Over the last couple of months I have had a niggling thought in the back of my mind and it has been very hard to ignore. The thing that has plagued me so much is that I should be paying my coveted and secret canal carp spot some attention, as I know they will be feeding by now. But sadly I haven't felt up to the four mile walk out into the middle of nowhere due my still lingering injury. Until now that is...
I went to bed with all the best intentions of getting up at 5am. But that didn't happen - damn you snooze button! - so I arrived a little later than planned. Before leaving I had thinned out my gear, leaving behind anything unneeded to reduce the weight I would have to carry. So I was on minimum kit.
Walking down a wet muddy country canal towpath carrying even the smallest amount of tackle for miles in wellies is a real task but I knew the possible rewards far out way the walk.
I cannot claim to be the discoverer of the carp sanctuary I was on my way to fish, as that honor must go to my good friend Rob whom is currently on a reptile safari in St Lucia, who a few years ago whist pioneering for new fishing venues discovered this place, and I thank him for it.
The resident carp population seem to have particular territory; two stretches that they move up and down dependent on varying factors, and within that area are three specific spots that will generally hold them. This can make fishing for them a little testing, as locating them can take up valuable fishing time.
My plan has been clear in my head since the last visit at the end of last summer. As I walk past each area I stop and spend a few minutes first looking to try to spot them, if I can't I then distribute small golf ball sized balls of ground bait laced with pellets and chopped boilies onto the far ledge in known feeding areas, or spaced about four feet apart but always parallel to each other. The reason for this I will explain later.
At the first spot, which I call the spawning spot, there was no signs of movement so I baited up and moved on. At the next spot which I call snag city, there were a shoal of small bream rolling so I again baited up and headed to the top of their range to a swim I call, by chance, top swim. From here I began fishing.
I only ever bait a swim I intend to fish straight away lightly, if at all, as the fish are easily spooked. Unlike the other swims which will have a few hours to cook, I wanted a fairly instant reaction and not to have to wait for the fish to come back in after being scared off.
Once in place I first put out a chod rig with two grains of buoyant corn about six inches off the bottom, to try and intercept any patrolling carp. The second rod is where the ground bait comes in to play. I use solid PVA bags about the size of golf balls with the rig and hook bait wrapped up nice and tight inside with a good helping of ground bait and pellets. When you cast them tight under the far bank cover they never get caught up on the way in. The small pile of bait is identical to the small patches of free offerings I distribute around, so if a couple of fish are moving along under the far bank and keep finding these tasty mouthfuls of food, sooner or later they will find the one with a hook bait in it. On both rigs I use tungsten putty on the line to help it mould to the bottom as well as a small flying back lead to keep the line on the bottom of the trench. This is finished off with a clip on back lead on my side of the canal to allow barges to pass over the lines, and thus cut out the need for disruptive recasting.
When I first went after these fish I began by using lift float tactics but although this got plenty of bites I got turned over again and again when carp went hurtling into the snags. It didn't take long to figure out that by using conventional carp tactics with back leads when a fish was hooked the line could pass under all the snags. Without pressure from a strike the fish would head into open water when the hook pricked them rather than into the snags. Using bite alarms instead of watching a float meant I could walk up the bank to try and spot fish whilst still fishing confidently.
The first couple of hours were very quiet in the top peg until I spotted a rather useful fish Rob named golden balls (a golden/white koi) tight to the far bank, so I knew they were around. After carefully moving my chod a bit closer I waited. After another forty minutes I knew it was time to move on so headed back to snag city to see if any one was around there.
As I crept back into the swim I was met by a glorious sight. Towards the left hand side of the baited area I could see three large tails swaying just under the surface. As the owners of said tails lazily fed directly on my free bait and under the snag itself, I could see two more dark shapes moving around. There was at least five good sized carp in residence and there would surely be a few others yet unseen.
The problem now was how do you cast to a bunch of feeding carp in only 18" of water without scaring them off. The chod rig wasn't a problem as the short underarm cast would allow me to slow the lead down to a mere plop right against the snag. The other rod however was a problem as the three feeding carp were in no rush to move on which would have allowed me to put a new ball of bait out. The geography of the far bank came to my rescue when I realised there was a small patch of grass through a gap in the trees. Making up a bag with the rig safely inside I intended to cast over the canal onto the grass bank, which in theory should cushion the impact of the bag; it would roll gently onto the edge where I could quickly pull it back into position before the bag melted. Or so I thought. The reality was that, yes, the bag went onto the bank but instead of rolling in it buried deep into the grass which I instantly realized would be damp.Trying not to panic I gently pulled the line by hand and by some miracle it slowly slid into the water were I continued to pull it over the gravelly bottom into position.
The traps were set and ready to be sprung and they remained that way for the next hour and a half till the boats started. After seven boats I began to think I had missed my chance when the water around the PVA bag rod started clouding up randomly. My heart started racing as I waited. Then two small bream rolled directly over the bait as their shoal mates mopped up my bait below. I was running out of time and had already called Jacky to say I was going to stop a bit longer an hour ago. The sight of another barge in the distance heralded the opportunity to recast one rod so I quickly pulled out the chod rig rod and hastily made a bag for it and changed the pop up for a bottom bait therefore turning into a bastard helicopter rig. I often use the disturbance of a barge makes as it passes to mask my casting of a fresh rig.
Half an hour later I had to go so I reluctantly began packing up with my head hung low. With everything away apart from the rods and net I was faced with a choice. Which rod, left or right. I knew the bream had cleared out the one to my left, so the decision was made.
Kneeling down with my back to the canal packing away the indicator I heard a bleep! Convinced I had turned it off I knelt shaking the indicator in hand and holding it to my ear for a moment before it clicked "it's not that indicator" turning round I could see the bobbin slowly rising. Lifting gently to one side the rod bent very little as what I thought was a small bream moved off. Once in open water I lifted the rod and got a glimpse of a golden flank "oh it's a small carp" I said to myself. Then calmly as you like it rolled onto it's side and I was met by the sight sight of a good double lying there staring up at me with absolutely no idea it was hooked. Then when it set eyes on me I got my first ever taste of tail walking carp as it exploded in a blind panic across the surface.
After trying to get back into the snag several times it duly plodded around under the rod tip for ages before I manged to net net it and bank my first canal carp of 2010.
A solid wild canal common of 16lbs 9oz
The long walk back to the car was made much easier by this capture and I happily skipped back along the towpath home.
I don't think it will take me eight months to return again, as one of the fish I saw feeding was at least a twenty....