Thursday, 5 July 2012

A Quest for Canal Carp - 10,000th Cast

It's three-thirty in the morning and I've been home an hour. The first blackbird calls from the top of a nearby holly, the air is cool and still, and the distant motorway is as hushed as I have ever known. My trousers are sopping wet from the knee down from kneeling down on dew-soaked grass, my eyes are gritty, my scalp is itchy, and my body needs a bed. My head however, seeks no pillow, my fingers seek out keys, and while you sleep, I'm going to write this down, and kick it out the door, before I lose the moment to dreams.

At one O'clock in the morning I arrived at the place on the canal I've been visiting regularly over the past few weeks in search of an elusive carp. I'd witnessed this fish whilst fishing for silver bream. There'd been the sighting in the distance, of a large bow wave coming fast along the towpath revetment, and when I peered over the parapet and actually saw what it was that caused it, was astonished to see a very large carp at the head of the vee.

Ever since I've pursued it and hoped that of the many runs I've had to baits cast after it, one would turn out to be from carp. And to begin with, any carp. But so far I've only encountered a more tench than I ever knew were there, including two consecutive personal bests for the canal, an overall personal best for silver bream, a lovely pound and a half roach, a hybrid that convinced me for a time that it actually was a two-pound roach, and a handful amongst a lot of skimmer bream, of what are for this water, very good bream.

What a terrible disappointment it has been to have such fun...

I've kept the faith though. I've made ten-thousand casts into this canal and never once have I hooked carp, by neither accident or design, but I've always known at some point, one of these rare and almost invisible fish, would surely come along, even if it took a half a lifetime and a million casts for one to find my bait.

The full moon talks to a lone lamp in a leafy lane

A dead still night this. The sky moonlit, streaked by glowing stratocirrus, and the water a perfect mirror disturbed only by the lonesome reflections of passing planes and orbiting satellites. No waterbirds. No dimpling fry. No porpoising roach, bream or tench. No sign whatsoever, of carp.

I cast my baits with some sense of urgency, but also a nagging feeling that the usual fish weren't going to show because their usual signs were entirely absent from the scene. An hour passed by but nothing happened at all. No twitches of the bobbin, no sharp rising and falling of the same as fish passed under and brushed the line. Not a single indication that fish even lived here, any more.

Then, at five past the hour, the right hand rod's bobbin twitched once, then twice, and then twitched about as a small fish made off with the bait. There was nothing there. Soon after, the left-hander sprang into life, but this time on a fast run, but once again - nothing there. Most peculiar.

Another half-hour passed by. Still nothing moved. Then the left-hander sounded out again. I picked up the rod and leaned into a heavy fish. This was going to be a really large tench, solid and slow moving, but surely about to wake up at any moment to its predicament, and kick hard back. But, it never did. It kited to the bank like a bream, albeit a very heavy bream, and then, right at the net, it turned into a branch...

Two missed runs, and a stick! It really wasn't going very well at all.

Undeterred, the bait was cast back to where the previous bait had been picked up, and a handful of fresh corn tossed over the spot. I knew it wouldn't be long before a bream, for that was what it must have been in the first place, found it.

Sure enough, twenty minutes later, the left hander was off again. I picked up the rod, leaned back, and...

Holy frickin sh..


Its initial run was as devastating as I'd ever experienced from any fish in my life. It was headed for, and almost under, in what seemed an instant, the primary snag, a boom dividing canal from marina. Once far under this, the fish would be lost for certain, because beyond was not a straight channel, but a lily filled pool where the fish could turn around a corner and have me dog-legged.

I heaved as hard as I could bear and stopped it dead, two or three yards beyond the boom, inside the marina, but not so far that all was lost, yet. A massive boil and a crash of water erupted on the other side as the fish turned about itself, and to my relief, headed back to the relatively easy problems of the canal proper.

It got under the second line on the way back and the alarm sounded. Then it tore straight at me. All went slack, me furiously peddling the reel, then all went bent again as the fish made off toward the north star. The alarm sounded again as either a second fish picked up the other bait, or this fish ripped line off the other spool, I couldn't tell which, but it was not possible to do anything about it. I just hoped that if it was another fish, it hadn't gone into enemy territory.

For I had to beat this one, before anything on earth could be done about that one.

I'd sunk to my knees when the fish had got under the boom, in order to pile on enough low side-strain to stop it. I'd stayed there ever since, like a prostrate disciple attached to a raging angel. I remembered Danny Everitt telling me about this problem with wild canal carp, How I'd not land my first, nor my second, or even my third, but would have to endure the pain of breakage over and over again, till I'd mastered the art of taming the beasts with sheer skill.

Now it was out in open water and away from snags I remembered him saying, 'walk the fish.' From my knees I began to do the next best thing, which was to follow the fish around with the rod top under half power. This had the immediate effect of calming it, and it began to wallow about safely mid-canal. However, getting its head up was another matter, but I found that if I lifted at the end of a swing, it would rise up of its own accord. Only trouble was, every time it did, it would then make a savage lunge for the bottom again.

I must have been on my knees praying for the fight to come to a close for a full twenty minutes before the fish began to tire noticeably. It was only a matter of time now, before the hook-hold failed, the wire straightened out under the pressure of an unstoppable surge on an ever shortening line, or the fish was in the net.

When I finally had it wallowing on the surface, and making fewer and weaker bids for freedom, the net was pushed out as far as I could manage, and with a great thrashing and plume of spray, my first ever canal carp was safely enmeshed...

Good grief!

I knelt on the handle, and let the net retain the fish in the water, still hooked, whist picking up the other rod, praying that there wasn't another carp at the other end of it. Thankfully, the only carp it was attached to, was the one I'd just beaten, and I wouldn't have to deal with another, who could have been round the corner, and out on a hundred yards of line by now.

The mess of lead and feeder, beads, swivels, lines and hooks, was a sorry sight, but it tells the story of the epic fight very well. Quite how the fish managed to create such a mammoth tangle is anyone's guess, but given the fish's extraordinary strength and acrobatic attempts to escape, close-up, it's no surprise that it did.

But it was in such a terrible mess, and the night had been such a success, that I certainly wasn't going to retackle and try for another. I'd been there just a few hours and day had only begun to break, but I'd finally had that all important first, and trying for a second seemed pointless now, so it was time to go home.

Looking at the pictures now, this fabulous fish seems to be what I hoped it might be on the bank. A proper feral carp, or 'wildie'. Not a true wild carp as such, but one that is the result of progressive reversion over many generations back towards the true type. Long and lean, tremendously powerful and muscular, with a sharply forked tail, grey fins, and without a belly or a hump back to speak of. If so, then it is one of the most sought after carp of all, and quite a specimen too.

I think it's going straight into my top three fish of all time. I cannot remember ever getting into such a tangle with any fish, not even the double-figure salmon that straightened my size-fourteen on the Itchen. Danny was right all the way, except for the fact that I did bank it, after all. Just as he said it would be, this fish was simply astonishing in its ferocity, remarkable in its tenacity, if not incredible in its sheer agility, and I'm really glad that I stuck it out and resisted the temptation to fine down for the tench, bream and silvers I was becoming to accustomed to catching. For if I had, I would certainly have lost it in the first few seconds.

I'm getting back into carping. Canal carping, river carping, wild carping, proper carping, any carping, but commercial carping.

Now where's that big girl I once saw?

And where's the pillow...


  1. Gorgeous fish Jeff, great condition too. Can't wait to see the big one.

  2. Jeff,

    Congradulations, i have been reading your blogs on this tale for a while. Its been a slog, but as i say 'you only get out, what you put in', and you certainly put in the time and effort for this fish.

    Its a nice fact that the particular swim is back to life after being overfished for so long and BW doing their best to ruin it a few years back.

    Well done.

  3. Good on Ya boy, The first of many.

  4. Congratulations Jeff,

    The puzzle is starting to unravel bit by bit, although that tangle might take a while. That is a very nice looking angry Common, well done.

  5. And to the victor the spoils old chap. The tail on it is what that carp is all about .

    I wonder if it had ever seen a hook before . That read has just inspired me to spend an evening trotting for Barbel on my beloved Avon .

    Well in Jeff.


  6. Nice one mate! I told you they were brutal when you hook them in the cut and you weren't disappointed.

    That ones parents may have come from stock fish. But that one was born free every day.

  7. Danny, I've had your hand on my shoulder the whole time I've been fishing for these canal carp. Like you said, don't give an inch or they'll take a mile. On that first run I slammed my hand over the spool, but the fish still took three or four yards of mono by stretch alone!

    Everything you said it would be. Brutal. Like having two on at once!

    Baz, never seen one before, I'm certain of that. And yes, the tail is proper wild carp, even if it's a second or third generation regressing stockie.

    Mark, I think I might have that tangle framed!

    Martin, Cheers.

    Gaza, the electro fishing of the bream seems to have had a positive effect on the tench, who seem a lot bigger on the whole than they ever were before.

    Mark, I'll be out there all summer for her now!

  8. Wow, what a result. Good on you for all your perseverance. I was worrying that you were turning into one of the undead!

  9. I have!

    Dave, I've been sleeping two hours here, four hours there, just to get these hours on the bank in. The night is everything, I reckon. That's when all these tench, bream, and now carp, finally venture out of the safety zone. To be there, I have to, how can we say, juggle my familial responsibilities...

    But it's worth it. And do you know what, the missus actually likes it!

    For now...

  10. Well done jeff! I'm glad you caught it on corn too and not some ridiculously named and branded boilie. I hope you don't mind me asking how big it was? Gorgeous carp.

  11. Russel, It was 11.04, there or thereabouts, For once, the weight really wasn't so important. I see I forgot to mention it, but hadn't realised.

    I think these feral carp only go up to just over twenty though, so I was well pleased with half that.

  12. Very well done to you Jeff! A brilliant capture!

  13. Well done Jeff, I did a fair bit of canal carping when I lived up in Manchester, some real lumps in canals matey and yes they do fight like animals! Keep trickling the bait in and they will soon come calling regularly.

  14. A top three fish in a top three blog entry - I really enjoyed reading that. Congratulations.

    Canal carp take me back to when I actually did any real fishing - the mid-80s (I know, I know) - because they didn't seem that much of a rarity then. In fact they were quite normal and there were tales aplenty of twenties and more in and around a well-known factory as it backs onto a certain Manchester canal.

    What's happened to change this norm is, I guess, the story of commercialisation and fish transformed into a commodity. It also makes the point about what a fantastic capture it is: it's a beautiful looking fish - an authentic carp that was worth all the effort.

    The fish that leave THAT bow is still intriguing - right up there with the lost pike of last season.

  15. Truly wonderful Jeff. Effort always equals reward. Really pleased for you, much deserved...and your writing is an inspiration sir.

  16. Well done Jeff, I too are in search of the illusive canal carp...not there yet! greta carp.

    The Tuesday Swim

  17. Leo, cheers. Still working out how I might use those drop shot lures you kindly donated, but I have a perchy plan for when a certain deep river eventually calms down!

    Danny, animals is the word! And trickling bait in might be the way to get that lump I reckon. If I cant go to her, then she'll have to come to me, because there's been no sign of her since last month. Or was it two now?

    KB, That bow was a biggun, startling really for a canal. You don't see em often, as you well know, but when you do...

    Gurn, thanks sir, I really am chuffed that anything I might say might be that!

    TTS, You will get one, and I'm following you all the way till you do. 10lb line 'snapped like cotton,' I read that, and was pre-warned. Twelve pound is minimum requirements, I think. Glad I never went any lighter, because you'll need all the backbone you can get!

  18. Cracking fish and great blog post. Edge of your seat fishing story!

  19. Ahh I guess my prediction was just a few hours short of being telepathic !!

    Well done mate, like you say it's not the size it's the capture that counts. They're not easy fish either, hungry commercial mudpigs they ain't!!

    Now for the big one!

  20. Cheer Brian, nothing like a good fight with a strong fish to get the fingers bashing the qwerty keys, is there?

    Gypsy Lee, look into your crystal ball and tell me what you see!

  21. Steve in Colorado7 July 2012 at 03:55

    Well done, Jeff! And so very much nicer a fish than those grotesque, deformed pigs farmed out on the Brit commercial ponds.

  22. Steve, too right it is! sleek and pretty. I've been looking into feral carp, and wild carp, as you would, and it seems you have a lot of feral common carp in the States, far more than we have here.

    It seems they were present early 1800's but apparently almost all of the entire American wild stock derives from just 5 fingerlings imported from Germany in the mid 1800's by a farmer, Julius Poppe. He distributed them, became very successful, the US Gov stepped in, reared them and were distributing 2.4 million per year by 1897...

  23. Steve in Colorado9 July 2012 at 01:49

    Jeff, we do have carp. The fly-fishermen refer to them as 'Rocky Mountain Bonefish'.
    Sadly, many Americans think of carp as trash fish and either don't pursue them or dislike it when one takes the bait.
    There are some nice ones in a deep pool in the tiny St. Vrain river just down from the road from me but I've been feeding them corn for years (the wife calls them my 'scaly dogs'); can't bring myself to add the hook...

  24. Well done Jeff, its always a great feeling when it eventually falls into place.

    As usual another great read... looking forward to part 2

  25. Great read Jeff as usual, cracking looking fish too.

  26. Anincorrigable, Fred, thanks. I'l try hard to keep up the standard, with a twenty! MIght be a while in coming, but it will come...

  27. That's a cracking fish right there. Forget catching bloated water pigs from commercials, this is proper carp fishing! Thanks for the blog, i've been reading it for a few months now and it's always good to read about real angling.

    I caught a 'wild' carp from an old brickworks water recently and it was the fight of my fishing life. Lost two and the one that i finally banked took 20mins+ and ruined a large section of line. The torpedo shape of the creatures makes then so hydrodynamic and difficult to control. Even when they're under the rod tip its not easy to get them to surface for netting.

    Congratulations and keep it up!