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

Improve Your Coarse Fishing (UK) - - Contents - Words & Pho­tog­ra­phy Tony Grig­or­jevs

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.


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.”


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.”

Heavy gear

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.”

Sur­prise slabs

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

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