Darrell limbers up for his autumnal Euro adventures on a whistle-stop tour of Belgium with a camera crew on standby, the last of his Korda duties for a while...
Once I am finished typing this, I have a completely free calendar for the next eight weeks! This week I have been at home with the family and whilst the kids have been napping I have been busy. I’ve had all the gear out in the garden, tidying in readiness for autumn. The sleeping bag even got dragged up to the dry cleaners and the tackle box, bursting with loads of lethal old rigs, got the autumn equivalent of a spring clean. It’s been a really manic summer with Korda, but now it is time I went fishing for myself.
I am a selfish bastard at heart and I love nothing more than loading the van in anticipation of a long, solo session. More on that next month, but for now I have a lovely tale from three nights in Belgium last week. Last year, if you’re a regular reader, you might remember I went to Belgium twice, to fish on the canals with Derek Harrison. The first session was a real eye opener in terms of just how rugged the Albert and V Canals are. In contrast to this, the Kempisch is a lovely looking Canal. The Albert and V are extremely busy waterways, used primarily by monstrous gravelladen barges. The size of these boats has to be seen to be believed and it’s fair to say these concrete waterways are not for the faint of heart. The Kempisch though, is more similar to UK canals, more intimate, less concrete if you like, and lined with big beautiful oak trees. Full of ticks though, I might add. It’s probably fair to say that they’re not at their peaks any more, but even having said that, between the three canals, they probably hold more 50s than the UK in its entirety. Not bad for the price of a Belgian rod licence I might add.
Last year, on the first week-long session, I fished three different canals, catching fish from each. Without doubt though, the highlight had to be the capture of the mirror known as The Mokka from the V-canal at 59lb 14oz. At the time, the high of the capture clouded just how lucky I had been – as when I returned for round two, only one carp was caught in the whole of the week.
Since the start of the year this session had been in the calendar and I was to be filming a new series called The Buzz. Basically, filming me doing the fishing I would normally do, wherever that may be. The first instalment was the capture of the Coconut from Bayes’ and for the second I had no idea of where to go. Last year I had been pretty close to catching the big common in a particular section of the Kempisch.
After locating it in the edge and fishing for it, I said to Derek to move opposite... you can guess what happened! With that close encounter behind me, on the second session I came even closer. After finding fish in the edge and baiting lightly with tigers, I caught a nice 34lb common. The capture spooked the area a bit but later on when some good weather came in the fish began
to feed quite heavily. The biggest fish stood out like a sore thumb and I was on its case the whole time, basically leap frogging it as it worked the edge. After a couple of near misses, I had noticed a particular pale spot it had shown attention to and after placing a balanced tiger there it worked its way to it. I watched with my breath held as the rig was sucked in, followed by the telltale head knock as it tensioned into the lead. Got ya, or so I thought, but in that same instant a large head shake sent the rig and lead flying off the spot. The fish knew it had nearly been in a whole load of trouble and with a few heavy swipes of its wilted tail all that was left was a cloud of mud.
Those two sessions had given me some confidence, so I decided I’d try and have another go for the same fish, ‘live’ on camera. We arrived on the Tuesday and the first thing I noticed was the colour of the water – pea green! The Kempisch is generally quite clear between the boats passing and that’s what makes it so exciting as it is possible to see them swimming. Without actually seeing fish the canals often look very dead and it’s very hard for me to just sit still without actually seeing fish. Having said all this I was fairly confident the fish would be in the same area as before – I had seen on Instagram that Nick Helleur had caught a couple recently from opposite where I had fished previously.
I was now torn in what was the best course of action. Derek kept saying I should come and jump on his spot on the V as he’d been baiting and catching. It’s not my style to want to fish like that, but having not seen fish on the Kempisch and the fact Derek was adamant we should fish there, it just seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. My thinking at that point was to bait a couple of sections on the Kempisch. Firstly the area I previously mentioned, but also another section that just looked particularly carpy. It had taken the best part of a day to drive over and walk and bait both spots (each of these saw half a big bucket of mixed tigers and a 15mm test bait from Mainline).
By the time I reached Derek, I was sweaty and thirsty, so en route to him, I had collected a customary slab of Belgium’s favourite tipple, Jupiler – partly because I love beer and was thirsty, but also because I was a little ashamed to be jumping all over Derek’s hard work!
The rods were rigged up with heavy-duty 50lb sinking Arma-kord leaders and my standard spinner rig with a tiger nut/plastic maize hookbait. A wafter-style presentation that I thought suitable, because of the potential for crays and all sorts of other creatures that like to whittle away your hookbaits. It really was a lovely swim and a simple short lob on one rod with a 6oz lead that cracked
down like Ian Botham had smacked one back at me on the full toss. Catty range with tigers... The other rod was then fished down the edge on a softer bottom but where Derek had caught his last fish.
A bream was the first victim just on dark, then a 6lb common around 2.30am and then a heron got tangled in my line at 3.30am. By the time I had replaced the rod it was 4am and there seemed little point in going back to bed. The film crew, Richard and Kevin, were both awake from the buzzer activity and we sat up talking and drinking tea. It’s funny but just as the words “We just need one fish to make the film a success” were said, one of the buzzers obliged. Immediately, from the speed it set off at, I knew a carp was responsible and not wanting to be cut off, I ran down the margin with the rod before fully tightening into it.
The fight was fairly unspectacular but a carp from the V-canal wasn’t to be sniffed at, and I was soon looking in the net at a typical pugfaced common of 34lb. It was certainly a very nice start to the film and later that afternoon the same rod was away again. This one felt a little bigger from the off. It is a crazy place, as you truly never know what could pop up next. I don’t mind admitting my legs trembled a little as I caught glimpses of a nice wide common. On the scales she weighted a gnat’s cock over 40lb. At that point the film was in the bag, two good fish delivered by Mr Harrison but reeled in by yours truly.
I cycled the Kempisch again a few times but because of the clarity it was still impossible to see anything. I decided I’d let the bait do its thing for another night and stay put where I was.
The second night was quiet and in the morning I again cycled over to the Kempisch to the spot I had fished previously. The water was still green but as I stood peering over where I had baited, I noticed a tail pattern. This momentarily cleared the algae enough for me to see the tail and the fish feeding! I decided to leave it be as I had caught the previous afternoon but by 3pm the following day it was time to move. We made a brief pit-stop at the supermarket and then quickly walked the section that had just looked carpy. The water was much clearer now, but rather than entice me in,
it actually looked devoid of fish. I knew then I’d be having a go for the big common that had so narrowly eluded me on those earlier trips.
On arrival at around 5pm there were clearly carp still feeding. The rods were swung out, underarm, and lowered in without a sound. Despite this, the fish still ‘did the off’ instantly. I had waited until they were out of sight to do it too but it’s possible that they were just hidden from view, deeper down, and the sound of two handfuls of tigers going in had sent them packing? On dusk two fish showed 80-100 metres down to my right, further confirming my suspicions. I was left hoping they would reappear in the night – I say hoping but it was more than that, I knew they liked this spot, they’d been feeding here.
When I woke at 5am with nothing registering to the alarms I was gutted. The light began to increase and because no boats had come through overnight the water was much clearer. I could see the yellowish bottom where I had lowered the hookbaits in and there were no carp to be seen. Around 8am, just after a dash into the bushes, a double bleep alerted me that they were back. I didn’t see the fish but a mushroom cloud of disturbed bottom told me what had occurred.
I was fishing close but this fish was right in the edge. This was then followed up by two fish showing directly in front of my rods but in the centre of the canal. They were back!
Over the course of the next two hours the right-hand spot was under attack constantly. In hindsight I should have sensed something was wrong but I kept telling myself it was about to go at any second. Eventually, the activity began to subside and I could see there was an opportunity to replace the rig. On doing this the problem was clear! The rig wasn’t where I had placed it. Possibly I’d had an aborted take, because the bead on my lead core had moved, but the bait showed signs of crayfish attention.
Time was really against us at this point, but we could probably hang on another 45 minutes. I replaced both rods, moving the left one onto the other side of the right as this was the spot they had shown a preference for. Typically, not five minutes later a big fish appeared where the left rod had sat not moments earlier and began to feed with merry abandon. Bollocks! The rod I had just moved was quickly retrieved and, keeping low to the water, I watched as it slowly moved off. It was now or never and from a kneeling position, I released the lead from my palm swinging it out and piercing the surface without a sound. It landed absolutely perfect – I could just make out my plastic maize tipper as it came to rest. After transferring the rod to the alarm I wondered up further to the left to see where they’d gone.
Instantly I saw a fish coming back towards me so I backed away and just a few moments later two ominous bleeps came from that alarm. The freshly placed trap was sprung, soon developing into steady take! After all this taking place I’d not even considered which fish might be responsible and on first sight it didn’t look very big. However, it was definitely the fish I’d seen coming towards the bait. The closer it got the more it began to dawn on me which fish it was, but the weight was what really blew us away.
I had anticipated it might weigh a little over 50lb but on the scales the carp spun the needle to just over 58lb. A truly massive carp, from such a tiny canal and an absolute relic from the bygone days when the canal was in its prime.
What an end to the second The Buzz piece, eh? First time I catch a 52lb common whilst packing up at Bayeswater and second trip out, a 58-pounder from the Kempisch – you couldn’t make it up!
Until next time, tight
BELOW BOTTOM I went armed with a case of the good stuff to say thanks for the hospitality
BELOW TOP Getting in the mood...
BELOW BOTTOM Little underarm flicks, with whopping great leads, was the order of the day
BELOW TOP The first of the trip was this blunt-headed 34lb common
ABOVE We could have called it quits when this 40lb-plus fish Followed it over the cord
RIGHT It got bigger and bigger on the way to the net. Nothing quite prepared us For the reading on the scales though
ABOVE What a way to round off a whirlwind visit – all 58lb of it!