Grass carp were introduced into the upper Lancaster Canal by Liverpool University in the mid 1970s in a trial to investigate the fish’s capacity to control weed excessive growth. The canal was ideal for the trial as it had (and still has) sections cut off from each other by the M6 and supporting roads. These cut off sections had no boat traffic and were slowly silting and weeding up. The trial was considered successful and the go ahead for limited introductions elsewhere was given, the nets in the canal confining the fish were cut and when I first came across the fish in 1999 there were at least 8 sizeable pods of them in various sections down to Tewitfield locks. Taking into account their inability to spawn in UK conditions the fish still knocking about today must be pushing forty years old. With a pod of fish resident in a old boat turn section of the canal, which was five minutes walk from my house, initially when I moved up here I virtually spent a summer fishing for them with limited success on floating bread or mixers. Eventually I figured out that while they would take off the top, a popped up bottom bait or just sub surface was what they really wanted. My move to fly fishing coincided with the numbers starting to thin out as old age and otters started to take their toll. So I’d never really bothered to target them, thinking best to leave them alone. A couple of winters ago I found a fish dragged onto bank with its stomach eaten and everything else left, it was around 15lbs – surely only an otter is responsible for pulling such a big unit clean out of the water. This spring we also had a couple of otter casualties on the road, most people without spending much time looking about seem to think otters are a rare and precious beast – not true at all.
You cannot have too many complaints though when you remember that the otters belong here and the grass carp are an alien species and even the canal has been “introduced” to their world.
The old boat turn probably home to the last of the Lancaster Canal grass carp
This year on my occasional walks along the canal, I’ve haven’t seen a “Grassy” and thought that maybe their lot was up and also thought maybe I should have at least had one on the fly and then “lo and behold”, last week I found about a dozen in the first spot I found them in, back in 1999.
This morning I completed the circle and had the fine specimen pictured at what I guess is a mid double. A few soaked mixers brought the fish to be interested in my deer hair imitation which it took without hesitation. Like the countless grassies I’ve caught over the years it gave a great account of itself without being naughty and burying itself in the many weed beds available. I always found it a mystery why with all the cover available they always like to fight it out in the open water. A quick photo and I got it back into the water, where hopefully it can continue to flourish and avoid the attention of those otters. I’m leaving them alone now but can look back at some great sport with these fantastic “aliens”!