An Emotional Return – Mike Salisbury

Although my spiritual home for fishing is Leazes Park in Newcastle, I spent many of my formative years in angling on the Oxford Canal. My family moved to Banbury in 1984, and when I began fishing a year later, I was soon on the lookout for places to fish locally. At the time there wasn’t a great deal of choice so my main haunt was the Oxford Canal which ran through Banbury, or the River Cherwell which ran parallel. I spent many years fishing happily on both catching numerous Roach, Perch, Gudgeon, Dace, Chub and even the odd Pike I had occasionally seen some big carp in both of these waterways but being hopelessly under-equipped to fish for them I didn’t stand a chance. I left Banbury in 1996, eventually settling in Essex in 1999. Between these times I dabbled with carp fishing and was having some success going on to catch my first 20 a year later in 2000.

Fast forward to 2014 and I had the idea of making a video in which I would be returning to Newcastle and attempting to catch a carp from Leazes Park. This went exactly to plan – a 19lbs common was the result and I’ve been successfully fishing the lake ever since. This summer I decided to shoot a follow up video and my target would be to return to Banbury and catch some carp. Little did I know I had perhaps bitten off more than I could chew…? Upon arrival on a sunny Tuesday afternoon I headed for one of my old favourite spots which is a river pool near the town centre. Years ago I caught some decent Pike from there and once I’d seen a guy hauling out which looked to be a huge carp at the time.  When I arrived at the river my heart sunk it was a scene of complete devastation. Completely overgrown hardly any water left and devoid of life I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing and it pretty much bought me to tears. I had no pictures of this place other than what was consigned to memory and it was now gone forever. Apparently the reason for the state it was now in was abstraction – why on earth anyone would let this happen was beyond me but there was nothing I could do about it.
Mike Louis and Lucia

Next up was the canal, so I drove to a spot five minutes away from the river. This was what we used to call “The Alcan” names after a factory behind the canal. Alcan had made parts for spitfires during the WWII and continued production until 2009. It was odd to see that the factory had been demolished but for all intents and purposes the canal looked the same as I remembered it. It was in this area that I’d seen some carp cruising down the far bank all those years ago. I had bought with me a short float rod and some maggots, deciding to fish for bits to begin with and just see how it went all the while looking for signs of carp.  Neither was successful as I couldn’t get a single bite this was in stark contrast to the 1980s when I’d be pulling out 30 odd fish in an hours float fishing. This session was going from bad to worse and at this point I was considering jacking it in and heading back to Essex. Apparently predation form an influx of Zander had pretty much annihilated the silver fish population along with poaching. I decided to carry on and after a quick chat with local expert Matthew Perring I was made aware of a hotspot for canal carp just ten minutes away.

After a gruelling 20 minute hike with a full-laden barrow up the canal towpath, I was standing opposite a new marina which screamed carp. Sure enough, after observing the water for a few minutes I could see carp cruising around in the marina, in what was now blistering heat approaching 30 degrees. Getting them to feed in this heat was going to be interesting and getting a bait to them more so! The tactic was to bait-boat a line through the entrance to the marina and go in anything up to 40 yards. Sounded pretty hairy, but the walls to the marina seemed quite smooth and not likely to cut you off.  So I loaded up the Procat with some 14mm Bait-Tech Poloni Boilies, and sent it on its merry way through the entrance. By 11pm I was pretty exhausted so I decided to get my head down. Eventually though at 4am I was up like a shot, as my ATT had given a 1-toner. I was soon into a canal carp but it wasn’t long before disaster struck, my line had become snagged on the rubber buffer around the entrance to the marina, which gave the fish enough leverage to shed the hook and that was it, game over. I picked myself up and re-baited but by 8.30am I’d had no further action. Boat traffic had started to become heavy and fishing was now pointless and it was a case of twiddling my thumbs or go and do something else. I had to be proactive id I was going to save this video mission from disaster, so I decided to pack up and move to the canals feeder Reservoir nearby.
Mike 21lbs mirror
Clattercote Reservoir is 21 acres in size and it has been there since the late 1700’s so it is steeped in local history. This made it a really attractive proposition to target some carp, as well as it being a well-stocked water which is regularly match fished . It’s surrounded by wooden walkways which run several metres from the bank, so this was certainly going to be something different. I pitched up on the far bank which can be night fished, as bivvy areas have been cut into the hedgerow behind you at various intervals. Looking out over my swim, I could see plenty of carp in the area cruising around which was a great sign but the midday sun was again blisteringly hot. Getting these fish to feed properly was going to again, be a struggle and struggle I did. The conditions screamed surface fishing and zigs, and for three hours this is what I tried, to little avail. Despite putting out plenty of floaters, the carp would occasionally nose at them but not take any, preferring to sunbathe.  On one rod I was fishing a 10ft Zig with a trimmed down 15mm Pop-Up which at 4pm finally sprang into life. It turned out to be a big anti-climax though as it was only a very small mirror around 5lbs and although it had saved a blank I was hoping for a bigger specimen.

Around 6pm an old school friend of mine turned up with his kids to do some whip fishing, and they were intrigued about all the carp gear in my swim! One thing I couldn’t show them at this point was a carp so I decided to give it another blast on the surface, firing out a good helping of mixers now that the temperature was falling, carp were getting on the feed and a number of fish were soon slurping down mixers in front of us. To give them an irresistible hook bait I took a fake mixer and dipped it in the new Bait-Tech Nutty Oil giving it a truly awesome slick once it hit the water. I wasn’t waiting long – the hook bait hit the water and the Nutty Oil did its magic as the rod was almost wrenched from my hands as an angry common tore off across the reservoir. One of the kids slipped the net under the fish and we were all pleased to see a common just shy of 10lbs on the bank it was certainly the biggest fish they’d ever seen and loved every minute of the capture as much as I did. For the next 2 hours the action was hectic and I caught steadily off the surface, although all the fish were under 10lb. My visitors left just before dark, leaving me with a quandary for the night ahead – find a spot further out and fill it in or stick with the zigs? The answer was something different, an obvious solution which in essence has become my carp fishing “Mantra” over the years – “Never Neglect The Margins”. The margins were the obvious place to position my rods at night, particularly in front of the staging as match anglers often dump their left over bait in the edge after a match, leaving the bigger carp to move in and mop it up.  It was an invitation too tempting to resist so I baited my rods with Poloni Dumbells one placed under the willow to my left and the other rod right in front of the adjacent platform. I baited each spot with a handful of 14mm Poloni Boilies and set the rods down for the night. I had anticipated somewhat of a wait but what followed just 15 minutes later can only be described in one way – utter mayhem! Run after run, fish after fish, all through the night it continued so I abandoned sleep and hauled like I have never hauled before.
Mike 20lbs 10oz common
The best thing was that during this amazing hit of carp (in truth I lost count of how many), I was only catching doubles – Nothing under 10lb now. At around 10.30pm I netted my first 20 in the shape of a 21lb fat scaly mirror – this was the result I was hoping for and worth going through everything I had on this trip. From despair to elation – I was over the moon. The action continued solidly until 8am when my final 2 fish of the session arrived in a double run. The first was a small mirror around 8lb but the second was a beautiful common just shy of 21lb with dark scales like 2p pieces. Needless to say I was knackered after this night of chaos, so I thought this would be a good point to end the session and head home.  Coming back to Banbury had eventually been rewarding, even though the session had put me through the wringer, I had achieved what I needed to do and there will be an interesting video to come out of it that’s for sure. The canal, however is unfinished business and I’ll be returning at some stage to have another crack.

I’ll leave you with my carp fishing mantra – No matter how big or small the water you’re fishing under any circumstances, Never Ignore The Margins!

Mike Salisbury
Carp Team

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