A Royal Venue
The Royal Canal (Irish: An Chanáil Ríoga) is a canal originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey at Dublin to the River Shannon at Cloondara in County Longford. The total length of the navigable stretch is 145 kilometres and 46 locks dissect it. Work commenced in 1790 and lasted 27 years before finally reaching the Shannon in 1817. Very quickly the canal became a busy trading route fort the likes of Boland’s (milling) and Guinness (brewing). However, shortly after opening following the emergence of the steam train the canal fell into disuse. This faster means of transport became far more appealing for transporting goods with the result that for many, many years the canals lay dormant.
By the 1970’s the canals were in a state of total disrepair and had become dumping grounds for many of the communities that lived along them. I have seen the horrific state of some stretches of this magnificent water in black and white photographs, taken at the time. At around this time, Dublin city and its traffic were starting to expand and plans were drawn up to convert the Inner Dublin stretch of canal into a multi lane road. Thankfully, this prompted community groups to clean up the canal and petition for its restoration by Dublin City Council. Work that began then is now being overseen by Waterways Ireland and they are doing a marvellous job.
The canal is a fantastic amenity for both the communities that live alongside it and also to visitors. Many of the stretches lead away from main routes that occasionally flank it and take you out into peaceful, tranquil surroundings. Wildlife abounds by the canal and the enthusiast can spend many an hour watching the various fowl, flora and fauna that inhabit this rich habitat. The well-kept towpath makes an excellent surface for a stroll or cycle and the canal itself has been used many a time for a leisurely paddle in a kayak. With the canal only recently fully restored to its former glory, boats and barges are now beginning to use this fully navigable piece of water. There really is plenty to do here and I haven’t even mentioned the fishing yet!
From the Royal Canal I have taken rudd, roach, bream and all their hybrids, tench, perch, pike and eel and some of these have been to an impressive size, if I may say so. The canal also holds a small head of carp which I have not been fortunate enough too catch just yet but I’ll keep trying. Many anglers dismiss the idea of fishing in the canal with some referring to it as “just a ditch” and assuming that there cannot be many fish to a good size in it. They would be very wrong! The canal can be a tough water to get a result from if it is not approached the right way and after a couple of blank sessions, some anglers assume that the fishing is not what it used to be and head further a field to other waters.
It is true that sections of the Royal canal face problems – most notably littering and the removal of some fish – but I think it is the challenges presented when fishing that puts most anglers off. Firstly, the water in a lot of parts is crystal clear and shallow. This can make for difficult conditions anywhere and the best approach here is to use the lightest gear you can get away with, without risking breaking the line in a fish. This is very easy with some of the super strength, low diameter lines that are now on the market. Fish will also be reluctant to feed in very clear, shallow water during the day when they feel exposed to predators so try adopting a night fishing approach perhaps. Most of my good canal fish have been taken at dawn. This may not appeal to everybody but if you want the fish you must be prepared to put in the hours.
The Royal also experiences a huge amount of weed growth. This can be very annoying to the angler who wishes to present his bait on the bottom where he or she will find the better fish. There’s not much point in your bait resting on top of the weed, two feet above the heads of the bream, tench or hybrids. Really, the only way around this is to rake out a swim for yourself. I carry a homemade weed rake in the boot of the car and a few passes of this through my swim before I set up results in a nice, weed-free swim to fish into with ease. There is an added benefit of using the rake because it stirs up the bottom and kicks up all sorts of natural food like bloodworm and larvae that will quickly attract fish, especially tench. Only remove as much weed as is necessary to fish and don’t leave it to rot on the towpath return it to the water when you have finished fishing.
Stealth is a major factor to consider when fishing this venue. It is a small water, not very wide in many places and as mentioned earlier the water is very clear. Try and blend in with your surroundings. Set up your tackle well back from the water’s edge and keep your movements on the towpath to a minimum. Sit well back from the water when you are fishing especially during the day. Some fish will feed right under your rod tip in the canal but any kind of movement on the towpath will spook them. Remember that many of the predators that prey on fish live above the surface of the water and they are on the lookout for these as well as any pike that may be swimming about.
Feeding is the last important point I would like to mention. It is possible to go up to the canal and have good bags of fish but you must feed it in the correct manner to attract fish into your chosen swim. I like to start by throwing four or five good handfuls of particle bait such as seeds, corn and maggots and I will usually start with a maggot hookbait. While I am fishing I will add a pinch of maggots every couple of minutes and another handful of particles anytime a fish is landed. The constant stream of bait will attract in the small rudd, of which there are a lot, and these feeding will in turn attract the attention of the better fish. Maggots, casters, worms, sweetcorn, bread, pellets, hemp, wheat, barley, oats and paste are all baits worth having and all with catch Royal Canal coarse fish. Crumb and powdered, flavoured mixes are optional but a bed of particles will be just as effective. Prebaiting over the space of two or three days will greatly improve catches if the angler is in a position to do so.
Float tactics are the order of the day and a good 12-14ft float rod matched to a 5lb mainline will cover every situation. Go down to a light hook length (2-3lb) if targeting the roach or rudd and it is best to use your 5lb mainline straight through is you decide to target the hard fighting tench. Any lighter and there is a good chance you will lose them in the abundant weed and lily stems. Hook size can range to a fine wire size 20 for winter fishing for the roach up to a size 10 or even a size 8 forged, specimen hook for the tench which have topped 8lb from this venue.
There is fantastic fishing and some fine individual fish to be had from the wonderful little venue that is the Royal Canal. Get out and explore it, have a look at a few stretches you would like to fish and assess their difficulty. Time spent in reconnaissance is never time wasted. Enjoy your surroundings and the sights and sounds they have to offer. Sit back, relax, enjoy your fishing and the fish will soon turn up. Angler or otherwise a few hours spent by the Royal Canal is a very pleasant time indeed.
Waterways Ireland, who are responsible for the upkeep of the canal have a certain bye-law that they expect anglers to obey – all fish must be returned alive to the water and rubbish must be taken home after a day or night’s fishing.
By Gary Robinson © May 2010
All Images Gary Robinson © May 2010