate my comparatively drab-coloured Shimano Tipton squad into second place. The whole episode has made me realise that I often worry too much about spooking fish. Now where’s my Jan Porter outfit?