11th of December 2021 saw five harden anglers chance their luck to spend a fruitful day away from a nice warm fire and bag up on the Bridgwater and Taunton canal. Most rang in sick. The draw which was like the last match which was (according which side of the fence your on) a rover or a London draw.
Order of draw
Alan Bland 1
Eric Searle 2
Pete curnow 3
Paul Smith 4
Dave Nash 5
So of we jolly well went from the Boat and Anchor car park along the tow path towards wide waters and to the place of plenty. I decided to pick a swim about a 100 yards down from the bottle neck, the place where the canal narrows before it enters wide waters. The rest decided to huddle together right up to the bottle neck. This was handy just in case they all wanted to break in to a little sing song.
For yours truly setting up in the peg had the touch of all the calamity of a Norman Wisdom film. Hence in one moment of total and complete and utter stupidity and pure clumsiness your truly stood on his favourite waggler rod and ended its useful life. Gutted.
T here is one nice aspect about fishing the canal and it is the friendliness of some of the people you meet walking along the towpath. About 11.30 I got talking to a very pleasant gentleman who had stopped and asked me if I had any luck. We got talking and it came about his son was fishing Trinity and had just caught a few nice size carp. He then showed me a photo of his other son who also was a carper holding a fair size fish. But alias it transgressed that this young man had passed away nearly two year ago, cut short in the prime of life by bowl cancer. This resonated with me because three weeks back I had attended a funeral of a work mate who at the age of sixty two was also thwarted by bowel cancer. So for the next five minutes or so we just taught about our loses and the wonderful work that the Macmillian Nurses do and like wise the people who work at the St Margrets Hospice. My only regret was, I never got this guys name.
This was also the case for my next visitor who I recognised vaguely. It came about that he knew a few members of the Watchet angling club. We got yapping about the past, mostly about the demise of Bridgwater AA club matches and lack of youngsters taking up our beloved sport and indeed what they are missing by not being in the great out doors and enjoying the country side. “Talking of youngsters” I said. And told the story of Jack Hargreaves from that 70’s classic television series called Out of Town. Jack did a interview for a documentary about his tv series and also his life. In the program he mentions about a small charity he had set up, the purpose of which was to take groups of school kids from the inner cities who had never been to the countryside and show them what rural life was all about. Jack said the funny thing was that the most asked question he was asked from these groups was ” why do all the farmers always put their farm gates where all the mud is, why don’t they put the gates somewhere else”. This little saga certainly put a smile on my visitors face.
With that this guy went of to talk to Eric Searle. On the way back he stopped at my peg “just seen Eric he haven’t had a bite you ought hear his descriptive language of what he thinks of this place” Now any one who knows carp maestro Eric will know his ability to, shall we say torture the English language. “I’ll be back later to give you a hand with your keep net at the weigh in” the familiar stranger said as he left. “yea right”
Now what about the match itself. Paul Smith the silvers king once again took the honours with a handy haul of 8 lb 8oz. Paul made use of the whip with an assortment of baits (bread pinkie and maggot) Also implemented was the pole with worm and caster for the far side. Right at the death more or less at the whistle he managed to land a descent perch from this tactic.
In second place we find another angler who is adapt at catching silvers, one Mr David Nash. In his own words he just kept things simple with whip and pole fishing mostly at 4 meters out with maggot and feeding liquidised bread. His haul came to 5lb 6oz.
Yours truly find himself in third with an un-breath taking catch of 1 lb 12 oz. Now let’s be a person who glass is half full here, I didn’t come last. For the first part of the match I didn’t have a bite, nowt, nothing, not a sausage, bugger all. So drastic measures were called for and I changed right down to a size 24 hook and 1 lb bottom. Yep for a swim that appeared to be absolutely devoid of fish this change certainly got me out of jail. The pole was used and pinkie was employed as the bait. Fishing 4 meters out seemed the most productive line.
The battle for 4th and last place was done by eye instead of the scales owing to lack of fish. Looking in to Eric Searle’s and Alan Bland’s keepnets and using our so called expert knowledge it was decided to give Eric 4oz for 4th and Alan 2oz for the wooden spoon.
The next match in this little winter league series will be on the Kings Sedgemoor Drain at Parchay. On January the 8th 2022.
So logic dictates that there is no more matches until after christmas so it just left for me to say a merry christmas and a happy fish fulled new year to one and all.
It is difficult to ascertain how long fishing has been possible on the canal. Hearsay and vague records indicate that it took place whilst there was commercial usage. Fragments of information apparently from far back from the 19th century suggest that it was often of a high standard. Some of the veteran anglers of the 1920s often spoke of ‘the days when the boats were running’ but had little to say how the navigation affected sport. They mention that it kept the channel clear of weed, but then of course weed growth did not present the problem it does today.
The date at which the Bridgwater Angling Association acquired the fishing rights may be a matter for dispute, but it must have been between 1907 and 1909. The commercial navigation ceased about this time. Records of merchandise carried were discontinued in 1907.
No trace of any negotiations involved remain. But what we know is that the rent demanded by the then owners, the Great Western Railway was £3 per year and £3 per year was charged for the towpath. The actual stretch which was obtained was from the Bridgwater docks to Maunsell lock. This stretch has been rented ever since. £1 was also charged by the Maunsell estate who had retained the fishing rights. So all in all the yearly rent at the time was £7.
During the time that the GWR owned the canal and contrary to believe by the locals, a high standard of maintenance was upheld. In fact it was obligatory by an act of parliament when the GWR purchased the canal from the previous owners. It was during world war two the maintenance on the canal went on a steep decline owing to lack of man power. After the war when the railways were nationalized the ownership of the canal came under the British Waterways Board. This is when the rot started but the canal was still required for the operation of the Bridgwater docks by supplying it with water, for without the canal water the docks could not operate.
But when the docks were closed to shipping and the supply of water was no longer needed the future of the canal was uncertain. This is when the Somerset Waterways Society played a major part in convincing the County council of the recreational value of the canal. Thus finance was obtained for a restoration of sorts and the canal was saved.
There is a veritable kaleidoscope of memories built up over a life of fishing on the canal. They come from the entire length of the canal. Wide waters at Huntsworth, Standards lock between Fordgate and North Newton and the so called Paul Reeds stretch which is located between the scrap yard bridge and the Squibblers Way on the out skirts of Bridgwater where very popular in the heyday of fishing the canal. The high bank at Durston has been an important place as regards to fishing as well.
But as popularity was concerned it was Wide Waters the anglers flocked to. It afforded the best fishing for the average angler. Wide Waters was a lay by for the barges and thus had the widest expanse of water which attracted the fish. Unfortunately the early 1970s saw the emergence of the M5 and the peace and tranquility of the place was gone for ever. I recall way back in the 1970s well known match fisherman from the local area fishing this place with large wagglers and worm for a good day bream fishing.
Standards lock is recalled with the lock house- long since demolished- and a Mr Ingram in residence. This gentlemen was always ready with information about the fish which was often quite visible in the clear water below the gates. One Bill Morrison who was one of the fore most roach experts in the southwest way back in the 1920s had a favourite spot down towards the row of willows on the opposite bank. The amount of quality roach found there back then was remarkable by all accounts. The main shoal came right under the main lock gates when feeding. The shoal believe it or not consisted largely of fish of about one and a half to one and three quarters of a pound. The bait that Bill Morrison used, Boiled Wheat.
Now the Paul Reeds stretch which has already been mentioned may not be one of the most scenic parts of the canal but it was certainly one of the most popular in the early part of the 20th century. Being nearer the town it was very convenient, especially for an evenings fishing. Over many seasons this length gave some of the best sport available. The favoured spots were the “Rushes” where the old course of the canal left towards the river. Tench were the principle quarry but any other canal fish could be expected and in the form of very good specimens. This stretch was notable for having been one of the main habitats of the original school of carp.
Prior to world war 2 there were several excellent and indeed quite famous stretches for fishing within the boundaries of the town of Bridgwater. The basin just outside the lock into the docks, and the tennis courts in the length at Hamp which is now referred as the YMCA stretch were popular and they were exceptionally good for roach and tench. The occasional chub often inhabited these lower parts. In fact in 1921 a considerable number appeared lying in line under the walls at West Street. Unfortunately they have not been seen in such numbers since. Perch was very much in abundance in the canal in those times and they added much to the attraction to the area. Very good roach were seen over most of the lower end (YMCA to the docks). Tragically neglect and low water has rendered most part of this stretch difficult for fishing. The length between Wembdon road and Victoria is only just over 2ft deep in the middle.
The ‘High Bank’ at Durston or the Lyng Embankment to give its proper name might be regarded as on of the most famous venues. It was here that so many of the early Association cup contests were fished. The winning of this cup was a mark of distinction for any match man worth his salt.
The ‘Newton Stretch’ between Standards Lock and Kings Lock being further afield , or at one time less easy to reach, was favoured by the few who were in search of unfrequented places. Here again all kinds of the fish of the canal were in abundance and it had a reputation for having the best stocks of pike. Many of the largest were caught in this length. The original quality of the fishing seems to have endured rather better than elsewhere for many years from early last century.
The water above North Newton – Kings Lock- was never well used in fact it was almost totally disregarded, But Banklands just below Maunsell lock has a particular charm. The channel goes through a cutting giving a feeling of shelter. It is a place where a long series of splendid catches can be remembered.
Just after the war the short stretch between the upper and lower Maunsell locks was carrying a stock of Roach remarkable even for that period. For several seasons it was one of the popular spots on the canal. It was here that one Bert Porter took a Roach of two pounds thirteen ounces, a record for the Association waters.
In the 1920s boating for pleasure began to take of on the canal. A guy called Hanson maintained a boat house at the first swing bridge -crossways- No longer there owing to the bridge for Squibblers way. The popularity of pleasure boating was such that it was done all year round not just in the summer months. The favourite trip was from Crossways to Fordgate and back. It was during this period that anglers who fished wide waters notice that most fish where not bothered by the disturbance. Except two spieces Carp and Tench. These two types of fish left the area for either Fordgate or the Paul Reeds stretch.
Back in 1928 the canal between Kings lock and Standards lock was drained in order to fit new lock gates at standards lock. It was dry or nearly so for several days. But the tench survived this so well that a good catch was possible about a week or so later. Assessment of the consequences for the roach is less easy to make, but recovery must have been rapid because the fishing had regained its former state within a few seasons. This occurrence prompts speculation that either environmental conditions or water quality used to be more favourable for fish. Also the instance shows that although the railway company maintained the canal so well there was little regard for the fishery.
In 1980 a book was published called Fishing Canals by Ken Cope. In it the author mentions the Bridgwater and Taunton canal. Here is an except “Roach, rudd , bream, tench and pike are the main species and they often reach specimen proportions. Big fish reported in the last three years include rudd to 2 lb 12 oz, roach to 2 lb 11 oz, tench over 5 lb and bream to 5 lb 6 oz. Bronze maggots, casters and bread flake are the most popular baits but many tench are taken on worms. Past records from the water reveal rudd of 3 lb 12 oz, roach of 2 lb 14 oz, pike 27 lb 4 oz and chub 5 lb 2 oz.”
As you can see the canal from an angling point of view has a very rich history indeed. But alas those anglers who are the mainstay of the history of the tow path have long passed away. But as one now wanders along the many stretches of the canal devoid of anglers there still linger in my mind an essence of fishing from long ago. People like you and me sitting on their wicker baskets and armed with their cane rod and peacock quill floats. But the anglers fished a canal whose personality has changed over the years. In those days there where many more places where one could just plonk one self down on the bank and have a dabble without worrying about hacking back the reeds or raking out the swim. The water way has now been blighted by neglect and encroachment of the ghastly weed and as a consequence the anglers have left in their droves. The future of the canal is uncertain lack of investment and the never ending threat of budget cuts puts development in doubt. As the saying goes “you never know what is around the corner” and in terms of the canal this certainly applies.
The building of the canal was started in 1822, this was the days before JCBs bulldozers and even steam shovels. The canal hard to believe was dug by hand wheel barrows, horses and picks and shovels where the main tools of the day. And for the record the canal was completed in 1824, and then it only went as far as Somerset bridge. The canal was extended through the town up to the docks in 1841. On average the navvies in building the canals burnt up an incredible 20,000 calories a day, As you can see it was pretty hard work. The navvies built the canal believing that it was for use of barge traffic and the transporting of cargo. But I wonder if they every realised that one day that the resultant of their hard labour would provide many hours of delightful pleasure for the people who partake in our much beloved sport that of angling.
Most of the material for this article came from a booklet that was obtainable from local tackle shops in the early 1980’s The booklet was titled The History of Bridgwater Angling Association by Harry Sutton. Harry was on the committee for many years and worked as a dentist in the town. I would like to thank the ex chairman of Bridgwater Angling Association John Hill for lending me a copy for without it the writing of this article would have not been possible.
Once all participating anglers where in the car park next to the Boat and Anchor and all the gossip and nattering was out the way. The time came to collect the peg fees, this call to action brought forth the wad of Dodd. Enough to pay of the national debt. Note from the photo he is struggling with the weight. Now in contrast my wallet has all the characteristics of a helium filled balloon.
The pegging was such that pegs only 5 to 11 were used. Peg 5 was next to the bottle neck just before wide waters and 6 to 11 was going back towards the Boat and Anchor. It was decided not to fish in the Wide Water section itself owing to the fact that a very strong wind would be blowing in your face and making it the equivalent to fishing of of the rocks on Cape Horn in a force 10 gale.
On the way to our pegs we caught sight of this young fellow who was spinning in the reen next to the canal. This persistent gentleman fished all day up and down the length of this little water course. On the way back we found out he had caught two jack pike. I take my hat to you sir for your enduring endeavour.
Paul Smith before the start of the match mixing his magic winning formula. “Double double toil and trouble eye of newt, toe of frog, wing of bat and tongue of dog eh eh eh eh”
Apparently before the start of the match Rob had a phone call from his stock broker who convinced him that he should buy shares in Betamax, Woolworths, and Maxwell Communications. Oh dear!
It hard to sum up
this match except by using a bit of Charles Dickens. Yes you read
that right Charles Dickens. A tale of Two cities in fact. The first
was the best of times, it
was the worst of times, it
was the age of wisdom, it
was the age of foolishness, it
was the epoch of belief, it
was the epoch of incredulity, it
was the season of Light, it
was the season of Darkness, it
was the spring of hope, it
was the winter of despair
had everything before us, we had nothing before us.
on the day with a phenomenal performance was and I mean that most
sincerely folks (who remembers Hughie Green) was the one and only
Paul Smith. When the going gets
tough he certainly gets going. Paul
weighed in a grand total of 16lb 10 oz This great catch consisted of
6 Tench. Paul
fished 3 lines, short, middle and far side. But to cut a long story
short. The only bites he had came at the far side on worm.
placed Dave Nash just had 3
fish a nice tench
a bream and
a small roach.
The bream was caught in the first hour about a
third of away across on the pole. The tench and small roach where
caught on the tip. The bait was maggot and pinkie. Total
weight for Dave was 5lb
was a certain Rob Dodd who only had and I say only had in the
context of things 2 tench which he caught on the far side with pinkie
and maggot. Bites
for Mr Dodd were at a premium. He
put on the scales 4lb 10oz.
4th ah yes 4th place was me with a astounding 2oz yes 2oz , but who cares at least I weighed in. I had 2 small roach, first was caught with an hour to go and the other 15 minutes later. Enough said.
Dodd did not weigh in but said had 4 small roach and a small bream
all on the tip Mate you should have waited for the scales.
Bland braved it to the end but did not have a bite.
Eric Searle got the Abington Town trophy for packing up at 1 o clock and going home to watch the racing.
Now who remembers science at school and in particular litmus paper. Yes get some litmus paper dunk it in to some liquid and according to what colour it turned you could tell if it was acid, neutral or alkaline. Now to jog your memories red was acid, blue was neutral and green was alkaline. There don’t tell me that I don’t teach you angling brethren anything. But what that to do with our beloved sport of fishing I hear you all wail. Well I am going to give you the digital equivalent and relate it to fishing the canal. Fish the canal and you hear the colour is wrong, or the colour is right for bread or the colour is is right for worm and caster etc etc. Now I going to give you lot a code. This code is #8d867f ( I got you all on the edge of you seat with this one) Well this is what is known as a web colour code. A web page or a photo displayed on a computer consists of pixels each pixel has a web colour code. Now pure white is #FFFFFF and pure black #000000. Now there are 16,777,216 different web colours with each having it’s own unique code. Basically I took this photo of my peg on the canal and found the average colour code of the water in my peg to be this #8d867f so what I am saying is this is if the colour of the water in the canal is #8d867f don’t bother.
It was nice once again to see our dear old friend Alan Jenkins, as you all know poor old Alan suffers from poor health and to top it all he has now developed a eye condition. But Alan being Alan still keeps his spirits up. Good old Alan.
we can see the wise old sage giving the eventual winner Paul Smith
some professional advice such as keep you hat straight and trim your
next match is on March the 7th at the Sedges Tile Lake.
Christmas eve is the day of winding down, going in to chill out mood. The day Christmas spirit starts to peak, most people are content and happy. The day of expectation and joyousness and what better way to get caught up in this swirl of Christmas feeling then to have a match at nice sleepy hollow, a quaint rustic backwater to mimic this easing down from the normal pace of life. The canal at Fordgate was the place that ticked all the boxes for this festive occasion.
I was a little bit worried when I visited this place on Friday the 20th, the colour of the canal was like milky tea. Apparently bad for fishing oh dear. However when I returned on Monday morning I was surprised to find a group of three people fishing. By their gear and their set up they’d seemed creditable anglers. All three were very approachable and friendly. When I introduced myself and explained that I had arranged a match for the following day they said that they would keep any left over bait instead of throwing it in. I also let it be known that my main purpose of being here was to cut out a swim a few yards down from them with a strimmer and that there was a possibility of me affecting the fishing . To them this was no problem I was told to carry on. What nice people, all I know is that they came from the Yeovil area. NICE ONE GUYS. MANY THANKS. Also the colour had dropped out of the water and all three men were catching. A good omen.
Now how this match came in to being was that I had a little wager with the people at Ladbrokes on the Cornhill in Bridgwater on Sheffield United finishing in the top half of the championship and bingo they actually got promoted. So when I got my lively winnings I decided on setting up this match.
the day of the match arrived, well I say match it was more like a
jolly little get together with just
pinch of competitiveness. Six
was down to fish this and all six turned up, a full house with no no
shows on the day. Brilliant.
In the car park the mood was definitely festive. Sweets and Christmas cards were exchanged before the draw. The pegging was such that peg one was straight out of the car park on to the bank. Then going up to the left of the car park up to number six right next to the first set of reeds. The weather started fine but then around about noon the rain started not heavy but steady. Not Christmassy at all. The rain did however ease of in the last 45 minutes of the match. There was a slight breeze but nothing to worry about.
Now methods differed amongst us anglers Tony Richards on peg one used a short pole. Dave Nash on peg two used his beloved whip. Yours truly next to Dave just used a small waggler set up . Next along the bank was Eric Searle, he alternated between pole and small feeder. In five was Mr Alan Jenkins he predominantly used the pole mid channel but set up several pole tops and rods. This gentleman brings more tackle to the bank than they have in Somerset Angling. On peg six was the man himself Phil Dodd who swapped between waggler and feeder.
here are the results.
Pete Curnow (me)
Top weight Tony who used a short pole started of on maggot then switched to pinkie and in the last hour used bread punch. Tony fished no farther than a third of a way across. Tony had all small fish.
second place was “I pulled it out of the bag in the last minute
Phil Dodd”. Who
caught a tench that was a tad over 2lb in the dying seconds of the
match. He tempted the fish a third of the way across on double red
otherwise he had a small perch from the margins
Yours truly had all small fish on pinkie and from the far side. I could not get any bites close in, the nearer to the far bank I was the more bites I got. Oh the bait had to be moving.
Nash managed to nudge out 1lb 3oz he had a reasonable size skimmer
more or less at the start. And
Alan Jenkins had one bite one fish for 8oz. Eric had a couple small
fish but didn’t bother with the scales. First
prize was £30, 2nd
pick up was £25 3rd
was £15 . The guys who finished and 4th
below all got a box of chocolates.
Way way back to Christmas 1980 my dear dad gave me a book for Christmas called Fishing Canals by Ken Cope. Its a reasonable book for the beginner and the intermediate angler. There is however a chapter titled “Where to fish” and in this chapter it mentions the Bridgwater and Taunton canal and with this comes this picture which is shown below on the left. Which I reckon was taken from the top of the pill just before the white gate probably sometime in the early 1970’s . So at the end of the match and with the help of Mr Nash who gave me a bunk up on to the top of the pill box I took the photo on the right just for comparison.
There is a famous saying which goes “it’s not the winning that counts but the taking part” if there was ever a match that summed up this saying it was definitely this one. Enough said.
The venue was none other than the Bridgwater and Taunton canal at wide waters. Now whilst in the car park at the boat and anchor pub it became apparent that Mr Dave Nash was not going to turn up as he had been scuppered by a hang over and poor Phil Dodd had fallen victim to gravity and had just fallen down the stairs, The rest of the absentees all had excusal notes signed by their wives, So then there were only five to do battle.
But this added to the problem of the draw because where there was supposed to be 7 now there was only 5 But Alan the match secretary decided on what seemed to us remaining mere mortals an extremely complex dialogue “right if you draw out 7 you can fish in 6 if wish but only if no one pulls out 5 or , if 5 is pulled out but not 4 you can have a choice of pegs of 4 or 5 and 6 only if the person who pulls out 7 decides not to fish 6 but wants to fish 7. If you get 4 you can fish 5 or 3 depending if 6 have been drawn and if the person who’s peg is 6 decides if wants fish 7 if that peg is not pulled out. Right if 3 is one of the numbers that comes out that angler can have if he wants, a choice of either 3,4 or 2 depending if 1 is drawn out in that case the angler on 1 who has a choice of 1 or 2 might want to fish 1 but if 1 is not fished and the guy on 5 decides to fish 6 that leaves the angler on 7 with only one choice so instead if 5 wants to fish 6 and not 5 or 4 and if the person on 2 decides to fish 2 or 3 but not 1 the guy on 7 which depending if 6 or 5 is pulled out can have an option of 1 or 7 but obviously this depends on the on 3 and 4 so………”etc etc etc !
Right once the pegs were drawn and we had the numbers we anglers took certain steps.
Dodd decided to ring some of his friends at the Met office and with
the aide of their super computer it was decided that Rob should fish
Colley did a similar tactic and rang some people he knew at NASA and
they concluded that he should fish peg3,
Paul got on his mobile phone and rang dial a clairvoyant who duly got in touch with Albert Einstein the result was that Paul should fish peg 1
Yours truly took the number drawn divided it by pi and then found it’s antilog which gave me peg 6.
Bland just worked it all out in his head and fished peg 2.
The weather was overcast and except for a few splutterings of rain was on the whole dry. There was a slight breeze but nothing to worry about.
The next match in the series will be at the fast stretch on the river Tone, if this becomes unfishable owing to heavy rain etc the alternative venue will be the Bridgwater and Taunton canal at wide waters once again. Tight lines people.