Phoenix Canal Fishing

The Long Game

Perhaps the most challenging but exciting canal carping of all is on those waters where the head of fish is smaller but there are some uncaught giants present. In these circumstances, the ‘bait and wait’ approach can come into its own. Such has been my own experience on the Exeter Ship Canal where fellow fishing nut Norbert Darby and I spent large chunks of one summer surviving on little more than cider and blind optimism

At one point the mathematics themselves became quite terrifying: kilos of bait, days of fishing, the occasional bream and just one moment of brief delirium when Norbert’s rod went into meltdown and a fish stripped twenty yards of line before smashing up 15lb fluorocarbon. A few lessons were learned. One was to stick with tiger nuts on this particular water; another was to avoid barbless hooks at all costs in the weed. We also tried using leads attached to weak links, aimed to detach on the strike. This helped prevent carp burying themselves in the weed.

Phoenix Canal Fishing Photo Gallery



I lost a lot of sleep that summer. Part of it was the fear that I’d be dozing when the key moment arrived; the rats and stranger towpath users might also have had something to do with it. It’s certainly good policy to fish in company in any urban areas and also be wary about leaving your car in spots frequented by local oiks.

Perhaps I escaped lightly. One morning Norbert woke up riddled with midge bites from his neck to his nether regions. Eventually though, afer two location changes, we made inroads. And in fact the more we suffered, the more determined we became to put a carp in the net.

Dan Sales displays a mint-condition mirror carp: uncaught fish like this await the determined angler on countless canals.

The ‘hot’ time for a take seemed to be just as dawn broke and our moment of truth came one cool morning in July. Having fallen out with his girlfriend at the time, Norbert came down to the canal and slept on the floor of my bivvy with just a coat for a blanket. At around six in the morning I nearly tripped over him as one of my alarms went beserk and something substantial ripped off down the canal. It was a long ten minutes getting that fish in. One moment she was in open water, the next totally bedded in near bank weeds. In my panic, the reel tangled and I had to virtually handline the final few yards, praying that somewhere in the weed was the carp we’d waited so long to catch. The fish went 15lb and was as beautiful as any mirror carp I’d ever caught. In an instant, all the insomnia and midge bites were forgotten.

If you can spot the fish, success can be as simple as a free-lined chunk of bread crust.

This is the joy of canal carping. It only takes a single bite for despondency to turn into delight. That heave on the end of the line could be a 10-pounder or a 30-pounder and either way, it’s likely to be a beautiful fish you’ll never forget.

A hat-trick of chub wrestled from cover on the pole. These splendid fish fell to chopped worm and caster.

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