Bread punch fishing against the odds on the Basingstoke Canal

October 30, 2022 at 4:35 pm

With only an afternoon available to fish, I tried a new section of the Basingstoke Canal this week, driving to Pondtail Bridge at Fleet, intending to fish the downstream flash, where the canal has been widened to allow barges to turn round. These areas hold bream and I had brought along my sensitive canal wand to fish over into it using a swan shot link leger. Walking toward the flash, I could see that it was choked with fallen leaves, while the canal was crystal clear, despite nights of heavy rain.

I decided to fish as close to the flash as possible and cleared a swim of brambles just upstream. The bottom was visible right out to the boat road seven metres out and I assembled 8 metres of pole, which would allow me to fish along the near shelf and to the middle in three feet of water. Being so clear, I did not expect the bream to feed and set up a light 4 x 14 antenna float to a size 18 barbless hook, starting with a 5 mm punch of bread for roach. I put out two small balls of liquidised bread and ground carp pellets, one at 7 metres and the other at 8 and fed out the rig.

The float had barely settled, when it began to kite off to one side and sink slowly away. I lifted into the bite and saw the silver flash of a decent roach, as it resisted the elastic. Feeding the pole back , the elastic suddenly stretched out. Oh no! Not a pike first cast!

The pike powered away downstream, while I fed out the rest of the pole and pulled against the run with the pole bent round. The float pinged back. The 2 lb hook link was cut through. At least the rig had survived and I looped on another size 18 hook link. This had been the best outcome, the swim was undisturbed and the pike was gone for now. Ready to fish again, I dropped in over the fed area and the float was gone again. The canal was so clear, that the response from another roach was visible immediately and I pulled the pole back conscious of that lurking pike. The end of the pole thumped against the garden fence behind me and I had to reach forward to disconnect the top two sections, before I could grab the landing net.

Quite a nice canal roach. This would do for a start. At least the pike had not put them off. The next cast brought an instant bite, this time from a small rudd, not the biggest in the world, but they all count.

The bites kept coming, as did the fish, mostly roach from that same patch over those two balls of feed. The problem with the Basi Canal is that it is a public right of way, with walkers, pram pushers and cyclists constantly expecting you to move your pole off the towpath, when unhooking a fish or rebaiting. I also didn’t realise, that my bit of the bank was a short cut from the the local Sainsbury at the bridge, to a path giving access to housing estate 50 yards away. I asked one man with a dog, if he had a twin, as he had passed by several times!

I tried bulking the shot to get through to the bottom, but found a covering of pond weed, when the bread wasn’t taken on the drop. Stringing the shot out again and reducing the depth slightly brought more positive bites, plus greedy roach.

The canal began to speed up, which could only mean one thing. A barge was coming. Looking to my right, I could see it approaching the upstream bridge and managed to net a couple more roach, before the good ship Bramble glided past. Thanking me for pulling in my pole, the lady passenger explained that they had hired the barge for the day at Odiham ten miles upstream and would be turning around in the flash, before heading back. Oh well, I’d not had time for a cup of tea yet, due to too much roach action, so got the flask out.

The barge reversed back and got stuck, churning up mud. It shunted back and forth until finally getting free of the shallow flash, when the wife and two children went to the front to shift the weight forward. The barge bow was now embedded in the towpath bank and the wife jumped off with a rope, pulling the front round to face back upstream. Panic over, at last it was free and chugging past, stirring up the bottom as it went. Time for more tea, while the mud settled.

I put in a couple more balls of feed and continued taking small roach. The wind had got up, blowing leaves from the trees and it was becoming difficult to find a gap for the float rig. No bites meant a leaf on the hook. I considered packing up.

A small skimmer bream gave me encouragement to continue and I scraped up the last of my feed to put two more balls over to the middle. Roach continued to take the float under, then I cast and the float just lay flat, stuck on another leaf. I lifted the pole, the float was two feet clear of the surface, when the line went solid with a big fish, that at first did nothing, then slowly swam upstream. I could see the deep bronze flank of a bream, waking up to being hooked, shaking it’s head, before exploding into life. The elastic was beneath the surface, rhythmically following the slow fighting fish. I managed to get another length of pole attached as it slowed. It turned, making short runs along the opposite bank. I was winning the battle, but conscious of that tiny size 18 hook to 2 lb line, letting this dustbin lid of a bream make all the running.

I got the landing net ready, as the bream began rolling on the surface. Ding. Ding. A pair of cyclists, were impatiently waiting for me to move my landing net handle from the path. I nodded towards the bream. “I’ve got a big fish on” I explained, shoving the net into the canal edge. They looked at me as though I was deranged and scuttled by. The bream was beaten, but not finished and I managed to detach the top three in time for a glide on it’s side back to the deeper water. It turned and gave up, lying there on it’s side, being gradually pulled by the elastic to the net. I winced at the sight of the hook, barely in the skin at the side of the lip. “Don’t come out”. It did. Too far from the net. The bream righted and spurted away, while my rig found sanctuary in the brambles.

I had considered scaling up to a size 16, when I lost the pike, but continued with an 18, due to the clear water. 4 lb bream were not on my agenda at that time. I managed to retrieve the float rig without falling in, but the hook link was a tangle of bream slime. This time I looped on a size 16.

The roach did not seem to mind the larger hook and I caught several more, before the leaves got the better of me; my last roach, one of the better ones.

It had been an eventful few hours on the bread punch. At least the pike had not returned, although next time I’ll look for a less popular part of the towpath.

Despite problems from the very start, about fifty roach had obliged and kept me busy, the wind was warm and it hadn’t rained. What more can you ask for?