Bread punch roach and skimmers through the ice on the Basingstoke Canal

February 16, 2018 at 9:31 pm

A report that a club match had produced a 10 lb winning weight, with follow up weights of roach and bream, saw me on the banks of the Basingstoke Canal this week. A bright dry day was forecast, but an overnight frost left the surface covered with a sheet of ice.

The match had been frost free and my hopes of dropping in on one of the winning pegs had been thwarted by bank to bank ice. Dragging my trolley, I walked up to a bend in the canal, where direct sunlight had still not worked its magic, so walked all the way back to the “good pegs”, where I began breaking the ice with the butt of my extended pole, scooping out enough with my landing net to fish just over the near shelf. My informant had said that the bream had been taken down the middle of the canal. No chance of that, four metres out would have to do.

By the time I was ready to fish, a few free floating pieces had been cleared and the first quarter of the canal was fishable. Being sparing with the liquidised bread feed, I dropped a small ball over the shelf and another a metre beyond. That would have to do until I got some fish in the net. With my antennae  float set just off bottom, and a 4 mm bread pellet on a fine wire size 18 hook, it took ten minutes for the first signs of a bite, rings radiating from the float bristle giving warning of a slight dip. I lifted the pole to feel resistance and swung in my first roach.

Not a bad roach for this part of the canal. I fished this part of the Basi quite often once, then good weights of roach and skimmer bream could be taken on the bread punch, but something changed, the bream disappeared and the only roach were tiny, which in turn attracted many small jack pike to feed on them.

This jack had been troubling my fish, until I put on a plug and pulled it out. They are a lot bigger these days.

A welcome skimmer bream told me that I was in the right spot and the float was soon on its way down again for a better roach.

These fish are weight builders and after a very slow start, they were beginning to queue up for the punch. I decided to keep the feed to a minimum, dropping in another 20 mm ball after 20 minutes.

Adding another metre of pole, the bites became more confident and a classic lift bite brought another skimmer to the net.

A few fish later the elastic came out, as a very nice roach flashed silver beneath the surface and I took my time guiding it into the net.

This deep round roach went 8 oz on its own, net fish outnumbering those swung in. I had begun to miss quick bites, the culprits proving to be three inch roach, that were attacking the punch bread as it fell through on the drop. After I had thrown back half a dozen of these tiny roach, a swirl in the swim scattered several across the surface. A pike had moved in. Adding two more metres of pole, I fed another ball and fished right up to the thinning ice, hooking a better roach, bringing it round away from the pike and swung it in.

This worked for two more fish, then the elastic stretched out. The pike had taken a nice roach, just after I had set the hook. This had only one outcome, whether I landed it, or not. My swim would be ruined. With little resistance from the elastic, the pike stopped, turned and swallowed the roach. Heading back to the opposite bank on the surface, it did me one favour. At least it was breaking up the ice past the middle. It was about two feet long and around 3 lb in weight, not enough to over strain my elastic, as I had come prepared for possible big bream, but the way it was stirring up the mud, there was no chance of bream now anyway. I had brought my lightweight canal net today and the pike looked too long to fit in, but got most of its body in and lifted, only for it to slip out again, spinning as it did, cutting the line. A swirl and it was gone.

I had been here before, a promising swim written off in minutes by a pike. Although only fishing for 90 minutes, I considered packing up. I could move, but that would mean going through the process of breaking the ice again, although it was much thinner now. It was a sunny day, I would start again. There was an identical rig on the winder. It took only minutes to swap over. The other rig had been cut at the loop of the hook link. That roach was well down the pike’s gullet. Maybe he’d had his fill for the day.

I fed a couple of balls of bread to the middle, cast out and rested my pole. Time to try those ham and cheese sandwiches, that I had watched my wife make for me this morning. The tea was still hot from my flask. A kingfisher flew along the canal. Bike riders and runners passed behind me. Dog walkers asked if I had caught anything. I told them of the pike. Life wasn’t too bad.

The float sank. Another small skimmer. It had been 30 minutes since the skirmish with the pike, but I whizzed the pole back as quickly as possible. Another bite, another skimmer, this one bigger. Lost it. Should have taken my time. Another small ball went in to compensate. A couple of smaller roach followed. Lost the skimmers? The float sank again, this time a decent roach. Wham! The pike struck again. I pulled the pole round hard for a break. The pike had let go. The roach panicked on the surface and I swung it in.

The jaw marks from the pike were visible, but it had let go leaving missing scales and minimal damage. This was the decider for me. I would pack up. In the past I have set up a spinning rod to combat the pike, but this time left it behind.

I took my time putting the gear away, chatting to anyone that asked of my day. A couple from Zimbabwe got the full treatment, including a quick teach in on fishing the bread punch.

That was my lot for three hours, twenty fish for just under 3 lbs, including some quality roach. It could have been so much more without Mr Toothy.