Having been the birth place of my angling career, the canal holds a special place in my heart and I always make time for a few sessions along the cut during the colder months. The canal is a brilliant place to get a bite in the coldest of conditions; the shallow water and frequent boat traffic keep the carp constantly active and searching for food.
When fishing any water, location is paramount and will significantly increase your catch rate, this is especially so on the canal. In my experience the most productive canal hot spots are areas of moored residential canal boats, marinas being the ideal location, as these often hold numbers of tightly grouped boats. The majority of ‘lived on’ barges have built in boiler systems, radiating serious amounts of heat. Carp, being cold blooded creatures, will instinctively search out and thrive in these areas where the water is ultimately warmer than other areas. The carp will often lie underneath the boats, so placing a hook bait close by provides a definite chance of a bite.
Any variation in depth is well worth investigating. Walking your chosen stretches with a leading rod, prodding stick etc, can provide a big edge. Small holes and subtle depth changes can be easily missed and some of these spots or features will have been created by feeding fish, so are ideal to place a hook-bait.
One place definitely not to ignore is the centre boat route. This is a deeper channel that allows for the boats to pass through. Many anglers seem to be drawn to visible or more obvious features and, as a result, the somewhat uninteresting appearance of the deeper channel can be overlooked. But ignore this at your peril! With regular boat traffic passing through this area, the bottom is constantly being stirred up and all manner of natural food is dispersed. The carp know this and will soon home in and start munching.
I try not to overlook any opportunity for a bite wherever I’m fishing, so I will also explore those more obvious carpy looking areas if my first choice spots fail to produce. In particular, I’ve found that casting tight to the far margin against reeds, brambles, trees and locks also provides a good chance of success. These areas will often hold carp but, in my experience, they seem to be more like a home than a feeding area in the winter. This doesn’t mean you won’t get a bite from these spots, as canal carp are hungry curious creatures and will nearly always search out any potential food.
In my experience with canal carping, pre-baiting spots definitely gets me quicker bites and I tend to catch more fish, too. You don’t need to introduce a shed full of bait, just a few handfuls to keep the spot fresh is usually enough. The more the fish feed on the spots and become accustomed to finding safe food, the more they will visit them. In time, it will make them easier to catch.
I’ve found priming the spots on a regular basis with a little bait is far better than dumping in a load in one hit. Canal carp are continuously on the move and may not stay in the same place for long periods unless there’s a good reason to. I’ve known carp to get caught from one particular stretch and then again from another area a couple of miles away, passing locks and other obstacles on their way, so keeping a spot fresh with a little and often approach will keep the carp visiting the area. In time, it might even hold them there.
My favourite canal bait has got to be the awesome Nash Amber Strawberries. The high food value of these white high attract baits makes them perfect for canal carping. Due to the poor water clarity in the canal, the white really stands out over the dark silty bottom. This really gives the fish something to home in on. For baiting up, I tend to use a few handfuls of whole and chopped Ambers along with some hemp. If you are fishing on a tight budget, hemp is perfect for bulking out the boilies. Despite the modest price, hemp is a potent fish attractor. The tiny food items can also keep the fish grubbing around on the spots for long periods.
All carp love the Amber S
A regular prod about will reveal how quickly these spots firm up and confirm that the fish have been feeding regularly, which is always good for the confidence. A harder donk will also be noticeable through the rod, as your hook bait lands bang on the spot.
Hook bait choice is dependent on the rig I’m using, but for a standard bottom bait rig I like to use a balanced 15mm Amber. This is achieved with the Nash TT balancing kit; coring out three quarters of the bait and then plugging the hole with a section of white foam is a simple process. The bait can be made to flutter slowly to the bottom, ideal when fishing over the soft canal bottom.
Boring out the hook bait
Foam insert adds buoyancy
Critically balancing the hook bait also reduces the resistance created by the rig, encouraging it to act more naturally and resemble a safe freebie straight out of the packet.
My ever faithful hinged stiff rig also plays a big part in my canal fishing and the super buoyant Amber Strawberry Air Balls are my first choice pop ups as they stay up indefinitely.
There’s no need to overcomplicate things when fishing on the canal. The fish don’t receive much angling pressure and therefore are not very rig shy. Well proven strong reliable end tackle works for me.
My bottom bait rig usually consists of around 8-10 inches of Missing Link Silt. This is tied knotless knot fashion to a size 8 Fang X, with a small Diffusion kicker. A section of coating is stripped back behind the eye, around an inch to be precise, to maximise the turning effect of the hook. A simple figure of eight loop knot at the other end allows for a quick rig change.
Lead attachment is taken care of by a Diffusion Weed Safety Bolt Bead and a 2½oz flat pear and a Diffusion Camo Leader provides maximum concealment and ensures everything stays nailed to the bottom. The leaders are extremely strong and abrasion resistant; in fact, my tests have shown them to be far more resistant than lead core.
The hinged stiffy really comes into it’s own fishing in softer silt, usually in the middle boat pass, fished helicopter style with a light lead.
With the hinged stiff rig, again this is fished with a Diffusion Leader on a helicopter set up. A light lead is used to prevent it from plugging into the soft bottom.
Even though the boat traffic dies down in the cooler months, I still add back leads when fishing across to the far side, usually one in the centre boat channel and one just under the tips. I get quite paranoid about passing traffic, so I always sink the tips as far under as possible just to be on the safe side.
Fishing light and staying mobile is a key factor on the canal. I find when I’ve done my preparation, if bites don’t come quickly, then packing up and moving to another area is a must. It's no good sitting it out and hoping.
Along with the prodding stick, another key item is my baiting pole. Being able to drop bait onto close in or even far bank spots with little or no disturbance is a massive edge. You can also place small piles of bait and baited rigs in areas that may have never been fished before.
DO THE NIGHTS
One the most productive times on the canal is definitely during the hours of darkness, so braving the elements and doing the nights will bring extra bites.