Canal Comeback


Canals didn’t figure in my fishing for a whole decade as they were too far away, but now I’m living in the Midlands I have a couple of interesting venues to explore. The Fossdyke in Lincoln has been a huge surprise. This waterway is joined to the rivers Trent, Till and Witham, so what’s in it is always going to present a mystery factor. Last summer I was invited to fish a club match on the Carholme Road stretch, just a short way from bustling Brayford Pool in the centre of the city. The draw gave me a cramped peg, which would have been the last one I picked if I had a choice. But fate was going to be kind to me on this day. Everybody and their dog was out enjoying the pleasant surroundings. Boaters, joggers, walkers, bikers and rowers, to name just a few. I kept my head down in the heavily overgrown swim. The tree and rush cover on my side of the canal was pushing all the boat traffic over to the far bank, only leaving the middle and inside to explore.


I tried a whip for the first 10 minutes but that wasn’t right, so I quickly decided on just one line of attack, down the centre of the main boat channel. I regularly cupped in hard balls of groundbait laced with casters and chopped worm, loose feeding more casters over the top. It seemed a good idea to be positive due to the heavy boat traffic. Suddenly I was attached to something demented, which I only just managed to keep out of the rush beds and overhanging foliage, as I attempted to steer it into my landing net. It turned out to be a lively bream, a proper handful on a light canal rig. By the way it fought, I suspect this fish might have wandered in from a nearby river. I stepped up to stronger tackle and even then, the next elastic-puller fought more like a carp than a slab. My birdcage peg was making things awkward. I didn’t have room to bring my pole around, so I had to unship sections in stages, to avoid passers-by on the towpath behind.


Although it was awkward not being able to unship a long pole in one go, I have been in this situation several times before on canal towpaths. Better to be ultra-careful, rather than getting expensive carbon smashed to pieces. At least with all the bankside cover, I wasn’t getting frazzled by the sun. Despite all the activity and commotion, the bream kept coming, plus a bonus tench. I caught a dozen proper slabs and a few bonus skimmers. What a great session it turned into. I ended up with a fabulous 38.5lb match-winning haul. I was suddenly back on the canal scene, an area many anglers seem to have forgotten about these days, me included until recently. I certainly got the towpath bug again, and with another eleven miles of this waterway left to explore, the rest of my season would turn out to be heavily centred around this place. The Fossdyke comes under close season regulations by the way, due to it being connected with running water venues.


It soon became apparent that much of the Fossdyke had been neglected for a long time. On several stretches I explored, I don’t think any of the swims had been fished for donkey’s years. I often had to do some serious gardening to get to the water, although the Lincoln club, now under new management, were also beginning to clear some stretches. In many places the towpath side had a thick wall of brambles and nettles down to the water’s edge, six foot high in places. Most sections only tended to be fished close to easy access points, but I quickly discovered by wandering further afield and fighting my way in, there was some amazing sport to be had. I caught several monster rudd, also some nice bags of silver bream, quality roach and skimmers. Big perch were common too, along with the odd tench. A pattern began to emerge where on busy boat days the fish tended to retreat over to the quieter far bank, and the waggler scored big time.  


Wanting a rest from boat traffic, I went exploring the River Till. This small waterway runs into the Fossdyke Canal close to the village of Saxilby. I went there on a windy and overcast day, meeting up with Bob, a keen Lincoln club member. He was catching plenty of hand-sized skimmers in a small bay area, before the river runs under a low bridge and meets the canal on the other side of the busy A57 road. Bob’s float was going under regularly and he told me he had also caught a small tench, so I dropped my gear in the next swim along. The rest of the tiny river, as far into the distance as I could see, was extremely weedy and would require serious raking to be able to fish any of the pegs. There were rumours of a deep bend further up that held bream, and shallower runs where roach often showed, but that would have to wait for another day. I kicked off feeding several balls of groundbait with a pole cup, laced with plenty of casters and chopped worm. 


Small perch, roach and skimmers responded first and then I had a silver fish grabbed by a jack pike. It went dead after that. I noticed Bob’s swim had gone quiet too, so I decided to sit it out on double caster. I missed a fast bite and then connected with something big and powerful. My pole elastic shot out a long way. It was dicey because I was only using 0.10mm line and a size 18 medium wire hook. Luckily, I had a puller bung set up on my top kit, so I broke down to this as quickly as I could, stripped a load of elastic out of the pole and got back some control. The fish ploughed around the basin for quite a time, but gradually its circular runs decreased in size. Eventually I managed to coax this fabulous thickset tench into my landing net. Not much else happened after that. I did catch a couple more tench on the main canal during further outings, but there didn’t seem to be enough to target. Still very welcome bonus fish to cap off some great catches.


My local Grantham Canal is less prolific than the Fossdyke, being a disused waterway, although work is underway to restore it. The Half Mile stretch, which starts opposite the Dirty Duck Pub, has recently been restocked by the Bottesford Angling Club who run the fishing in this area. The name of the pub is quite apt, because the canal is plagued by weed and generally in a mucky mess for most of the year. The club have installed weed booms, which are helping to keep the floating duckweed under control, but many of the nearby Grantham stretches look more like a bowling green than a fishery. Mile upon mile gets totally clogged up, and I fear not all the fish stocks can survive this. Oxygen levels must be minimal, but hopefully as the locks are restored and when some boat traffic returns, the weed problems will decline. This stretch had been dredged recently and, along with the new fish that had gone in, some positive signs of life were returning.  


The turning bay on the Grantham cut at Denton is normally choked solid with duckweed, but there have been a handful of rare occasions when I’ve been able to fish it. Most have been a washout, but on one red-letter day I did manage to crack the place. Big floating rafts of reeds, like mini-islands, were drifting around. These were remnants left over from where a waterways barge had been clearing some nearby sections. I found by casting a waggler tight to the floating beds on the far side I could get bites. I had tried casters and maggots, but small fish were all too eagerly mopping these baits up. Eventually I switched to feeding 4mm pellets, waiting longer for bites with a soft hooker, but then started catching some decent canal bream. Right in the middle of all this action, a proper lump of a tench turned up, giving me a good run-around on relatively light waggler tackle. I just managed to net this fish after it got weeded under the rod tip.   


The Grantham Canal used to be connected with the River Trent but is currently cut off, with some sections completely dry. It has been disused since 1936, but work is currently underway to reclaim the waterway. Several locks have been restored and some sections dredged. The most remarkable thing is how fish seem to have survived, after living in a weedy, muddy morass for so many years. I walked this Two Bridges stretch a few years ago and it looked totally dead. Since being dredged and without any stocking; roach, rudd, perch, tench and odd skimmers have miraculously started turning up. The mystery deepens because another nearby section, nicknamed the Carp Pound, has never produced any of that species, despite several thousand going in! Pike have also survived in most areas and small jacks can be a nuisance. This particular stretch provided all the best weights in a recent match, surprisingly outperforming a recently stocked section.


The weird thing about the Grantham Canal is the way certain parts of it can come alive with fish and just as quickly become devoid again. I caught this nice mixed bag of roach, skimmers, rudd and tench a couple of years back, from an area that simply screamed fish. I enjoyed bites all day, switching between the main channel and some far bank bushes. I revisited the same peg several times and it got even better, with some good tench and fair-sized bream turning up. I even got bust up by something big, which could have been a stray carp. I’ve been back recently, only to find it a struggle. Nothing big, just a few stray rudd, perch and roach. No sign of any skimmers or tench. Another spot not far away, was a great banker for tench, but there hasn’t been a sign of these fish for two years. Last year I found the bream back in the turning bay, some 60 good fish sunning themselves just below the surface. I caught one skimmer and then they simply melted away.


The top end of the Half Mile stretch is starting to look really attractive again after recent dredging and bank work. The local club stocked it last year with skimmers, carp and several other species. Odd carp have shown and a few small skimmers, but mainly it has been resident survivors like roach, rudd, perch and tench that have been making up catches. Match weights have been low and pike have been a nuisance. This is the first time since I’ve lived in the area that most of this section has been fishable. Previously it has been solid with weed, particularly floating stuff. I’m amazed anything managed to survive, but that’s always been the fascination of canal fishing for this angler, not knowing what might turn up. Canals like the Oxford, Grand Union and Regents Arm I used to fish in the past, always had those surprise pegs that threw up a big bag of bream, a huge carp, an unexpected haul of chub, even catfish in a couple of instances.


Bridges have always being a favourite fish holding spot on canals. This new stretch I have been exploring on the Grantham was no exception. A couple of years ago you could see everything on the bottom, or so I thought, in the gin-clear water. A few tiny fry and nothing else. The locks have been restored, the bottom dredged and the banks nicely contoured. Now there’s some depth and colour, the place has come alive with fish again. There’s no boat movements between locks, so how the roach, rudd, tench, perch, pike and odd skimmers have returned, nobody knows. Sitting close to this road bridge feature provided almost a bite every put in, which I found truly amazing. I started my fishing career on a similar disused canal to this in the West country, and remember catching nice roach from right underneath a busy bridge. Some things don’t change, but for me the real magic of canals is not knowing what might turn up next when a float goes under.  

More Stories
Small Rivers & Streams