That Britain’s canals contain some huge specimen fish is no longer a secret. Nevertheless, the sheer quantity and quality of untapped carp fishing remains an eye-opening phenomenon. Should this be such a surprise? Stock fish released by angling clubs in past decades are thriving, as are accidental and not-so-accidental escapees. They find rich feeding grounds and plenty of space. And as a hardy, long-lived species, these carp can become fish of spectacular size and beauty.
My interest in canal carping first started on the Exeter Ship Canal. Club records documented commons and mirrors stocked in its waters a little after World War Two. Some fifty years later in the 1990s, these fish had thrived for decades undetected. As a boy I would witness fish that rendered me incapable of rational thought: huge, barrel-shouldered carp with mouths that could swallow your fist. One of these survivors came out at over 40lb, a canal record at the time.
Point Pleasant Canal Fishing Photo Gallery
Such circumstances might seem exceptional, but the seeds have already been sown for the next generation of monsters on our canals. Perhaps a majority of Cuts now hold fish to over 20lb. If in any doubt, a customary glance at the reference section should provide all the evidence required. Canals such as the Grand Union have a terrific head of fish, while countless other waters also hold fish from Bude to Glasgow. And yet this is the tip of the iceberg. So much water is unfished and those who are catching big carp rarely share their locations.
Tackle up Tough!
Where large carp exist on many canals, the biggest challenge is landing the fish. In the words of Midlands canal fanatic Tony Keeling: ‘You’ll hook ’em, but that’s about as far as you’ll get! These fish are not as tackle shy as those constantly bothered by bivvy anglers on stocked waters however, so why fish light? A sensible minimum would be 15lb line where fish run big, although where permitted, 30lb braid is far stronger and better at cutting through weed.
With miles of water to roam, canal carp can present challenging fishing. It can be a timeconsuming, soul-searching business. You will undoubtedly experience failures as well as successes. In a sense it is the challenge and mystery that is the essence of the exercise. You might have little track record to work with: canal carpers tend to be secretive. You might have to set up in tight swims well away from the obvious access points. But what a feeling to connect with a solid, beautifully-conditioned fish that might never have been caught before.
A sight to make any carp angler drool: a whole gang of fish loiter in a boatyard.
There are admittedly other canals where stretches have been flooded with ‘match sized carp too, and I will cover these later in the chapter. Whether this is desirable is open to debate, as carp are greedy fish that can have an adverse effect on both water quality and the other species that share the same habitat. To my mind the perfect model for angling clubs is to trickle stock with fewer fish, giving them plenty of space to grow on without affecting the canal.