Thursday 10 June 2021

The Close Season Zander Quest Pt.216 - Toe-rags and Translocation

In days gone by, those who couldn’t afford shoes or socks would tie a rag around their toes and feet as a make-shift sock. This ‘look’ was worn by scoundrels, criminals and thieves hence it’s offensive connotations  but I’ve also heard that boys wearing toe rags might hang around canal tunnels. 

They would offer to leg a working boat through for a cheaper rate than the official leggers might charge hence they were cheeky little toe rags!


Legging or leggin’ it means to propel a boat through a tunnel (without a towpath) by lying on planks and ‘walking’ along the walls or the roof. Toe rag is now sometimes spelled as tow rag because the original background story has long since been forgotten. 

Now the 433 yard long horsepath tunnel (called either Rowington or Shrewley Tunnel) not far from me takes the Grand Canal through a steep bluff south of Shrewley and I bet that must have seen plenty of tow rags in its time. 

It officially opened on 19 December 1799 when the rest of the Warwick and Birmingham Canal was completed and must have been quite a task when it was constructed due to the amount of excavation required.

For much of its length a conventional horsepath leads the towpath over the ridge but at its western end the difference in height is so great that a separate tunnel to accommodate the towpath was required. Some of the paving and western portal of this tunnel seem to be original even today and it's plenty of character which on some stretches of canal is sadly lacking.

Slightly off topic but talking of excavations I got talking to a fella (still in his orange workwear when he was after Zander) who works on the HS2 up over at Southam / Leamington way and after I mentioned the scale of the devastation of the landscape that I'd seen he put me right. You see the main construction hasn't started in anger yet, this is all about archaeological searches (eye watering daily rates) and making sure the newts are safe, yes newts, and yes those ecology money earners are paid a pretty penny too.


Newt fencing is a barrier designed to control the movement of great crested newts, other amphibians or reptiles. It consists of a low fence of plastic sheeting, buried a short way into the ground and supported by lightweight posts usually made of wood or plastic. 

It is used to keep animals out of working areas, to keep them inside safe areas of their habitat, to intercept migration routes, or to control their movement to help their capture for translocation. 

So this guy I got speaking to is often twiddling his thumbs in his digger waiting for the newt nurtures to finish their search so he can fire up the hydraulics again. Prehistoric remains, Roman settlements, forgotten medieval villages and Georgian burial grounds are among the sites that are expected to be excavated over the next two years by more than 1,000 archaeologists, by far the largest number employed on a UK dig apparently. 

The cost for the trowel scrapers, well not that much, only about a billion quid and probably like the HS2 program as whole probably more than double when they have finished. 


Pecksniffian springs to mind !!!!

Anyway back to the fishing the hallowed stretch is a bit of a mixed bag, lots of features for fish to hide out but overall unlike the HS2 excavations its a pleasant place to be. Boat movement can vary considerably, from nought to nauseating but footfall is very low indeed because it's a pain to get to for starters and there is good fishing yards from the car door if you want it.


For this session I'd fish a few swims, the moored boats, some cover and the hallowed and then settle down in a transitional gateway from a safe haven to the main canal. In the last swim I'd fish a method feeder with some small dumbell boilie to try and pick up one of the canal Tench Nic (Avon Angling Uk) had been catching and then have a deadbait rod out with a smelt to try and intercept one of these elusive big Zander that I know reside here.

The problem is as I said before there is such a huge volume of water here between locks the big Zander are hard to track down, but then this needle in a haystack challenge is much about right time right place. 

I've just been in the right place clearly despite catching my PB pike here, a spawned out 13lber. The biomass of baitfish is unlike any other section of canal I fish though and lots of fish to eat not only means big Pike but big Zander too. Would one succumb to the smelt for this evening session ? Only one way to find out !!!!!

It was a sunny and warm day when I got there but I had 4 or 5 hours to fish so enough to try and snare a big Zander. There was a chap and his girlfriend already fishing when I got there. A pleasant chat and he was after carp and his girlfriend was already catching fish on the float with maggots as bait.


He was after carp and had done really well here, well until the Otters had turned up (more of that later) but there will still bites to had despite them being at a premium now. I mixed up my planned swim order a little and fished just up from him but an hour in and nothing on the deadbait and a bream on the method rod I decided to have a stroll to the locks.

They were leaving not long after so I had the swim to myself when I returned. Within seconds of putting the deadbait out I had a bite within seconds and the float after a couple of bobbles was being dragged from left to right. I was straight in to a fish and yeap as per the norm for me here only a schoolie. 2 more schoolies in quick succession it then went dead.


So back to the middle of the stretch and after getting the deadbait I noticed something had churned up the water without even a boat going past, hmmmm a carp I wonder ? So the method feeder went out where the disturbance was and there was left on an alarm and a baitrunner.

The deadbait rod was undisturbed for a good while and I moved it about the swim a bit without any interest. Then out of the blue a screaming run on the Dwarf rod and I lifted in to a decent fish, the problem was the fish had already made ground and the line contracting a rounded metal upright and with the line under pressure the hook pulled before I could get any inroads on it. A carp yeap, I'm sure of it.


10 minutes after though you couldn't make it up, I'd by this time recast and moved the deadbait rod smack bang in the middle of the funnel swim when I noticed a bubbling under the water right out in the middle of the canal heading towards the deadbait. The otter didn't surface till it was out of sight but having not seen one here up and till now, it decided to say hi today.

Another hour without a bite the last hour and  half would be in the hallowed swim. The light was going by now and an ideal time to get the rods out to settle in for the remainder of the session. A bream succumbed to the small dumbell boilie but the deadbait rod remained untouched till the light went completely.  Illuminated by a focussing torch the float was being dragged from left to right and a fish was on.


I knew exactly what it was from the donk donk felt through the rod, yeap another small Zander. I've caught quite a few Zander here now and nothing over 4lb, what am I doing wrong ? Another hour fished well in to dark I left here again with the tail between my legs, would the last session here bring up anything of note ?

Let's hope so, thankfully the rivers are open soon,  ones resolve to continue the challenge is being tested again.


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