This is a long read and as the first of 3 new articles, I hope you find it worth while…
This is just my view and a few tactics that
have helped me catch some great fish. I hope in some small way it helps you.
In the fishing shop, I am often asked about the rigs I use, and importantly why I use them. I spend half the day drawing rigs and set-ups and thought it was about time I put something together. So here goes… on my earlier “rig board,” I showed a few examples, with limited information. In this section, I will take a comprehensive look at my ‘go-to’ rigs. I will explain why I use them, the way they affect my fishing, how they help to show more bite indications and ultimately, catch more fish.
How smart is your car?
The first thing I want to say is that fish – of any species – don’t check out your car when you pull in the car-park, they really aren’t bothered. In other words, fancy rods and reels may help casting distance, playing fish, and look nice, but they won’t get you more bites. When Isaac Walton was catching fish, he used rods, reels and line that we wouldn’t give a second look at. Chris Yates often proves this very point with the ‘antique’ gear he chooses to fish with, and he makes it work for the same reasons all great anglers make it work; they respect their quarry. Isaac Walton was successful for similar reasons to Chris, because he understood fish and their feeding habits. He importantly appreciated stealth, patience, and bank-side-etiquette, things I value very highly. It occurs to me that – in some cases – anglers new to the sport are nursed on commercial waters, where the fish and crammed in, starving hungry, and are drawn to bank side disturbance through hunger. When it’s time for the angler to move onto a harder venue, with bigger fish, there is bound to be big learning curve.
Back in the day…
When I started fishing seriously in the late 60s early 70s, you would cringe at the gear we used. We had fibre-glass rods that weighed a ton with non-existent action, reels with little or no drag. Our bite-alarms were fairy liquid bottle tops that we stared at ALL-NIGHT. I was fishing Walthamstow Reservoir (higher and lower Maynard), North Met, The Eagle Ponds, Knighten Woods (for one carp, the only one in the lake), Connaught Waters and other tiny Epping forest ponds that may have had one or two half-decent carp in (20’s). The one thing that was of the utmost importance was location. It still is. No point in fishing in an area where there are no fish. Second to that, and only just, is bait presentation. That means your ground-bait (or whatever you want to call it, particle-mix, spod-mix, etc., I will stick with ground-bait, coz’ that’s what it is) as well as your hook-bait. There’s a point here that I want to make. I have yet to meet a fish – any species – who cares about getting into a size 10 red dress. If you aren’t catching – summer, spring, autumn or winter – it’s coz you’re not using the right bait in the right way. Trust me, fish feed all year round or they die. For sure, they slow down in the winter, but that’s mostly because we stay at home, so no feed goes in, and the fish go into a semi-torpid state because there is insufficient food to keep their metabolism up. I want to add something here, in autumn and winter fish get a ‘sweet-tooth’ from the last sustainable food source in the water. It comes from the falling berries, such as Elderberry, blackberry and so on. Many anglers back in the day and to some degree now drop off their still waters in winter and move onto the rivers. Don’t tell me you don’t catch Carp, Bream and Tench on the rivers in winter, so why not from your favorite lake (unless it’s frozen he-he). Anyway, winter fishing is another subject covered extensively in earlier sections, but ultimately, try telling an ice fisherman it’s too cold to catch fish.
Don’t follow, lead…
Make your own mind up what suits you and make it work for you. Be confident. If you know you have fish in front of you, don’t come home and say they weren’t having it. They were, just not what you were using. Experiment with your rigs and bait, tweak things a little at a time until you start getting responses. I sat there a few years back with fish showing in front of me. I started looking about for inspiration, not having a clue what I was looking for. Then I started noticing the damsel larvae crawling everywhere. Bingo, that’s what they were munching on. So there was no chance they were going to take my boilie, pellet or anything else I chucked at them. Or was it. I grubbed around for a handful of larvae, crushed them and rolled my boilies in the remains of the larvae. I cast out, and before I had time to set my indicators, the first rod screamed off. Thinking about it afterwards carp, bream, tench, or any other species don’t know what the larvae should look like, just what it smells and tastes like, and if it’s good for them. I have never looked back, and this kind of approach is at its best on big waters with a low stock of fish and a lot of natural food. Left field, yeah, but hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. When I was match fishing the London canals, unless you were using bloodworm, you were going to struggle. Even the best ‘caster’ anglers, needed bloodworm to get the fish going in their swim. So, look around and see what’s hatching, just like the trout/salmon anglers do. Match the hatch is a term widely misused, incorrectly in some cases. Have you ever tried a real black snail, or even better, rolled your boilies in a couple of crushed samples? Try it. The same goes for anything the fish see as natural. These expensive boilie dips work for sure, but there is no substitute for the real thing.
So, before we more onto rigs, I want to go back to four areas, I touched on earlier. Location, patience, bank side etiquette, and stealth.
Location is king: As I said, if you’re fishing in an area where there are no fish, you won’t catch. It’s the same on a big water as it is on a small pond. There is no substitute for watching for showing fish, and this is best done in the late evening or early morning. There is no point on any venue walking around hoping to notice a showing fish. You need to pick a likely area, one where you can see as much water as possible and sit, ideally in calm conditions, and watch. As many of you know, I fish the notoriously difficult Hemingford Grey. People say to me that they have never seen a fish show on there. I believe this is because it’s 65 acres, and they walk quickly trying to cover as much water as possible. I see fish every time I go and this is because I am sitting in one area with my eyes peeled. On big venues with only a few fish, it is going to take time, but it’s time well spent. It is worth noting that on big waters, their habits and areas can and will change seasonally. I have been fishing Hemingford since the late 90s and I am still learning about their movements.
This brings us nicely onto patience. To locate fish, you need to be persistent in your approach. The same applies to catching quality fish of any species. The current lists of record fish are all there to be broken, and they will be. But these special fish won’t give up easily. They have seen it all before and been caught on most baits and rigs. So you need rigs that work. I will talk extensively about bait, hook-baits and ground-baits in my next feature. To catch these special fish, you need patience in abundance. With the bigger species, there is likely to be fewer, more difficult to locate and subsequently catch. Isaac suggested to catch the carp, the angler needed endurance. He also alluded to knowing carp anglers who spend many days in pursuit of one bite. Some things never change, aye?
Stealth, in a nut shell, means be quiet and understand how you being there can affect the fish. Fish know two things for sure – safe – danger. Don’t make them feel under threat by banging about on the bank. We all cringe when someone starts banging in their bank sticks with a mallet, right? So don’t add to this. If you are fishing a gravel pit, it is just that, gravel on the bottom. Forget the years of silt on top. In you thump about in a gravel swim, the sound will carry out further than you can cast. So no good finding the fish and then spooking them. This may sound like common sense, well it is, just try to be as stealthy as possible. Even though I get stick for it, I put down corrugated cardboard in front of my bivvy to dampen the sound of my feet at 0’clock in the morning. On a similar subject, fish hear splashing on the top of the water all the time from ducks and such like, but what they don’t hear (sense/feel) are heavy leads thumping onto the lake bed. When I start fishing, I like to know my exact depth for many reasons. One of them is to know the countdown to the bottom. If I know it’s a count of 16 spools down (each time the line peels around the spool), then when I get to 14, I ease my rod back a foot or two so my lead eases down on the bottom. If you are clipped up, then count and again ease your rod back before your lead hits the bottom so it goes down gently. It really works. Another aspect of stealth is understanding what frightens a fish. Without us, it’s only predators. Even big carp will be spooked by big pike (otters, herons, cormorants, even grebes and mink). So, with this is mind, know the colour of the bottom and try to match your ground-bait to the bottom. A big fish won’t swim over the top of a light background and become a sitting target. Think about camouflage on military equipment and why they bother!
This brings us onto to bank side etiquette. This is about knowing your swim, where the fish are, where they feed etc. Knowing your swim is about knowing the bottom of the lake as best you can. Are there any shelves, even a drop of a few inches can mean it’s easier for the fish to feed? Also, these dips can be a holding area for natural food. As the lake water drifts past and deposits silt then the bloodworm and other larvae with thrive in this area. We know fish hang about under lily pads because they feel safe, mostly away from predators. Well, any weed on the bottom does the same. Know your swim and know where the beds of weed are and try to fish close, especially if there are no shelves to fish close to. Weed holds natural food supplies and gives the fish cover. Overhanging trees offer fish cover too. Elda trees, and blackberry bushes also have a constant food supply in the autumn. Willows attract a lot of insects and their subsequent larvae, which all falls in the water. Think a little differently next time you go fishing and try to understand why fish are where they are. It’s always for one of two reasons, food or safety, or ideally both. If possible, know if there are any serious snags between you and the fish and don’t wait until you’ve hooked and lost a fish. I’ve found the best way is, once you know where you are fishing, tie a stone to some thin ish line and cast out to your swim and drag it back gradually. If it gets snared up, one you know there’s a snag to avoid, and secondly you haven’t dumped another lead in the water. Only after you’ve done this do you bait your chosen area. These things can save your hours of wasted time, a bit like sharpening your hook before you cast out, not after you’ve lost a fish. I actually change my hook after every fish, and if I am fishing over heavy gravel, I change my hook every half-dozen casts. Trust me, the gravel will knock the point off your hook. While we are on that subject, change your main line as a minimum once a year, but ideally twice a year. It will deteriorate from use and sun-light. At the very least, check the first few meters by running it between your fingers. If it feels bumpy, jagged or frayed, then strip it off.
These things help you to understand your venue, which will help you to catch more fish. If you know you have fish in front of you and you’re fishing in the right spot, then if you’re not getting bites it’s down to only two things; your rig or your bait. Not your rods, or the model of your car, or bivvy, it’s your bait and rig selection. So with that in mind, onto rigs…
Helicopter Rig 1
The first rig I will talk about is my current favorite, a helicopter rig, or as we called it back in the day, a paternoster rig. My rig is slightly different to the conventional choice. As you will see in (fig 1) the lead, which is generally a pear shape, is attached to a boom. This boom has a size 8 swivel on either end and is no more than 2-3 inches (shrink tubing over heavy braid). One swivel is attached to the lead and the other to a drop-off lead clip. The lead clip slides over the main line and is free running. Below the lead clip on the main line is another swivel to which you attach your hook-length (I will come onto hook-lengths in a minute). Above the lead clip is a silicone float stop, normally set about 2-3 inches above the clip. This, allows the lead clip to move freely between the float stop and the hook-length swivel. This combined with the free moving 360′ boom allows a fish to pick up your bait and turn side on before it feels any resistance. When the fish does feel the lead, it’s already too late. Instinctively, the fish will move its head away from the weight, thereby setting the hook. This rig is designed to use over a low covering of silk weed or pond weed. If you use it this way, then I suggest you attach a small amount of PVA foam to both the hook and the lead clip. This will allow the hook length to settle nicely onto the weed. I generally use a critically balanced hook-bait, a wofter, or pop-up on this rig.
Hook-Lengths… ok, there are only two materials I use for hook lengths. Fluro-carbon and braid, which I use in varying lengths and breaking strains. There really is no one rule on this. Every venue has different aspects to it, such as water clarity, denseness of weed, gravel or silt, fish stocks, and so on. In shallow-water, I use a fluro-carbon on most of my bottom rigs and pop-ups. Remember, in shallow-water sight plays a big factor with fish. I use the braid in deep swims where the fish has little or no sight responses, and relies more on feel, taste, and their senses in general. Braid has a significantly lower diameter so works much better. I will talk later about hooks, the sizes I use, and hair lengths etc. That said, you will see some of my variations as I go through my rigs. As a rule of thumb, a 6-inch hook-length is a good starting point. However, you will see as I go through my rigs that there are some variants on this.
Helicopter Rig 2
Now for my second helicopter rig. (see fig 2) As with my first helicopter rig, I’ve come away from the norm. This rig is also designed to fish over weed, this time weed of 6 to10 inches deep. You should change the hook-length depending on the depth of weed, so if there are 8 inches of weed, your hook-length should be 10 inches long. Again, this rig is designed to use with a pop-up, wofter or critically balanced hook-baits. The materials needed for this rig are 3 feet of silicone tubing, a short length of 6lb line for the lead to break away if snagged, an in-line lead, 2 buffer beads, 2 swivels and 2 silicone sleeves. Slide your main line through the silicone tubing, then slide the first bead onto tubing, then the swivel of your hook-length, and the second bead. Next take the 6lb line, slide through the lead and attach to the 2nd swivel. Push the swivel into the bottom of the lead, leaving around 6 inches of line protruding from the top of the lead. Tie this directly to your main line and slide silicone tubing down to the top of the lead. Rig complete. If you want to be really tidy, then slide 2 inches of shrink tubing over 6lb line before you tie it to main line. Then once the silicone tubing is pushed down to the lead, shrink down to connect the top of the lead to the silicone tubing. As with the above rig this gives the fish enough free movement to take the bait properly before it feels the lead, by which time it’s too late. As a side note, if I am using a pop-up or wofter hook-bait on any of my set ups, I attach it to the hook using what I call the trigga-rig hook set up (see below).
Onto my Trigga-rig (see fig 3). This set up just nails the fish every time. As you will see from the diagram, the hook is buried partially into the hook bait. This takes a few seconds to do, but it produces awesome bites from finicky fish. In the diagram, I have shown it attached to a hinge-rig for fishing over clear areas. However, whenever I use a floating bait of any description, this is the only way I attach my bait. Whichever direction the fish approaches the bait from, it only sees the bait. Once it has taken the bait, the point of the hook hits its bottom lip. You can see I use a long hair (blow-back style). This means that when the bait is blown out, the hook remains in place and as the bait leaves the mouth, it actually pushes the hook in deeper. This is, I believe the best rig that I’ve come up with for hard to catch fish.
Drop-off lead system (see fig 4). This rig needs little explanation and is nothing new. However, I only use this rig in very weedy waters or where there are a lot of snags, tree roots, etc. If I use this in a weedy swim or near lily pads, then I use a braid leader. Alternatively, if my swim has a lot of snags, then I use a silicone leader. A drop-off lead system can be used with most set-ups. However, if there are no snags and little weed, then it is pointless dropping your lead every time you reel in. It actually frightens me how many leads there must be on the bottom of some lakes.
Run-rig (see fig 5). This is one of my favourite rigs and is at its best on clear bottoms. I fish it using a tight line (very tight) and as a result is shows an indication even if the fish breaths on the bait lol. In the diagram, I have shown it with a silicone tubing as the leader, but more often than not, I use it naked. By this, I mean no tubing, just lead on main line. Also I have shown it with a hinge-rig, but it can be used with any hook-length set-up. It really is a very simple but affective rig. The lead can run freely between the hook-length swivel and the buffer bead (if used on a naked leader, then use a silicone float stop as your buffer bead). This set-up allows the fish to pick the bait up and feel no resistance until it turns away with the bait. It then feels the resistance from the lead, by which time it’s too late, and as is moves its head away from the lead, it sets the hook firmly in place.
Blo-Bak (Thank Kevin Nash for this one)
Blo-bak hinge rig (see fig 6) I mentioned these earlier, and I will now try to explain how they work in detail. Again, I’ve shown this rig using a hinge rig with a critically balanced hook bait (ideal of silk weed). However, this system can and should be used with any bait, and any hook set up. The idea behind this is that when I fish blows the bait from its mouth, it doesn’t dislodge the hook. On a short tight hair, there is a danger that as the fish blows the bait out, the hook will pivot 90 degrees and dislodge. This is a simple rig to set up, so try it and see how many more bleeps turn into single toners. You will see that my hook bait in this rig is 3/4 of a sinking boilie and 1/4 of a pop-up. This critically balances my bait and counter balances the weight of the hook. Think about all the free samples that the fish suck in, and then they come across one with a lump of metal (your hook) attached. The chances are it won’t lift up enough to go in their mouths, and that will result in one of those annoying single beeps. While I am on the subject of single beeps, I’ve heard many people suggest they are line-bites. Forget it, if a fish of any size swims into your line, then your indicator slams to the top and back down again before you’ve had time to twitch. Single beeps are most often either small fish or a big fish mouthing your bait. The further out that you fish, the more this is magnified. At 100 yards, a fish can move your bait a couple of inches without you knowing, let alone giving you an indication on your alarm. On a side note, it’s been known for me to hit single beeps, especially if I’ve had 2-3 in a row. If your float dipped 3 times or your quiver tip moved slightly 3 times, what would you do? Don’t come back and say, “all I had were beeps all day.” Sit there twiddling your thumbs or hit a few and see what happens. We sit behind alarms waiting for single toners, why?
Lastly my butterfly-rig (see fig 7) This really only shows a different way of presenting your bait. I believe that bigger fish become wise to a perfectly round, perfectly coloured hook bait. I have shown here a butterfly set-up, but you should try mixing up your bait in any way you fancy. Don’t run with the sheep, be a little different. Fish are dumb animals, so take control and out think them…
Ok, now fishing on the surface. There are no set rules or rigs that work better than others, suffice to say, you want your hook free from the bait. Some like to free-line, some use controller floats or loaded wagglers. It’s up to you to find the one that best suits you and the way you fish, and how far out you want to fish. The most important aspect of fishing on the surface is to allow the fish to turn side on to you before you strike. I mentioned earlier about fish getting side on. This is of the utmost importance with surface fishing. If you strike as soon as the fish takes the bait, you will miss 9 out of 10 bites. If you go and watch commercial match anglers, they hold their rod/pole to one side and wait as long as possible or for the rod to bend before striking, if they need to strike at all. They have a term ‘hook-n-hold’. If the fish is facing you when it takes the bait, and you strike, then you WILL pull the bait and hook from their mouth. Another key issue is the amount you feed. Ideally, you want to be feeding little and often, creating competition for food. As a rule of thumb, I feed 6-10 of free floaters at a time. The best way is to get out there and keep tweaking it until you find what suits you.
Now onto hooks. This is a very personal aspect of fishing, and the most important thing is that you are confident in the hooks you use. For sure, there are many different patterns, some for pop-up, some for surface and some for just about anything you can think of. I tend to stick with a couple of patterns that I am confident in, and they are the Drennan barble hooks and Nash ‘Fangs’ for all bottom baits, and the Gardener wide gape for all up in the water baits. Now hook size is again a very personal preference. Those of you that know me, will know I am a small hook angler. On 8mm baits, I use a size 14-12. On 10mm baits, I use 12-10. On 14-16mm baits, I use a size 10-8, and for 18-20mm baits, I use a size 8-6. On the subject of hooks, I spent many years match fishing at the ‘pointed end’. One thing that I learnt quickly was that hook size matters, a lot. Some of you will laugh at my next comment, but back on the London canals the difference between a size 22 and 24 could mean the difference between framing and coming nowhere. Even when it came to big fish such as Bream, Tench or Chub in matches, and these were fish of between 2-4lb, a size 20-18 would get you bites, a size 16 would often result in a blank. It was a similar issue with line diameters. For decent fish in the 2 to 4lb bracket, we were using 2.6lb ‘beyer perlon’ tied to a 1.6lb hook length. Way back when I was fishing for 20lb+ carp in the early 70s, I was using 8lb main lines tied to 5/6lb hook-lengths and a size 10, which was considered big in those days. A size 6 was thought of as sea hook and the idea of using one for carp was laughable. Ask any 80’s match angler about size 28 long shank leon-diors, even recall the pattern number s587. Scary…
I really hope this gets you thinking about your fishing a little differently and maybe helps you nail a few special fish. As always, Go-Catch. SteveD