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Back In The Day



The Wyrley & Essington canal flows through the heart of the West Midlands, but became of more interest to me as it reached the Pelsall, Brownhills, Walsall Wood & Aldridge regions of this area. Having lived in the village of Clayhanger, Brownhills, all my life, when I began fishing at ten years of age, the 'cut' was where I learned to catch fish on a variety of different methods, & the desire to catch carp was there from an early age. As I progressed through catching roach & perch, then tench & bream, the carp were always going to be targeted by me one day!

When I eventually left school in 1988 (eighteen years ago!) & started work, I started to spend some of my early wage packets on a two rod set-up. It was frighteningly basic! From memory, I had two Sundridge 'Turbo' 1.75lb TC rods, two Sundridge rear drag reels, two 'hi-tone' Optonics, 12lb Maxima main line & I didn't even have a chair, I had to sit on my coat on the floor! My first sessions were totally fruitless, as I really was just finding my feet. I was aware that the other guys, Dave Edwards, Dave Williams, Royston Butwell, Wayne Dunn, Lee Evans, Stu Lines, Micky Eagles & Les Bowd were catching odd fish, & was dying to glean as much information as possible. I hooked my first fish after a night session at Clayhanger. I borrowed my parents camp-bed, & spent the night under my 45" brolly & thin sleeping bag one autumn night. I woke early in the morning because I was freezing, & had zipped the sleeping bag right to the top. Out of the blue, my left hand rod, on a side hooked Richworth 'tutti-fruitti' absolutely flew off, & I couldn't get out of my sleeping bag! When I eventually did get to the rod, it was buried solid in the weed. After a bit of pulling, the rig eventually came back, complete with a straightened out size six Drennan Super Specialist hook! Although I was gutted at losing the fish, I was pleased that at least I knew that I was in the right places to get pick-ups.


The biggest of which was a fish known as 'The Leather'...

Dave Edwards became my closest source of information, & from him I learned most of my carp fishing knowledge. He introduced me to the three inch bolt rig, big leads, line sinkers (back leads), peanuts & pop-ups! I slowly but surely started to notch up a few captures, even though most of these fish were no bigger than low doubles, these early lessons were extremely important. I started to move further afield from Clayhanger (which was easy for me to fish, as I lived about half a mile away), & I paid a lot of attention to an area we referred to as 'Tesco arm', at Brownhills. Here, the 'arm' was a small cut-off from the main canal that was no more than three feet deep, & twenty feet wide & was heavily overgrown. Although most of it was unfishable, because of the trees, it provided us with some great positions to watch the carp closely, so we could study how they behaved.


I didn't have my scales, & it seemed much bigger...

We quickly realised that all the carp in the canal were nomadic. They would remain in one holding area, until they decided to move - usually down to angling pressure, & they were all resident fish. After five or six years spent carp fishing the canal, all the fish being caught were the same ones over & over again.


The other was a fish we affectionately named 'Sid'...

There were two known twenties - the biggest of which was a fish known as 'the leather', which seemed to spend most of its time in the arm at 'Tesco bend'. In fact, for all its captures that we were aware of, it was never caught anywhere else! I caught this fish twice, the first time it weighed 22lb 8oz, & the second time I caught it, I didn't have my scales, & it seemed much bigger!


I also had a fish known as 'The 18'...

The other was a fish we affectionately named 'Sid'. I was fortunate enough to catch this fish off the surface, mid-summer one year from Catshill junction at 22lb - it's biggest known weight. I also had a fish known as 'the 18' at 20lb 6oz from 'the grove', in Pelsall. These carp were the most noticeable captures from my time on the 'cut', where the average carp was around 12lb in weight, & a good fish would have been perhaps 15lb+.


17lb 10oz mirror from 'Tesco bend'

During the summer of 2008, I made a few visits to an area of the canal in an attempt to stalk a fish known as ‘three scale’. I believe this fish was first caught by my mate Dave Edwards some time during the early eighties at around 10lb & I last caught this fish at a weight of 18lb 12oz from Aldridge marina in 2002 & it certainly looked as if it was now over the 20lb mark. Unfortunately, I only had one real chance to hook it on a floating bait due to the blustery conditions on the day. I opted to fish a hastily arranged night session in the area, knowing that there were only two carp in the stretch. The take came in the early hours of the morning & it turned out to be the other fish that I’d spotted – a small common. I found ‘three scale’ the following day, where it had located to another nearby stretch. During two evening stalking sessions, I caught two fish whilst trying to snare it – both double figure commons! 'Three scale', along with another couple of known fish (one of them being a good upper-double ghostie) are still on my hit list, but unfortunately, my canal fishing is limited to just a handful of opportunistic sessions per season, due to the already limited fishing time I have available being spent targeting bigger venues.

With the weather turning markedly warmer during early May 2009, I was able to sneak a few stalking sessions in, here & there on one or two local stretches. Frustratingly, I’d been unable to locate any decent fish & had only succeeded in catching a couple of small commons – more by accident than design. June subsequently arrived on the back of two weeks of very hot weather & this triggered the carp into spawning activity which lasted for a few days, further increasing my frustration! However, after lots of walking & looking I eventually managed to find & bank my first half decent fish of the summer.

My first half decent fish of the summer...

As my evening stalking sessions were limited to no more than just a couple of hours, the need to locate fish & get them feeding as soon as practically possible was extremely important. By keeping a close eye on just a couple of local stretches that I felt would yield the better fish, in most cases I was able to segregate the smaller fish from the decent ones. On one evening, I turned up to find a good breeze blowing along the stretch & I was surprised to find hardly any carp there at all… Out of desperation I followed the floaters that had drifted into the next stretch to find three fish taking the occasional one or two. Luckily the smallest of the group was happily slurping the floaters down on its own, well away from the two better fish – a common & a mirror, both upper doubles. Although the mirror managed to avoid the hookbait on several occasions, the common eventually made its mistake after a very delicate take. At 18lb 10oz, I also realised that this was my biggest canal common to date.

The common eventually made its mistake...

One of the most frustrating things about my evening stalking episodes was the amount of times I would locate fish, get them to feed, then for no reason at all they’d vacate the area completely. I’d also noticed that there were more & more people targeting the canal carp using surface methods. When my friends & I used to fish the canal over twenty years before, we never saw anyone else fishing for them. These days it seems as if everyone is out with a rod, net & half a loaf of bread as soon as the sun comes out!

17lb 12oz common...

With the extra pressure on these fish, seeking out quieter stretches where their presence may have been overlooked was now my highest priority.

Fully scaled mirror...

As early as three weeks prior to the 2010 closed season, on a local stretch of canal I’d been trickling bait into a few likely looking spots on a regular basis – usually on my way home from work in the evenings. A couple of areas in particular were beginning to clear up very nicely, up to the point where it was only a matter of a days to go until I intended to start my canal campaign. Around this time, the main feeder reservoir for the canal system was being drained for repair work & the millions of gallons of water that had been released into the canal added a tinge of unseasonable colour to the water, that suddenly made it difficult to identify whether my spots were being fed on with any regularity. Despite this, I kept the bait going in as I remained confident that fish would still be taking full advantage of the free food source that I was systematically providing for them.

15lb 10oz mirror

For my first session, the weather conditions were perfect - warm with light rain forecast well into the night. I positioned two hinged stiff rigs onto each of the spots & after backleading both lines out of harms way, I spread thirty baits over the general area. Once the rain arrived, I made myself comfortable under my brolly & got the kettle on. Just as the kettle had boiled, the right-hand Delkim shrieked out & I was on the rod in an instant. Luckily the fish hadn’t gone too far & was soon bundled into the net, which turned out to be a feisty common of 18lb 4oz – not a bad start! With a couple of self-take pictures done in the rain, she was soon reunited with her friends & a fresh rig was soon in position with the minimum of fuss. I had several savage liners during the night & I awoke at dawn, quickly packing away before the rain returned. Whilst I stood patiently for a couple of hours, I had several more liners which confirmed that the carp had continued to visit my spots regularly, but something wasn’t quite right. When the rain returned around 8:00am I decided enough was enough & I reeled in to go home. I then realised that there was a small ‘hump’ of weed that my main lines were running over & I was certain that this was the reason for the liners - the fish must have been spooking off the poor line lay as a result. The plan now was to keep the original spots primed & to work on a couple of new areas, but to focus on making sure that in future, the line lay was spot-on.


Just as the kettle had boiled, the right-hand Delkim shrieked out...

The following weeks were spent continually priming various spots within the same stretch with a view to getting in a few overnight sessions during the three month period of the normal closed season. Unfortunately, at the time I was in the process of purchasing a new vehicle – a saga that was beginning to drag on & cost me valuable fishing time. Eventually after what seemed like an age, I took delivery of my new ‘carp wagon’ & I planned to continue the canal campaign in mid April. Whilst planning my next session & keeping the baiting plan in motion, a warm spell in early April presented me with an opportunity to get out onto the canal bank for a spot of floater fishing where I was lucky enough to bank three doubles from two different stretches. Although the best fish was only 14lb, it was nice to get out on the banks in a tee-shirt in the sunshine.

fter lots of looking & baiting I settled on priming one particular area, as one or two other carp anglers had begun targeting the same stretch so in order to avoid ‘stepping on anyone’s toes’, I decided to focus my attentions in my new pitch. As far as presentation was concerned, I chose to use balanced bottom-bait presentations, due largely because of the weed-free nature of the two spots. By making sure my lines were backleaded out of the way, I was supremely confident of some action upon my return. Unfortunately, any action was limited to being dragged out of a warm sleeping bag at 1:00am to land a tench of around 3lb & my luck was typified by a carp crashing out right on the spot I’d taken the tench from just minutes earlier while I was trying to remove all the snot & weed from the line & leader! Despite receiving lots of liners throughout the hours of darkness, a take failed to materialise & I headed off home in the early morning for a shower & some breakfast. I returned a couple of hours later with my stalking gear for a day’s floater fishing, whereby after walking several miles of canal, I failed to find a single fish!

After spending a couple of evenings searching a few different stretches, I eventually found one stretch where there were evidently a few carp holding up. Although they were difficult to temp largely due to the volume of towpath traffic – dog walkers, joggers & cyclists, I managed to bank two commons in successive evenings – both around mid-doubles.


I managed to bank two commons in successive evenings...

Following these captures, I spent the following few weeks trying to track down some better fish on various different stretches, but it seemed no matter how hard I looked I simply could not locate many carp above mid-double figures. Eventually, after many hours of searching I managed to find three decent fish – a common & a mirror both around the twenty-pound mark & a slightly smaller common in a quiet area tucked up in a small reedbed. It took a relatively long time to get them taking floaters – I suspect largely due to the very hot temperatures at the time - & at one stage the big mirror appeared right at the edge of the reeds & I flicked my single hookbait just to the left of the spot. Almost immediately another fish appeared & swam straight up to the hoobait & vey gently sipped it in & after a very lively fight I landed the fish – the smallest of the three that turned out to be another common that weighed 15lb exactly.


I flicked my single hookbait just to the left of the spot...

I spent the following three-week period returning to the stretch where I’d seen the two bigger fish, where they had remained resident during that time. At one point, I’d spent four successive evenings trying to fashion a take from the big mirror & with each opportunity that presented itself, the stubborn creature refused to entertain any notion of sampling my hookbait. Eventually, the ever-increasing mallard, coot & moorhen population almost drove me mad as they would literally ‘sweep’ the canal, hunting for every last mixer they could find - despite my best attempts to dissuade them. On my last evening of that week & with time running out, I hastily made my way to another stretch where I knew there were a few carp holding up & spent almost three hours drifting floaters on the prevailing breeze. Eventually, with a desperate need for food & with my depleted supply of floaters, I decided enough was enough & I turned to head for my local chip shop. Within seconds, I noticed a deep-bodied swirl appear on the surface in a corner where many of the soggy floaters had drifted. Quick as a flash, I assembled the rod & net & I quietly crept along the bank to get a better look at my potential victim… it looked like a good un’! Very gradually, the dumpy mirror made its way along the margin & I was able to conceal my presence by virtue of the long grass on the edge of the towpath. Having plotted the path of the fish, I flicked the hookbait about six feet in front it & drew it back into position, just two yards from the nearside bank. As it neared the hookbait, the fish turned to head for the middle of the canal & just as I cursed my luck, he inexplicably turned back & headed straight for it. It seemed like an age, but eventually he tentatively slurped it in & I swept the rod back, feeling that satisfying ‘thump’ as the rod kicked over & the fish made its bid for freedom. After a really feisty scrap, I netted my prize & I knew instantly it was 20lb+. With the photographs taken in the evening sun, the scales revealed a weight of 21lb exactly – my fifth canal twenty. All the trials & tribulations I’d had targeting the mirror on the first stretch were instantly forgotten - happy days!


Happy days!!!...

The following week I returned to the original stretch to see if the big mirror had returned & I couldn’t believe my luck when I found it holding-up under a small group of lily pads. Once I'd spent a few minutes drifting floaters into the pads on the breeze, she could resist no longer & eventually took the opportunity for a free feed. After painstakingly trying to get the hookbait into the right position, I eventually hit the right spot & the light breeze slowly pushed the hookbait right in front of the now stationary fish. With the hookbait barely an inch from the nose of the fish, she glared at it for an age before slowly easing forward & sipping at the surface. As the hookbait begun to bob up & down, eventually it disappeared from view & my subsequent strike made her absolutely furious! Holding on for dear life, once I'd made the mistake of allowing her to turn her head she powered off on a simply unstoppable run towards the nearest lily bed & I can quite honestly say, I can't remember ever hooking a carp with that kind of power before in the canal. Trying my damndest to slow the fish down, I eventually ‘applied the brakes’ just as the fish neared the lily bed, but it was all too much for my 8lb mono & in a split-second it was all over - my first canal loss for a long time. Having landed the 21lb mirror just a week or so earlier, I knew that fish was a good three or four pounds bigger in size...


One of many upper double figure commons...

With the arrival of 16th of June, I returned to Oakwood to see in the beginning of the new season with Ben & Chris & predictably, any activity we'd seen at the lake stopped as soon as the masses descended onto the banks of the lake after three months of relative peace. I continued my floater fishing excursions on the canal, whilst I made plans to get back to Oakwood in last weeks of June & managed to bank three fish in three sessions during one week - a small scaley mirror & two upper-double commons. Although I was continuing to bank a few fish & their average size was improving, the really big fish were still proving difficult to locate. On one occasion, I found a good-sized mirror, but it was continually flanked by a pack of four smaller fish, so trying to single that one fish out was a difficult task. I eventually managed to get a take from it at close range, only to bump the hook out on the strike! Just when I thought I'd blown any opportunity of catching, I found an average-sized common feeding at close range which when hooked, the fight proved to be most bizarre... As the fish charged up & down the margins in its bid for freedom, it was being followed side-by-side by a smaller mirror. When the common was ready to net, the mirror dived in there with him & when I lifted it & realised what had happened, all hell broke loose as the mirror furiously tried to swim through the mesh! I had to be really careful to make sure that the mirror could swim out without risking letting the hooked common out too - madness!

My subsequent return to the canal was after a period of very hot weather in mid-June where the air temperature had dropped markedly & I was sure that the carp had finished spawning, so I made my way along the canal looking at the usual stretches, but with no luck. Eventually I managed to locate a group of three small commons & after getting them competing for floaters, I realised that indeed there were quite a few fish resident & I managed to identify a good upper-double figure mirror. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at trying to single out the biggest mirror, I suddenly became aware of a big white shape below the group of feeding fish that slowly came up to the surface revealing the one fish that I'd been searching for the last three or four years - the big twenty pound plus ghost carp that I'd heard countless rumours about, but had never actually seen in the flesh before. Here it was, in front of me & wolfing down floaters like he didn't have a care in the world! Hurriedly, I glued on a new floater & by this time my hands were shaking & the ghostie was mopping up every floater in its path. When I was ready to cast out, the ghostie disappeared & every now & again he would reappear from the far bank, eat two or three floaters, then drift back out of sight again. It was mad to be standing there, watching a group of six or seven carp troughing down floaters in front of me - with one or two good upper doubles there too & yet I was totally focussed on hooking the ghostie. The feeding pattern of the fish was the same every time, so I knew that each time it appeared, I would have to make sure that the hookbait was placed perfectly, as I was probably only going to get one window of opportunity. On several occasions I tried to position the hookbait, but each time he wasn't interested - almost as if he'd already identified which three floaters he was going to eat on each showing. On a number of occasions, I even had to drag the hookbait away from the mouth of a feeding fish so that I didn't spook the biggun! With the light fading quickly, he again reappeared & I tried to plot its path again once more. Having taken two floaters, he turned & headed back towards his hidey-hole & I flicked the hookbait out into his return route. Up he came with purpose & sucked it in with gusto & I struck... sending the hookbait whizzing past me into the bush behind me & with that my chance was gone. I did hook & land a solitary token low-double mirror as compensation, but I was still sick about failing to take the golden opportunity that I had been presented with.

I managed to get back to the spot where I'd seen the big ghostie just two days later where amazingly, it appeared almost immediately once I'd begun introducing floaters. Just as I thought my luck was in, I managed to hook it on my very first cast, but as it headed off towards the far side, the 8lb mainline disintegrated under the pressure & I reasoned that my one opportunity had gone. To my surprise, an hour or so later he reappeared taking floaters again, albeit very cautiously. On three separate occasions he came up to the hookbait for a closer inspection only to reject it at the very last moment until on the fourth attempt he accepted it as a genuine freebie & just I had done the first time round, I struck the hookbait straight back out of its mouth! As is generally the case for me, whether it's because I report freely though this website or not I'm not sure, but the area that I'd been targeting the big ghostie all of a sudden became a hive of activity & over the following few days, the area received a lot of attention from other anglers... Since that time, I'd not seen or indeed even heard of the ghostie being hooked or landed so I've not given up all hope yet. Whilst trying to find the fish, I'd got a few fish going quite well on floaters, however these were generally only very small & my frustration has been compounded further by hooking & landing one or two of them.

Just when I was questioning (& ultimately dismissing) all the ‘thirty rumours’ that I continuously keep hearing about the Wyrley & Essington canal in this area, I was contacted by a local carp angler to tell me of his capture of a proper canal ‘chunk’ - a mirror in excess of 31lb. As it happens, this fish came from a stretch of local canal that I was fortunate to hold a ticket for last season. Having visited the stretch on a couple of occasions, I got talking to a couple of lads that had also been targeting the same area with some impressive results. One of the lads even showed me a couple of pictures of the ‘thirty’ at lower weights, which just goes to show that this particular fish has continued to grown-on. So as a result of the ever-increasing pressure on the other stretches of canal that I’ve been fishing, I’ve decided to move away from my normal haunts & focus my efforts here. Certainly with this unique capture, I’ve renewed my ticket & my hopes of banking a big-canal fish have taken on new importance – it’s just a matter of finding em!

After a lot of thought, I decided to relocate to another stretch of canal for a short time, mainly because my confidence needed a bit of a lift. I needed to put an effective rig & good quality bait in front of feeding fish to reaffirm their effectiveness. After a couple of visits to an area where I knew for a fact that they were resident, I had managed to land one bream & lose a small carp by fishing to a marginal reed bed. Once I gave it a bit of thought, I opted to revert back to fishing simple blowback style arrangements with five inch coated hooklinks & a single bottom bait. A short leadcore leader & a doctored lead-clip that allowed the 2.5oz lead to discharge straight away completed the simple, no-nonsense setup.On my third session, I positioned both rigs tight to the far bank reeds & loosely scattered six or seven b aits between them & despite no real signs that carp were present, I gave it about two hours until I decided I'd had enough & rather foolishly, went to have a look at the marginal reed bed that I would normally have fished to, no more than twenty yards away. Suddenly, the right hand Neville one-noted & I ran back to the rods as fast as I could & once I'd made contact with the fish, I was aware that it had gone crashing through the reeds at some speed! After giving it lots of stick, the fish begrudgingly started to work its way back to the fringe of the reed bed when the hook pulled, typifying my recent luck. On closer inspection, it transpired that the size six Stiff-Rigger had opened out quite severely - worse than I'd ever seen before & thinking about the episode has led me to believe that considering the situation I was fishing in, that perhaps it was a little foolish of me to be so 'under-gunned' - a lesson well learned! I've since been doing some strength tests on several different hook patterns & to be honest, to suggest the results have been eye-opening would be an understatement. Even some popular patterns that have an excellent reputation when it comes to strength, I've proven to be nothing short of useless when put under extreme pressure. At least I'd managed to prove that the rig & importantly, the bait was working fine. Bait-wise, I'd chosen to go back to using a popular bait that I have absolute faith in. The reason for this was because I couldn't afford to purchase bait from my preferred supplier, FIVE STAR in bulk due to my precarious financial situation. I needed to be able to purchase smaller quantities of a shelf-life bait at a lower cost locally, so by returning back to my old faithful bait, my confidence was on a high. Many would probably question why I selected a shelf-life bait; the reason being painfully simple - I needed to carry a reasonable quantity of bait with me on my Oakwood sessions, but didn't want to keep re-freezing what bait I didn't use as I simply couldn't afford to waste it. With confidence returning, I was sure my luck would change soon - it was time to return to the spot where the bigguns lived & put the prebaiting plan back in motion again.

I managed a mere handful of sessions since the end of August - each no more than two hours in duration, banking a mid-double mirror & common respectively. Following a sneaky overnighter in the first week of November, I lost a fish in the small hours of the morning & I woke to find that the hinged stiff-link on the other rod had tangled – the first time I’d ever had this happen. To compound matters, within minutes of repositioning both rigs & receiving a series of liners, a group of around twenty anglers arrived to fish an impromptu match… I just couldn’t believe my luck. Feeling very disgruntled, I made my way back to the car but stopped when I noticed some movement on the edge of a decaying reedbed. Clearly carp were in the area so I quickly ‘underarmed’ a single hookbait to the spot where the carp had shown & just as the activity started to become more significant, my time was up & I had to leave. Realising that if I’d spotted those fish earlier, I would have had a decent chance of nicking a bite, so I returned early the following morning hoping to capitalise on my find. I got to the bankside at around 7:00am & I decided to use one rod only as I felt that two rods in the area would have been counterproductive. With the aid of my baiting pole, I quietly delivered the rig (a single 18mm bottom-bait on three-inch braided hooklink & a three ounce inline flat pear lead mounted drop-off style & a handful of finely crumbed baits in a tiny, solid PVA bag) to the front edge of the reeds. Within ten minutes I spotted subtle signs that signalled carp were still in the area & that my ‘trap setting’ had obviously gone unnoticed. I watched the water intensely for an hour & I became increasingly concerned that most of the activity was to the right side of the reedbed, where it was apparent that they used this side as a route to enter in & out of it. With time running out, I decided to reposition the rig. I quickly tied up another PVA bag & tried to get the small food package as close to the ‘entrance’ as I could. Again, it looked as though I’d got away with it until the first narrow boat of the day came ploughing through the stretch around five minutes later, forcing me to reposition the rig again – it was almost farcical such was my bad luck. Once the boat had continued on its way I decided against using the pole to get the rig back out as it was probably half a metre short of where I needed the rig to be, so I opted to just foam up the hook & swing the rig out. The first cast was not quite far enough, but the second cast went ‘bang on the money’ & I flicked a couple of broken baits out into the small gap in the reeds. Once the backlead was in place, I had barely just snapped the lid back on the bucket when I heard the reel clutch click a couple of times & looked up to see the rod tip hooped round to the right. Quickly I heaved the fish clear of the reedbed & after a decent fight, I had a gorgeous little mid-double mirror nestling in the folds of my landing net. At 15lb 12oz, I was pleased with my mornings work & after all my recent bad luck, I hoped that things would finally begin to improve a little going into winter. Once I’d returned home, I got to work playing around with various old spare sections of poles & managed to extend the length of the baiting pole by another two metres – hopefully, this would be my ultimate weapon for getting the most out of the stretch of canal I’d planned to concentrate on for the remainder of the season.


The second cast went 'bang on the money'...

The harsh conditions of the following weeks that led into winter consigned my fishing tackle to the confines of my house for a seven week period from the end of November - perhaps the longest single period of time where I've not been able to wet a line in recent memory. However, during early February I resumed fishing on the canal after my frustration with Oakwood reached a peak & I opted to spend the remaining few weeks of the traditional season back on the stretch that I’d fished last time out. Clearly the fish were much less active since the severity of the cold conditions & it had clearly made a massive impact on fish movements. This made pin-pointing the areas where the carp were holding up, much more difficult to identify & I was certain that they were lying tight under the tree-lined far margin where it was almost impossible to position a rig effectively. I tried a few different areas where I felt there was a good chance of them turning up, but all to no avail. I did manage to find a couple of fish on one occasion, but they simply refused to feed despite passing freely over my baited spots & after a lot of thought & perhaps through almost total desperation, I begun to pre-bait a spot where my gut-feeling told me they just had to be. The spot in question was in three feet of water & between two overhanging trees where the bottom was silty & had a few twigs & dead leaves scattered about it. As good presentation & line lay was critical, I spent one evening with a spod rod & small castable rake clearing the area of twigs & leaves until I was happy that I could begin introducing bait on a regular basis. I made a conscious decision to revert back to using my all-time favorite rig & one that I had the utmost confidence in – the awesome hinged stiff-link pop-up. By employing this set-up, I could position the rig tight to the branches of the tree with an underarm cast & by using a small piece of PVA foam on the hook, I could guarantee my traps would be setup as perfectly as I could get them.

With the impending arrival of the normal closed season, I had one more opportunity to fish the stretch that I’d been targeting since the end of August 2010, but after a bit of thought I reluctantly decided to move away from that stretch to begin my campaign on a different stretch for the next three months. After identifying an area where I believed the carp could be holding-up, I spent five days prior to my session priming two separate areas – stopping off to introduce a small amount of boilies & tigers on my way home from work each evening. Upon inspecting the spots each day, the bait was being cleared from the spots & one spot in particular begun to ‘glow’ as the clay-lined canal bed was being systematically revealed after bait had been applied to it. When I arrived for my first session, I set up in the area I was most confident in, but checked the clay spot on my way to my other area - again, the bottom had been completely cleaned off. In my usual spot, the bottom was still littered with areas of patchy weed & with this in mind, I opted to fish chod rigs on both rods with a scattering of approximately twenty baits & a few complimentary grains of corn in the hope of getting any passing fish to investigate. Just before dark, I decided to scatter a handful of corn onto the ‘clay spot’ & I planned to keep an eye on it during the night. At 7:30pm I had two savage liners on the right-hand rod, followed by another on the left-hand rod & I put this down to fishing semi-tight lines that I wasn’t able keep tight to the canal bed because of the random patches of weed. After a few minutes, I decided to slacken the lines off completely, feeding a couple of feet of line off both spools, hoping that this would prevent any feeding fish from spooking off the baited area. At 10:30pm I decided to go & check the clay spot. I crept up to area & shone the sharp beam of the head torch onto the spot... All I could make out was a cloud of silt lingering in mid-water & I could just about make out the tail of a carp in the middle of it. Suddenly, the fish straightened up & bolted from the area & I realised that this was an area that I needed to prime regularly. Once I’d returned back to the warmth of my sleeping bag, the next thing I remember was waking to a short, sharp succession of bleeps at 1:30am from the right-hand Neville & I soon had my boots on & doing battle with what I first thought was a tench, that actually turned out to be a long & scaley mid-double mirror – my first carp of 2011. After setting up a new rig, I got it back into position & climbed back into the bag. I was awake at the crack of dawn to do some quick self-takes & I quickly departed as I was due to attend the ECHO AGM in Aldershot later that day, stopping off to introduce some more bait onto the clay spot before loading up the car.


My first carp of 2011...

Although I managed to spend a couple of evening sessions fishing the ‘clay spot’, I could never really stay late enough into the night to reap the benefits as it was definitely being fed on during the small hours of the morning. It also seemed as if another couple of anglers had cottoned onto what I had been up to & they subsequently took advantage of my hard work. In all fairness, they may or may not have realised that I had been prepping the spot for some time as it wasn’t particularly difficult to locate, any carp angler worth his salt would have realised that once my little spot begun to ‘glow’ white as it was repeatedly being polished by feeding fish, that they would have to get on it, so whilst I wasn’t particularly happy with the situation, I couldn’t really blame them. The effect of this, along with the ever-improving weather conditions, I decided to change tact & revert to stalking any future captures & with the spring sun making its first proper appearance during the third week of March, I managed to bank my first surface-caught fish of the year which must be a record for me as I can’t remember the last time I managed to get fish taking floaters in March! This was even more surprising as there had been a sharp frost only the night before… I’d spent a few weeks examining the usual haunts looking for fish & most of them were almost devoid of any carp & in recent years, I have come to realise that this is normally due to an increase in water temperature that prepares them for spawning activity & invariably, the vast majority of these fish can be found in one single area. After a little thought & more than a few hours searching I found them. Evidently there were a large number of fish present in the stretch, but frustratingly, it became almost impossible to identify the larger residents due to the amount of fish that were present & the low-light conditions. On my first stalking session, I managed just one take which I missed completely, but I was fortunate to conjure a return three days later for an inopportune session... I arrived very late one Sunday evening with barely an hour or so of light & poor conditions for floater fishing – a strong & cold north-easterly wind. I had little more than a couple of handfuls of floaters after I had completely forgotten to put some more in my bag, but I figured it was still worth spending what little time I had available having a quick look as I’ve learned over the years that you never quite know what opportunities the unpredictable canal fish might provide. I drifted a few floaters along the more sheltered areas of the stretch, where the carp had shown a few days previously, but there was no interest. Reluctantly, I decided to check out the extreme windward end of the area before I made my way home. After around ten minutes I decided enough was enough & just as I was about to leave I spotted a subtle flat-spot appear in the ripples around ten yards out… I pulted out a few more floaters in the general area & sure enough just a few moments later, a big set of white lips pierced through the surface ripple. As quick as my legs could carry me, I raced further along the bank where I could hopefully get a better view of the fish & I could just about make out a light-coloured fish moving about slowly beneath the surface. I cast out my free-lined hookbait as best as I could, but the wind was making it impossible to reach the required range & with time running out fast & with the light disappearing, I noticed a second fish that had joined in & was taking a few floaters that had drifted into the margins a few yards further along the bank. Knowing that this was my best chance of a take as I could just flick the hookbait along the edge of the marginal reed bed, I took up my position, crouched behind the reed stems. For a few minutes the activity had all but stopped & I was starting to curse my mistake of not bringing enough floaters when there was a large swirl just inches from the reeds to my left. Within seconds I cast the hookbait six feet out, then slowly dragged it back into position around two feet from the edge of the reeds. No more than thirty seconds later the water started to shift below the hookbait & out came those unmistakable lips as the fish slurped in my hookbait & as soon as I struck it surged off on a powerful run that forced me to pay off line at a fast rate. As the fight progressed, the fish made several unstoppable runs that left me in no doubt that I was going to lose it, but as it began to tire, I knew it was a good ‘un & it was looking promising that I might just bank the unseen fish. As I shifted the landing net into position, with steady pressure the fish bobbed up on the surface & I inched her slowly over the net cord. When I lifted her out of the water & lay her down in the soft grass I knew straight away it was the ‘big ghostie’ – the fish I’d heard about on so many occasions & I’d been unlucky enough to waste a couple of good chances to bank her the season before. My mind raced as to how big she was & with the light virtually disappearing, I rattled off a succession of self-take pictures where she behaved implicitly. With the scales revealing a weight of 25lb exactly, the capture was of major significance to my fishing for a number of reasons: firstly it was a new canal personal best & after over twenty years of fishing these stretches, I’d never seen a fish of this size in the canal before, secondly it was both my personal best common & ghost carp & thirdly, it left me free to concentrate my canal fishing solely on just one area where the other canal fish of my desire resides – a gorgeous old scaley warrior that last visited the bank at over 31lb…


A big set of white lips pierced through the surface ripple...

I managed to make another two visits to the same stretch within the following week, the first of these was a midweek evening visit whilst the weather had remained warm & sunny throughout the day, but the evening temperatures had dropped rapidly due to the stiff north eastern breeze – hardly the best conditions for surface fishing. I spent around thirty minutes trying to locate some fish & I eventually found a small group in an area by an old overflow & I was able to get a take from a good common almost straight away that saw me strike the hookbait clean from its mouth. Luckily, the fish didn’t seem too spooked, but I got the distinct feeling that it had made them a little bit more ‘edgy’. Once I’d spent the remaining hour or so chasing fish up & down the stretch I did fashion another take, but with the same end result. Two days later I arrived again to find four or five fish lying in a sparse area of weed, just inches from the surface. After catapulting a handful of floaters upwind of the group of fish, they soon become more active & they begun to feed on them with confidence. One of these fish appeared to be a decent twenty pound plus common that had followed the floaters out of the swim on the prevailing wind. Once the floaters had disappeared, they returned looking for more & I flicked my single hookbait into the path of the common that took it readily at the first attempt. Foolishly, I then realised that I hadn’t set up a landing net, so once I figured that the fish had tired enough, I engaged the baitrunner on the reel, dropped the rod into the reeds & put the net together as quick as I possibly could. I assembled the net & threw it into the water & picked up the rod expecting the fish to have taken lots of line to find that it was just sulking in the weed in front of the swim. Once I managed to free it, it came up to the surface & straight into the waiting net. Due to the protracted fight, my initial concern was that it might have been due to spawning preparation, so I inspected the fish thoroughly & fortunately everything was in good order. The one thing that really struck me about it was that it had a huge floppy tail that looked as if it belonged to a fish twice its size! The fish did seem excessively stressed on the bank, so I weighed the fish & took a few self-takes as fast as I could – I wanted to get this fish back as quickly as possible. At 21lb 8oz, it was a great result & further proof that the canal fish have really grown-on within the last few years. It seems strange now that only ten years or so ago, there were only two known twenties in the canal around this area – now there are significantly more.


Further proof that the canal fish have really grown-on...

y the end of May, many of the fish I’d found held up in one particular area of the canal had eventually dispersed back into the system, yet their appearance in the normal areas that I would expect to find them was proving to be very slow. However, I did manage to hook & ultimately lose one of the better fish that I’d seen at the time – a stunning fully-scaled, mid-twenty mirror that proved to be more than a match for my relatively light stalking tackle after hooking it in the margins of a snaggy swim once I’d spent hours coaxing it to take a few floaters. For a sustained period of around three weeks, the windy conditions made location extremely difficult & I subsequently found it very hard to find even a single fish. Eventually, as the conditions began to improve, I managed to bank a succession of mid-to-upper doubles from a couple of stretches that were extremely welcome visitors to my landing net, but I couldn’t help thinking how I blew my chances of catching some really good fish whilst they were all held-up in that one single area.


I managed to bank a succession of mid-to-upper doubles...

As is usual, it seemed as if my actions weren’t going unnoticed as a few anglers were beginning to appear in the areas that I’d been fishing, so with the onset of a new season I plan to resume my evening stalking sessions on another stretch in an attempt to find my one remaining target fish… I know that I’ve got my work cut out trying to locate it & I know there’s going to be a few more anglers looking for the same fish this year so I’ll just have to be patient & make sure I’m fishing at 100% whenever I’m on the bank.


A stunning floater-caught common...

In a strange twist of fate, my target fish that had been conspicuous by its absence had evolved sufficiently to grow legs & it eventually turned up at another lake around the Lichfield area... At the time, I was informed by a friend who was also notified by a lad who had caught the same fish on three separate occasions. Whilst I was mortified by the theft of one of the largest carp that there had ever been in this canal, I was left to question the merits of such a disgraceful act. After all, the fish in question had almost certainly spent its entire life in the canal & the perpetrators of the crime obviously never cared about this creatures welfare & perhaps more importantly, the welfare of the stock of the small pool it was moved to. After all, there are no disease controls for the canal fish & there's nothing to suggest that the fish that was stolen isn't carrying any viruses (& I know for a FACT that this fish wasn't the only one that was moved illegally...). What is also most frustrating is that this fish will almost certainly never fulfill its true potential in its new home - a small hole-in-the-ground of less than acre in size, where it is now under serious competition for food, whereas in the canal, it had little competition for sustainable food sources. It is a real shame & certainly isn't the first fish to be stolen from the canal & evidently wont be the last, with many of our Eastern European counterparts also seeking these harmless creatures for their dinner table. The situation is now getting very serious & exactly how much this upsets the canals eco-system is anyone's guess, but for sure these are sad times for the Wyrley & Essington canal & its days as a thriving environment for these creatures are without doubt, numbered. Since the news has broken, various authorities have been notified including ECHO, British Waterways & fishery officers of the controlling club from the stretch of canal from where the fish was taken from. Hopefully, they will be able to prevent these 'anglers' from from doing any more damage & better still, bring them to some sort of justice... I now know of three local lakes that hold a number of ex-canal fish. I also know some of the areas where they are being stolen from.

With this whole sorry episode, my plans have been somewhat thrown into disarray once more. Where I'd planned to focus much of my efforts on the stretch of canal where the big mirror was removed from, now it all seems pretty pointless & I'll have to seriously rethink my plans for the forthcoming winter period. Targeting specific fish is difficult enough without the added fear that someone might beat you to it & move it to another small 'puddle' somewhere else... To my mind, any fish theft (regardless of species) seems to add fire the anti-angling campaigns, making our sport more difficult to justify. Herein is the reason I joined ECHO, to help prevent the selfish acts of others & to protect the fish we care about. Unfortunately, where there is a market for it, some will always be willing to take advantage of such a situation.

As the daytime temperatures begun to decline from the beginning of September, any stalking opportunities were suddenly at a premium. Even the occasional warm spell that presented a chance to get the canal fish feeding within the surface layers seemed to be just not quite warm enough. In the last week of September & during an enforced break from fishing at Oakwood, I was presented with an opportunity to fit two overnight sessions in successive weeks. As luck would have it, I remembered that there was one particular spot in an area of canal that I’d located the previous year with a lead rod, that for one reason or another I neglected to fish, but kept it in mind. The spot in question was just in front of an occasionally moored boat where a small bush overhung the water tight to the far bank. The bottom here was certainly much firmer & was consistently weed-free – almost certainly a regular feeding spot for the canal fish. I managed to get to the bankside about half an hour before dark & quickly positioned two hinged stiff-linked pop-up rigs to the far bank, with one directly on the spot & another slightly to the left of it. I liberally spread about thirty baits around the general area, but tight to the bank – I didn’t want all my baits tightly grouped in one area, I wanted any fish in the vicinity to work their way along the far margin looking for individual baits & I placed extra emphasis on making sure that no baits landed short of the rig to ensure that any fish that visited the area wouldn’t be feeding over my main lines. With the traps set just into dark, I set about erecting the Ultralite as quietly as possible, pushing the pegs silently into the soft ground with my boots & lifting the bedchair into position without making a sound to ensure my presence was not given away, when literally as the rigs had been in place for no longer than fifteen minutes, the right-hand Neville signalled a fast take. At first it seemed as if the fish was still in the area where it had initially been hooked, but after a couple of powerful lunges, everything was locked-up solid. With the headtorch on, I still couldn’t make out where the unseen snag was & I applied pressure from all sorts of different angles in order to get the fish moving. For all the pulling I could muster, I resorted to slackening off the line & putting the rod back on the rests & watching the line closely to see if the fish would move out of the snag of its own accord. Over the next half an hour, the line would periodically pull up tight & I would resume applying extra pressure to the fish, but it simply refused to budge. After weighing up all my options, I eventually opted to pull for a break & fortunately, the rig came back complete with the hook - at least I knew that the fish was not tethered to the snag in any way. With a new rig tied up, I positioned it slightly further away from the offending snag & after a short visit from a friend, I got my head down for the night. At some time around 2:00am I landed a small mirror on the same rod that was around 10lb which was quickly unhooked & returned & I packed away at first light & made my way home. The next week I was back in the same swim, fishing the same area & this session produced another take from the spot at around 10:00pm that turned out to be a small common of around 2lb! This was probably the smallest carp I’d ever caught from the canal & despite its small size; it certainly bodes well for the canals future.


With my subsequent resumption of my Oakwood campaign during mid-October producing two carp – including a new personal best mirror of 34lb, my original intention of relocating to the canal at the end of the year has now been put on-hold. Initially, I’d fully anticipated focussing on the canal for the winter, purely to maintain a degree of action through the colder months, but having learned some extremely important lessons at Oakwood, it seemed almost ludicrous to move off there whilst I now considered these fish to be ‘catchable’. This is not to say that I don’t intend to fish the canal at all – there will be times when it just won’t be practical to fish Oakwood at certain times & these will be the ideal opportunities to drop in on the canal to try & lure one or two of the better fish that I’m certain still exist in the system…

My attention switched back to the canal during the early part of April 2012, following the closure of Oakwood just a month earlier. Unfortunately, as the weather was painfully slow to improve, I struggled to locate a single fish during the first few weeks. I visited all of their usual haunts & even ventured to areas where I didn’t expect them to be, but they were unusually conspicuous by their absence.

During the second week of May, I decided to take a look at a stretch where in previous years I have found numbers of carp holding up when the air temperatures begin to improve during the late spring / early summer. After drifting floaters into all of the usual spots, it was evident that there were either no fish in the area, or they were simply unwilling to feed upon the surface. After around an hour, I’d eventually I’d had enough & headed back home, walking along another stretch which is normally devoid of any carp at all, when I caught a sudden glimpse of a dark fish moving slowly alongside the far bank reedbed. Within seconds, I had pulted a handful of floaters a few yards in front of its intended course & watched events unfold closely. At first he swam straight past them, but just a moment later he doubled-back & very tentatively sucked one in. That was all the encouragement I needed & I quickly set up a rod & landing net whilst keeping a close eye on the whereabouts of the fish. The fish travelled a few yards further to a slightly wider area of the canal that was a little more sheltered from the breeze & began to pick off the occasional floater, until it drifted underneath a small raft of dead reeds. A few minutes later it reappeared with another fish that was significantly larger & I watched them drift along the far margin picking off any floater that was close to the reed stems. All of a sudden the smaller fish picked up speed & was now around two meters in front of the biggun’. I instantly knew this was my opportunity & I flicked my hookbait across, almost landing on the head of the small mirror & no more than an inch off the reeds – I couldn’t have placed it by hand in a more perfect position! I watched the bigger mirror cruise slowly along the edge of the reeds, shifting its course ever-so-slightly & moving away from my hookbait. Just as I thought my chance had gone, it stopped dead, shifted its head to the right & slowly rose to the surface & sipped in my hookbait, barely making a ripple as it did so. For a split-second, I was unsure whether it had actually taken the hookbait & my resulting strike saw the surface erupt as it headed for the dense reedbed. Luckily, I got the fish under control relatively quickly & I soon had it angrily charging up & down the middle of the canal in its bid for freedom. After around five minutes I had it safely in the bottom of the net & I was sure it was a twenty… The weighing procedure was a formality – 22lb exactly.


Just as I thought my chance had gone...

As I tidied my kit away after taking a few pictures, I noticed that the odd floater was still being taken, so I quickly set up a new hookbait & scanned the area in an attempt to locate the culprit & soon found the dark fish that I’d seen originally which appeared to be an upper-double. It took me around half an hour until it started to take floaters with any purpose & I was aware that there were also two other smaller fish there too. I watched the dark fish drift slowly into a group of reeds & I cast my hookbait to the other side of it, expecting the fish to reappear, when out-of-the-blue, I saw a swirl & the hoobait was gone. A swift strike revealed it was one of the two smaller fish & after a brief fight it was netted, un-hooked & released without too much fuss. Unfortunately, all this commotion proved too much for the dark mirror & despite hanging around for another hour or so, it had clearly vacated the stretch & moved to pastures new...

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