Winter Canal Fishing Tips


Wherever there are dodgy anglers, maverick species can crop up. And with the catfish we find here, the wels, being an adaptable, long-lived and highly predatory species, the potential is there for the odd monster in years to come. Whether or not this is a good thing is open to debate. Those responsible rarely seem to appreciate the effect an invasive species can have on an ecosystem, and while Britain might be rather cool for these fish to spawn, global warming could see a rise in catfish populations, which would have a direct effect on our native predators such as pike, to say nothing of bream, roach and other prey species. Strictly speaking, any catfish landed in a British canal should be retained and a phone call made to the Environment Agency.

But where does the catfish trail lead us? The freak appearance of a 16lb 15oz catfish proved a match winner for Nick Darke on the Grand Union Canal at Marsworth in 2011. But equally, for every authenticated capture there must be a dozen rumours. The Leeds to Liverpool and Exeter Ship Canals are just two locations where stories of big cats have been simmering. To catch one of these fish could require an endless amount of hours with large, smelly offerings such as halibut pellets or deadbaits. The truth is out there somewhere.

Winter Canal Fishing Tips Photo Gallery

Catfish can go (or should that be ‘grow ’) undetected for years on canals.

Goldfish, Koi & Ornamentals

The appearance of fish that would look more at home in a garden pond or aquarium is a classic, if sadly familiar story on canals across the land. Virtually every canal within spitting distance of a town or city has its stray species, escapees released by locals in most cases.

Anything but drab, the golden rudd (above) is a beautiful quirk of nature.

Several coarse species will hybridise. The roach/bream hybrid is the most common, but other results are freakier. My best guess at the fish in this picture is a rudd/bream hybrid (a ‘brudd’ you might say).

Goldfish have been taken on many canals and the story I received from David Stevens is typical:

I had a great day at the funfair, aged about ten, but couldn’t persuade my folks that our home wouldn ’t be complete without the fourteen goldfish I’d won. As we went home I was ordered to put them all in the canal. I kicked off a bit, but thirteen of them were released. About three years later, I was allowed to go fishing on the canal with a couple of mates in the exact same spot. One day along with the small bits and pieces we were catching, were three goldfish, all of which had grown to about a pound!

Fun-fair prizes are not the only escapees either: large koi have also been taken on the Chester, Regents and many other canals and the odd one can be found on virtually any man-made waterway where populations of carp exist. Ide have been legally stocked in some waters; and canals such as the Lancaster contain some large grass carp.

Are less legitimate stocks a threat? Probably not, in terms of competing with wild fish. But the very real danger comes from the spread of parasites and diseases from these invaders. The odd genuine surprise certainly adds some novelty to the local canal, and it’s also fair to say that not every one of these freak captures is unnatural. Perhaps the most obvious example of a beautiful, but natural, freak would be the golden rudd. Where large populations of the wild natives exist, every so often a heavily pigmented fish will occur. These beauties can be carrot-orange in coloration, making them beautiful to look at but also a magnet for predators.

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