Sam Whittaker embarks on a Belgian road trip, which all came good in the end!
Ant Perry – A trip to remember
19th January 2021
With the world in turmoil and travelling across the pond to catch fish seeming like a distance memory of something that once was – I thought it would be nice reflect on a trip where the stars aligned and turned into the greatest angling adventure I have had to date..
“The usual one o’clock alarm rang out, signalling it was time to get up and on the road for Folkstone, the dreary eyes from the lack of sleep soon replaced by pure excitement and anticipation of what may lay ahead. After picking up my partner in crime Sam we headed off into the night on the long journey south in the hope of making our crossing on time. Fuelled by cans of Monster and the standard Drum & Bass playlist blaring out the buzz was high – we were like kids at Christmas!
Arriving on French soil we only had a short two-hour drive to our first destination. A set of dammed off canals that we had checked out in the January was the first port of call. Knowing roughly which stretches we wanted to start on we deployed the micro scooters and began our search for any signs of carp. After a few miles covered and some funny looks from the locals we had located some fish milling around in a heavily weeded part of the stretch. The fish we found looked to be mostly small commons, high doubles and the odd twenty in the mix. Not exactly what we were after from this trip but couldn’t ignore the opportunity of a bite! Besides, having a fish under our belt nice and early would mean we could move on with the confidence, knowing that a blank wasn’t on the cards.
After finally managing to wedge my bank sticks into gaps in the slabs that bordered the canal it was around dinner time and the rods were out! I had decided to fish one rod down my left margin and my other to the opposite side into a clearing in the masses of weed. I went in with my usual tactics of a multi rig constructed of 25lb Tungskin and a size 5 Out Turned Eye hook, fished on a helicopter setup. With a Manilla Yellow One on the hook, I baited with just a handful of the Krill I was happy that if any fish moved over the area, I’d have one. With the rods only being out for about two hours I couldn’t believe it when my right hand rod began to scream, with line being pulled off the clutch at a savage rate. The power of the fish coupled with the masses of weed made playing it an absolute nightmare, after a crazy battle I finally manged to get the fish into a position to net it, along with the epic amount of weed it had brought with it. Once safely on the mat we started to peel away the weed and was met by a chunk of a mirror, it was deep bodied and thick set and its black and yellow flanks glistened in the afternoon light. On the scales she went 32lb and turned out to be the biggest fish in the certain stretch we were fishing! What a start, we couldn’t really believe our luck so early on. After replacing the rod with another handful of bait a celebratory mid-afternoon beer was in order. It hadn’t been in the water for more than an hour before it was away again! This time the battle was a lot less dramatic. The new channel in the weed created by the last fish made this one a lot easier to get in the net. On the mat lay another, yellow bellied mirror, although this time a very different shape with a big head and high shoulders tapering off to a rounded tail, it went 27lb on the scales and another beer was in order. As darkness fell my rods remained silent but during the night Sam managed to catch another two fish, one being a low 20 and the other 31lb. Again, both of these were mirrors which was unbelievable after all we had seen was commons in the area.
We had planned to spend 3 days on these canals but with the success on our first night we felt it was right to cut it short and move on to the next destination a few days early. After a couple of hours on the road and the smell of success filling the van we arrived at a set of very special lakes. With twelve in total, we spent a good few hours walking around in the sun just trying to locate some fish to have a go for. After spotting a small patch of fizzing on one of the lakes we stood there patiently waiting in the hope that the carp would reveal their location. Sure enough it wasn’t long before we saw our first show, shortly followed by two more. The lake was an L shape which handily meant we could both fish from a point and in theory this would give us half the lake each. After a mammoth barrow journey, we were in our swims and started to have a lead around. The lake was very weedy but it didn’t take too long and I managed to find a couple of small silty clearings amongst the thick weed. Within hours of being there my swim became alive with huge sheets of fizz and numerous shows and I’ll be honest I was rubbing my hands together, thinking it’s more a case of when not if! After a well earned BBQ we turned in for the night, hopping to finally try catch up on some sleep but praying we would be awoken in the night by a carp or two. Well in the early hours of the morning that’s just what happened when Sam’s swim kicked off big time! By the morning Sam had caught 3 x 30’s and an upper 20, including some incredibly special fish. After the photo duties were done, I couldn’t help feeling confused to how I hadn’t had a bite! I decided a change of tactic was in order and decided to fish much further out than the night before on a nice patch of glassy silt in-between two large weed beds more than big enough for both my rods. I gave the spot a good hit of bait which was made up of crushed and whole Krill, a mix of crushed nuts and some trusty sweetcorn all soaked in Fish Oil and Liquid Liver. Feeling much more confident in my approach I was happy again just praying the carp would give the spot a visit. After only an hour or so I began to notice some fizzing over the spot and then it happened… bream, then another and then another! I had had enough, the lack of sleep was taking its toll and I thought a move was my only option – luckily the way the lakes are set out I could just move to a lake that backed up onto the swim we were fishing. I decided to have a quick lead about and with some new spots found and all the gear moved except the rods I was about ready to reel in and make the move. Out of nowhere one of the rods ripped off and this time it certainly wasn’t a bream! After a pretty uneventful battle I slid my net under my first carp from the venue. After sorting the mat and camera gear we hoisted the fish out and it felt much heavier than I had initial expected. On the scales the fish went 40lb 4oz and a new PB for me! The fish was unbelievable it looked pre-historic and had pecs the size of my head, a true public water giant.
The lack of sleep no longer mattered – I decided to stay put and moved all the gear back. I thought a change on the rig front would be a sensible idea and hoped fishing longer hook sections on my hinge rigs would deter the bream from hanging themselves. I also rebaited the spot but this time purely with whole krill, again to try stop the bream causing me to much of a headache. After another BBQ and some beers with a few of the locals we decided to turn in for the night to hopefully to catch up on some much needed sleep!! Fortunately, that sleep was again interrupted in the early hours of the next morning by the sound of my alarm going into meltdown. My receiver box was positioned next to my head and the sound of the braid being stripped from a tight clutch was all that was ringing in my ears. Pulling into this fish I instantly knew it was in a different league. I had been told by one the locals if you hook the big one (Arrow Tail) you’d know it because she goes where she wants when she wants and that’s exactly what this fish was doing, I just couldn’t stop whatever I was attached to! After what felt a life time of trying to extract this fish from weed bed after weed bed with huge powerful surges in-between, I finally started to gain some ground. This was short lived as my tip eye was completely solid with weed. Shit! With Sam out in the pond I just put the rod on the floor and between us hand-lined in a huge raft of weed picking it off as we went. With no idea if the fish was even still on and about ten minutes of just trying to remove the weed from the line, I thought it was all over, when under the torch light I spotted a huge head of a carp move through a small hole in the weed. Sam with the net’s arms in either hand scooped up the fish along with a ridiculous amount of weed. The trusty TA size 5 OE hook had stayed put! After peeling off the remaining weed my first instinct was correct it was her, I had caught Arrow Tail, the queen of the lakes! Once we had composed ourselves and calmed down a bit, we got her out and onto the scales she went 44lb 8oz, not that it really mattered this fish really is something else. We sacked her up in the deep margins for a short while to wait for the sun to come up so we could get some shots of her in all her glory. As we were preparing to do the photos, we were met by another group of brits on their own adventure and they were more than willing to give us a hand, which was a massive bonus because when dealing with such a powerful fish on the bank the more help the better – cheers lads! With some lovely shots of such a majestic creature, we returned her to her watery home to one day make someone else’s dreams a reality. The morning was a blur to be honest, how had we done what we had done? As you can imagine the BC buzz was in full force!
Again, after our success we felt it only right that we move on. With the vast amounts of waters, we wanted to experience as many as we could and keep the adventure going. We had been told about a day’s only park lake and thought it would be an ideal place to spend the rest of the day trying to stalk one out of the edge. We arrived to an extremely busy place full of people including huge groups of kids on a school trip, definitely different to anything else either of us had fished before but that wasn’t going to put us off. Armed with just a rod each and the bare essentials we made our way around a deep clear pit where we found groups of very sizeable carp milling around the marginal shelf. It looked as if it was going to be easy to bag a couple of these fish but that wasn’t going to be the case. Watching the fish for mug us off for a frustrating, few hours – I finally got a bite! This fish really did pull my arm off with a crazy fight in the deep water. Eventually Sam slipped the net under a nice mid-twenty common with a huge tail, no wonder I thought so hard. With the park closing soon and the light fading it was time to leave and find somewhere for the night ahead.
The next two nights were spent on canals that we had been told about, but with the change in weather and it now being 30+ degrees it seemed to knock the fishing on the head for us. After a couple of days of being baked alive on a huge industrial canal we decided a change of plan was in order.
Arriving in the dying light we were met by a mad stretch of canal that looked as if it had been left derelict for years. The banks were lined with crumbling buildings and covered in graffiti, the water was full of weed and metal work it really was a crazy place to wet a line. Under torch light I managed to find a small clearing in the weed down my left-hand margin and lowered in a trusty hinge alongside a handful of krill. I thought ‘that will do for the night’ and we sat back and just soaked up the atmosphere of the canal. To my surprise at first light that rod was away and after a hairy battle trying to avoid the savage snags, I slipped the net under another mega cool mid twenty common. The photos were taken in the morning sunlight and then we packed up once again. We used the rest of this day to scope out some new areas for future trips and boy did we find some.
As you can imagine by this point, we were completely knackered and decided for the last night we would drop back onto the canal we started on, we knew the spots and could just get the rods in with minimal disturbance giving us the best chance of a last night bite before the dreaded drive home. We woke up on the last morning after a quiet night, which to be honest we both needed, but it wasn’t over just yet. With only a few hours left to go one of my rods was away again this time producing a mega cool black low twenty common with a little snub nose. It was a great way to end and we just floated all the way home riding the wave of what we had just accomplished.
Seven nights, nine public waters, 1000 miles driven and a whole lot of laughs this really was a trip il never forget and just can’t wait till were allowed to do it all over again!”