10 Bizarre, shocking & totally random things caught in UK rivers and canals.

From dead bodies to bizarre erotica, there’s no accounting for half the freakish things that turn up in Britain’s rivers, lakes and canals. Dom Garnett fishes out ten of the most random accidental things caught by British anglers.

The man reeling in a muddy boot is one of angling’s oldest jokes. These days, though, much stranger things are hauled up from the dregs of Britain’s rivers, lakes and canals. Here are just a few, from the sublime to the ridiculous, along with ways we can all help combat litter, such as  the Angling Trust’s Take 5 campaign, a nationwide initiative supported by Environment Agency rod license funding.

 1. Safes and stolen treasure

Drowned_Safe - 1
(Image credit: Elusive Element/ Wikimedia Commons)

Anglers can often be accused of pouring their savings into the nations rivers and canals. Just occasionally, though, through recreational fishing or clean up work, riches are uncovered.

A safe full of stolen money has to be among the best finds, recovered on the Rochdale Canal, Manchester. With no claimants, several thousand pounds went to the Rochdale Canal Society.

 2. Heads, bodies and legs

The last thing anyone wants to catch on a fishing trip is a corpse. Not that it only occurs the movies, because rivers and canals have long been dumping grounds for killers. In fact, it happens to several anglers every year. Who could forget the horrific rumours of Manchester’s serial canal killer, for example, said to have dumped over 60 victims in the city’s waterways?

Perhaps even worse than finding a body, though, is finding just part of one. Such was the case of Eastenders Actress Gemma McCluskie in 2012, whose various body parts and head were found months apart in London’s Regent’s Canal.

3. Religious icons

Take_5_Random_Freshwater_Catches - 6

Over the past few seasons, several anglers have been slightly baffled to accidentally catch similar looking Hindu statues of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god (Dan Guyton caught the specimen above, which was handled with great care). But what on earth would these be doing in the river?

To Hindus, water is sacred and such statues are often used to carry ashes as part of rites to honour the dead. Hence this is one case where we would definitely advise “catch and release”, to respect the deceased.

 4. Knives, guns and… Excalibur?

Various anglers and river clean-up projects have unearthed discarded weapons. Urban rivers and canals are obvious places to get rid of a dodgy knife or gun.

Take_5_Random_Freshwater_Catches - 2

As for the weirdest case, this goes to David West Beale. While out river fishing many years ago, he and his father were gobsmacked to see an ancient sword emerge, King Arthur style, from the water. It was all a big prank played by divers, who had found various shifty antiques dumped into the water. Was it a robbery gone wrong, or a houseboat wife throwing out her husband’s old junk? We may never know.

5. Matching footwear

Catching the classic old boot is easy, but a matching pair takes genuine skill. In two casts deserves some kind of award. Take a bow, Mark Elliot and Steve Moore, for catching a brace.

6. Adult toys

Quite what erotic toys should be doing in the waters of an urban canal is anyone’s guess. It takes a brave man to grapple with these items. Long forceps are recommended.

7. Hideous kids’ dolls

Random catches fishing alien

There’s always something sinister about a decaying dolly or cuddly bear. You know the one- with the unblinking eyes and horrid, decaying body. Or in the above sample caught by Richard Salter, what appears to be an alien life form. Bonus points also due to the Angling Trust’s own Will Smith for the capture of “Mr Hanky” of South Park fame (below).
June_16_New_Season_AT - 6

 8. Food and cooking essentials

Another top ten entry that’s more common than you might think, whether they come from houseboats or bivvy drunks who can’t be bothered to wash up. How else would you explain angler Nick Watkins’ catch of a frying pan with eggs and bacon still welded on solid? Other catches include kippers, tea bags, and a four pack of lager tragically lost at the net by my mate Norbert Darby. The beers would have been nicely chilled, too.

9. Bicycles

 For some reason, Britain’s hoodlums love throwing these in the drink. Whether they are nicked, or the owner couldn’t be bothered to take it to the tip, the result is the same. They’re not always in such bad condition, either. In fact, Matt Peplow pulled one out of his local river, which a local kid then cycled off on (pictured below!).

Take_5_Random_Freshwater_Catches - 5

10. Electronic devices

On some of our urban rivers, there is so much of this stuff that the bottom must look like an apocalyptic version of Bullseye where all the prizes have been dumped and left there since 1987. Toasters. Televisions. Even the odd fridge. Let’s see what you could have won…

Things we’ve caught more times than ought to be possible…

Take_5_Random_Freshwater_catches - 1

Bags and sacks. Sunken branches. Plastic ducks (preferable to real ducks, at least). The bottom. Empty bottles. Footballs and cricket balls. Soggy clothing. Terrapins. Prams and baby carriers (thankfully with no babies in them). Eels. The far bank. Occasionally some fish!

Thanks to  Jim Lockyer, Dan Guyton and Nathan Edgell for the prize catches shown above, and to everyone else who shared their finds and continue to remove so much unwanted crud from Britian’s waterways. Some items, in the interests of public decency, couldn’t be shown! You all deserve a better prize than the one you caught.

“Take 5” and join the battle against litter…

Take_5_Random_Freshwater_Finds - 2
Anglers from Shrewsbury do their bit in the battle against rubbish (above).

These days we are constantly made aware of the problem of litter and plastic pollution, and rightly so. But what can we do about it? The truth is that if we all did just a little, the problem would be greatly reduced.

With the amount of rubbish we already remove from rivers, anglers can be very much part of the solution. This is the idea of the Angling Trust’s “Take 5” campaign. Here are a few things we could all think of:

  •  Take just five bits of rubbish if you’re out fishing or walking, or spend five minutes clearing up. Ok, so it’s not yours, but it feels good to take it away.
  • Join a local litter pick. See if your local fishing club or conservation group have a regular clean up. It can be more fun than you’d think- and you’re sure to find out some local secrets about fishing venues!
  • Challenge it. You don’t have to confront anyone just to politely say “excuse me, I think you dropped something?” We don’t have to accept litter, and too often our silence makes a careless minority think its ok.
  • Report it. These days we all have a phone and can quickly note down a car registration. Littering carries a standard £80 fine (as two louts in Somerset found out last season when I photographed their car and the litter they threw in the canal). In the case of fly tipping, authorities might be able to trace mail, receipts or other evidence.
  • Set some rules. Angling clubs can take the lead with setting good standards. One excellent rule is that the angler has to leave the peg they fish tidy- and in a match they won’t be weighed in if there is any litter, even if it’s not theirs. Just a few minutes every time you fish makes a big difference.
  • Recycle your fishing line. Regrettably, there are still occasionally some issues with discarded fishing line. If you find it on the bank, do pick it up! Even if it isn’t yours, you could be saving an animal’s life. As for disposing of it responsibly, there is now a national line recycling scheme.
  • Share your findings with the experts. A current University of Nottingham study is looking to asses levels of rubbish in British rivers and assess the wider impact. Whether your local club can share the amount of litter removed in clean ups, or give specific details on the types of rubbish found, PHD researcher Hazel Wilson would love to hear from you (contact: hazel.wilson@nottingham.ac.uk)

Join the fight for freshwater conservation in your area!

If you’re not yet a member, why not join up and get involved with the Angling Trust in your region? You can catch up with all the latest goings on, from special campaigns to active member clubs in your area, by following your regional Angling Trust Facebook page. There’s sure to be plenty going on in your region (just click on the relevant link below). Your support is vital for better quality waterways and the future of fishing!

Angling Trust South West
Angling Trust South East
Angling Trust East of England
Angling Trust Thames Region
Angling Trust Midlands
Angling Trust Yorkshire
Angling Trust North West



Leave a Reply