Aren't canals dead? (Then why is BW stocking them?)


6,000 fish stocked into five venues across UK


Last week British Waterways stocked thousands of roach, bream and perch into canals in a bid to revive flagging interest in the once-popular venues. More than 6,000 fish went into the Staffordshire & Worcestershire, Dudley, Stratford and Ashby canals.

But this week, Angling Times asks if the UK’s canal fishing scene is past its best, and wouldn’t BW have been better advised putting the fish into one of its stillwaters?
Before the rise of commercials, anglers turned up in droves for canal matches which numbered 300 to 400 strong. But the lure of 100lb-plus bags, on-site facilities and short walks has since become too much for many anglers. Joint England manager Mark Addy served his apprenticeship on canals and argues that it’s not just the convenience and big weights offered by commercials that caused the exodus.
“Parents can drop their kids at a commercial fishery and they’ll be safe for the day, but you can’t say that about parts of many canals. I prefer catching silvers to carp, but I also prefer commercials to canals. The canal scene here in the North-West is dying a death and if you went to fish one in summer you’d be sat on your own,” said Mark.

Trevor Johnson, chairman of Milton Keynes AA, has witnessed specimen anglers replacing the kids and matchmen of yesteryear. In a bid to meet the changing needs of visitors, MKAA has taken a radical approach to stocking on stretches of the Grand Union Canal.

“We’ve negotiated a reduced rent from BW for some of its canals in return for restocking them with carp to boost interest. They’re only 4oz to 8oz, but in two years will have reached 5lb. Any kind of restocking on canals must be embraced, as so many youngsters live near these venues, which make wonderful learning grounds,” said Trevor.

According to five-times world champion Alan Scotthorne, the problem is not the lack of silverfish in these narrow waterways, nor a lack of people wanting to fish them. It’s the way canal matches are run.

“Organisers need to look at increasing entry fees to make matches worth winning, use waters with better access, advertise events properly in the press and work hard to get league sponsors. I’ve spent most of the winter at Lindholme Lakes rather than my usual Stainforth and Keadby Canal - there are so many plus points to commercial fisheries,” said Alan.

But it seems all is not totally lost for canal-fishing fans. One area which remains a stronghold is the West Midlands, with Birmingham alone boasting 35 miles of canals, nine more than Venice. And match attendances remain impressive.

Throughout last winter, the Hankat League on the Walsall Canal attracted a weekly field of 70 to 80, and events on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, and Coventry Canal were regularly fished by 50 to 60 anglers. England international Sean Ashby fished some of these leagues and said that they are much more popular than individual open matches, which are dwindling.

Derby-based Sean said: “There’s a hardcore of canal fans in this area but they’re not getting any younger, which is concerning for the future. It’s a shame, because a lot of anglers around here were brought up on canals ¬ they’re local, full of fish and offer a cheap day out,” said Sean.

BW remain upbeat about the stockings however. Angling co-ordinator Carl Nicholls said: Angling is the country’s biggest participatory sport and with thousands of people visiting our waterways every year, we want to ensure the best-ever fishing opportunities.