27 tips to improve your canal fishing coaching

Fresh from the training room, Wellingborough Nene’s Pat Byrne shares some of the top tips he learned about coaching angling on canals.

Simon Mottram teaching a child to fish at one of our Let's Fish! events Simon Mottram teaching a child to fish at one of our Let's Fish! events

When a coach turns up to one of our Let’s Fish! coaches training days armed with a notebook and pen, you know they're taking their profession seriously. Pat Byrne was one such coach.

A few days after Pat and several of his club colleagues had attended the training, which is led by Simon Mottram, we caught up with Pat, wondering what words of wisdom he had jotted down in his notepad. Here Pat explains what he picked up.

You don’t have to be a coach to improve your fishing

Many of my tips are relevant for non-coaches too, so hopefully there is something here to help you improve your canal fishing results.

Spacing of pegs to put the odds in your favour

Short-term success for a coach at a Let’s Fish! event is having each pupil land at least one fish in their allotted time (usually 30 minutes, although it may be longer).

Where it’s feasible, Simon emphasised the need on canals to place coaching stations at sensible distances apart, assuming circumstances permit. Ideally the spacing would be at least 25 metres, although sometimes the chosen venue or sightlines don’t lend themselves to this.

Keeping noise to a minimum

Eager parents and even some unthinking coaches have a habit of standing up at the water’s edge. This inevitably frightens away the naturally wary, wild fish from the inside line on the canal, thus reducing the number of bites your pupil might end up getting.

One partial solution now being adopted is the provision of chairs which observers can place upstream and at the rear of the towpath. Every little helps, as someone once said.

Using chairs to reduce peg disturbance Using chairs to reduce peg disturbance

Climbing the fishing ladder

Our objective as coaches is to create life-long anglers or at least get people into (or back into) the sport for a period. The philosophy of Let’s Fish! is to start off by learning to catch small fish of several species at cheap, easily accessible venues close to where people live.

Eight million people live within 1,000 yards of a canal. Starting off as a carp angler with bivvies and multiple rods, or as a matchman with a £1,500 pole and a £1,000 seat box, is not an option for most people. Emphasising the need for expensive kit won’t do much to recruit the masses into our sport. What would the sport give for a decent quality canal starter kit.

Think like a coach, not a match angler

In a match or pleasure fishing session you naturally want to catch as many fish as you can, as quickly as you can. But the goal of the coach is to keep the coaching peg alive all day.

Often, it’s easy to catch fish when the first pupils arrive, but as the day goes on, it gets far more challenging. Management of the peg for the whole day is a skill the coach must master if they possibly can.

Don’t fish your peg before the first pupil arrives

It’s tempting isn’t it, getting there early and sneaking a quick fish in your coaching area when nobody is looking. But when you think about it, you are not increasing the odds of keeping the peg going all day by doing this.

If the coach has a good first hour on his/her own, they have probably reduced the prospects of a good first hour for their pupils and the chances of the 4pm pupil catching anything at all. Notably, Simon doesn’t feed any groundbait until he sees his first pupil is about to arrive at the coaching station.

Why elasticated poles are superior to whips

So many coaches still use flicktips and a length of line the same length as the whip itself, regardless of the nature of the peg and the wind conditions. Simon explained that by using soft elastic (number 2 or number 3) it was impossible for a pupil to try to swing a big fish to hand, which typically brings disappointment all round, not to mention another trashed rig. 

Natural bait presentation is the key to successful canal coaching. By fishing a whip to hand you may end up with far too much line between the tip and the float which you are unable to properly control. Thus, the float will not move through the peg properly, the bait won’t appear to be natural to the fish and a bite is unlikely. In summary, always use an elasticated pole for canal coaching.

Two basic canal rigs for coaching

Simon uses two basic rigs for narrow canal coaching, the standard bulk rig of around 0.3 grams and a lighter spread out rig for use when bites tail off. Hook size in both cases is a 22.

With Simon having fished canal most weekends for the past 30 years with countless match wins, I don’t see a lot of point in trying at this stage in my coaching career to improve on Simon’s basic approach. It’s definitely important coaches have both kinds of rigs set up and ready to go, switching as necessary.

Putting the rig in correctly and frequently

Trashed rig

I could not have imagined this would make any difference, but it does. The rig should be introduced smoothly in a pendulum motion rather than in a horrible heap. Quite a few bites come quickly on the drop or as soon as the bait settles. Putting the rig in correctly significantly eliminates the risk of tangles, which is never a bad thing. Rare is the coach who looks forward to an evening’s rig repair after a hard day’s coaching.

Spare rigs set up and waiting

When I first began coaching I used to make up spare rigs on the hoof, which, looking back, wasn’t fair on my pupils. By having plenty of pre-made rigs ready to go, you cut down on lost coaching time. Not only are you coaching more professionally, but on those hard days when bites might be scarce, those few minutes of extra fishing may make all the difference between attracting someone into the sport, or not as the case may be. This sport needs as many new entrants as it possibly can.

The same applies to hook-lengths. It’s easier to tie these up in advance so in the event of needing to change, it’s a ten-second job.

Spare top kits at the ready Spare top kits at the ready

The role of groundbait on canals and the best narrow canal mixes to use

I was interested in Simon's analogy of groundbait acting as a dinner table. It’s introduced to attract fish into a small area where you plan to catch the fish, but you don’t want the fish eating it, for rarely do we use groundbait on the hook.

Simon's advice is to avoid fish meal groundbait on canals, his preference being a mixture of Sensas Canal & Lake.

Sensas groundbait

Mixing groundbait at home

I like the idea of mixing groundbait at home, either on the morning of the event or even late the previous evening. It’s one less thing for the busy coach to have to do on the bank, which is never a bad thing. There is so much that needs doing on the morning itself, so anything that can be done in advance may as well be ticked off the list.

Initial feeding of groundbait

I have certainly been guilty of over-doing things on the groundbait front in the past. Simon started off with just two small balls, introduced accurately using a pole pot on the same spot.

In what was the slowest of the eight sessions, the first bite came around four minutes after this groundbait introduction, which shows how quickly fish move into the chosen catching area. It was noticeable too that virtually all of the bites came when the bait was on top of the groundbaited area.

When to top up with groundbait

Simon didn’t top up with groundbait as often as I would have envisaged and when he did it was with truly tiny amounts, again cupped in for accuracy. Each time he did this, a few more bites would ensue.

Interestingly, when a boat went through he would assess how much disturbance there was in the catching area. If it was minimal, he would not add more groundbait. When two boats cross in the peg and one crosses the coaching line, then a top up is likely to be needed. Perhaps I have been guilty of killing the peg through overfeeding in the past.

Freezing unused groundbait

Another little tip is that unused groundbait can be put in the freezer for use on another occasion. I shall have to try that soon. I do hope nobody in the family mistakes it as being for human consumption though.

Pinkies bait Pinkies bait

Pinkie then squatts

The aim of a Let’s Fish! session is for pupils to catch a fish, ideally several of more than one species. Size of fish is unimportant at this stage in the pupil's angling career, so we use baits which will get us the most bites during the day.

Simon’s go-to bait on the heavily boated canals is pinkies. When bites tailed off he moved to single squatt and 'hey presto', a bite almost immediately. He emphasised checking the bait after every missed bite, for, as we all know, you don’t get many bites of a canal with chewed bait.

Squatts bait Squatts bait

Squatts as loosefeed

If you fill the fish up with excessive loosefeed, that might be that for the day, so the 'little and often' mantra was what I picked up as the successful formula for canal coaching.

Simon cupped in just six to ten squatts every two minutes or so, just to keep things ticking over. If squatts are not available, which is the case in some parts of the country, feeding pinkie is the only option. In this case you would introduce no more than three or four each time.

Accurate feeding (with pole pot)

Accuracy of feeding was also emphasised. We have all seen the coach who ends up with bait all over the shop. Accuracy of feeding is especially important in windy conditions when the loosefeed tends to end up all over the place.

In still conditions, Simon is happy to feed squatts accurately by hand and somehow, they seem to land in a tight ball. Remind me to ask him how he does that.

Keeping the lid on

Squatts can dry out in hot weather and float, making them useless for loose feeding. Simon had two suggestions to prevent this. Firstly, only put a small proportion of your supply into the open and then add a tiny amount of water to these. Secondly, use a bait cover, which keeps direct sun off the bait, slowing down the drying out process.

Bin the deckchair (at least for the pupil)

It’s important that pupils sit properly while fishing, which in reality means the use of some sort of modern seat-box so the pupil adopts the optimum upright physiology. How the coach sits is less critical.

Coaches also need to be careful that their pupil doesn’t try to fish with the wrong hand, i.e. right-handers should hold the pole in their right hand and vice versa.

Fine lines and reducing the impact of the wind

Rarely if ever are conditions perfect for bait presentation. Simon explained that fine line (0.10 mainline or similar) makes float control easier, as the wind has less impact on line of finer diameter compared to thicker lines.

Go with the flow

The flow can do funny things on canals at some locations, moving this way and that, sometimes going the opposite way to ‘normal’ for brief periods. A big influence on bait presentation can be an upstream or downstream wind.

With an upstream wind, take great care not to let this influence the float's movement downstream through the peg. It’s not easy for the pupil to master this. The key thing to remember is that the bait needs to travel in the same direction as the water near the canal bed. Dotting the float tip down low helps with this. The downside of this is that pupils might not find it easy to spot bites, but on balance it's better for the pupil to have bites they can’t easily recognise than no bites at all.

Working the rig

I was amazed at how often Simon would put the rig back into the catching area if he didn’t get a bite, leaving it for no more than two or three minutes at most. Canal fishing is certainly not for the lazy coach or pupil.

Motty and his worms Motty and his worms

Chopped worm

A good tip for a challenging venue is a chopped worm line well away from the main catching area. On the most difficult of coaching days a couple of bonus perch can be extremely welcome and a real talking point to boot.

Avoiding keepnets

Peg disturbance does need to be kept to a minimum and the disadvantage of putting fish in a keepnet is that excited pupils and curious parents will naturally wish to take a look at what’s in there. Lifting the net in and out is certainly not going to attract fish into the coaching area, rather it will tend to frighten them away. So for that reason alone, keepnets aren't a good idea.

Fish first, technical details later

Successful coaches are adaptable coaches who analyse their own successes and the areas where they can continue to improve. One such example given by Simon was that initially he used to start off by explaining rigs and plumbing the depth to someone who had never ever fished before. After a few outings he realised that he was teaching this stuff too early in the pupil’s angling journey. What a newcomer is primarily interested in is landing those all-important first fish. The technical detail can come later.

A welcoming wave

There are a small minority of anglers who still want to blame boaters for their lack of fishing success. The more rapport we can build up with boaters, the more likely they are to share the space sensibly, which can only be a good thing for canal angling. A friendly wave and greeting can go a long way.

Pat and his coaching team Pat and his coaching team

Finding out more

If you ever have the chance to attend a 'Mottification' session, grab it with both hands. I guarantee that you will pick up some new tips to make you an even better coach There is a useful video here which does cover some of the things I have highlighted in this article.

Last date edited: 23 December 2020