3 easy steps to catch canal slabs – Graham West
Graham West shows how you can save a packet on your bait bill by turning to commercial pellet and corn tactics when big canal fish are high on the agenda
IT’S A well-known fact that our canals are teeming with big fish. But there is one barrier that still discourages many anglers from chasing these untamed giants. It’s not the day-ticket price because, let’s face it, they’re cheap as chips. It’s not even the walks required to get to the best pegs because access has greatly improved. It’s the bait bill. Fish a commercial and a bag of pellets and couple of tins of corn can get you a bite every chuck but history suggests you’ll need to spend a small fortune to bag big canal carp, bream and tench. A kilo of worms, a few pints of maggots, casters and a bag of groundbait will easily set you back £30. That’s enough to deter many anglers and send them looking at other options. But there’s a growing group of anglers who are taking inspiration from commercial enthusiasts to cut down their bait bill. Brown’s Angling and Preston Innovationsbacked rod, Graham West, has won countless events using natural baits but his curiosity saw him looking for equally effective alternatives. “Canals are no longer just a place for those fishing the float with light tackle. I know lots of specimen anglers who fish them for carp, tench and bream which are now present in big numbers,” explained Graham. “These anglers won’t carry any worms, casters or maggots yet they still catch some incredible specimen fish. “For them it is all about feeding baits such as pellets and corn. I thought I’d try this on the pole and have never looked back,” he added.
If you are looking for big fish at a commercial you stand a good chance of tasting success from just about any peg. Canals, however, are an entirely different ball game. Swims that are home to lots of cover are the places to head at this time of year as fish seek cover from boat traffic. “A little bush on the far bank won’t provide much of a hiding place so you need to look for a sizeable feature that the fish can sit under.
“The fish will rarely venture from under these areas at this time of year so you need to draw them to the edge of snags to catch them.
FEED TWO SWIMS
Graham feeds two swims that are of identical depth to give himself another option if the action tails off on his first choice zone. “You don’t need to go mad on the initial bait dose. One pot of corn and pellets with a handful of Sonubaits Worm Fishmeal groundbait over each area is enough,” he said. “You can either top-up with a small quantity after every fish or a big pot every now and then to reinvigorate things. Both work so it is a matter of working out what is best on the day. “Banded hard pellet, expander pellets and corn are all effective hookbaits, with the former better if small fish are proving problematic.”
TAKE NO PRISONERS
With tackle-busting branches, tree roots and weedbeds more than likely, you might be tempted to try somewhere else and take second best for the day. “Getting big fish out of such swims is pretty daunting but there is a technique to it and once you have mastered it those worries soon disappear. “The biggest error that people make is striking when they get a bite. This creates all sorts of problems. Firstly, if you miss the bite you can guarantee your rig will get caught in the snags and you will have to pull for a break. “Applying pressure with a harsh strike will also cause a big fish to bolt and you can guess which direction the fish will head. “As soon as I get a bite I ship back quickly. This motion will hook the fish and give you a few seconds head start. If you are using the right tackle this will lead the fish out of the snag before it knows what’s going on and that drastically increases your chances of winning the battle.”
Scaling down is important on commercials because the fish have seen every trick in the book. These rules don’t apply on canals. The fish on ‘the cut’ don’t see anywhere near as many baited rigs and are therefore a lot less cautious when feeding in swims with a hookbait anchored in the middle. “It’s all well and good getting the bite but you need to make sure that the fish ends up in the net so that means fishing really heavy. “Make sure your pole is up to taking the pressure of heavy elastics, lines and hooks. You need a dedicated commercial carp pole and I use my Preston Innovations Response Carp.
“Elastic is a 17H or 19H depending how snaggy it is and the rig is 0.21mm mainline to a 0.19mm hook-length and a strong size 14 or 16 hook. “I always use a hook-length when fishing in this manner as you need somewhere that will break should things go wrong. Don’t risk a section of your pole exploding.”
Fishing a stretch of the Grand Union Canal on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, Graham selected a swim that had probably the biggest bush on the whole venue! It stretched over 20m long and the trees leant over from the far bank by at least 3m giving the fish plenty of destructive areas to charge into. His initial payload was dropped in and it took less than five minutes for the float to dip. Shipping back immediately, the elastic shot out. My first reactions were that a big carp was the first culprit due to the sheer determination of the specimen to get among the tree routes. But two minutes there was a 3lb bream in the net. “These canal bream fight a lot harder than you may think and, if you fished light amid a snag pit, every one would get away.” Several other similar slabs proved that the first wasn’t alone with its scraping abilities, with a big cup of bait every half an hour keeping things ticking over. It looked like the bream were going to dominate before all hell really did break loose. “Now that’s a carp,” exclaimed Graham as he held on for dear life. At this point, it was noticeable how important it was to instantly ship back the pole. The fish was perilously close to the undergrowth but Graham was in with a chance. Within 30 seconds it had turned its head and began plodding down the track before throwing the towel in minutes later. “That was a close call but, ultimately, the plan has worked a treat. Big canal fish are spreading to more stretches and this is proof you don’t need to spend a fortune to get amongst them,” concluded Graham.
1 SWIM CHOICE Look for dense far-bank cover 2 BACK-UP ZONE Make sure it has the same depth 3 TAKE NO PRISONERS Fish heavy and win every battle!
A pot of pellets and corn will get the swim going
Baits that are usually reserved for commercials will score heavily on canals for bream and carp Fish tight to cover for big bream and carp
A fantastic catch taken on less than a tenner’s worth of bait
If you want to land everything you hook, beefy tackle is essential
17H (right) and 19H elastics will stop any canal fish in its tracks