Grandpa Webb's blog

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The heron and the high cost of catching a carp

I never realised that coarse fishing was so high-tech. It’s Sunday and grandma and I are walking along the towpath of the Grand Junction Canal. The canal bank is dotted with anglers seated on small boxes, each in a numbered space. It’s a competition.Find out more about grandpa Webb and read his blog - RIAS & You

I always thought that fishing was a way of escaping the hustle and bustle of daily life, but, courtesy of the smart phone, this is not the case any more. One of the anglers is talking animatedly to someone – drowning out the sound of the commentary of the football match being broadcast on his tiny radio.

We walk as quietly as we can past the anglers. This is difficult because the Canal and River Trust has just restored the towpath. It’s a huge improvement over its muddy, rutted predecessor, but they have resurfaced it in gravel, and we can’t help scrunching noisily with every step we take. I seem to remember that fish can see you, but cannot hear you, so if we keep our heads down I suppose it’s all right.  

We are well past the last of the fishermen when we come across Henry. Well, that’s not his real name, but I thought he should have a name that began with an H as he was a large grey heron.

Henry is standing at the top of a small weir alongside the canal and is only a few feet away from us. He watches us warily with one yellow eye and shifts uneasily on his perch, but stands his ground as we stop and take his picture.

We walk on, on the lookout for kingfishers, but there are none about today. On the way back, Henry has gone, but the fishermen are still there. 

“Caught anything?” we ask. 

One fisherman gestures towards the man at the next numbered pitch. “He’s caught a 14lb carp and a five-pounder, and he’ll win – no one else has caught much -- the water temperature is a bit low.” He gets out his smart phone and shows us a picture he has taken of his companion holding a huge carp.

A heron standing at the top of a small weir alongside the canal - RIAS & YouThe phone gives a chirp. A call from home, or the office perhaps? “Ah, maybe someone has caught something. We keep in touch so we know what’s going on,” says the fisherman.   

The potential winner is fishing with pole 12.5 metres long – a lightweight carbon-fibre device that reaches almost to the other bank. A lot of his fellow-competitors have poles and some of them have an accessory that enables them to fit a little cup on the end. It’s not for coffee. The idea is to use the cup to spread a handful of ground bait in exactly the place where the line will drop.

The experts also use the pole to plumb the depth of the water. If you can find out where there is a little hollow in the riverbed, that’s the best place to drop the bait, because the fish know that food collects in the hollows.  

“I don’t think that’s fair on the fish," says grandma. It turns out that the winning angler’s pole cost £2,500, so catching that big carp didn’t come cheap. As for the fish, if it gets caught in a competition, it only has to endure a little time in the keep net, followed by a weigh-in and a photo opportunity, before it is put back. 

I show the fisherman my picture of Henry. I can’t honestly say he gasps in horror and the colour drains from his cheeks, but I can tell he isn’t impressed. “Herons are the competition as far as we are concerned,” he says. 

I suppose if you are a competitive fisherman who has invested £2,500 in a high-tech pole the last thing you want is a feathered competitor who has spent absolutely nothing, standing in the water in the best place, with a big beak poised to strike, frightening all the fish away. 

I imagine the fishermen shoo the herons away. I don’t think Henry is too bothered; the fishermen will be gone soon, and at their current strike rate, there will be plenty more fish in the canal… 

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