When you consider that over half the British population live within five miles of a canal, it’s a curious fact that so few of us are even aware of the hidden world these waterways represent. In a sense this is precisely the charm of canal fishing. Even the most mundane, urban-looking channel is a mystery waiting to be solved.
Canals are anything but predictable. When compared to modern commercial fisheries, they represent a refreshing angling challenge. In place of convenient, well-trodden swims, we are often met with miles of water to explore, much of it seldom fished. A successful day is not a case of simply finding a space to sit down and bait up; it requires thought and effort. It is this learning process, and the potential for exciting, untapped fishing, that makes canal fishing so deeply rewarding.
Canal Uk Map Photo Gallery
The Typical Canal?
While it’s true that all canals have certain similarities, a look at different waters across the country would quickly reveal a huge diversity of habitats. Some are found in quiet, rural locations where clear, weedy water allows the angler to spot fish at leisure; others are far murkier affairs, churned up by regular boat traffic, where fish cannot easily be located by sight. Some canals are littered with lock gates, bays and bends; others are largely featureless. The bottom can vary from gravel or clay to thick silt.
The varying depths and dimensions of different waters would further defy attempts to describe the ‘average or ‘typical canal. At the top end of the scale are ship canals. These can be over ten feet deep and many metres wide to accommodate huge seagoing vessels. But far more common are the smaller, much shallower canals of around ten to thirteen metres width, designed to take the classic canal barges or ‘narrowboats’. These tend to be no more than five or six feet deep even slap bang in the central ‘track of the canal. In secluded locations free of regular boat traffic, silt and debris might render some areas as shallow as a mere two to three feet; enough water to hold fish nonetheless.
Perhaps the most obvious question to any angler looking at a canal they have yet to fish is: ‘Where do I start? The answer often lies in a pair of walking boots and polarising glasses rather than a fishing rod. In morning or evening you may spot fish topping or rolling. There could well be locals fishing and happy to chat. Treat everyone in a friendly, considerate manner and you’ll find most regulars helpful. There are also a whole series of useful starting points in the reference section at the end of this blog. We can’t lead you by the hand or bait the swim for you, but there are productive locations for virtually every canal. Fishing clubs and tackle shops are also listed. Both are a mine of useful information, but they also need your support. So as well as asking questions, be sure to buy a day ticket or dip into your wallet, even if it’s just a pint of maggots or some spare hooks.
Most canals have their known ‘hot spots or areas that are match fished. Competition results and typical catches are often archived online, along with the many blogs and articles that a quick internet search will yield. Applications such as Google Earth are also handy. Bear in mind however that even in the age of digital information, you will only scratch the surface looking at a screen.
There is no substitute for getting out on the bank yourself. Look for anything different, interesting or unusual, whether this is a sweeping bend, a wide turning bay, submerged trees and bushes, a lock pool or a place where the canal meets a river or another channel. For the angler who is prepared to explore, the list is endless.
Canals are often underfished waters and the most rewarding experience of all is discovering your own hot spot, which could be an area that seldom sees another angler. Perhaps this is why the fish you catch are likely to be in fantastic condition.
Contrary to appearances, boats do not always spoil the fishing. Sometimes a passing vessel can actually improve sport, while static craft are often holding areas.