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Harmony on the towpath

Share the space and drop the pace, catch a gudgeon and a dace. It almost rhymes. You have to say that canal towpaths are unique pieces of real estate. They definitely mean different things to different people.

National Canal Angling championships Oct 2015

There may be boats moored up to them. A few folk certainly think they were designed to function as high speed cycle tracks. Towpaths are definitely important wildlife corridors. They can be a place to take a leisurely stroll or a short cut to work, a good place for a spot of jogging, to exercise a man's best friend and perhaps even to have a picnic. Of course, on top of this, towpaths must also accommodate pegs for our angling customers on what are the some of the longest linear fisheries in the world. When you really start to think about it, there's one heck of a lot of activity going on in such a small area.

Look out for the slowest customer

Given all these potential conflicting activities, perhaps it's not surprising that sometimes, due one hopes more to a lack of understanding or education than to malicious intent, things are not always harmonious beside the cut. Share the space and drop the pace is the Trust's campaign to get the message out there for everyone to think about and be considerate to fellow canal users.

Dick Vincent is leading in this project internally and I was delighted when he recently asked me to get actively involved in making a short video focussing on angling. The overarching themes to the campaign is that slowest customers have priority coupled with the need for everyone to better understand the reasonable needs of each other. I had to get my thinking head on about some of the key messages from an angling perspective. What are the things that some anglers do that annoy other customers? Similarly we had to ponder what others can do differently to ensure that they don't end up spoiling the angling customers' experience.

Look out anglers there are cyclists about. Look out cyclists, there are anglers about.

Arguably the anglers' biggest fear is that equipment, especially pole sections will be broken by a speeding cyclist. Smashed pole sections are not cheap to replace and may not even be available. This worry, coupled with the lack of car parking, are arguably the two biggest single reasons why too many canal fishing fans have deserted the network for commercial stillwater fisheries in recent years. Clearly, we want cyclists to slow down and think to look out for the anglers' equipment. Conversely, when shipping back the pole or casting, it's important for the angler to glance behind them, so that they do these things without risk to others. It's also important that the angler lays his equipment out neatly.

Stay down the middle please

We still get too many complaints from boaters coming across anglers fishing within 25 metres of the lock approach or even within the lock itself. There can be no excuses for this under any circumstances, these areas are simply out of bounds to fishing. I am often asked by boaters where is the best place to navigate when coming across anglers fishing on the canal. The answer to this question is to always stay in the central channel and keep to a steady speed where possible.

All things being equal, most fish are likely to be found close to the offside bank as this is where the best fish habitat (bushes etc) is usually found. The water depth adjacent to the offside bank is generally somewhat shallower than the central channel. A boat ploughing through the offside swim can ruin a day's fishing whereas that never happens if the boat keeps to the central track.

Narrowly avoiding divorce

Boats moored on the offside serve as fish habitat and are often very good fishing locations. Anglers do need to take extra care to avoid their bait inadvertently ending up on or in the boat. With the use of pole cups, fishing bait can be placed accurately where it is needed and so there is absolutely no need to use a catapult opposite a moored boat.

Talking of bait, one of my pet hates is the habit that a few anglers have acquired of discarding maggots or other bait on the towing path at the end of the fishing session. It looks unsightly when you come across it and could attract vermin. Two much better options are to either to put it into the water and it will enter the food chain or just take it home. Personally I would not recommend using the main kitchen fridge for maggot storage though. I tried it just once in my younger days and was exceedingly fortunate to have avoided a divorce.

Enjoy the video!

Last Edited: 11 December 2015

photo of a location on the canals
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