Canal Carping: An Overview

by | Carp, Essentials |

When looking across all age demographics, it’s no secret that carp fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities. However, with a finite amount of carp lakes out there, where should you as an angler turn when you don’t want to fish overcrowded waters, a common problem in summer? It could be worth taking a look at your local canal if you’re looking for a venue where the only alarms that are going off are your own, even in August when the sun is beaming down.

I’ll mention straight off the bat that whichever canal you choose to fish, it will be the largest venue you will have ever encountered. Don’t be fooled, whilst the swims may look small, you need to look at the bigger picture and take into account how long canals are and how many other waterways link into them. Once you start to quantify the amount of water that carp have to hide in, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that location is going to be key. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this problem, as with all other types of fishing!

The majority of canals were designed to transport goods up and down the country. Because of this, most canals have a flat bottom and a uniform depth throughout. This predictability means that feature finding is relatively easy and anything out of the ordinary will be likely to hold a carp or two.

Literally miles of untapped carp fishing 

I would always start by taking a long walk down the towpath of your local canal, this is the best way of identifying a few options straight out of the gates.

You’re really on the lookout for sunken/fallen trees, locks, bridges or just general areas where the waterway opens out. I like to look for areas of bank erosion, here soil that falls from the bank will often form underwater features for the carp to enjoy.

Consider the towpath itself too. Overgrowth is a sign that it hasn’t been used much, meaning a stealthy approach could reap benefits, especially as most canals have a concrete bottom and sides, which amplifies bankside vibrations. Alternatively, if you’ve set up in a busy area with lots going on, it’s unlikely any noise or vibrations will spook the carp.

Overall in my experience, the best features for carp fishing are moored boats. They provide cover for the carp and if people are living onboard, a food source is provided via the plumbing system as well as directly from the side of the boat.

Captains will feel under threat if their hull is breached by a 3oz lead!

As with anything, reward is associated with a certain amount of risk. These floating houses cost upwards of £100,000 and are often the pride and glory for many owners. This basically means that many captains will feel under threat if their hull is breached by a 3oz lead!

If you choose to fish near moored boats, please be careful and try to obtain permission where possible. As anglers, we have a responsibility to be mindful to other canal users and in this case, to keep the boat and its passengers safe. There are plenty of examples where neglegance on the angler’s behalf has led to fishing being prohibited on many stretches of canal, so don’t let this happen to yours!

Moored boats – major carp-holding features


Structuring and planning your baiting campaign well will always pay off. Canal carp roam around much more than other carp, but are unlikely to stray too far away from a regular source of food. Try to choose an area that also provides cover for any carp that are visiting your baited spots. Cover along with food is a highly effective way of encouraging carp to remain in the area.

I like to pre-bait four weeks in advance of the start of my first session. Anglers who are used to fishing other types of water may find this excessive, but in my experience this is the most effective way to keep these nomadic carp in your swim.

As you would expect, canals are also home to well, boats. This means that carp don’t like feeding in the middle due to constant boat traffic. Therefore I always keep any bait within half a metre of whichever bank I’m fishing.

For the first three weeks, my focus is to get the carp’s attention and make them aware of the food. To do this I use about a kilo of Bag Up Baits Scopex Boosted Boilies and a tin of sweetcorn to the spot upon every visit, distributing it about 2 metres along the margin.

One week ahead of my session, I like to increase the frequency of my visits – up to twice a day if I can! At this point the carp are very much present in the spot. Now I phase out the scopex and sweetcorn, replacing them with Squid Liver flavour boilies, and increasing the size to 26mm. This is to ensure that only carp are present in the spot by the time it comes to my session.

Be prepared to share canals with others


Canal carp do not endure anywhere near as much pressure as their stillwater brethren, meaning they usually don’t display any ‘riggy’ behaviour. This along with the fact that you’ll very rarely ever need to cast more than 20 yards means that there is no need for complex set-ups.

My choice set-up consists of a 12lb mainline threaded through 30 inches of diffusion rig tubing. I add onto this a simple running lead set-up which is made up of a shock bead, a hard taper bead and a run link. Via a quick-change swivel I add a simple 12-inch knotless-knot hair rig with a 10lb mono and a size 6 hook and that’s it!

If crayfish or other pests are present, I like to use a critically-balanced Mutant boilie to match the freebies I’ve been baiting with.

A beautiful canal warrior


Unlike most stillwater venues, canals are used by a wide variety of people, from dog walkers and cyclists to anti-social youths. Due to this fact, you need to adjust your approach.

When fishing canals, it’s highly unlikely you will ever be able to have your rods at right angles to the water, as you probably would if you were on a lake. Doing so would block the footpath, inconviencing other canal users. To get around this, canal carpers typically have their rods parallel to the water, with their bivvy set well back. Doing so provides more than enough space for other people to use.

I’ve witnessed fishing tackle increase significantly in both durability and quality over the years, but it’s still no match for a moving boat! Hooking a moving boat will lead to you losing everything but potentially a snapped rod. To counter this, when fishing the far bank of a canal I use two back leads; one that is slid out into the middle and one that sits beneath the rod tip. This system ensures that the line is well out of the way when one of these boats sails past.

Carpy signs (via @canal_carper)

An example session

So that’s the theory, but what does it mean in reality? Let me quickly tell you about an example session from the other week.

I’d prebaited the near bank of a local canal for about six weeks and was feeling pretty confident for the session. But as Mike Tyson said ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ – for the first 12 hours of the session, my alarms were silent and my confidence was shattered.

It wasn’t until I overheard a conversation between a young girl and her friends ‘I hated swimming here at first, but I love it now’… There had been a group of teenagers having swimming lessons over the past week! No wonder the carp were nowhere to be seen. Still, as we’ve discussed this is all just part of sharing a water with others.

With this new information to hand I moved about 300 yards up the bank, with the assumption that the carp wouldn’t strayed too far from the food source I had provided them. The long straight nature of the bank offered me the opportunity to walk a bait back down to my prebaited area.

The location change paid dividends when at about 5am, the rod on my prebaited area ripped off. A difficult battle followed and eventually I slipped the net under a wiley looking 20lb mirror. It didn’t take long after repositioning that rod that the other one one went off, and a similar looking mirror around 17lb was in my arms.

As usual it was far too soon before I had to get back to work, but returning to the canal beckons and it won’t be long until I return. I hope you can take something from this article and that no budding Olympic swimmers get in your way!