Wednesday 12 February 2014

A Canal Treat and a Mystery Solved.

I have never been in any way artistically skilled. I cannot paint, nor draw anything that might be recognised by others for what it was meant to be.   I am not musical, and am in fact banned from singing for life.  A punishment made by my music teacher on my first day at grammar school, after I had stood immediately behind him as he played the organ during school assembly.   But I can appreciate those who are artistically gifted. OK, OK, I am insanely jealous!   The gay community always seems to produce a high proportion of artists, but it also seems to have some good comedians and wits.   Those who do not live near Manchester will not realise why I have titled this article so.    The gay village in Manchester is centred around one pedestrianized road: Canal Street.  The locals there often modify the cast iron street sign, even though it is some 12 or fifteen feet above ground level.   "Street"  is modified to  read "treet", by the addition of some white paint.      The local council consider it rather unfortunate that the first word gets similarly emasculated,   ( work it out for yourself),  and hence the sign gets frequently repainted by the council too.  The sign see-saws between its two incarnations.    I was also amused to be told that one year Liverpool Gay Festival had been entitled "Fairies 'Cross the Mersey" by the participants. I suspect that Gerry Marsden would have been quite pleased.

So the title of this post is part in homage to those witty individuals who live and love in and around the Manchester gay village.   The street runs alongside the Rochdale Canal, right in the city centre, a canal which these days does hold fish, and which has a set of subterranean lock gates, beneath one of Manchester's main thoroughfares: Oxford Road, although I have yet to be brave enough to go fishing there.  And were I brave enough, to fish there would probably have a negative effect on business for a number of young local ladies. So I steer well clear. 

Today I returned to the Llangollen Canal.  I would not be defeated by this water, and sought revenge for the blank session it gave me a few days ago.     Armed again with lobworms and a "big 'ook", I drove down there in the early morning and the first frost for some time.   It had created ice coverings on all the many ponds and puddles that the recent rains had left on the roads.  The towpath grass was white as I sat down at first light.  The weather was initially fine and still, no wind at all.   But it was not long before the first drops of rain began to fall.   They continued to fall until lunchtime, interspersed with the occasional bout of sleet.  All in all, with the cold it would have been a most unpleasant day on which to blank.   And by the time the rain stopped, I was still blanking.  This surprised me, for, from the moment I first cast in, my float was continually bobbing and running a few inches to the left, or to the right. It would not keep still for a moment.   Something was certainly interested in the lobworm.   But there was nothing I could strike at, and although I tried, apart from losing half the worm sometimes, no fish were to be hooked.  Maybe there were crayfish attacking the worm?  But none got tangled up in the line and as far as I knew, with a water temperature of just 3 degrees, any crayfish present would be inactive.  But, just as I was losing hope amid the rising frustration, a very good bite. And to quote many an angling TV journalist:
Rod, Pole and two Pound Perch.
 "Fish on".   The fish rapidly rose and splashed on the surface in the shallow water. It was indeed a perch, my target species, and at exactly two pounds a nice "canal treat" for me. The fish bristled its fins defiantly the whole time it was on the bank. Usually they refuse to raise their fins for me to photograph. A short while later another bite, which resulted in a bream of about a pound and a half.  So  maybe all the the bobs and bobbles were from small bream?   Both fish were quite pale, especially the bream, a result of living in water permanently brown and muddied by the passage of canal barges.  Nevertheless the stripes on the perch were quite clearly defined, if not intensely black, and some nice red in the lower fins.  A while later a second perch, of maybe 10 or 12 ounces gave himself up too.   

Daddy Ruffe
The itches and twitches on the float continued apace though, curiouser and curiouser, and at about 3 o'clock I decided to set up a second rod, and throw a couple of maggots at the canal bed.   Mystery quickly solved. It was not long before I reeled in a small ruffe,  the first I have caught for about 45 years.  Indeed, it was quite a pleasure to catch it. Nine or ten more ruffe were to follow in quick succession. That is probably more than I have caught in total during my entire previous angling career.  Ruffe were always very rare in my area.  This handful of ruffe came together with about three gudgeon and a rather sickly looking roach of two or three ounces, a fish which had a large open wound near the dorsal fin.   Cormorant? No. After some thought I concluded that the roach had instead most probably been attached to someone's snap tackle in the recent past. As I snatched the tiddlers a local guy passed by.  A canal angler himself he professed never to have heard of ruffe.  After describing one verbally to him, I managed, just a minute or so later, to catch  another and was thus able to show him exactly what the fish looked like.   Another name for the ruffe is the pope, no-one ever really calls them that though,  but as kids were always called them  "daddy ruffe".  I have no idea why such a big nickname should apply to a fish which never usually grows more than an ounce or two.  I have also heard the term "Tommy ruffe".  I just consulted the British record fish list and the biggest ruffe on record is a little over 5 ounces.   Whilst on the site I also noted that the British record stickleback is 0-0-4.  Just 4 drams.   I KNOW that, as I kid, I had one much bigger than that: a very gravid female that was about 4 or 5 inches long.  And I kid you not! The small reservoir from which that came has long been filled in and built on, else I might have nipped back to see if the fish was still there.  It would only have been about 55 years old by now. but could I ever have overcome the embarrassment of claiming a record stickleback?

But the mystery of the niggling little bites was solved, and in, I must admit, a most pleasant way.  It was good to catch some ruffe, a fish that I have not seen for so very many years.   As I sat there, for the final hour or so, I began thinking.  maybe I could make good use of the prolific ruffe in the canal.    I re-tackled, and set up a new arrangement of end tackle:   float,  line down to that "big 'ook" and more line down to a couple of BB shot.  Very much like a cross between a drop-shot rig and a paternoster.   The paternoster dropper being of zero length.  The idea was that the ruffe would probably continue to molest the lobworm, now suspended six inches above the canal floor, causing lots of movement and vibration in the coloured water.  Then maybe, just maybe, the perch would notice all the commotion and saunter along to investigate.  I cannot be sure whether the theory worked in the way I planned, but the next 30 minutes, shortly before dark, did lead to two more perch being landed, one small, the other of a pound and a half.  So maybe it did work.

During the day I had seen no fish rise at all,  the only rings on the bright water had proved to be the droppings from woodpigeons in the trees above.   But oddly, as I drove across the canal to leave, a glance to the left showed a fair fish splashing on the surface.   I of course, had fished to the right.  But in very cold conditions to catch about twenty fish of four different species had made the trip worthwhile.


  1. Entertaining as always

    I take it you have no zander in your canals then if you can still catch gudgeon and ruffe? I'm not certain how far north and west they have ventured yet

  2. Correct George, as far as I know, there are still no zander at all locally. I hear that they are present in the Trent and Mersey, one of the canals I fished a few days ago, but they must still be restricted to the far end of the watercourse. I don't know how fast they spread through the canal network. Locks probably slow the process down, and are the main obstacles, especially uphill locks, but eventually they will get past those locks and continue their spread. So, although we are locally zander free at the moment, it will not last. I did hear a fairly well established rumour of zander in the Sankey Canal, so that must have been an illegal introduction. It must be about 55 or 60 years since they were first moved out of Woburn and Claydon lakes, but the spread has been extensive. Once in the local canals, it will not be long before they hit local rivers. Bfore canals, river systems were largely isolated from each other. And with floods and over- zealous zander anglers, many of the stillwaters will also be colonised. It has been proved time and time again that any local introductions do not remain local. First the gardeners did it, now the anglers.