There can be fewer more famous canal venues in the UK than the legendary ‘hotties’ section of the Sankey St Helen’s Canal running through the middle of St Helen’s.
When the water was warmed by the Pilkington Glass factory on the banks of the canal back in the 70’s through to the 90’s, the water would steam in winter and with artificially high temperatures, unusual species for a canal could be caught including carp and even the odd tropical fish dumped into the venue by owners.
That was a while ago though and the ‘hotties’ are no longer steaming – but the fish are still there and that’s the message that controlling club St Helen’s AA are trying to get across to match anglers by running regular matches where those carp still have a part to play.
Alongside the big fish, the match angler is also likely to be catching your standard canal fare of roach, perch and bream, weights being respectable over the Christmas and New Year break and into 2017. It was for that reason that club members and local matchmen Andy Burrows and England vets legend Danny Sixsmith agreed to show what the ‘hotties’ has to offer in the modern era.
“I can remember 10 years ago the canal still steaming from the ‘gusher’ pipe that went into the canal and it was one of the few canals in the UK where you could catch carp from 2oz to 20lb because they bred throughout the year thanks to the warm water,” Andy said. “A Boxing Day match was one won with 99lb of them and every match we’ve run this winter has seen carp caught. I think 10 was the most in one match and that was when there was ice on the water!”
However, you’ll need to catch the canal right to get the carp as they seem to prefer clear water. On the day of Andy and Danny’s trip, rain had coloured the water and carp seemed to be unlikely. Fortunately, there are also lots of big roach and an ever-increasing head of big skimmers to go for.
“There are two distinct areas to the Sankey – a deep part and a shallow section but it never seems to matter where you fish as the sports is equally good and there’s no boat channel either because the canal is landlocked so the depth is constant all the way across so you can often use just the one rig!” he continued. “The canal did fall out of favour a bit because of expensive car parking but now the council offer free parking on Sundays and £2 a day throughout the week so access is as good as it has ever been.”
There’s also no hassle with cyclists and runners on the towpath as paths have been built well back from the water to keep all users of the Sankey happy. All of this adds up to make the canal what Andy thinks is the best canal in the country and one that is criminally underfished.
“If roach and bream are the target, as they are today, you can forget all about faffing around with squatts and tiny hooks plus light feeding as the fish actually respond better to a lot of feed meaning that you can fish positively,” he said. “There’s no need to go right across to the far bank either thanks to that constant depth and I typically have four pole lines in a match, one starting at around 6m from where I then work my way out by two sections at a time as the day goes on, plus a swim off to one side with a view to catching bream.”
Andy’s rig for the canal does use a typical light 4x10 canal float in the shallow areas with lines of 0.13mm main to an 0.09mm hooklink and a size 18 or 20 Kamasan B512 hook finished with a 2 to 4 grade hollow elastic fished with a puller kit. This way he can catch the big roach and skimmers but also deal with a carp if he hooks them. The big fish tend to plod around in winter so there’s no need for heavy gear and this is used on all four lines.
“I kick off at 6m where I pot in a quarter of a large pot of maggots, fishing double fluoro pinkie on the hook but I’ll also feed those others swims with the same amount of maggots, the skimmer line getting a ball of sweet bream groundbait packed with dead pinkies, casters, micro pellets and chopped worm,” Andy revealed. “You can feed a lot of bait on here and it won’t be unusual to get through four pints of maggots in a match. The key is to feed to your bites so if you are catching, you can loosefeed far more and get through the bait.”
“The skimmer line is not somewhere to have an odd look at through the day though because I’ve found that the bream get onto the bait very quickly so I would spend a good bit of time fishing here but not too long. If the bream are there you should get them quickly but if not, get back on the roach.”
For carp when the water is clear, Andy still swears by maggots as you can catch the roach and skimmers while waiting for the carp. Pellets can work but are too selective.
The day that Andy and Danny picked couldn’t have been worse with howling winds limiting how far out you could sensibly fish but it didn’t affect the fishing with lots of bites from some quality roach and a few of those famed skimmers. As expected, the carp didn’t show but with 15lb of fish apiece to show for their efforts, that didn’t matter one bit.
If you thought that canal fishing was all about dodging pole-smashing bikes and catching 2lb of tiny fish, the Sankey shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Apparently, it’s even better in the summer!
Fish the Sankey
Controlled by St Helen’s AA, the Sankey can be fished on their £30 club book which also includes Carr Mill Dam. Matches run every Sunday with no peg fee taken so your £10 pools are paid out 100%. To book on, give Andy a call on 07849 608448.