Canal trout? You’re kidding, right? England international angler Ben Bangham finds some brownies down on the cut…
We all fish for trout in rivers, small stillwaters, reservoirs, brooks and suchlike, but canals? Surely not! Well, we are in the unusual and fortunate position in Newbury that we have trout in our canal system.
The Kennet & Avon Canal is linked with the River Kennet, which runs into it a couple of miles up the road. It is from here that the trout have entered. It is, however, still very canal-like here and the trout even move between the lock systems. I have actually caught them in the locks themselves!
The quality of the fish from the canal was unbelievable. Check out the tail on the mayfly feeder.
Locating Canal Trout
If you ask the local lure anglers they will tell you there are trout all over this part of the canal and they have caught fish throughout this stretch. However, it isn’t until the mayflies come out on the canal system that you see the full truth. There are vast numbers of brownies here and they are also pretty big. You also see just how established they are in the canal and how far they have travelled from where the River Kennet runs in.
You can take them on any method really, including nymphs, lures and dries. You can catch them throughout the season, although far and away the best time is around the mayfly.
I think that for most of the year they are pretty much solely predatory and feed on the thousands of small coarse fish that are there. As a result they are harder to catch on our traditional fly techniques, as they are not really looking at flies and nymphs as a legitimate food source, apart from early summer when the mayflies stream off the water.
At this time they start to see insects as a food source again, really only due to the fact that there are so many around, and they are worth the effort of eating.
Due to the size of the fish in the canal I tend to fish with heavier equipment than I would normally fish on similar sized waters. If I am fishing Streamers then I look to use a 5 or 6-wt rod and match the line to the conditions. I always take a floater, an intermediate and a sinker with me on these sessions. I like a rod of about 8ft 6in or 9ft length as some of the casting can be a bit tight and anything longer can be counterproductive.
A round of applause and cheers from onlookers at the Slug and Lettuce public house ad Ben netted his third canal brown!
For dry fly fishing I use a 4-wt rod again nine feet in length or shorter for casting reasons. Obviously, a floating line is the only choice, but I tend to go for something like a Rio Gold as it has a slightly heavier head to help me shoot the line, as the back cast is normally very limited.
For nymphing the really lightweight rods are put away and the heftier 10ft 4-wts come out to play. I am not too concerned about the length of my rod as most of the fishing I do when nymphing is under the rod tip, so casting is not so much of a concern. The extra beef of the rod helps me cope with some of the bigger trout there.
Other things need to be thought of as well, such as not being able to use my usual net as I can’t reach the water most of the time due to the height of the banks, so a net with a longer handle is beneficial.
Fishing The Canal
I have fished the mayfly time on the canal over the last few years with great success and look forward to it every year. These are two weeks of the year when I know the trout show themselves and put a huge bend in the rod.
A long-handled net is essential for being able to safely net the fish...
Followed by a careful release back to the water watched by Lulu, Ben's dog!
There is no way of predicting when this happens, but as I live very close to the canal I can keep my eye on it for any signs of movement from the resident browns. We tried to get this feature shot the month before, but the great British weather put paid to this. I thought that we had missed our opportunity for this year as I hadn’t seen or moved much after the failed attempt.
However, a couple of days later as I was going to the post office early one morning I saw a few rises and a couple of swirls where I would expect to find the trout. I got straight on the phone to Andy Taylor asking if he could make it down after work as I thought this would be the last chance that we had to get the article done this season, even though we might still be up against it.
Well, it couldn’t have started better really, although after setting up and heading down to the canal, it looked absolutely dead! Had we missed the boat?
As we stood there, looking at the lifeless water, I saw a boil further down on the inside, which I thought could well be a trout. Armed with the dry-fly rod I got into position and flicked a big sedge to where I saw the boil. The fly sat there for a few seconds and then disappeared in a big splash. First cast, first canal trout!
The big fish didn't show but six stunning browns in a couple of hours was pretty good going from a town centre canal!
As usual, it fought like a demon and the highlight was Andy’s face as he took in the fact that I had just caught a brown trout from a canal in the centre of a town!
With these fish for the most part being such a good size and really having a diet that is mostly made up of fish, you have to tempt them with something big and worth moving for. Hence I tend to use mayflies and sedges as dry flies, big 4in lures and large nymphs with bright hotspots.
Unless you are using the Streamers it is pretty ineffective to blind cast for these trout. I wanted to stick to the dry flies (generally my preferred method) and so it was a case of keeping on the move and looking for any movement.
Big dries targeting rising fish was the main line of attack. However, Streamers and nymphs with hotspots or tages will also work when the fish don't rise
Waiting For The Rise
I stayed in the area for a while, looking for any other signs of life, but nothing rose. I moved slowly down the canal keeping my eyes peeled, but it wasn’t until we got to an area that I had caught a few from this year that I saw signs of trout in the form of a splashy rise. It took a bit longer to catch this one but eventually I tempted it up with a big mayfly pattern, obviously making it think that it was a latecomer to the party. It was another good fish and brought a smile to my face.
The next hour or so were pretty fruitless and I covered a lot of water, all the way down to the lower limit of the free stretch of the canal. As I came back up I saw two rises opposite one of the canalside pubs. The drinkers didn’t pay any attention to me until I managed to hook one, so amid drunken cheers I landed the third fish of the evening, not your average response to landing a fish, but much appreciated!
This turned out to be a real hotspot, as when I was playing the first trout another rose in the same area. I got the fly floating again and pretty much straightaway had another in the net. I had four in about 10 minutes from the spot, then with nothing more happening it was time to call it a day.
Still, with six trout to the net in under two hours from a canal I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t latch into any of the lumps that I had been catching a few weeks before, but I think that they had gone back to their cannibalistic ways as the hatches had slowed, so there was less to tempt them back to the surface
So back to the rivers for now, until next year…