Carping on the Grand Union Canal

Sat 21 November 15


Due to a change in employment I found myself moving from Cambridge to London, not something I had ever planned but I was sure going to make the most of it.

I spent a great deal of time looking at places like Hampstead Heath Lakes, the Colne Valley Lakes, Lee Valley Lakes etc. Although there was plenty to go at I just didn’t like the having to deal with crowds or the traffic. I wanted to find somewhere within a half hour drive where I could do my own thing and fish when I wanted without any restrictions as well as having a price tag under £250!!!!

I finally discovered the GUC having chatted to a good friend of mine who lives on a barge on said canal system.
My fishing in my early years began on the Basingstoke Canal so it really felt like I was going back to my roots and increased my excitement. I had done plenty of research and knew the stretch I was going to be fishing held some good fish over the 30lb mark. This was to be my ultimate goal but before that I was aiming to get amongst the 20’s.

I spent a number of visits to the canal in search of the area I would focus my efforts. I managed to find an outlet from a water treatment plant which always showed signs of fish. This was going to be good as there would be a consistent water temperature which would help on the colder days and nights.
I know with a lot of peoples carp fishing it is all about fishing the far margin, however on canals the far margin is sometimes riddled with silt and much sallower than anywhere else on the canal. I found that the main channel had a really clean gravelly bottom and the near shelf was a good depth with plenty of cabbage for the fish to be moving through.

I began baiting and baiting heavily with particle, maize, boilies and anything else I could get my hands on. I really don’t think it matters too much what goes in as long as the fish see it regularly. I was down every other night after dark for two weeks before I even thought about wetting a line. The margin spot just got cleaner and cleaner and the central channel of gravel got wider. Baiting was clearly working for me, but was it just bream or had the carp been making a welcome visit.

My first session started with my friend Grant and his son arriving on their barge. It would be a good opportunity to catch up and also give his son Senan an opportunity to catch his first carp. It would also be a great base for me with toilet a shower and a kitchen….luxury!!!!

I was not expecting much for a first visit and had warned an excited Senan that we might not catch (just to cover my tracks in case we blanked). What followed was far from what I expected we had 8 fish between us in 24 hours. From cricket bat commons to 18lb mirror. Senan bagged his first ‘proper’ carp and was made up with a proud dad in the photo. Grant didn’t get left behind and also had a stunning mirror. What an awesome way to begin my canal campaign on the GUC, action packed and shared with good friends.

My only time to get out of the city and onto the canal when it would be quiet was during the week. I took every opportunity I could to get down to either bait up or fish overnight. Most of the time I was setting up in the dark and then leaving at first light to get back to East Finchley and then into the big smoke!!!

Getting fresh air over night and waking up to the beautiful countryside was certainly the way to do it. I felt far more vitalised than waking up in the house and then heading to work. So this became the norm over the summer and it certainly made for a happier life. Especially with a carp or two along the way.

I lost count of how many nights I did down the canal but it was time well spent and bumped into many regular dog walkers, runners etc. who would stop for a chat and sometimes a brew. Who says anglers and other towpath users cannot get along? I guess it is just how you treat each other and saying hello and wearing a smile costs nothing!

I sadly did not find the 30lb fish I was hoping for but did get fish just under 25lb which was great sport and certainly some fond memories. So here are a few of my favourite captures………..

Along the way I put together some useful tips for targeting canal carp that I thought might be of interest…..

1 – As with all over my fishing location and research is key
All canals are split into pounds by locks which enable boats to move up and down hill in a controlled manner.
Each pound will have different features and different stocking levels of fish. However the fish are able to move through the locks and sadly do get moved by anglers so stocking can vary slightly.

Through good contacts, a bit of clever research and looking at your features you will get an idea of what you are targeting. Whether you would like to catch large numbers of smaller carp or fancy sitting it out for some larger residents there will be something for you.

Facebook, club reports, old and current online forums, EA fish survey reports, tackle shops and local boat owners can always be good starting points. I always take information with a pinch of salt until I start getting repeat information from different sources.

I do like to support a good tackle shop that supports good causes like Harefield tackle this year.

One way to truly discover a canal is to get out and cycle it, walk it or if you are as keen as me run miles and miles of it. Great marathon training! Especially in the summer afternoons and evenings when fish tend to be a little more active you can certainly start to spot your quarry.
Just don’t fall in whilst watching the water too closely!

3 – Choose your spots wisely.
There are many factors that will vary your swim choice, but my main one would be to choose one you think will give you the best chance of bagging a fish, refer back to point 1!
Features are key look for things like….

A. Space: make sure you have enough room! If you are staying for an overnight session then make sure you can get a bed chair in and brolly or small bivvy that doesn’t obstruct the towpath. I also put fluro yellow reflective markers out on bank sticks so other towpath users don’t run or cycle on to my rods.

B. Inlets either from streams, lock sluices, rivers, water treatment sites. They will all bring their own perfect holding areas for carp and bring with them a good source of food etc. This can also be key to winter fishing when water temperatures plummet sometimes these areas can be priceless. Especially water treatment works who pump out water that is of a higher temperature than the rest of the canal area.

C. Turning bays for boats. These will generally provide extra reed growth, lilies, over hanging trees and also space for the carp to keep away from the general users for the canals which are normally quite narrow.

D. Marinas: perfect at all times of the year. They are ideal for carp to get out of the boat traffic during the summer months and they will often move in and out of the entrances. Also great during the winter as occupied boats will provide extra warmth to the water and also a lot of scrap food goes straight into the canal so the fish will be getting fed in these areas regularly.

4– The main channel: possibly one of my top tips.

NEVER ignore the main channel of a canal. Everyone likes to find features, whether on a canal or river. One of the best features is the most natural and that is the deep channel running down the central track of a canal. I have had more fish from the main track on a canal than anywhere else and they given me most of my day time bites.

Why is this a key area? A canal generally is 2ft or shallower at the towpath edge and then has a shelve of about 3ft then dropping down slightly deeper to 4ft or sometimes if you are really lucky over 5ft. On the far bank you will find it varies massively but you are more likely to have a very silty shelf that can sometimes only be a couple of inches deep. If you have a running pound (one with a river joining it or water treatment outlet) you may even find with the increased flow there is a nice clear gravel run down the main channel.

5 – BAITPOSSIBLY THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT – without it you won’t catch!!!
When preparing an area to fish, I am not too fussy about what goes in. I just make sure you can get plenty of it and keep it going in regularly, especially if I am planning on fishing one area for a while. If you are fishing a pound that is 1.5 miles long the fish will patrol and move around a lot, your bait will be seen regularly and your catch rates will increase.

Particle is a must especially when fishing near boats, lots of the stuff that ends up in the canal from boats looks like particle on the canal bed. CC Moore do a whole range of prepared and dry particle.

If preparing your own make sure you follow CC Moore’s guidelines

I try to avoid using pellets of any description as the bream love them. During my 2014 canal carping I have only caught 2 bream!!! I will also put about 1/2kg to 1kg of boilies of varying sizes in every time I bait up, making sure they are the same as my intended hook bait. I have been known to put in 4kg at a time when I have first started baiting an area. If you can try and do your feature finding early in the morning before anyone is up and bait up after dark or early morning when no one is about!!! It is possible to do this on canals unlike on most carp fisheries these days!

Hook baits: Go larger than you think. I have been using 18mm Equinox with a 15mm pop up on a blow back set up. I make sure my baits are glugged and will always take Hard Hookers in case there are issues with crayfish.

As well as glugging your baits, try playing around with dipping your baits in powdered extract to enhance your baits. I like to dip my Equinox bait in the glug then CC Moore’s Green Lip Mussel Powder, allow it to dry a little and repeat the process. It looks awesome in the water and hasn’t let me down.

All the best,



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