Urban ‘cuts’ hold their fair share of angling surprises, as Nick Speed demonstrates in emphatic style on a prolific free stretch in Sheffield
Inching his delicate pole float ever closer to the branches trailing into the water on the opposite bank, Nick Speed braced himself for a carp bite.
The mass of concrete, cars and congestion in the immediate vicinity suggested that he wasn’t tackling a snag-infested island swim on a commercial fishery, but his local urban stretch of canal.
Sat scarcely 100m from the hustle and bustle of Meadowhall Shopping Centre and the M1 motorway, a quiet day’s fishing was the last thing topflight matchman Nick Speed expected on the Sheffield canal.
However, it was a sacrifice he was more than prepared to make for a chance to lock horns with some of the mythical inhabitants of this much underfished waterway.
Inner city sanctuary
At just 3.9 miles long, it’s certainly one of the UK’s shorter canals, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in fish quality.
Nick and his friends have had some huge catches of plump 1lb-plus roach from the venue, plus good tench and bream hauls. But Nick had much bigger things in mind today.
“Sheffield has a big population of anglers who think nothing of travelling 30 miles out of the city to catch carp, but they’ve got some big fish on their doorstep which they could catch for a fraction of the price from this canal, where the fishing is free!” said Nick.
“On a warm summer’s day you can see the carp swimming around near the top or spot tail patterns on the surface. Anglers sometimes hook them on conventional light canal tackle but stand no chance. So today I’m going to go all out for them with the kind of stepped-up gear that I’d use on a commercial carp water,” he added.
Bait and wait
The peg Nick had chosen was close to a basin in the canal – a spot where he knew carp had been caught before. Having already seen signs of big fish in the area shortly after his arrival earlier that morning, his confidence was high.
Directly opposite his pitch, an overhanging tree and a line of bramble bushes shaded the water – providing what looked like the ideal spot to ambush a carp on heavy tackle. But, as Nick was quick to point out, hooking a fish in such an environment would only be half the battle.
Two expander pellets make a great bait for canal carp, as does a grain of corn.
With double-figure fish a distinct possibility, landing one without it taking him into any submerged snags, or breaking him by running hard down the canal, was likely to prove the hardest part.
In addition to his pole rig, Nick had also set up a Method feeder rod, which he planned to cast down towards the basin to his left, as he explained.
“I’m not going to go over for a carp straight away. Instead, I prefer to feed the swim to get any big fish present settled and confident over the bait. I’ve introduced a full pot of 4mm hard pellets and a few bits of corn over the exact spot I plumbed up, which is about 2ft 6in deep just inches from the brambles. This is a decent depth to fish in – if it was really shallow a big carp might not be confident feeding here. So I’ll leave the spot alone for an hour or two and have a few casts with the feeder rod and go down the centre with the pole,” he said.
Fish from the start
Nick kicked off the action by taking some decent roach and hybrids on casters from the middle of the cut but, after a couple more pots of prebait had been introduced to the far swim and given time to settle, he was itching to try for a big carp.
He picked up his pole, impaled a grain of corn on to his size 14 hook and shipped the stout rig across to the brambles. For a couple of minutes after the float had settled, nothing happened, but Nick was unperturbed.
“I half expect to have to wait a while. Targeting large fish on a venue like this can require a bit of patience,” he said.
No sooner had the words left his lips, however, than the action began with a bang. The fluorescent orange tip of his float didn’t dip, wobble or slide sideways to give any warning of what was to come – one second it was there, the next it was not. Blink and we would have missed it.
Nick’s reaction was instant and on the strike his white elastic sailed out of the pole tip as a powerful fish tore off angrily down the canal. Such situations require swift action from the angler if disaster and disappointment are to be averted, and Nick reacted by immediately shipping his first few pole sections back and on to the roller behind him to pull the fish away from the hazardous far side.
With the fish still heading sideways at a rate of knots, Nick was forced to take further action, pulling his pole apart half way down so that he could point it towards the fish at a slight angle and prevent any potential expensive breakages.
As he did so, the unseen lump began plodding around in the relative safety of the central track and finally Nick could afford to take a breath or two. With the carp’s power slowly subsiding, he broke down the final section of his pole as the fish neared the net.
What looked every ounce a double-figure mirror carp popped to the surface, looking almost as surprised as Nick, who scooped it up at the first time of asking. It had felt like far longer, but a quick check of the watch revealed that from bite to netting, the drama was all over in less than 90 seconds!
“This carp is at least 12lb!” Nick yelled, grinning from ear to ear.
“When you get one on a venue like this it tends to be on the large side, and you can see why you need strong lines and elastics. I can’t believe I’ve hooked one so quickly but it shows how important it is to let the fish settle on the bait. If I hadn’t done that I might not have got a bite from this fish, or worse still, I could have foul-hooked it,” he added.
A passing family of cyclists had stopped to watch the commotion unfold and, as Nick lifted his creaking landing net on to the bank to unhook his prize, it was greeted with the customary ‘that’s a big one’ comments!
This brought a smile from Nick, and soon they carried on their way, suitably impressed with what they had just witnessed emerge from their local waterway.
Nick was far from finished, however, and after checking his hookpoint and the rest of his rig for any damage, soon had another bait on the spot.
Five minutes later, the neon orange float tip shot from view again, and carp number two was attached. This one scrapped even harder than the first, but the combination of Nick’s angling prowess and well-balanced and strong set-up won the day and another dark-coloured, double-figure mirror carp was scooped up by the waiting net.
After such a purple patch of action, Nick’s luck changed a short while later when, soon after hooking into a third carp from underneath the bramble bush, it shot at full speed into the nearest trailing branches, and broke his rig.
“That one was an absolute zoo creature!” he said. “You can’t expect to get every one of these fish out because they are so big and wild, but I’m going to tighten up my No.16 latex pole elastic so that hopefully it doesn’t happen again. I’ll re-feed the peg with another cup of pellets and corn and give it a rest for a while because that lost fish will have disturbed the swim,” he added.
Once again, the patient approach paid off, and in the final couple of hours of the session Nick landed another three carp at staggered intervals, the biggest two of which pulled the scales down to 13lb-plus.
His final tally of five double-figure mirror carp, each an almost identical colour and shape to the next, made for a truly remarkable catch from a Northern canal.
However, such amazing surprises can be found swimming in most of the UK’s inner city waterways. But, as Nick had proved, finding them is only half the battle – you’ve then got to land them!
As he slipped each carp safely back into the canal, Nick was left to reflect on what had been a true red letter day. Not only had it been great British fishing, it had been great British fishing for free!
Fish the Sheffield canal
This stretch of the Sheffield canal at Tinsley is called ‘Plumpers’ and is easily accessed, being less than a minute from junction 34A of the M1. There is plenty of parking outside the Tinsley Transport Café and American Golf (sat nav co-ordinates S9 1UP). The venue produces well all year-round, with huge nets of roach on hemp and casters a distinct possibility. Bream and tench are also present in good numbers further down the stretch.