C&O Canal Fishing

Changes of Style

In a certain sense you have a straight choice when roach fishing: do I catch as many fish as possible, or try for fewer but larger samples? The match-style of angling is great for catching numbers of fish, but other methods are both sporting alternatives and better suited to picking out the biggest roach.

There are undoubtedly many more big roach on the canals than many would believe. Perhaps it’s simply no longer as fashionable to fish for them But for the determined roach fanatic, canals can turn up some real surprises. Virtually any canal will produce pound plus roach, which are delightful to catch. But quite a few others have produced two-pounders in the past.

C&O Canal Fishing Photo Gallery



If you’re determined to single out a good roach, tackle can be stepped up. A larger bait such as a whole red worm or thumbnail-sized piece of bread flake offers a better degree of selectivity, while the competition angler’s favourites such as hemp and casters can still be used to prime an area. Should you wish to avoid the numerous small fish the match crowd want to catch, however, you might be better off introducing bait in larger but less frequent helpings with the aim of settling bigger roach on the bottom If there are hordes of one ounce fish present, there is also a case for avoiding crumb-based groundbait to cloud the water, which can draw even more of them in.

I have spoken already of the great variety of canal swims and methods, but there are other scenarios where tactics are even more similar to those found on rivers. Several terrific roach spots I know are those near lock gates or inflows where the water is anything but still. These well-oxygenated spots are loved by roach. Besides the usual pole tackle, a stick float would not go amiss, and the same goes for canals that are subject to a steady tow, such as river navigations. If there are bigger roach in attendance, the usual finely-liquidised feed and punch can be replaced by mashed bread and a good-sized pinch of flake on the hook.

In clearer water, such roach fishing demands a cute, natural presentation. In fact the bigger roach can be very fussy when it comes to refusing baits and this is never truer than when the canal begins to tow. A long rod and stick float combination is one effective option, giving superior presentation to a waggler. Perhaps the easiest way to present a perfectly stable bait is to leger, however, and I’ve had some excellent results with a short, wand-style feeder rod and small swimfeeder packed with mashed bread.

Variety is indeed the spice of life when it comes to canal roach. A less orthodox but delightful way to tempt the species is with an artificial fly, which comes into its own on hot days when fish can be spotted in the surface layers. The little rise forms which dot canals on any given evening are often those made by roach feeding on hatching insects. A light flyfishing outfit is an elegant way to do battle and test the reflexes, and any small dark fly is likely to be accepted. A size 16 or smaller Black Gnat or emerger buzzer is ideal, although wet flies such the Black Spider and Hare’s Ear can be deadlier still. Don’t retrieve the fly vigorously, but simply let it gently settle, keeping the line taut and striking at any sudden pull or rise. It is not just the smaller roach which will take a fly Ray Minty fed little and often for this net offish from the Monmouth and Brecon Canal.

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