Most features tend to be about catching shed-loads of fish, or big weights, but come winter it’s a different matter. Hopes evaporate of catching mega bags from the UK's fish-stuffed commercials. Winter brings out that special breed of die-hards… the 'Cut-Heads', who, fed up with pitting their wits against suicidal commercial fish switch their attention to things requiring more finesse. Gone are the paste and meat rigs… out come the finer .08mm rigs, and enter the more humble smaller baits.

It's an accepted fact that a canal feels the winter more than most venues, with fish tightly shoaling up in their winter quarters. If you’re sitting in the wrong area then all you’ll feel is cold and frustration, rather than a tug on the line! Everything is geared down in winter, from baits, to tackle, and winning margins of ounces, rather than pounds… its about capitalising on everything that swims in front of you, which is usually small, so ounces matter!

This is where pinkies and bread punch can score heavily, but which one can be relied on to grab the coin on a frosty day? To shed some light on this we went to a renown winter stretch of the Basingstoke Canal at Ash Vale in Surrey, to test the theory of which is the better winter bait… pinkie or punch. We want to find out which will sort the ounces from the drams!

Our two 'Crash-Test-Dummies' are well known around the area for consistent and winning ways in matches… Andre Grandjean and Sid Sendonaris. Each has had their fair share of financial return from the Cut. To make things as fair as possible we let each angler draw for which bait they'd use with the loser getting choice of peg. It’s worth mentioning at this point that Sid is a bit of a ‘Punchead’ when it comes to the Basy, so the draw could be crucial to his survival. Andre’s first up and draws pinkie, lady luck is certainly smiling down on Sid!

Being one of the foremost experts on the 'Basy', due to his previous match organiser status with the BCAA, Andre suggested an area just outside the Swan Pub, at Heathvale Bridge in Ash. This normally is one of the more productive winter stretches during the winter months so we start to set up and prepare for the off. The morning was very cold and misty and the lads start to set up with some expectations! Unfortunately, as fishing-luck would have it, they ended up spending a couple of fruitless hours blanking! A re-think was called for... didn't our expert say this was supposed to be a good stretch, I hear you all mumble!

I decided to scout further down the canal to were some locals were having a knock-up and found that the fish seemed to have drifted in this general vicinity. I reported back and the consensus of opinion was that we should uproot, as quickly as possible, and head for the greener pastures (more like golden and brown). This was live 'un-action' and showed the fickleness of Cut-fishing in a most disappointing way! We relocated as quickly as possible, to a potentially worthwhile area, approximately half mile away. Unfortunately this was starting to look like 'leaf' city, which would be interesting as the fine presentation required, in particular for punch fishing, would be sorely tested by the blanket of golden leaves.

The canal is about 516 leaves wide here, that’s 12 metres in a pole measurement, with plenty of far bank overhangs, making it quite an enclosed area. Andre’s hedging his bets and going for two lines, one at eight metres and the other at nine. He says he has about 10 inches differences in depth, with the deepest being four foot. Both lines receive one small ball of fine groundbait, made up of Supercup and Secret in a 2 to 1 ratio with a pinch of pinkie tossed in for appeal.

Sid on the other hand is concentrating on one main line at nine metres, just as the shelve starts to rise. He explains, “because of the cold conditions I don’t want to fish all over the place in such a tight area, so I’m making an effort to concentrate my attack in just one spot. Fish don’t rove too far during winter so I hope this won’t split up any shoal present." His feed is one tangerine sized ball of liquidised bread, which he believes has a greater attraction than punch crumb on static canals, due to its lighter texture. He’s not sieved it too fine either as he thinks some of the larger pieces help in the overall attraction. However, with this approach there’s always the danger of overfeeding finicky roach shoals, so it’s obviously his personal choice on the day.

Andre’s rigs:
.08mm Matchtek mainline.
.20gr XL5 Squatt float and a Latimer Special 4x12 float.
Hooklengths: 0.06mm Matchtek to size 22 Kamasan B511.
Elastics: No.5 Preston Slip
Sid’s rigs:
1.6lb Pro-micron mainline.
Latimer Special 5x10 float and an Image .25gr Squatt float.
Hooklengths: 0.06mm Pro-micron to size 20 Green Gama’s.
Elastics: .8mm Milo Latex
The morning had started out with temperatures down at 1°, but we saw it climb slightly to 3° over the morning. As the sun shone along the canals leafy lane, I notice a small book on Sid’s tray… surely he hasn’t got time to read? On closer inspection Sid points out that he records all his match results, with each rig he’s used, along with a special code. This helps him see how much 'use and abuse' each rigs had. For instance, his main Latimer Special rig has given him two 2nd places in his last two matches. “I don’t want a 2nd today” Sid wryly croaks! His preparation is a lesson to many of us, showing that the margin of difference between winning and losing could be as simple as a few written lines!

We had lost a fair amount of time due to our first choice blowout, but we’re eventually underway at 12.30pm. Sid starts off like a rocket with the punch picking up 9 fish in the first 15 minutes as opposed to Andre’s more cautious start of 3, which were small perch, something which Sid shouldn’t be pestered by! Another 30 minutes goes by and Sid extends his lead by 20 to 12. It must be said at this point that while Sid has the better numbers, Andre’s stamp of fish looked slightly larger, a fascinating contest seems to be developing.

Both anglers are having obvious difficulties with the static leaves, but then the canal starts to move to and fro, indicating the age old problem... BOAT TRAFFIC! Not normally of concern during warmer months, boats can have a devastating effect during the cold winter months, when fish become finicky in the clear conditions.

As expected sport takes a nose-dive for a short period, but it’s Andre who’s first to hit the net with a decent roach after re-feeding with another small ball of groundbait. It takes Sid a little while longer to build up momentum, then several minutes later the boat returns… don’t you just hate that!

An hour passes by and Sid is still in front by 24 to 18, but that spell of boat activity did him no favours. He eventually regains a substantial pull in numbers, adding a nice roach of about 8ozs, which looks as though it was nearly dinner for something lurking in the depths! Sid’s fishing about 4” off the deck, due to the many sunken leaves which can have an impact on sport, due to their souring of the water. He’s feeding small marble sized balls of liquidised every three to four put-ins as experience tells him that there’s a few fish around. Andre now suffers the indignation of getting snagged and broken up on debris, which means having to tie another hook on. This gives Sid a slight time advantage, unfortunately he only benefits by an extra fish.

The sun has now crept behind the far bank trees and made float recognition extremely difficult for both anglers due to the contrasting surface conditions. Sid however, is picking up fish quite regularly, but they are only around the ounce mark. Andre on the other hand is waiting longer for a bite, but when he catches, it’s a larger roach or perch. He’s even managed a small 4oz rudd, which abound during summer in their thousands. Andre is not feeding as regular as Sid, but relying more on top-ups, for which he’s made his crumb slightly damper, figuring out that the fish may want something less fluffy, it seems to be working.

Although visibility is a major issue for both anglers, it doesn't stop the flow of fish coming. It’s been over two hours since the boat passed through and thankfully no others have ventured this way, that's allowed both the fish to settle and the anglers to get back into a rhythm. Winter is a time of early darkness and by 3.30pm we are starting to lose the light. It’s been a mixture of fortunes on both sides, but which angler will prevail. The final weigh-in reveals that after 3 hours of fishing Sid’s racked up 86 fish, tipping the scales at 3lb 8oz 4dr, while Andre’s 57 fish sneaked in at 3lb 10oz. Sid’s wish to not finish second was not to be and Andre took the honours on a difficult day. Conclusion:
Considering we started late. due to the first area’s reluctance to produce any fish, both anglers did remarkably well. It was apparent early on that pinkie was drawing the better quality fish, and not just roach. Perch were far more amenable to pinkie than the punch (obviously!) and this proved an advantage to Andre, especially as he used flouro pinkie, an acknowledged winter colour. Size for size, perch would always add those few extra drams over an equivalent sized roach and this I feel is were the pinkie took the honours, it simply gave more fish options over a roach dominated punch bait. Punch, however, was blinding when it came to numbers, but the fish were generally smaller and were ALL roach. Sid did have the minor satisfaction of the largest fish, a roach of 8ozs, unfortunately he didn’t have enough of them. All in all it seemed a pretty good win for the pinkie, even though there was only just a few ounces separating the two baits. However, over a five hour period I’m sure pinkie would still have come out on top with sheer quality alone.

Cold, clear and rock hard conditions, while producing good punch weights, can also favour the pinkie, especially flouro, so always make sure they’re on your bait list! It's irrelevant how much you win a match by... in summer it can be over a 100lb, but in winter, your expectations should be realistically restricted with a focus on 'oz's', rather than 'lbs' the main priority, therefore anything which puts extra weight in your keepnet is the key to success. The fish-to-weight ratio said it all... 86 fish for 3-8-4... 57 fish for 3-10-0, pretty conclusion I believe!

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