With well over 2,000 miles of canal fishing available in the UK and with half the population living within 5 miles of a canal, your favourite canal fishery might literally be on your doorstep. National fisheries and angling manager, John Ellis, reveals his favourite stretches.
My overall favourite canal length
Most anglers have a special affinity for where they first learnt to fish. I'm no exception; the Llangollen Canal at Grindley Brook on the Shropshire/Wales border was where I started out. Walk a little (I would walk miles to a promising looking peg in my youth) and you can escape into another world, disturbed only by a friendly passing boater or a cow taking a fancy to your peg. After the rigours of final university exams, I was burnt out mentally. A couple of weeks spent on this stunning waterway helped kickstart my recovery.
The most picturesque canal
The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, which runs from Brecon to Pontypool in South Wales, is my pick for most picturesque. The views across the Usk Valley are stunning and much of the canal is lined with trees. The fresh, youthful light-green tinge to the leaves, as they get busy with photosynthesis, is a special sight in May.
The canal with the most fish (probably)
If I had a pound for every time I've been asked which canal contains the most fish, then a new 14-metre pole or top-of-the-range seat box would be mine by now. Rarely, if ever, are the channels of the wide, deep canals of Yorkshire drained for engineering works, so getting a true reflection of fish biomass (weight of fish per unit area) in these canals isn't normally possible. Of the canals that are frequently drained for engineering works, the Kennet & Avon Canal consistently stands out as having the best fish stocks throughout its length.
The best narrow-canal National venue
Many good judges mourn for the old days, before 1972, when Nationals were won purely on the weight of the fish caught. Perhaps a hybrid system involving both weight and team points should have been introduced. Although I am a little biased, I believe narrow canals make the best National venues. One of my angling heroes, five-time world champion Alan Scotthorne doesn't necessarily concur with me on this one.
But if you are looking for a fair, even venue with the prospect of a 20-pound-plus winning weight, no blanks and a location that attracts an above-average team entry (43 teams in the 2019 National verses 29 teams in 2018 on the Nene) then look no further than the Shropshire Union around Market Drayton.
It's relatively central geographically, scenic, and in Dave Watkins and Terry Nutt the host club, Hodnet, have two of the most able match organisers in the land. On top of that, more than half the teams in the field, given a good draw, genuinely feel they have a decent chance of a podium finish or even a victory.
The best canal section never to have hosted a National
Although zander have impacted parts of the Grand Union fishery, they have yet to reach as far south as the Tring-controlled waters or the Aylesbury Arm. There are preliminary plans for an Angling Trust National here in 2022. Should this happen, it will be a memorable occasion. With big carp in places, a huge individual weight could be on the cards and there should be no blanks.
Relatively central, with a good headquarters, the Staffordshire & Worcester at Penkridge is my top choice. The 2016 final, expertly organised by Paul Turner, was held here and was won at something of a canter by Simon Nickless and Steve Dudley. Importantly, it produced some consistent weights throughout the match length, with enough bonus fish to keep everyone plugging away for the full five hours. I hope we go back there sometime soon.
The best Let's Fish! event location
With great parking, good access and space along the towpath, and pegs that will produce fish all day long so that no participant goes away without their Let's Fish! certificate, the Trent & Mersey around Middlewich just wins my vote.
Depending on government social distancing guidelines, we hope to run several taster sessions here during 2020, aiming to reinvigorate the clubs who make up Middlewich Anglers. The area is also blessed with a supportive tackle shop, Dave's of Middlewich, who offer sound advice for those purchasing equipment for the first time.
The Canal & River Trust, in partnership with the Angling Trust, have hosted the Junior, Cadet and Youth Canal Angling Championships since 2014. In 2019, 93 youngsters lined the towpath, making it the biggest celebration of young people and fishing in the UK. The Little Onn venue on the Shropshire Union, kindly donated for the day by the forward-thinking Izaak Walton Stafford club, has loads of roach, gudgeon, perch and skimmers that can be caught close in. There is no need for long poles, making the venue spot on for youngsters looking to gain experience and confidence in competitive fishing situations.
My favourite Trust reservoir
It's often forgotten that the Trust owns more than 70 reservoirs. Clattercote is probably the most scenic, but the one that customers have flocked to in their droves since the early 1990s is Drayton Reservoir at Daventry. It was hugely successful as a match fishery when the fish were smaller, and was considered Sheffield's home water. As the fish have grown, they now average high doubles with plenty of 20s, the venue has become equally popular with specimen anglers.