The under-rated Crab Apple stretch holds quality fish.

GRANTED, team fishing on a canal during the cold winter months means scratching for a few pounds of small silver fish and a bonus perch. But if you take the time to pleasure fish these venues, you will be surprised as to just what these underrated waters hold.
Pewsey and District AA regulars Steve Trevett and Mark Harvey invited Southern Angler to the Crab Apple section of the club’s day ticket stretch of the in-form Kennet and Avon to show just how good canals can be.
Steve is the club’s match secretary and knows the venue like the back of his hand, regularly taking double-figure bags from the water. Mark also knows the venue inside out and is a master at fishing bread for the roach on the venue when it runs cold and clear.
After a glorious week of late summer weather, the conditions took a turn for the worse and as we arrived at Pewsey Wharf we were greeted with the heavy rain that had been forecast.
Not to be deterred by this, Steve and Mark set off in the direction of Pains Bridge, confident that they would catch, even with all this rain.
“This rain won’t make any difference to the fishing,” said Salisbury, Wiltshire-based Steve. “There’s not been enough to put the fish off.”

Crab apple tree
As we walked to the pegs, we passed the crab apple tree that gives the stretch its name. As the rain continued to fall you would have been forgiven for thinking there was a thunderstorm approaching, as a dull rumble could be heard in the distance.
“That’s the tank range on Salisbury Plain,” said Steve.
The club controls more than 41/2 miles of the canal, from Ladies Bridge in the west to Milkhouse Water Bridge in the east, more that 200 pegs of towpath fishing, most of it fishable for the price of a day ticket.
The Crab Apple stretch itself is part of the 15-mile, lock-free section that starts from Devizes and passes east through the Vale of Pewsey before rising to the canal summit at Wootton Rivers Flight.
A lot of the far bank is covered with overhanging trees and reed beds, although where the canal’s many boats are moored the banks can be clear of any features.
After a walk of a few hundred yards past the brightly decorated canal boats, Steve and Mark settled for two swims with trees hanging into the water on the far bank, with gaps between them that looked very ‘fishy’.
“I would have liked to fish nearer the crab apple tree today,” said Downton, Wiltshire-based Mark. “But those barges look like they could move off at any time and stir up the canal bottom, ruining the swim.”
As the rain continued to lash down, the two anglers set up their kit for the session.
Mark’s set-up for the day was a Daiwa Spectron Competition pole with two top kits kitted out with Middy Hi-Viz elastic. His ‘down the track’ rig was loaded with the match heavy grade 6 to 8 to which he attached 0.07mm Preston Innovations Power Line with a 0.25gr Drennan Tipo float with most of the shot down the line and a size 20 Kamasan B611 hook tied direct.
“There’s a slight flow from left to right today, so I am using a heavier float than normal,” said Mark. “Due to the tow, I will fish around six inches overdepth to keep the bait over the feed.”
For the feature-filled far side Mark had specimen grade 8 to 10 elastic in his top two, to which he attached 0.11mm Power Line with a small caster pattern float and a size 20 B611 tied direct.
The rigs were set overdepth to anchor the bait on the bottom.
Steve also had a Daiwa Spectron Competition pole for the session and his set-up was similar. But if you think Mark was using strong gear for a canal, Steve’s far-shelf rig will really surprise you.
With two overhanging trees to his left, Steve had set up a top two loaded with black Hydro, yes black Hydro. To this he attached 0.14mm Trabucco Diamond line with a MAP 5 0.10gr dibber and a size 16 Kamasan B611 tied direct. Most of the shot was bulked well down to get the bait down quickly.
His rig for fishing halfway up the shelf to the overhanging tree directly in front of him, consisted of Preston Innovations No6 elastic, onto which he attached 0.10mm Trabucco Diamond with a 4×12 Preston Chianti float and a size 18 B611 hook tied direct, again with the bulk of the shot set well down the line.
“This set-up might seem a little strong for canal work but if I hook a tench or one of the venue’s bigger bream, I need to get it away from the far bank quickly,” said Steve.

Caster attack
Feeding for the session was very different to the normal small quantities you generally associate with fishing canals.
For his 8m line Mark, fed six large cups of Sensas Roach and Noir Roach, mixed 50/50 with Sensas Bream 3000, laced with hemp and some casters.
“To be honest, the mix you use in the summer is not important,” said Mark.
As the canal was around four feet deep down the track, his groundbait balls were made quite soft, as he wanted the mix to break down quickly as it hit the bottom. The far-side, tree-lined swim was regularly loose fed with casters to attract the bigger fish.
I have no worms with me today, so I am going to fish a caster attack on both lines,” said Mark. “I do have a few change baits, such as corn and maggots, if I need them.”
Steve had gone for a more traditional chopped worm and caster approach, which he fed along with a few grains of hemp, just in front of the overhanging branches at 11 metres. He fed the same again in the gap between the trees to the left at 13 metres, where he hoped to ‘snare’ one of the venue’s big tench.
As the rain continued to fall by the gallon, sport was initially slow. But after about 30 minutes the first signs of fish showed in Mark’s swim, as the 8m line started to fizz.
A few minutes later his float bristle rose out of the water slightly, then dipped away and a steady lift saw the orange-coloured elastic shoot from his pole tip as the first fish of the day, an 8oz skimmer, was guided over the waiting net.
Steve had not had a sign of a bite, as his ‘choppy’ attack seemed to be misfiring.

This great canal catch of bream and tench is by no mean untypical.

“There have got to be fish in the swim but with the big worm bait I won’t see any bites from little fish,” said Steve.
He topped up the feed in the swim, confident that the bigger fish would come on to the bait sooner rather than later.
Mark was also finding the going slow, but was still getting the odd small fish. He also topped up his swim but with another ball of groundbait and a few casters.
After nearly an hour, and still having had no luck on his 11m line, Steve decided to try the far shelf to see if the sanctuary of the trees held any rewards.
The move paid off as his dibber float shot out of sight and a good-sized fish managed to pull the black Hydro from his pole. A 1lb skimmer was quickly landed.
Once the fish was safely in the net, Steve fed another pot of chopped worms.
“I always re-feed after each fish, as it doesn’t take long for the bait to go once they get their heads down,” he explained.
Mark was the next to hook a good fish, but this one made a sudden final bid for freedom as he guided it across to the near side and snapped his hooklength.
“I think it was foul hooked,” said Mark. “This is a problem when fishing overdepth, but as there are bigger bream around now I am going to step up to a 0.09mm rig.”

Boat sense
Steve had kept faith with his 11m line and soon had his elastic pulled by a fit hybrid that went well over 1lb. At the same time Mark was into a better skimmer of around 11/2lb that had taken his single caster offering.
About 90 minutes of the session had passed and both the anglers now had positive indications that fish were starting to feed on their respective baits.
How ironic was it then that the first boat of the day appeared from the Wharf and chugged towards them? As the narrow boat started to approach from his left, Mark politely shouted over to the helmsman, asking him to pass close to the near bank, as although the main channel was down the middle, the deeper water was actually closer to his side.
“Most of the time, if you are polite, you can get the boats to pass away from your main line of attack,” said Mark.
As the boat passed by, pleasantries were exchanged; proof that in most cases canal users can get along.
A little time after the boat had gone, Steve had two quick fish but lost one at the net. These were closely followed by a 21/2lb bream, which took him all over the canal before he finally slipped the net under it.
Having had three fish in succession, Steve cupped in some more worms and casters and left the swim to rest.
All Steve’s fish had been taken on three quarters of a dendrabaena worm, as he was after big fish. On the next put-in on the 13m line, his float started to dip a few times.
“That’s probably a ruffe playing with the bait,” said Steve.

Tench time
The rain had finally stopped and sport had picked up, with both anglers catching constantly.
Although he used chopped worms on the day, Steve thought the water, although it had some colour, was still quite clear.
“For the end of the summer I would have expected there to be more colour in the water,” he said. “I reckon I could have caught on bread today.”
Mark was now bagging on the skimmers that were coming on a regular basis from his 8m line. He continued to keep the casters going in on the longer line but was leaving this for a while longer before going over for the tench.
Steve, now fishing maggots and worms on the hook, connected with something that did not want to come in. The fish made several lunges for the far-side features before the No6 elastic tamed it.
The defeated fish finally came to the surface and the first tench of the session was safely deposited into the keepnet.
Shortly after, it was Mark’s turn to hook something that fought back and he soon landed a tench well over the 2lb mark.
This was the sign Mark needed to go over to his longer line, to see if anything had taken a fancy to his caster freebies.
First put-in he had a decent skimmer on his double-caster offering. This was closely followed by a 2lb tinca that wanted to go everywhere but in his net.
“These tench really go,” said Mark.

Black Hydro
With the temperature noticeably rising, Steve’s far-shelf swim was really bubbling, but just as he was about to ship out with his black Hydro rig, a canoe came along.
Another polite request saw the canoe pass close to the near bank and both anglers were happy to wait for it to pass.
“Most boat owners are okay,” said Steve. “But you do get the odd few that have a problem.”
Another narrow boat came along and again there was no problem.
After it passed, Steve shipped over his worm bait on his big-fish kit and immediately gained a bite. As he lifted the pole, expecting his elastic to be dragged out, he felt no resistance and as the bait came out of the water he saw that a ruffe was holding on to the worm. The fish, the same size as the bait, held on for a second before letting go. As he lowered the bait back into the water, Steve commented that the whole Pewsey stretch of the canal has plenty of bigger fish.
“I don’t think there is any area where you cannot catch a bream on our water,” said Steve. “Even in the winter there will be a few bonus bream in every swim.”
Moments later Steve’s float dipped and, as he gently struck, the Hydro was pulled from the pole as another tench was hooked. This time the shocked fish was soon played and landed on the carp elastic.

Quiet times
The next hour saw the bites drop off as the rain returned. Both anglers kept up their feeding patterns but the period only saw a single fish caught.
Another boat appeared and the occupants were happy to follow the request to keep away from the far bank.
“One of the mistakes a lot of anglers make when a boat comes along is that they leave it to the last minute to ship back,” said Steve. “This makes the boats steer towards the far bank, as they think they are doing the anglers a favour,” he added. “Ship back early and most boats will stay on the right course.”
The end of the session was rapidly approaching, as the bites had dried up, but there was still time for Steve to catch one more tench that took very little effort before it joined the others in the net.
“It’s funny how you always get a quiet period on the canal,” said Mark. “There’s no real set time that it happens, although it’s normally during match times and that is really frustrating.”
The four-hour session had shown the real potential of the canal, with Mark’s tench and skimmer bag weighing in at just over 25lb. Steve’s catch, although not as much, as it took a little time for the fish to find his feed, was still a reminder that, if fished right, a canal can give as good a day’s fishing as any commercial venue.
“All you need to catch well on the water is a variety of baits and the confidence to fish them,” said Mark.

Venue Fact File

Contact: Pewsey and District AA, call Steve Trevett on 07944 162217

Day tickets: An adult ticket costs £3 and a junior ticket £2. These are available from the honesty box on the side of The Boatman’s Rest café at Pewsey Wharf

Membership: Adult permits cost £20 a year, a family permit is £25 and a junior/OAP permit £10 (2005)

Matches: There are a number of opens run by the club throughout the year

Facilities: There is some parking at Pewsey Wharf and you can park near to the other bridge access points on the side of the road. The Boatman’s Rest café at the wharf has an excellent menu

Nearby tackle shop: Devizes Angling Centre, Snuff Street, Devizes, call 01380 722350

Nearby pub: The Waterfront Inn is located at the wharf, call 01672 564020

How to get there: Travelling west from London, take the M4 towards Swindon. Leave the motorway at Junction 14 and head south on the A338 to Hungerford. Turn west on the A338 and follow this until you reach the Burgade roundabout. Take the second exit onto the B3087 to Pewsey. When you reach the village turn right onto the A345 and head north for about a mile. The wharf car park is on the right, just before the canal bridge