After a break from angling during his twenties, David Sippitts returned to the canals through a fascination with the art of lure fishing. It’s a good way to keep moving and keep warm on the bank in winter and requires a whole different approach, as David discovered.
Weekend canal trips
As a boy I was mad about fishing. If I wasn't fishing, I was talking or thinking about fishing. I loved watching a float, willing it to dip so I could feel the pull of a fish, big or small.
I was lucky that my grandparents lived right next to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Hopwood. Most weekends we were there visiting and on some occasions I had to stay overnight. They were great times. I was taken to buy half a pint of maggots and I could fish all day. Roach were the target but a perch or gudgeon would do just as well.
Tackle disposal and the lure of fishing
As I grew up, I got fewer chances to go fishing, so by my late teens I had stopped fishing and even got rid of all my tackle. In hindsight that was a silly thing to do, for the water still held appeal and every time I saw a river or canal, I could not resist a look.
In my late twenties, having a home of my own and satellite TV, I started to tune in to watch Matt Hayes and Mick Brown in their fishing adventure shows. I fancied fishing again but did not have the time to sit all day, so the idea of walking the bank with a lure rod, a small bag of lures and a landing net appealed to me.
Tackle shop regular
Off I went to the local tackle shop and bought a spinning rod and all the gear I would need, or so I thought. At this time, I lived by the Warwickshire Avon so could be on the bank in ten minutes. Pike and perch were the quarry, with a bonus chub or zander if I was lucky. I did ok but the more I fished, the more lures I wanted, then heavier rods and before I knew it, I was carrying two rods, a big bag and a bucket of tools. Fishing was becoming heavy.
A few years on I moved away from the River Avon and my closest bit of water was the canal at Tardebigge. I had to try it, as I remembered catching perch from the canal and seeing the odd pike in the margins as a boy. I tried big lures, smaller spinners, surface lures and jigs, but never had a follow or a take. I tried with different lures, different times of day, but did not see a fish. I was convinced there were no predatory fish in that canal.
Learning from experienced anglers
I joined the Lure Anglers Canal Club which was formed by a few members of the Lure Anglers Society. They had started to rent water on canals local to me. I went to a few fish ins to meet fellow lure anglers and watched what they were doing. I was using the lures and methods that worked on the rivers and getting no joy on canals. Others were catching and catching well. It was time to observe.
They were using jigs, mainly vertically and hardly moving at all, yet they caught fish. How could this be? I was always trying to impart an action to my lures, yet these lures were being hit whilst stationary.
A quick online search and I'd ordered lighter braid, smaller jigs, soft plastic lures and fluorocarbon leaders. As soon as they arrived, I set out to the canal at Tardebigge. I went to one of the locks and dropped the very small jig and grub into the water at my feet. I let it hit the bottom, raised it slightly and almost instantly there was a bump. I lifted into a fish, a small perch. Success!
In fact, the canal seemed to be full of these small perch around 4oz, they were everywhere. Occasionally a bigger one would show up but there must have been thousands of them. Almost every cast resulted in a bump as a fish took the lure. Some were landed, some not.
I have found that the margins and any structure are the best places to find perch. Any boats and bridges seem to have a few fish around them. Overhanging bushes are definitely worth a cast or two. A small lure suspended close to the bottom, slowly lifted and lowered is best. You can take a few steps along the bank to cover water. Once you have found a fish there are usually a few about.
Tackle refinements and gudgeon on the lure
Over a few sessions, I refined my tackle even more, settling on 6lb braided line, 4lb fluorocarbon leader, size 8, one-gram jig head and a one-inch grub. I'm still catching perch but occasionally other fish take these small baits.
I regularly catch roach and bream, which would have been very welcome in my early years of fishing and are still a pleasing change now. A few times I have been surprised by what will take a lure. There are times when there is a bump and you can't seem to hook the fish. I get very quick bites but nothing to show for it, and then suddenly the fish is on and it's a gudgeon.
The challenge of ruffe
One of my favourite fish to catch from the canals are ruffe. They get a bit of a mediocre press and I was not a fan in my formative years, but these days I love them. On warm summer evenings they seem to be very keen on lures. I think the perch are quicker to the bait but occasionally there will be a ruffe or two to be caught, and every one makes me smile.
I have been trying to get my children into fishing on the canal. They are not quite ready for a proper lure rod, so I have bought them a three-metre whip, a length of line, a fly-fishing bung to act as a float and a small jig at the business end. I have found that the fish are quite often very close in, so they are within reach without a cast. Using the whip in this way I have had some great evenings, catching plenty of perch and ruffe, watching the bung dip as a fish takes the lure.
Over the past couple of seasons, I have caught countless small perch, lots of roach and ruffe, a few bream and gudgeon. A few of the perch have gone to around 2lb, with a roach of a similar weight being the best fish of all.
The canals seem to be full of fish, especially in the summer when they are spread around and very active. Things are a bit slower in the winter months but find the fish and you will catch. Maybe not in the numbers that you will in the summer, but it's still great fun and safer than some of the rivers during the winter months.
Give canal fishing a go. They seem to hold some lovely fish and plenty of them too. They are safer places to teach children to fish and once you work them out, they're great for a bite or two, which always helps.
Find a place to fish
Enter a town or postcode into our fishery search tool to find good local fishing spots