When it comes to nearby canals to fish, I’m spoiled for choice. I’ve got the South Yorkshire Navigation, which then splits into two, to form the new Junction and Stainforth and Keadby canals. These very large, wide, deep canals hold tremendous stocks of fish, with some neglected specimens of a few species amongst them. Even closer to my home than those though is the tiny Chesterfield Canal. Despite it not being in Yorkshire, I can be on the banks from my front door in less than 15 minutes.
Now the ‘Cheggers’ canal, as we called it when we were lads, will always be a special place for me. It was where I caught my first ever chub and dace. They were about the same size as my finger, but they were still chub and dace! In fact there used to be some very large chub in this canal for the time (80s to early 90s) Specimen anglers used to travel a long way to sample the many 4 and even the odd 5lb+ fish, which were real lumps back then. In fact Matt Hayes was fishing and writing about them in magazines, such was their repute.
I will always remember it for its big roach though. Pound plus roach from a tiny canal were huge to us boys who were just starting on the amazing journey of an angler. In fact I remember the day of Sunday July 7th 1985, when myself and two mates caught huge roach on a red hot day. Google says that was the date, because it was the day a 17 year old Boris Becker defeated Kevin Curren in the Wimbledon tennis final! We kept those giant bars of silver in the keepnet all day, until my Dad picked us back up in the evening. We were desperate to show them off, for more often than not we hardly ever caught anything worthwhile.
Anyway, fast forward to late last autumn, and Martin sent me a photo with loads of big roach milling about in crystal clear water. They were all over a pound, with some real lumps amongst them, and they were from this very canal. We both went back a week later but couldn’t locate them, although we only had about 5 minutes to spare. We decided to have a go at tracking them down in April through to early May, when the river season had ended. Unfortunately the canal now had a tinge of colour making selective roach fishing impossible. We’d just have to play a numbers game, until hopefully the canal clears again in the cooler months.
I started my campaign in the area where Martin had originally seen the roach. It was a classic area where big roach will thrive. Tree lined, so no cormorants can land or take off, and where dog walkers like to feed bread to the ducks. So how was I going to tackle these redfins and try to be selective with the sizes? Fishing lumps of bread flake of course, in conjunction with liquidised bread as feed.
Because the canal was only 3 to 4ft deep, I used very light float tackle and set it so the bread on the hook fell slowly through the cloud of smaller liquidised particles. I was quite happy to catch a couple of 8oz roach early on my first trip, though I wasn’t expecting the crackers that followed it. They were thumping roach for such a tiny canal and gave a real scrap, but I knew far larger ones lived amongst them.
On my next trip I landed a few smaller roach, along with a couple of bream. I’d have been over the moon with this sport when I was a lad. It just shows how some waterways thrive on neglect.
I struggled to catch any big roach after the first trips as mother nature conspired against me. The area of canal that contained the roach became coated in all kinds of foliage, making fishing almost impossible. It was hard to move on hearing the roach rolling as I walked away.
I had the next few trips on other parts of the canal, but used the same tactics. It was a real eye opener as to the canals potential. There was nothing massive caught, but the fishing was superb for a couple of hours at first light. Sometimes I caught bream
And sometimes I caught tench
One of the tench was strange. It was a male, and at first I thought it had three pelvic fins, but then realised one had probably been damaged a while ago and grew back like this
Somedays I caught a mixture of bream and tench. In fact one day I must have caught over 70lbs of fish, but just one small roach.
Eventually I managed to get back on the ‘roach stretch’ Martin had lost a very big fish a day earlier, but I couldn’t manage anything large. They were still great fish for a tiny canal, though it was obvious they weren’t far away from spawning. Some of the bream were as rough as I’d seen with spawning tubercles, especially on their heads.
I had one last trip before leaving the roach to spawn. Again I landed no monsters, but finished with a fine net of redfins. Maybe I’ll try to catch some more in the Autumn, but I’ll more likely be after big river roach. It’s a nice choice to have in these cormorant infested times!