One of the best baits there is, is bread. Now, I'm not going to talk about big bits of floating bread for carp or anything like that, I'm going to talk about little tiny bits of bread, the biggest about an eighth of an inch size, and the bread punch.
When I was a youngster, a long time ago, I was taught bread fishing on the Peak Forest canal in the area around Stockport in Cheshire. It was a tiny little canal about eight metres wide and about two and a half feet deep. I used to fish there every night after school and catch a hundred fish every night. Every time I caught ten fish I'd put a swan-shot in the bait tin lid, and when there were ten shot there I knew I had my limit. They were only gudgeon and little tiny roach but I believe now that it was my training ground, and the place that put me at the pinnacle of my sport. I believe that once you learn to catch fish like that on bread, then you can go anywhere and catch fish on bread, and on most methods.
Bread fishing is about getting the accuracy right. The right depth, the right presentation and your feeding has to be spot-on too.
Let's talk about the groundbait. It can be bought, they call it punched crumb. It is very fine - but I still like to make my own. The way to make it is to get a stale loaf and cut it into thick slices, then put it in the oven on a very low setting. What you are trying to do is to dry it out completely, so that it is absolutely bone dry - but before it is toasted and discoloured, so that it is still white. Put that into a liquidiser and you're done! These liquidiser s are new fangled gadgets. We used to have to use a rolling pin and then put it through a flour sieve a few times!
For those sessions on the canal, I used to feed a ball of groundbait with every cast. For a hundred fish that meant a hundred balls of groundbait - every night! My father, who taught me this method, used to weigh the groundbait out for me and separate it into paper bags. Five ounces of groundbait. So you can tell how big the balls were! The balls were as big as your little fingernail.
To mix that five ounces of groundbait, add water - a little at a time - and whisk it with a fork so it becomes nice and fluffy. We used to use it like that because as the groundbait hit the water it had to form a cloud, and it had to be accurate, it had to fall in the same place each and every time.
One day on the canal, in the wintertime, the margins were full of ice and there were three of us catching fish one behind the other. At the end of the day there was a white stripe on the ice in front of each of us. This was obviously made by small particles falling off the main ball as we were groundbaiting. Whilst we thought we were being accurate, in actual fact we were putting bread right across the canal! That changed our opinion on how to mix it. From that day on we've always over-saturated it.
Mix it with a fork in a tall, deep-sided can until it's fluffy, then dip that in the canal so that the water seeps right through it. Do it in such a manner that when you stand the can up, the groundbait is just covered by water. Slip your hand into the can and just scoop a little on the end of your finger and drag your finger up the side of the can. If you have over-watered it, dragging it up the side of the can will expel any excess water. You are left with a wet pellet of groundbait which weighs twice as much as the fluffy groundbait and so is much easier to throw accurately. As it hits the water it explodes on the surface into a very fine cloud.
This groundbait with it's very fine particles was designed to catch the tiny little canal roach.
Another form of bread groundbait is an ordinary liquidised loaf. Take a loaf of bread, put it once through a liquidiser, a slice at a time. Now, if you use bread like this on the canal in the cold, you'll fill the fish up very quickly, so your sport will only last a very short time. Using the groundbait as I first described above will allow you to carry on catching those very small roach throughout the session.
The float that you need to use for this type of fishing is… Well, we used to use a jackdaw quill, a crow quill is too big. Today's technology allows you to use a tapered balsa, a little canal squatt-float is the ideal thing, one that probably locks with 2BB. It's important to use the locking shot to make the float stand up with as much float showing as possible. So if the float is around five inches long, after it hits the water it will still be showing about two and a quarter inches of it's length above the surface. The shots down the line will take care of this protruding length of float.
Shot it up shirt-button style with No10's. The first, telltale, shot needs to be quite close, perhaps three inches from the hook. This is because this is the shot which will register the bite on this very finely tipped float. It needs to be this close so that the fish can hang itself. If that shot is too far from the hook, the fish can take the bait by sucking it in and not move the telltale shot, so that no bite will register on the float. Most people who fish bread like this get fed-up bringing their line in to find no bait on the hook. What they fail to realise is that they have had a bite but haven't seen it - all because the telltale shot has been too far from the hook.
About four inches above the telltale shot put another No10, four and a half inches above that put another, and about five inches above that yet another No10. This is when fishing in about two and a half foot of water. If the water was a bit deeper, say four or five feet, then I'd use a slightly larger float and add a few more shots up the line so there would be a little more float stuck up out of the water. Remember that the float has to cock, as it hits the water, with the locking shot.
There is a magic depth for fishing with this method. The fish will often come up off the bottom to meet the first cloud as the groundbait hits the water, so you will often catch the first fish when the hook is perhaps six inches off the bottom.
On the canal where I served my apprenticeship, there were lock gates constantly opening and closing so we had a flow going from left to right. I used to use the bankside vegetation as a map. There used to be a tree with a forked branch that used to reflect off the water and I used to feed into the reflected fork of this tree. After catching a few fish six inches off the bottom, the bites would stop, but all I had to do was to fish an inch deeper and then I caught the fish, six inches to the right of the fork in the tree. I still fed the 'fork' and caught another six fish. Then, another inch deeper and another six inches to the right was where to find the fish. This would happen every time until the 'hot-spot' was about a metre downstream to the right of the reflected fork in the tree. There was this magic depth at which I just kept on catching fish and it was possible to short-cut the cast now, still feeding the fork but casting a little downstream, just enough so that the tackle could settle before running on to the hotspot.
I've said that there was a magic depth to fish at. At the end of the session I thought it important to know what this magic depth was all about, going deeper an inch at a time as the float progressed though the swim, so I put a BB shot onto the hook as a plummet and on plumbing the depth, the tip of the float would be just under the surface of the water. It was the same after every session. In reality, it meant that when fishing, the bait was just a half an inch off the bottom. And that is the magic depth for catching fish on the punch on the canals.
My father used to reckon that in the cold winter water the fish would not move around. That they would just be resting with their bellies on the bottom and that, by fishing at the magic depth, we were literally putting the bait into their mouths. It took no effort for them to then suck that tiny little one-eighth of punched bread into their mouths.
I'm sure that he was not far off the truth.
One thing to remember with bread fishing, never strike. Instead, just lift, almost as if intending to keep the bread on the hook - and very few bites will be missed.
Any queries? Call Ian Heaps at the School of Angling - 01437 541285