A Belgium Trip To Never Forget
In Belgium, the sunrises and carp look this good... #ThrowbackThursday
I’ve been heading over to Belgium for angling escapes for a few years now, stealing a few nights here and there when I can, or shooting over for a long weekend. The journey home always consists of the same conversation: Next time… I need to go for longer!
In the past, Belgium has always been good to me and I can only think of maybe one occasion in around a dozen trips where I have returned home with a dry net. The first time out there was before my time at Nash, back in June of 2015, when my mate Loz Smart and I hatched a plan to meet up with one of the Belgian team members and fish a couple of venues for a few nights. A big park lake and a quiet little canal were on the agenda and they didn’t disappoint, returning home with two fish each up to the 30lb mark. The trip was a success and it was the beginning of a foreign love affair, one that would see me sneaking in overnighters whenever I set foot in the country.
This was made a lot easier after joining Nash on the media team as there was the opportunity to head off to Europe either filming or to help out at shows, allowing me to stop in and fish a night here and there instead of getting a hotel or to help split up a long journey. The only negative was always the length of these short sessions on such special venues, and like I say, every time I got back on the Tunnel I was gutted I couldn’t have stayed for longer.
So during October I was buzzing when I found the opportunity to head out and stay a little longer. A few of us from work had been asked to drive out to Belgium to set-up and attend a three day weekend show at a big tackle shop on the French border. I had spoken with Loz about going out to fish one of Belgium’s big rivers the following weekend anyway and so I figured I would head out with the work guys, work the show, fish the nights, bid farewell when the show was over, stay out on my own for a few days and then head off to meet my friend Jelle Vandaele from the Belgian team and Loz when he arrived the following weekend. PLAN.
I had done this show the year previous with Mike Wilson from the office and consultant Chris Eaglestone, and after the work was done we slipped in one last night on my favourite little canal, the very same one from my first trip over to Belgium and one venue I always try and wet some lines in. I was lucky last year to land one of the big commons in the stretch at 38lb 14oz but with a bigger common and also big mirror to go for, I was by no means done with the stretch!
So this is where we headed for the first night. We got the show set-up, grabbed some food, then shot off to get the rods out. It was Tom Forman, Max Hendry, Alfie Willingale and myself from the office, all eager for a few nights on the bank. We had a walk up and down the stretch and just decided to spread the rods right out, in hope that one of us wouldn’t be far from the fish. As I had fished it plenty in the past, and was coming back on my own for a few nights after the show, I let the boys choose where they wanted to plot up, and found some space for myself to flick a couple of rods out.
3:30am and the bite came, waking me out of a deep sleep after a long day’s travelling. A couple of initial strong runs and a nice common was soon floundering in the torchlight ready to be netted. With nine nights left of my Belgian adventure ahead, it was pressure off!
After a morning brew we did a round of photos in the early morning light, it had been the only fish between us, a lovely common, typical of the stretch and at 30lb 12oz was also around the average size – another reason I love the place!
The day was spent at the show, trying to fumble our way through French conversations with the public and prepping the rods for the night. Our Belgian consultant, and good friend, Jelle, joined us and played tour guide, taking us to the next venue of the trip: A huge marina of around 100-acres with several large canals entering at various points, but somewhere a bit more social for us as we all set-up together and spread out rods out using the boat.
The most interesting activity of the evening was trying to work out the goings on behind us, as cars were constantly pulling up on the small road, waiting around for a bit and then driving off. A camper van kept circling around every 10 minutes or so despite it being a bit off the beaten track. Very strange. We soon realised it was a mobile brothel, and it was clear to see business was booming!… Not the most idyllic and tranquil location we’ve fished, but we sat in disbelief as we watched many a gentleman having a great Friday night – they really weren’t too subtle about it!
I woke to the commotion of voices just before first light and the excited voice of Max. His rod had pulled around at first light, and with the help of Alf had landed his first Belgian carp after an awkward boat battle out in the marina. And so in the crisp morning sun he held his prize, a 27lb 8oz mirror, and it was once again smiles all round on route to the show.
Just behind the show there was a river and so Max’s task was to do some tutorials with Jelle during the day. The French/Belgian border ran straight down this particular stretch of river and so when Max went on to double his tally with a perfect little river common, it was a fish hooked in France and caught in Belgium!
Unfortunately this was to be the last fish landed in the company of the lads. We headed back to the marina for the night, and although the fishing was slow, it was far from uneventful! The local ‘business’ was ticking over as usual and with all the activity going on I was very surprised we hadn’t attracted any attention the night before. However, it wasn’t going to be the same tonight, as I was woken around 3am by a car pulling up right behind my brolly, pumping out loud music. I knew I was about to be disturbed and sure enough, a gangly young chap stumbled out from behind me onto the path in front. He turned, saw me and shouted, ‘HEY! PECHE?!’
Brilliant. So there I was, not understanding a word this pissed French lad was saying as he crouched in the entrance to my brolly spilling Vodka Redbull everywhere. I think he was inviting me to drink and smoke with him to which I ‘politely’ declined, and then I believe he asked if I wanted a fight. I could see he was getting a little irate at the fact that I had no idea what he was saying, and he would spend five minutes or so trying to talk to me and then disappear back to his car, before returning and repeating the same ‘conversation’ again. Luckily I fumbled through, humoured him, knowing he would soon get bored, take his friends and leave.
Sure enough, on the final round of talking at me, his friend dragged him away, before stopping just next to my brolly and after a couple seconds of whispering he ran and booted the Groundhog with such force it split down the side. ‘Here we go then!’ I thought as I gave a shout, jumped up and started to slip my shoes on. The kick had woken the boys and I could see Jelle running down beaming a real bright torch in their direction, but as I stood up I saw the car hurtling off… bit of an anti-climax! I guess they saw how massive I am… or not. The joys of fishing public fishing abroad, eh?! On that note, if you are fishing somewhere a bit urban or public on the Continent, or at home for that matter, try and do it with a mate. Stay safe and don’t put yourself at risk!
It’s safe to say I didn’t sleep much after that but luckily didn’t hear the sound of pumping music again, or unfortunately the sound of an R3 bite alarm! As I mentioned, a quiet night on the fishing front saw us heading back to the show for the final day empty handed.
The last day was pretty chilled and before long it was was over and we had packed down the stand Sunday evening. It was homeward bound for Alfie, Tommy and Max, however for me it was the beginning of seven further nights on the bank in Belgium and first stop was back to my favourite little canal (thankfully somewhere a lot quieter than the previous couple of nights!).
I had baited up the stretch after my night on there with the lads. A good few kilos of 20mm Scopex Squid, but really well spread out. My plan was to bait two areas of the canal, around 300yds apart, then to spread bait between the two, walking along and flicking about 5-10 baits at a time as I steadily strolled the bank. This left me with two baited areas at either end, and a really good portion of the canal with bait on it, maybe around a third of the stretch. It was 100% going to be seen by fish. I had the rods out on that first night just before dark full of anticipation.
I woke the next morning to notifications on my phone, noting the terrible weather in England. It was the backlash from a hurricane and there was torrential rain and big winds, however, on this canal in Belgium it was glorious! 24-degrees and not a ripple on the water – not ideal fishing conditions but I figured I would at least be able to find them. I hadn’t been too worried that the night was uneventful, as in the past I’d had most of my fish during the day, right in the middle of the afternoon, so I said I would give it the entire day and reassess in the evening.
The day was spent pacing up and down the canal; I must have covered the stretch 10 times over but didn’t see a single thing. The most frustrating part was knowing I literally would have walked within 20yds of my target fish, that big common and big mirror would have been right in front of me, yet they wouldn’t give themselves up! I decided to give it one more night on this spot, and if the night was quiet, then I’d move to the other baited area further down the canal for the last 24hrs, or on to fish if I could find them.
Unfortunately that’s what I found myself doing the next morning. I was really getting worried by this point and feeling the pressure. I had always done well on the canal during lot shorter sessions than this, and as soon as I have some time on my hands the fish have disappeared!
By 10am I was set-up again and fishing but it wasn’t until about 11am my attention was turned by a splash right down by the lock end. Unsure whether it was a carp or not, I stuck a brew on and walked down to investigate. Creeping along the damp banks, straining to see into the coloured water amongst the abundance of golden leaves that had fallen from the surrounding trees, I finally found what I was looking for: Great, dark subs sitting dormant a couple of feet under the surface, barely visible and very well hidden. I manoeuvred into a better position and counted three fish, commons of 20lb+ and 30lb+, and what had to be either the big common or the big mirror, it was colossal! I watched for 10 minutes before creeping away and shooting up to grab my rods, a net and a few bits.
The fish were still in the area, seemingly holding up by the lock and then every 10 minutes heading out for a wander along the near margin before turning into the deeper middle channel and reappearing a few minutes later by the lock to once again chill out for another ten minutes. The biggest fish, which I had now seen was a common, always headed the pack, with a further four fish which followed her moves. Naturally I placed both rods on the near margin on their little patrol path. The first just at the bottom of the shelf with a 15mm Cultured Hookbait and a handful of Flake and crushed boilies. Around 45 minutes later, after a very excited phone conversation with Loz informing him of my findings, the second was in position: A bright pink Scopex Squid pop-up on a Ronnie, again with a small handful of Scopex Squid Flake and crushed boilies.
By this point I had my gear in a right mess, sprayed over a 100yd stretch of bank as I had flapped to get the rods in position. A half-loaded barrow was waiting to be sorted out. Just as I began to get the gear off to creep into position closer to the spot, my receiver let off two beeps followed by a one noter. I turned to see the second rod I had place hooped over and the line cutting through the canal and back towards the lock. Result! It had only been in 20 minutes.
Running to the rod I knew it was a good chance it would have been the big ‘un. It led the other fish around and so I just hoped it had found that bright pop-up first. Selfishly, I was a little disheartened as I lifted into the fish as I felt a frantic, shaky little burst of a run – I instantly believed it was one of the smaller commons on the end. I naively pulled my phone out and began to record the rod hooped round and the line cutting through the water, thinking it would make a cool little video to send to Loz after our conversation just 30 minutes previous!
As my eyes moved from the screen of my phone and to the water where the leader was beginning to show, I involuntarily let out a noise I don’t think I’ve ever made before: A half whimper/exhale of breath in shock as I saw the great broad shoulders of what could have only been one fish. My phone was instantly flung over my shoulder and into the damp grass as a gripped the rod with both hands, which were now frantically shaking: I had the big common on the end.
A few minutes later and the broad, deep-bodied golden common rolled on the surface. My heart in my mouth and struggling to keep my footing on the steep banks I decided get in the water onto the shelf of the canal for a better angle to net the fish, attracting some strange looks from passers by in the process.
The carp fought well, refusing to give up every time I began to prise her up the canal shelf, but after 10 minutes or so she was mine! I quickly rolled her over in the net, checking both sides for a couple of marks and pimples, though I already knew from its sheer size that this was one of the ones I was after!
I was so chuffed with this fish as I laid her on the mat. Everything I imagine when someone mentions ‘Belgian common carp’: Big, dark shoulders, golden flanks, and built like a barge! I hoisted her up and the needle spun round to 44lb 4oz, a new PB common. It’s usually tricky enough catching a target fish from a water back home, so to get one from a water you’ve been targeting in Europe at every opportunity for the last couple of years, well, it felt pretty special!
I slipped her back and got the rods out once again on the canal for the final night unfortunately with no luck. It was time to pack up and head off to fish the big river for the remainder of the trip.
In comparison to the canal, the river is a different animal. As if 200yds wide, 15-20ft deep and a 20 odd mile stretch wasn’t hard enough to deal with, to throw in a nice helping of a flow powerful enough to take the rods straight out of the rests if they weren’t bungeed down, great shipping barges 100m in length chugging by every 20 minutes and concrete walls so steep I was thinking I needed to bring the abseiling gear! Yeah, we were well out of the comfort zone!
Luckily we had fished it before in the past a few times, so it isn’t as daunting these days, and most lucky of all we have the local knowledge and general fishing expertise of Jelle, who is nothing short of a fishing guru!
However, to cut a long story short it was a bit of an anti-climax: I blanked for the final four nights, as did Loz after he joined me for two nights at the weekend! Though seeing Jelle have one of 36lb a few hours after joining him was good enough for me, and no doubt at all we will be back on that river again before long!
It was just great to finally get some nights under my belt over there and do a bit of fishing on my terms. There is just something about Belgium and its fishing which really sits well with me and it’s why I will keep returning, getting the rods out at any given opportunity and always passing up on a hotel!