Much of the tackle used when legering is specialised and can only be used for legering. Fortunately, it is mostly available from your local tackle shop where you will no doubt see forests of rods made by many different manufacturers and every accessory imaginable. The correct choice is paramount and you will need to discuss your needs carefully with a reputable, experienced dealer before you buy anything. Most tackle dealers are very helpful and prefer to sell you the right tackle first time. They know that a satisfied customer will return to his shop to buy additional tackle, but that a dissatisfied customer will go elsewhere. It is clearly in their interests to make you happy and they can do this to suit almost any budget, provided that you explain exactly what type of fishing you intend to do and where you expect to do it.
I can’t really expand on this. The key is to find a good dealer. I agree that savings can be made by purchasing mail order, but thirty-odd years after buying my first Mitchell 300 reel from a long defunct mail order supplier I am still not convinced that it is good for the trade. It encourages people to wander into tackle shops and demand that the advertised price is matched.
The principle is fine until you consider the damage this has on small shops who have to carry much higher overheads than their mail order counterparts. They often pay higher rates and even have to pay more for their stock. Those who order in bulk can negotiate hefty reductions with the manufacturer. It is sometimes good business to pay slightly over the odds in a shop where you benefit from personal service, good advice and news of which local waters are fishing well and how the fish are being caught.
If you visit an angling forum, it is almost certain that someone will ask the question ‘What in your opinion is the best feeder rod on the market?’ It is a question to which there is no simple answer. There is no best rod. There are rods suitable for every situation, but no one rod can possibly do everything. In much the same way that a golfer requires woods, irons, wedges and putters to do different jobs, so an angler needs several feeder rods if he is to cover every eventuality he may face.
Golfers buy sets of woods, half and full sets of irons. Soon we may see feeder rods sold in sets, with each rod complementing the other. To illustrate this statement, I will describe the rods I carry in my own holdall. They are typical of those carried by anglers who fish a wide variety of waters.
Currently, I carry five different rods that enable me to meet the challenge of any swim that an angler is likely to face anywhere in Britain.
The first is a bomb rod just 10ft long. It is suitable for straight lead work on stillwaters, canals and fishing down the edge on rivers. It can also be used for with the micro or chopped-down swimfeeders. The rod is extremely light and totally unsuited for species like carp or barbel. What it will do is catch me shy biting fish in the hardest conditions.
Next, I have a light feeder rod, 11ft 4in long, which I use mainly for stillwater feeder fishing, particularly when species like roach or bream are expected. This rod is capable of throwing swimfeeders and leads a long way, perhaps up to 60 or 70yd, but I would not expect to use weights much heavier than 1oz. This rod is not restricted entirely to use on stillwaters. It is suitable fishing on any steady flowing water such as the river Witham, on many areas of the Warwickshire Avon or for fairly close work on the River Trent. Versatility is the middle name of this rod and if I were to be restricted to using only one leger rod for the rest of my life, it would be this one.
My third choice is an 11ft medium-powered rod, which is supplied with three different tip sections. This takes over where the previous rod leaves off. On a powerful river like the River Trent, for instance, it can be used almost anywhere from the near bank to over half-way across, simply by switching the tips to suit the flow. It is soft enough in the middle section to handle bream and roach, yet sufficiently beefy in the butt section to tame chub. This extra power enables me to step up the size of weight I can cast to, perhaps, 2oz.
The next two rods are specialist tools designed for long-range work with heavier leads and feeders. This sort of work is not best suited to the novice because to cast 3oz or even 4oz weights over long distances with any degree of accuracy involves skills that are best developed by first spending time feeder fishing at much closer ranges.
One of these two rods is supplied with two different tip sections and has a short removable optional section that fits above the butt and below the middle sections, enabling the rod to be fished at either 11ft or 13ft 1ong. Again, this has the effect of making it into two rods, one much more powerful than the other. I have seen a feeder thrown over one hundred yards for a bet with this rod – far enough for any situation on any English river that springs to mind.
Finally, the only rod I use that is not readily available over the counter in every town in Britain is an 11ft carp rod with a push-over quiver-tip, taking it to 12ft. It is used only on flooded rivers when big baits, such as lobworms and home-made leads weighing 3oz or more, are being used. Nothing else is suitable for fishing out in the full torrents of mighty rivers like the Trent or Severn when they are in flood.
Undoubtedly, it is possible to go beyond this range. There are anglers who use leads weighing up to 10oz or more on beach-caster rods to take barbel and chub from the River Severn in the worst conditions, but as an angler who fishes for sport, it is difficult to see where the fun lies in employing those tactics. You will notice that there is no swing-tip or spring-tip rods in my holdall. Their uses are covered in this book, but personally I am not convinced that they offer any useful advantages over the rods described.
Of the five rods described, two carry multiple tips and, with the optional section on the eleven/thirteen rod, there are a potential ten different rods. A few years ago, multi-tip rods would have been dismissed as a gimmick, but with the advent of computer design and the introduction of hi-tech materials, we now have at our disposal tools that are nothing less than engineering marvels. How the action of a rod is changed so dramatically just by switching tip sections is remarkable. The fact that they may owe more to the skills of a mathematician and his computer than to the input of an angler is irrelevant. We now have ranges of rods that can be exactly matched to every situation and condition imaginable.
All you have to do is to select the rod or rods that you require to suit the waters you fish. It is unlikely that unless you fish only one water or type of water, you can get by with only one rod. Remember also that if your rod is not suited exactly to your situation, you will not get the best out of it. To choose a rod it helps to understand the four tasks it is designed to perform. It must be powerful enough to cast the required distance, yet sensitive enough to show the slightest bite: it must be stiff enough to set the hook, while remaining mellow enough to play a fish to the net without pulling that hook out.
Anyone who decides to build his own leger rod when there are so many wonderful rods available straight from the tackle shop must be either a rod-building enthusiast or slightly mad! If you do fancy a go at building your own rod, some hints and guidelines are to be found in Chapter 17 where repairs are also discussed. However, you should be prepared to ruin a few blanks before you succeed in creating anything like a perfect rod.
How styles have changed since I wrote those few paragraphs. It may not have been long ago, but it was in pre-method feeder days and at a time when commercial carp fisheries were in their infancy. Rivers were full of fish and skimmer bream were the mainstay of most ‘big’ weight match catches.
Quivertip rods are still the mainstay of leger rod sales (specialised carp and barbel fishing excepted) and the swing tip is all but consigned to history. Light ‘bomb’ rods, used to winkle out roach on the straight lead, are practically unheard of these days outside of a few die-hards who fish rivers like the Warwickshire Avon.
There has been a massive explosion in the carp population, some of it natural through spawning, but mostly through the proliferation of what are endearingly termed ‘carp puddles’ that the natural balance and profile of our fish species has changed, probably for ever. Practically every water I know now has a head of carp to some degree or other, be it a pond, lake, reservoir, canal, stream or river. The consequence of this is that you either fish for carp or tackle up with carp in mind. It has become necessary to beef-up tackle accordingly and mainstream rods are designed with a lot more backbone than ever before. I still feel there is a need for lighter feeder rods, especially those designed to cope with skimmers and bream to 4 lb, chub to a similar weight, especially for river fishing but many stillwater anglers will now only use such a rod in winter when carp tend to be a little more sluggish.
There has been a steady growth in specialist rods. In these I include rods designed for casting method feeders. Today there is a stillwater version of my much loved 11/13 river rod. It is designed to cast heavy method feeders over great distances with accuracy.
A significant development has been a growth in the popularity of ‘Avon’ style rods. Perhaps it is due to a shift in fashion, or perhaps that the main players in the television stakes are specialist anglers, I don’t know, but the likes of John Wilson and Matt Hayes are on ‘the box’ an awful lot, certainly on the satellite channels, and they are frequently seen targeting big fish with specialist tackle.
Avon rod designs hark back beyond the middle of the last century and feature what is described as ‘through action’. In other words, the whole rod bends evenly from tip to butt. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that, because of the proliferation of hard fighting carp and the significant increase in barbel sizes, such rods are becoming redundant. In recent years I have been involved in the design of new specialist rods with Daiwa that feature a ‘progressive’ action and am convinced that they offer much improved casting, striking and fish control properties. Most manufacturers now feature twin-tip rods that feature interchangeable tip sections, allowing the angler to choose between a quiver tip and a hollow tip. The hollow tip not only allows the user to revert to bite alarm/ bolt rig style legering and touch legering but also can be used as a float rod. During field testing of the ‘new’ style Avons I landed carp to more than thirty pounds on float tackle.
The world moves at a frightening pace and everything we see and touch is in a state of change. It’s just that sometimes we don’t realise it. The rods I have designed have been well received by specialist anglers. Oddly I have had complaints from two camps about the butt ring. A journalist cum bream angler was of the opinion that the butt ring was too close to the reel while a thread on a barbel web site complained that the butt ring was too far away. Clearly you cannot win.
Mick Dinnigan, a very successful specialist angler for whom I have the highest regard berated the fact that I had designed one range of rods with two tips.
“Bob,” he said, “what’s the point of the quiver tip? It’s a brilliant rod and I could have sold loads more if it just had the hollow tip. A lot of anglers don’t want the quiver and feel they are wasting a lot of money if they buy it and don’t use it.”
Obviously you can’t win ’em all. I could design a dozen different specialist rods and still leave gaps in the market. The bottom line is, you can’t please everyone all the time. What was the line in that old song, “You can’t please everyone, so you’d better please yourself.”
Well, I did that. And hundreds of other satisfied customers. I love the quivertip and it serves me well as an all-round rod. Just recently I’ve been playing with an updated version built to a higher spec with more expensive materials and furniture (The Infinity’s). These rods have one tip and are aimed directly at the barbel angler. It is a dream to fish with and has inspired me to take up touch legering again. My views on touch legering haven’t changed, I still think it is archaic, but the sheer electrifying thrill of feeling that tug on the line makes it something to savour, especially in the dark when your senses are finely tuned.
Guess that’s another chapter I’d better revisit!
The growth in popularity of feeder fishing has led to manufacturers looking not just at rods but at the reels used in conjunction with them. A reel used to be little more than a reservoir for holding line, but that is not the case today. For a reel to withstand the demands of throwing 3oz of lead 70yd, reeling it back in against a strong current, often with the additional problem of a good-sized fish, it has to be robust.
Line lay also has to be correct to enable accurate recasting and the spool lip must to be designed in such a way that the line can leave with the minimum friction and resistance on the cast. To repeat this action time and again, every week, means that only the finest, strongest materials can be used in construction. These must then be engineered with precision. Top-of-the-range modern reels are works of art. Unfortunately, others are just not up to the job.
On the other hand, a reel capable of doing the job described is likely to be unsuitable for light bomb work, as it is usually too heavy and bulky, especially as you will rarely have much more than 20yd of line in the water.
Consider carefully your choice of reels for feeder fishing. The best never comes cheap, but if you have to make economies, it is best to do so on the close-range, not the distance reels. Choose a reel with a rear drag adjustment because this will allow you to make emergency alterations while you are actually playing a fish. It is very difficult to make running changes on reels where the drag knob is on the front of the spool.
Recent developments in reel technology have seen the introduction of carbon bodies as almost standard practice. This has effectively reduced the weight considerably, although it still retains the strength of cast metal. Major improvements have taken place in spool design with longer cone-shaped spools and improved line lay patterns to eliminate bedding problems, enabling longer, smoother casts to be made.
Ball-bearings are now available, not just in the stroke mechanisms but also in the bail-arm line roller. This gives much smoother retrieval and ensures that fewer fish will come off the hook as a direct result.
Very few anglers outside of the carp and pike world actually play fish using the sophisticated clutch mechanisms provided in reels. Clutches have improved out of all recognition to such an extent that on top-quality reels you should be able to rely on them, provided that the breaking strain of the line is greater than a few pounds. Top-class anglers, who are very experienced and very skilful, can successfully play large fish by back-winding. However, it is no good pretending that you, too, can do it, because at the critical moment you may discover that you can’t. By all means learn to play fish by back-winding, but be prepared to lose a few good fish in the process. A good part of the cost of an expensive reel goes into the production of its clutch system. Learn to use it, particularly if you are likely to run into Britain’s more powerful native species such as carp, tench or barbel.
In principle, reel design has not changed significantly in the last few years. Yes, the boffins have tinkered around the edges and given us numerous technical improvements, but you can liken this in many ways to improvements in hi-fi. There’s a danger of upgrading to the point where only your dog can hear the difference!
Daiwa have launched the ‘twistbuster’ roller on most of their new reels. This cuts down the amount of line twist. Most manufacturers have improved the ‘dynamic’ balance of their reels so you no longer get ‘wobble’ when turning the handle quickly. Infinite anti-reverse certainly aids the setting of swingers, bobbins and indeed the curve of a quivertip.
Perhaps the most significant development has been Daiwa’s new reverse tapered spool design. For years we have had the philosophy of the forward tapered spool thrust at us, yet Daiwa’s newest reels feature a reverse taper. It seems that by increasing the drag at the spool lip, the coils of line leaving the reel have a smaller diameter which in turn reduces friction through the rings and potential line-slap. However you explain it, what appears at first to be a bad design, actually increases the casting distance.
Despite all this, I will continue to judge my legering reels on two specific levels of performance. Firstly the line-lay has to be right and secondly the clutch has to be both smooth and predictable. The new Daiwa SS II 3000C reel is by far and away the best coarse fishing reel I have ever used. The clutch control is unbelievable and about as far removed from those of the Mitchell 300’s and Intrepid Monarch’s, that I grew up with, as you can possibly get.
Reels of this quality don’t come cheap, but didn’t a rival manufacturer recently run a campaign reasuring customers that their products were ‘reasuringly expensive’.
I still refuse to be swayed by the concept that two reel handles are beter than one. If that were the case we’d be seing reels with four handles. Indeed, why stop there? Let’s have a dozen!
Alas, the last few paragraphs need updating again because new bells and whistles have been added to the reel features, but at some point I have to publish or we’ll never get started!
Line choice is very important when legering. In almost every situation the line has to have one important quality – it must sink. The introduction of high-technology lines was heralded as a great boon for leger anglers because the low diameters meant that for a given diameter you could fish with a much higher breaking strain. Alternatively, by using the same breaking-strain line, you could have a much reduced diameter, enabling you either to cast further or to use less weight.
Unfortunately, these lines have a different density from conventional lines and tend to be buoyant. Instead of living unobtrusively on the bottom, they rise from the bed and cause all sorts of problems with liners and false bites. Another major drawback is that they are extremely difficult to get under the surface, which is a particular nuisance on windy days.
We have recently seen the introduction of braided reel lines for legering and what a difference these can make to bite registration. However, braided lines are not without their problems. Speaking with Dave Chilton, owner of Kryston Products, which produces dozens of different specialist hook link braids, he tells me that he did design a specific reel line braid but the cost of production was ridiculously expensive and he had to shelve the project. In the mean time we have several alternatives available, but I beieve all carry some degree of compromise.
Many braids float. This means your line will not settle on the bottom and be prone to false bites caused by fish swimming into it. On windy days it can take far too long to sink it beneath the surface. Mentioning wind, braid is subject to wind knots which are difficult to unpick and can seriously weaken the breaking strain. There is practically no streth in braid and this means you can suffer hook-pulls unless a nylon shock leader, or similar buffer, is used. The reverse tapered reel spools mentioned above do help in this respect. Thoroughly wetting the line also helps.
Never stint on cost when you are buying feeder lines. Always buy the best quality that you can afford and change them regularly, because they take a lot of strain, particularly when casting or if you have to pull for a break when you are snagged up. My personal choice for all my legering needs is Maxima or Bayer Superlon, I have never had cause to regret the extra expense incurred. They both have good abrasion resistance properties, are quite limp and do not suffer from spool memory. Lines prone to spool memory retain the ‘curls’ created when they are wound on to the spool. This seriously impedes casting and tightening up afterwards.
The choice of abrasion resistant lines has widened significantly since writing the above. Two lines tend to stand out, for me, in terms of abrasion resistance. Suffix Synergy is highly regarded by many big fish anglers, as is Pro Gold, a line launched by Terry Eustace’s Gold Label Tackle. I well remember doing tests on the bank with Terry’s son, Robert, where we tested it to destruction, side-by-side with rival products, by drawing it back and forth over the edge of a sheet of ground plate glass. Several pike anglers joined in the fun and were ‘gagging’ to get hold of some by the time Rob had finished.
The correct filling of reel spools is crucial when legering. Only if the spool is filled to the brim will you be able to cast with the accuracy demanded. Spools must be neither underfilled nor overfilled, and to eliminate line twist there is only one procedure that will guarantee trouble-free fishing. A little time spent following the instructions in the diagrams will pay dividends on the bank.
Line twist can be removed rapidly and easily using a little device that Gardner tackle produce called a Spin Doctor. It is, in effect, an Arlesey bomb with flutes cut in the sides which encourage it to rotate in the opposite direction to the twist in your line. Tie it on, cast out and retrieve. Repeat until the twist has gone and the job’s done. Simple, effective, cheap. Three great attributes.
Alternatively you might tie a pebble on the end of your line using PVA string, cast it out, wait for the string to melt and then reel in slowly, gripping the line between your finger and thumb to take out the twist.
Methods of bite indication
There are various ways of telling whether a fish has taken the bait when legering, ranging from simple touch legering to sophisticated electronic alarms.
Touch legering preceded even rods in the historical order of fishing and it was no doubt the method of bite indication employed when man cast his first line upon the water. What can be simpler than to hold the rod in your right hand and the line between reel and first runner in your left, feeling for those distinct trembles and plucks that mean you have a bite? Nothing could be easier, except that you have no free hand to bait up with or to perform any of the other actions that anglers do when fishing. There is also the weather to consider. When the north wind blows and fingers turn blue with the cold, touch legering becomes impractical.
I am still no great fan of touch legering but have used it to good effect when fishing from a boat and when free lining. It is a technique I will use when stalking or bouncing a bait around in a river with perhaps no more than a split shot on my line. One thing is certain, don’t go trying to touch leger with a quivertip rod because the tip will dull much of the sensation you are feeling for. Use a hollow tipped rod and point it at the lead. If you hold it at ninety degrees, as in quivertipping, friction will reduce the indication.
Many dyed-in-the-wool barbel anglers swear by touch legering, claiming they can feel a fishes barbules rubbing on the line before it takes a bait. I’m sure they believe they can, but I’m of the Des Taylor pursuasion in that a barbel bite is a three-inch pull, at the rod butt!
Des and I fished together on a fabulous stretch of the Wye a few years back as guests of the owners. the place we fished had once a famous salmon beat, but game runs had dwindled to the point where it was no longer really viable as a game fishery and the owners had reluctantly decided to explore the coarse fishing potential.
It was fabulous. Des fished there several times and taken chub nets topping a hundred pounds and many barbel. These were particularly thick on the ground in a swim which featured a twenty yards long natural depression in the river bed, surrounded by dense beds of streamer weed and Des had plans for us to fish there.
Unfortunately one of the partners, who owned the stretch, was sat in the swim when we arrived. We were disappointed, but with loads of other mouth watering swims to choose from, we weren’t in the slightest bit put out. Matey was, though. He insisted we fished the swim and immediately reeled in.
This put us in a quandary. How best to handle the situation without causing offense. The offer became a plea. He was now practically insisting we fished in our first choice swim. Better still, why didn’t we get our tackle ready while he popped back to the fishery hut and make us a nice cup of tea. Our resistance crumbled but we insisted he stayed put in the middle of the swim and we would fish either side.
To say conditions were perfect for a social days fishing would be an understatement. Things were Idyllic. The sun shone down from a blue sky, to our right the river swept majestically around a bend in the shadow of a wooded hillside, fronds of streamer weed wafted this way and that in the current and the kettle was already on. I do hope heaven is this good.
Only one thing trouble us. Matey had feeder fished the swim for a several hours and caught nothing save a handful of bleak. Undeterred, we tackled-up and made our first casts. Within thirty seconds I had a classic barbel bite – the rod was practically dragged off the rest. With a fish on I looked towards Des, sat no more than four yards to my right, and noted that he too was into a barbel. Our benefactor was truly amazed. Suddenly he was mortal and we had been elevated to the ranks of Gods.
Two more casts, two more barbel. We were knocking them out with the ease of shelling peas while the poor man in the middle remained fishless. It was uncanny. he couldn’t buy a bite yet we could cast within a yard of is feeder and catch a fish without trying.
Attempting to help him we suggested that he ignored the small plucks and jabs on the tip, explainingfurther that there were so many fish in the swim, line bites would be inevitable.
“Just wait for a proper pull round.” I said.
“I’m not sure what you mean.” he replied.
So I asked him to come and watch my rod tip.
“Look! Ignore those, they are liners.”
“Hmmm, not sure I know what you mean.”
By now my tip was so agitated, a proper bite was inevitable. Next thing, the tip swept round and would have kept going until it reached the Bristol Channel had I not picked up the rod and stopped yet another barbel in its tracks.
“Bloody hell!” he said, “How did you know that fish was on, I never saw the tip move…”
It is likely that our friend was certifiably blind, but a legend was born. In the weeks to come, half of Wales would learn of the two incredibly talented anglers who sat down in what was, up to then, a completely barren swim yet they pulled fish after fish from it.
We can learn three valuable lessons from the day:
1. When barbel are feeding they will practically drag you rod in and anything less than a whacking great pull is hardly worth striking at.
2. What ever you do don’t strike at proper bites or you are likely to be broken-up. Just lift and hang on.
3. There is room for touch legering. It’s ideal if you happen to be blind as a bat and believe the baloney about enigmatic prince of the rivers.
Somehow I think you’ll find that Des agrees, too.
And again, I’ll have to return to this chapter for a few comments and observations because I find myself touch legering more and more these days…
Slack line indications
The slack line indicator does not use an indicator at all, yet on its day, it is quite devastating and probably the most sensitive method of bite registration there is. The technique involves casting out, tightening up to the leger and then releasing a little slack line. The line in front of the rod-tip is carefully watched and when a bite occurs, the line either lifts or ‘snakes’ across the surface. There is no resistance for the fish to feel and bites tend to be very positive. The drawbacks are that it will only work in calm conditions where there is little or no flow and that the line is not always heavy enough to show drop-back bites.
A mud ball moulded on to the line was undoubtedly the prototype mechanical bite indicator and the forerunner of the bobbins in use today. Hung from the line in front of the reel, bites are shown when it rises or falls. Almost anything can be used from bread-paste to Plasticine, silver paper or washing-up bottle-tops. The ‘monkey climbers’ used in conjunction with optonic indicators employ the same principle. In the early days of carp fishing, before optonics and electronic sophistication, anglers balanced coins on tin cans with the line passing beneath them so that when a take occurred in the dark, they were alerted by the sound of the coin being dislodged and falling into the tin. The introduction of Beta-lites allowed bobbins that glowed in the dark to be manufactured, eliminating the need for such primitive methods. Such old-fashioned methods have long been superseded and made redundant, but this does not mean that they no longer work. Not only do they work, they can be fun to use as well.
Oops! Nearly got this one completely wrong. I’ve used lightweight ‘hangers’ extensively in recent years for a variety of species where sensitivity was paramount. I’ll cover these uses in specific chapters later on. It is interesting that a number of leading carp anglers use weighted bobbins in preference to the more popular swing arm indicators.
When touch legering and bobbins were at the leading edge of technology, many anglers simply watched the rod-tip for signs that a fish had taken the bait. This worked perfectly well in fast-flowing waters, but on slow drains and rivers, more subtlety was required.
The introduction of glass-fibre as a rod-making material gave anglers the opportunity to rub down the tips with glass paper so that delicate bites could be seen. Ironically, Jack Clayton was attempting to make a forerunner of the quiver-tip when he accidentally invented the swing-tip.
A quiver-tip is a fine-diameter rod-tip that is either built into the rod or it comes as a push-in, push-over or a screw-in attachment. The tapers of these tips vary between parallel and compound. Quiver-tips are available in glass-fibre, carbon-fibre and nylon in a variety of strengths, lengths and thicknesses. It should be possible to suit a quiver-tip to any situation and be able to gain a bite registration that is easily identifiable. Quiver-tips can be positioned high in the air when required to lift the maximum amount of line from the water to reduce drag, yet clearly indicate a bite. Unlike most other indicators, there is nothing to interfere with casting. Even the worst winds have little effect on its efficiency, which cannot really be said of the alternatives.
Well-designed rods are available that will connect with bites anywhere from under the rod end to as far as you can cast. The advantages become really apparent when playing fish because it is free of any hinges or screw-in, clip-on attachments.
Swing-tips were responsible for popularising legering, although their use is now in decline. Invented by Jack Clayton, from Boston, Lincolnshire, it set the angling world alight in the 1960s. The ‘Swinging Sixties’ had a meaning all of its own for anglers in that era as countless matches were won by leger anglers employing the swing-tip.
Few companies now market swing-tip rods and those still in use tend to be home-made. The tips can be made from almost any material from cane to bicycle spokes and are attached to the end of a rod either permanently or via a screw in attachment or a moulded rubber angle. Screw-in tips can cause problems when inevitably they work loose. Despite this, the swing-tip remains a very sensitive indicator of bites in still or slow-moving waters. Moreover, it is fun to use. Hanging vertically down from the end of the rod, it rises majestically to indicate bites, particularly if bream are the quarry and feeding well. Its tendency to tangle and its instability in strong winds are serious drawbacks and leave it a poor second in most anglers’ eyes to the quiver-tip.
Spring-tips are, for the sake of a better description, a swing-tip that remains horizontal. It is attached to the rod by means of a spring which folds under the pressure of a bite. Suffering from exactly the same drawbacks as the swing-tip, I would dismiss the spring-tip on those grounds alone. Unfortunately, it is further limited by distance and flow, making it a complete non-runner for the serious angler.
Butt indicators have two advantages. First, they can be sheltered easily from the strongest wind (the rod-tip can also be positioned well under the water, adding further to the stability of the set-up). Secondly, the indicator is clipped to the rod of your choice, which can even be a float rod. Unfortunately, they are prone to tangles when casting, and can also be an impedance to both distance and accuracy. In spite of this, they were very useful assets until relatively recently. Fortunately, the giant steps forward that have taken place in quiver-tip rod design and manufacture have all but made them redundant.
Apart from these main categories, various hair-brained ideas have appeared on the market at one time or another before they disappeared without trace. Many have been ‘off-rod’ inventions based on springs attached to extra rod-rests. I can only recommend that you give them all a wide berth and stick to the simple tried and trusted quiver-tip. The exception to this advice is the electronic indicator normally associated with specimen hunters.
You know, I can’t recall the last time I saw anyone use a butt indicator or saw one used in a magazine feature. The only commercially available version that I have seen in recent years is the ‘Stinger’ indicator produced by Anglers World Holidays.
Electronic indicators were first invented by carp anglers to give them an audible warning when a bite occurred, mainly during the hours of darkness. Modern alarms have improved in sophistication and sensitivity and now come complete with multi-tone buzzers, light emitting diodes, extension cables, volume controls and all manner of gadgets. They have been adopted by specimen hunters who expect to leger and spend long unproductive hours by the waterside. It is arguable that the introduction of the commerical electronic bite indicator, or optonic as it is usually referred to, is responsible for spawning a breed of angler who spends endless nights at the waterside sleeping alongside his tackle, relying on modern self-hooking terminal tackles to hook the fish and the technology to wake him up when it has happened. There can be no doubt that optonics are a valuable aid to the specimen hunter, but the abuse of their attributes leaves many anglers feeling that they contribute more to the catches of some specimens than to the captors themselves.
Didn’t pull any punches there then, did I?!!!
Electronic bite alarms are here to stay, make no mistake about that. I personally am happy to use state-of-the-art Delkims with a remote receiver. Yes, they take a lot of the concentration and eye strain out of fishing while allowing me to fish round the clock. I’ve employed them to catch most species including specimen roach and perch. I find nothing wrong with that. Fishing is, after all, about individuals enjoying themselves. It isn’t something we should judge people by. Fred is certainly not a better person than Bill just becasue he catches a bigger fish than him.
Bite alarms come in many shapes and guises. They are quite sophisticated pieces of equipment and have had a massive impact on fishing as we know it today.
Without alarms, few anglers would fish through the night on a regular basis and we certainly wouldn’t have the bands of ‘full-time’ anglers who inhabit many of the country’s big fish circuit waters. You could say that alarms have made the catching of big carp an awful lot easier.
Whilst carp anglers have embraced the use of bite alarms, many traditionalists resist it’s use in barbel fishing. Sadly, for them, we cannot un-invent technology, and bite alarms will become every day items of kit for barbel anglers whether this minority like it or not. You see, barbel are suckers for bolt rig set-ups and bite alarms mean an angler can fish effectively with multiple rods. We’d all better get used to it because it’s here to stay. It is becoming an extension of carp fishing and those who do the former can readily switch from one species to the other without changing tackle, rigs or bait.
Fishing In The Dark
Electronic bite alarms make fishing in the dark very easy, especially on stillwaters, and it is relatively easy to fish with certain types of bolt rig set-ups on rivers. Seemingly dead rivers can come alive in the first couple of hours after sunset, even in the dead of winter. To fish through this period can be tremendously exciting and rewarding. I fish exactly as do in daylight but with an isotope fixed to my quivertip. A small light is used for baiting the hook and unhooking fish but nothing else. By avoiding using a light your eyes soon become accustomed to the dark and you will be surprised how many things you can do with no problems at all in pitch blackness.
One thing you cannot do is watch a quivertip without a visibility aid. Having tried various alternatives I nothing compares with a single isotope. Some anglers recommend two isotopes but I find this to be about as necessary as two reel handles. One of each is quite sufficient for me.
Having experimented with a variety of different fixing arrangements I find that a single 3mm diameter quiver tip ring, whipped to the top side of the quivertip, provides a simple yet practical anchor point. A 400 microlambert isotope is pushed into a 2mm diameter section of silicone tubing which in turn is stretched over the wire ring.
You will be forgiven for thinking that the isotope might work loose and fall off or that it may result in tangles caused by line wrapping around the tip but they are groundless fears, so much so that I never remove the isotope, even when fishing in daylight.
Of Course things have again moved on. Both Drennan and Enterprise Tackle offer brilliant isotope holders for a variety of tip thicknesses, including quiver tips.
Seemingly endless variations of swimfeeder design exist. All are designed to fulfil the same purpose: to deliver with precision a measured quantity of food among the fish you wish to catch and to release that food as slowly or as quickly as you choose. A weight is incorporated that can be increased if necessary by the use of trim weights to cast the desired distance and, in running water, accurately to balance the feeder against the flow. The swimfeeder allows even the relative novice to place his feed accurately, even at a distance, and more importantly to place his hook-bait among it. This equalised many of the skills experienced anglers had spent their lives acquiring and was responsible for much of the derision directed at the method. The swimfeeder became universally popular with novices who caught fish in quantity and of a size they might never have achieved, as they lacked the skills to catch them on other methods. Skilful anglers were less charitable towards the swimfeeder as their hard-earned dominance of the match scene was eroded almost overnight and in many matches it was banned altogether. There is no doubt that a swimfeeder is a great leveller, but who can seriously criticise a method that enables enthusiastic beginners to enjoy their sport to the full while doing no-one any harm?
Oh, where are those anglers today. Abstraction, nitrates, pollution and cormorants have combined to turn most of our rivers into fishless deserts. I enjoyed fishing with stick float and waggler every bit as much, if not more than legering but I know of no major river within 70 or 80 miles of where I live that I reliable expect to turn up at and catch a stone of roach on those methods, other than on an exceptional day in certain well known hotspots. Our rivers are in decline, that’s for sure. I first took up match fishing seriously because it was the only way of getting to fish the River Trent at weekends. Every stretch was booked up with club matches and opens. Today you can turn up in the middle of the day, even at weekends, winter or summer and find the river is practically deserted. You can bet your bottom dollar that the majority of those who are fishing will be using a swimfeeder.
In the summer of 2007 I took several cracking bags of roach on stick float tactics from the Tidal Trent which may indicate there’s a bit of a revival on the way. However, gleaning from the few river match reports I receive for my local newspaper column, the vast majority of club match anglers stick a feeder out and it is this method that invariably wins.
Swimfeeders can be divided into four main categories:
1 Block-end feeder
The most diverse group is the block-end or maggot feeder, which comes in all shapes, sizes and colours. It is doubtful whether there is an angler in the country who does not have some in his box. A block-end feeder is simply a plastic container with removable caps, an integral weight and numerous holes, out of which the bait escapes. The major manufacturers are Thamesley, Dinsmore, Drennan and Middy. They come in a wide variety of sizes from mini to jumbo ones and all follow the same cylindrical pattern, with the exception of the Drennan flat feeder, which is oval in cross-section and designed to resist rolling across the riverbed in strong flows.
These are often called ground-bait feeders because they are invariably used in connection with ground-bait as a feed or a carrier. Open-end feeders are identical in shape and construction to the block-end variety but do not have end caps. They are available in a wide selection of sizes. This simple feeder is made easily by DIY enthusiasts from empty plastic bottles, builders’ PVC damp-proof course or any similar materials. Plastic overflow pipe can be employed, as can sections of aluminium vacuum-cleaner pipes. The advantage claimed by users of the latter is that no additional weight needs to be added to the feeder in many circumstances. Unfortunately, this can be a disadvantage when you are trying to balance the feeder against a steady current. The only open-ended feeder which differs significantly from the rest in design is the Harrier Feeder from Daiwa. Because of its shape, it rises immediately to the surface when retrieved, which can be advantageous when you are fishing snaggy swims.
3 Cage feeders
These are similar to the open-end feeder and are used in exactly the same circumstances. Made from wire-mesh, they are therefore heavier, robust and more suited to river work than its plastic equivalent. While the cage feeder is perfect for using in conjunction with baits such as casters, hemp, sweetcorn or other particle-type bait that does not wriggle, maggots, pinkies and squatts tend to escape and break up the contents long before they hit the water, causing bait to be scattered around the swim and defeating the entire object.
Drennan International Fishing Tackle now make a plastic Gripmesh feeder which I have used extensively when fishing with liquidised bread, a subject I will cover in detail later on.
Nisa produce a pole feeder which is similar to a wire mesh feeder but with the weight on the base. It is used on rivers like the Yare, suspeded on the end of a pole to detect delicate bites in strong tidal flows.
4 Frame feeders
As the name implies, the frame feeder is a frame with a casting weight at its base, around which a ball of ground-bait is moulded. However, the weight of the ground-bait is inevitably sufficient to cast as far as you might need. Because the feed is moulded around a frame rather than within some sort of tube, the amount of feed which can be introduced in the ground-bait is limited, but for those situations where you wish the feed to be dispersed immediately on impact with the water’s surface, it is perfect. Another advantage is that the shape encourages it to ride freely over snags or weedbeds.
Little did I suspect that the frame feeder would have such an impact on match-style carp fishing. I first witnessed its use in a Fish-O-Mania final at Mallory Park, where the fashion for having an elasticated shock absorber running through the centre of the feeder was initially developed. Nicknamed ‘the method’ feeder, many variations on the original theme appeared. Today ‘the method’ has been adopted in both match and carp fishing circles and merits a chapter of its own.
Following claims that discarded anglers’ lead-weights were leading to the deaths of swans, legislation was passed to prohibit the use of certain sized leads deemed to be at the root of the problem. Lead weights greater than 0.06g (shot size No 8) and up to 28g (loz) are now prohibited, unless they form an integral part of a swimfeeder. This means that the popular clip-on leads enabling anglers to fish so effectively with a swimfeeder are allowed to remain part of our armoury. Unfortunately, the most popular sized bombs are not permitted. These were soon replaced by non-toxic alternatives which, once you accept their increased size for the same weight, do not present any practical problems.
1 Seymo bottle weights
One positive step forward was the introduction of the Seymo bottle weights. These consist of a swivel with a screw thread at one end, into which a variety of different sized weights fit. This allows the size of bomb you are using to be changed instantly should conditions change or should you wish to fish further out. The original Seymo bottle weight has now been superseded by an improved design that has eliminated entirely the screw thread. Unfortunately, the screw was prone to work loose during fishing sessions, resulting in lost weights. The line could also be damaged if the hook length rubbed against it. The new design incorporates a length of silicon tubing, complete with a line connector at one end. The tube is cut to the desired length and pushed over a spigot on the bottle weight. This effectively creates a shock-absorber link. The bottle weights are thus instantly inter-changeable and come in five sizes, ranging from just 1/4 oz up to 1 oz in weight.
I’m not sure whether this type of weight is still available. It is certainly a long time since I saw any.
2 Arlesey bombs
These were invented by the late Richard Walker so that perch could be fished for at long range in Arlesey Lake. Principally, an aerodynamically shaped lead weight with a swivel set into its trailing end, the Arlesey bomb has become a prototype for the majority of weights on sale today. In running water where distance is not a prerequisite, this weight will hold the bottom much better if it is slightly flattened with a hammer.
3 Coffin leads
These are not as readily available today as they were before the lead law changes, which is unfortunate because they are very good for fishing close in or where there are snags. This is fully covered in the chapter dealing with snags.
4 Barrel leads and running bullets
These leads are relics of a bygone era. If you examine the tackle-box of a top matchman, it is unlikely that you will find any of these leads. Match anglers catch fish in the most difficult circumstances, at the wrong times of day, when bankside disturbance is often at its greatest. If they can find no use for them, rest assured that you can safely dismiss them too.
5 Lobworm leads
For fishing in extreme conditions, when rivers may be carrying several feet of dirty, swirling floodwater, it is still possible to catch fish, but special tactics have to be employed that involve large flat leads. On the River Trent such leads have acquired the nickname ‘lobby leads’, which refers to the lobworm hook-bait that is associated with the method. The leads are invariably triangular in shape and flattened; they weigh between 2 and 4oz. Alternatively, flat circular ‘fob watches’ are employed. Usually, these are not available commercially and most are home-made.
6 Clip-on weights
In order to balance a feeder against the flow of a river or to increase the distance a swimfeeder can be cast, clip-on leads are available. These vary in size from as little as [oz up to 3oz or more. They are known in some areas as skis, trim weights, saddles, dead cows etc, and are essential for serious feeder fishing.
It would be wrong of me not to include details of the many different styles of leads used by anglers who fish for carp. They can be broken down into two categories, swivel leads and in-line leads. The former, as you might expect have a swivel attached to one end while the latter is designed to be slid onto the line. Basic carp rigs will be covered later, but for now let us look at some of the different lead shapes you will find in each of these categories. For several years now I have used Korda leads, made by Danny Fairbrass, almost exclusively and cannot fault their quality. Practically every commercially available lead today is plastic coated and comes in a range of camouflaged colours to suit silt, gravel and weed covered lake beds.
Based on Arlesley bombs, swivel leads can be streamlined, for distance work, pear shaped for medium work and dumpy for short range. In addition you will now find a range of flattened leads that sit nicely on sloping shelves and the sides of gravel bars. Swivel leads can be used ‘running free’ on the anglers’ main line or semi-fixed by employing either a Korda, Nash or Hutchinson Lead Clip.
These were very popular in the early nineties with carp anglers but have slipped down the charts in recent years thanks to the simplicity offered by lead clips. In-line’s thread on the main line and push over the hook link swivel to create a semi-fixed bolt rig. Tail rubbers and silicone tubing ensure that tangles are rare. Two distinct styles exist, forward tapered, for distance casting, and flat sided, for sloping bars and shelves.
Many are the accessories that manufacturers would make us believe are essential. Links, leger stops and the like tend to catch more anglers than fish. Often claimed to reduce the number of tangles, they are themselves responsible for more tangles than they cure. Throughout this book you will see examples of rigs that eliminate the need for most accessories, although there are several situations in which beads, swivels and power gum are used. Never economise on these relatively cheap and simple items. Swivels need to be of the highest quality and beads must not be too hard or have any rough edges.
We’ve never had it so good when it comes to these two essential items of kit. I now carry a range of beads, both hard and soft in sizes from 4 to 10mm, but more of that later. Swivels can be very usefull in a variety of situations. Because I use lead clips on an increasing frequency, the parallel sided barrel swivels have become my norm. I also favour tiny elongated oval eyed swivels for light line work where the relationship between wire and line diameter can be very important. Try to match these as closely as possible. If the diameters are not matched your knots can be weakened significantly, consequently I will often use a tiny stainless steel ring rather than a swivel. These are readily available through any stockist of carp fishing accessories.
There is no place in my kit for plastic leger stops or the silicon-covered links.
Today there is a place for leger stops, though only for use in limited situations. When fishing for barbel on rivers like the Trent, in the dark, yes, using bite alarms and bolt style rigs, a leger stop fixed lightly on the main line behind a running 3 oz feeder allows a fish to take a few inches of line before hitting the weight of the feeder and hooking itself. Some may cry ‘heresy’ at this point, but it works. It catches me fish and as a bloke with a full time career on top of writing articles in magazines and newspapers, I have to maximise the time available to me on the bank. Rod hours and endless blanks are not acclaimed by the likes of me. That’s fine for the full-timers who have nothing better to do with their time than to fish round the clock, seven days a week, all-year round on very good waters. We all do what we feel comfortable with and it is possible to find fault in the actions of even the most perfect of traditionalists. Ask an ‘anti’ if you don’t believe me.
Often it will be necessary to increase the size of the holes in a swimfeeder to enable the maggots contained within it to escape more quickly. Proper hole enlargers are available from John Roberts Tackle, but not all shops stock them. If you are unable to find one of these useful little tools, the same result can be achieved by using an ordinary drill bit.
The correct choice of rod-rest is important and several different types are required to suit the different styles of fishing. If you are fishing a stillwater, then the Drennan type will allow you to twitch the bait very accurately by working the rod across the rest from front to back. If the weather is particularly windy and extra stability is required, or bites are expected to be very shy, an intermediate rest is employed to steady the rod and enable the front rest to be positioned closer to the tip.
When you are river fishing with the rod high in the air, it is essential to have a rod-rest that the line cannot tangle itself around. Several examples are illustrated, from which you will see that even if the line does go around them, it will slide free on the strike. On many conventional rod-rests this does not happen and break-offs on the strike can occur If your intention is to fish with the rod high in the air, then stability is important and the best way of achieving this is to employ a butt cup.
It goes without saying that all bank sticks need to be adjustable.
Unless you have exceptionally good eyesight, some sort of target board will prove an enormous benefit. A target board is usually made from perspex or plastic, and screws into, or clips on to, a bank stick. Generally, it has a pattern of vertical lines about 1in apart and is placed just beyond the rod end in such a position that the quiver-tip can be seen against it and the tiniest movements measured.
Obviously, the benefits are not realised when fish are generously pulling the tip around, but whenever the weather is cold and frosty, bites may be just the tiniest flickers. The same can be said when, for whatever reason, the fish choose to be finicky, but one of the under-rated uses of the target board comes when you are faced with a shoal of bream in your peg, giving false line bites. Striking at line bites is a recipe for disaster, because either you frighten the fish or sooner or later you foul hook one or two, causing the shoal to disperse.
While it is not easy, line bites can sometimes be differentiated from proper bites by the way and the speed at which the tip moves. A target offers a visual aid which can assist in sorting this out.
Small carp, and I’m talking about fish in the two to 10 lb category here, are not noted for giving delicate indications, particularly on heavilly stocked commercial fisheries where they have to compete for food. Rods are frequently pulled into the water by fish that take violently. To combat this a new type of rod rest was introduced by Boss and Daiwa. It features a PTFE cone that is allowed to slide along an aluminium bar. Consequently a bite will first register on the quivertip and then the rod is allowed to be pulled through a wide arc whilst still on the rest, thereby giving the angler more time to grab his or her rod before it disappears into the lake.
There can be no doubt about the importance of choosing the right hook pattern when legering. As in all forms of fishing, the smaller and lighter the hook is, the more bites you are likely to attract. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to use a hook as small or as fine as you would like because of the size of fish you may encounter. The weight of the swimfeeder itself has to be considered too, because this can cause a fine hook to open out or a small hook to be ripped out. Hooks are produced from different gauges of wire, each to a specified thickness. Additional strength can then be added by a forging process. It is possible to buy several different hook patterns all of the same size but varying considerably in strength and weight.
It is essential to balance the strength of the hook to the breaking strain of the hook length. There is no point whatsoever in tying a heavy-duty forged hook to an 8oz breaking-strain line, because the line would break long before the hook even threatened to fail. Equally, tying a 61b line to a fine wire-hook would be ludicrous, because the hook would open out when only a fraction of that power was applied. Let us suppose that we wish to fish with, say, a size 20 hook and look at the options available to us. At the bottom of the scale are the very fine wire varieties such as the Gamakatsu 6325s. Designed originally for pole fishing with baits like bread-punch or squatts, they can be used with confidence in light legering for skimmer bream or roach, but would be totally unsuitable if carp, tench, barbel or chub were likely to be encountered. Powerful fish like these would simply straighten out the hook during the fight. The same hook would be equally unsuitable if a heavy swimfeeder was used, even if the fish caught were of moderate size because the weight of the swimfeeder would have a similar effect.
There is no point in tying one of these hooks to a line much stronger than 1lb breaking strain, because any pull greater than this would simply straighten it out.
The Kamasan Crystal ‘Whisker Barb’, or B‑520 as it is known universally, is a stronger hook which retains many of the advantages of a fine wire-hook. This hook will handle lines up to perhaps l½lb breaking strain and, provided the rod used is not too stiff or the swimfeeder very heavy, it will tame surprisingly large fish.
However, if 2oz feeders are likely to be used, or if there are bigger fish about, the logical choice is a forged hook. The Kamasan Forged Crystal R-920 is a popular pattern which is readily available everywhere in a wide range of sizes.
It is now necessary to consider what is the strongest and lightest line to use with such a hook. For a size 20 hook, a line between 1½ and 2½lb breaking strain might be ideal, but do remember that as the size of hook increases, so does the gauge of wire it is made from and the line strength can be adjusted upwards accordingly if a larger – say size 14 –hook is chosen.
If you find that the forged hook is still not strong enough, you could try the Kamasan B‑640, which is a short shanked version of the R-920 with an offset point. Short shank hooks have slightly less hooking power than a standard-length shank, but are more difficult to straighten out. Also, the hook can be stepped up a size without increasing its weight over a B-920, further increasing its resistance to straightening out and going some way towards compensating for the reduction in hooking potential.
The Drennan Superspade hook is the strongest big fish hook on the market used for swimfeeder fishing. There is no point in tying one to any line of less than 2½lb breaking strain. It will comfortably handle stronger lines and is ideal for using when fishing close to snags where desperate measures may have to be employed to stop a powerful fish from reaching sanctuary.
You will no doubt recognise that all these hooks have a barb or micro-barb, which I feel is essential when using a swimfeeder, because it is possible for a fish to swim towards a swimfeeder and momentarily give itself sufficient slack line to shake out a barbless hook. The only situation in which I would consider the use of a barbless hook when legering is when fishing the straight lead, and for this my choice would be a Mustad 90340 pattern.
All the hooks described above are ‘spade-end’ hooks, which are probably the best choice for fish up to 4-51b. For even bigger fish, particularly barbel and carp, which are renowned for their fighting abilities, you may opt for an eyed hook. Spade-ends are much smaller and neater than these ‘eyes’, but occasionally, during a prolonged fight, the spade can either damage the mouth of a fish or even cut the line.
Several knots are illustrated, but beware of choosing the blood knots when using the low-stretch high-tech lines, as the resulting knot strength can be reduced dramatically.
Hook designs have moved on dramatically in recent years but the principles remain the same. Hooks have to be balanced according to the line attached to them. I’m not even certain that some of the patterns refered to here are still available so I’m going to let Nigel step in here and discuss the relative merits of various different patterns that are available today, with particulr emphasis on those used by anglers tackling commercial carp fisheries and canals.
Much of my own fishing is done for specimen fish these days and I can get away with a handfull of paterns, most of which are produced by Peter Drennan. If I wish to use barbless hooks for species like chub, barbel, bream and carp, I tend to use the larger sizes of carp feeder hooks aimed at match anglers. Otherwise it is the good old Superspade for much of my work.
Before describing the wide range of legering techniques available to the modern angler, I feel I must briefly cover the subject of float legering.
Float legering was once a popular, and indeed successful method of fishing a still bait fairly close in on rivers. It was even employed at greater distance by some on still waters and
while it is an enjoyable way to fish without having to buy specialist rods (float rods are used), it is now an out-moded method. Advancements in wand rod design and the use of roach poles mean that more efficient methods of fish catching can be employed.
In running water, a stick or quill float is attached top and bottom using silicon rubbers and fixed over-depth. Any number of end-tackle variations can then be used (see page 90).
The tackle is cast out downstream of the angler and is allowed to pull round until it lies almost in a direct line with the rod-tip. If the water is boily, it may be necessary to place a shot on the line around 6in above the hook to steady the bait.
Occasionally, the bites are quite aggressive and the rod-tip is ‘thumped’ around by the take. This usually results in the fish ejecting the bait long before the angler can react and the bite is missed. The solution is to place a heavy shot above the float to create an angle between it and the rod-top. This allows the angler a fraction longer before the fish feels the rod-top.
In still waters, when fished at distance, a thick topped waggler is employed so that it is not dragged under by the drift. Such a method cannot be recommended seriously in a technical work of this nature as it does not begin to compare with the efficiency of a swing-, spring- or quiver-tip.
Oh dear, sometimes you shoot yourself right in the foot! Float legering is something I rarely did in those days, indeed it is still something I seldom do today. However, there is always that one occasion when circumstances dictate that there just isn’t a better alternative. Let me describe something that happened to me shortly after the book launch.
I had travelled down to Newport Pagnell, just north of Milton Keynes, to go fishing for tench with Matt Hayes. Back then we regularly fished together and I was desperate to catch a big tinca, a species that is to this day my Achilles heel. For some reason, I have caught very few sizeable specimens and certainly no monsters.
Anyway, we were staying at his house and a late phone call put paid to Matt joining me on the planned tench trip the following morning.”Never mind, Matt, I’ll drop down to the river (Ouse) and we’ll go for tench the following day.” says I.
I had in my mind a certain swim that has always appealed to me. I had lost a big barbel there during the previous winter and fancied another crack, anyway. When I arrived at the river there was just one angler, other than me, fishing along the entire four mile stretch. Guess which swim he was in?
I fished on regardless, although rather half-heartedly. Eventually the angler in question decided to pack in so I walked along to find out how he had done.
He’d had a few very nice bream, but of the barbel he was seeking, no joy. We chatted for a while, as anglers do, and he told me how poorly the river had been fishing for barbel and that he’d yet to catch a decent fish all season. His parting shot to me will stick in my memory for as long as I live, “Hrmmph, you can have the swim, let’s see what an expert can do with it!”
I didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended but whatever, I had the swim I really fancied. If you know the Upper Ouse you’ll know a swim like it, for there are hundreds of them. Fifteen yards or so wide, marginal rushes, lily pads and cabages everywhere from under your feet to a third of the way across the river, dark green whips suck up in the middle, relatively clear, but with patches of clear gravel dotted around.
I took one look at it and set up an Avon rod and a float leger. Honestly, I sat there thinking, “What a plonker, Bob, you’ve just written off the method in your book and the first time you fish the Ouse in earnest you go and use it.”
You see, to have employed a quivertip would have meant my line travelling diagonally down from the rod tip to the lake bed and that would have meant it was threaded between pads and cabbages, all the way. Any fish hooked would have been half way to freedom before I stood a chance, whereas a float leger enabled me to place a bait straight into a clear spot, completely unhindered.
You can guess the rest, I’m sure. Old matey had hardly walked out of sight on his way back to the car park when my float sailed under and I was attached to a very big fish. Keeping the rod as high as I could, it scythed back and forth through the pads. Leaves were popping up to the surface, right, left and centre. A huge bronze flank flashed just beneath the surface and my knees turned to jelly. It wasn’t just a barbel, it was a HUGE barbel.
Seconds later I slipped the net under it’s head at the first time of asking and the prize was mine. All I could do was punch the sky and scream my head off. What I really wanted to do was run around like an idiot in the field and discharge some of the adrenaline that coursed through my veins. I was trembling like a leaf and had the fish of a lifetime to deal with.
So much for a method I had glibbly written off.
That night, back at Matt’s, he asked how I had got on.
“Just One.” I said.
“What, a bream?”
“No, a barbel.”
“Really?” he enquired, with a raised eyebrow, not sure whether I was pulling his leg. “How big?”
“Bloody ‘ell, boy! Do you know how big that is?”
“Yeah, an ounce bigger than twelve-six!”
“Too right, matey. And it’s the third biggest ever to come off the river. I’ve never had one that big in years of fishing for them!”
I was gob-smacked, as they say in Hull. The significance of its size hadn’t struck me until that moment. If anything, Matt was more excited than I was and insisted we went straight down to the off-licence to buy drinks to celebrate. Considering Matt’s a tee-totaller, and a diet coke addict to boot, you might be able to gather what state of excitement we were in.
Phone calls were made, and after setting up our gear at the tench lake the following morning, I high tailed it off to Peterborough and delivered my pictures to the Angling Times. That a stupid woman driver ran into the back of me in Bedford and still couldn’t wipe the grin off my face says it all. Only true anglers can ever hope to understand how I felt. Twenty four hours after the event Matt would suddenly pipe-up with a “Bloody ‘ell, boy, twelve-seven, well done!” and another shot of adrenalin would shoot into my bloodstream.
I was on another planet.
The tench trip was a failure. Not a miserable failure by any means. Matt had one fish, I think, and I blanked.
The following Wednesday I dropped into my local newsagent to buy a copy of the Angling Times and there I was beaming out from the front cover, posing with that barbel. I often wonder what old matey, who gave up the swim, thought.
“Let’s see what an expert can do!” indeed.
Let’s see what a bloke with a whacking great slice of luck can do, more like.
Of course, the size of Ouse barbel has risen dramatically since those not so far off days and in many ways I pitty the poor kids who now catch their first double and think little of it because they feel they have to compare it with the 16 and 17 pound monsters portrayed in the press. The fish I caught is etched indelibly on my soul. It was an occasion powerful enough to turn a grown man into a child once more. It was to me, what fishing is truly all about. Yes, size does matter, but the sense of personal achievement matters far more. The warmth and generosity of friends who share your precious moments matters even more. If only we could escape from the bitterness surrounding so many captures and focus on the joy it should bring, we’d all enjoy our fishing more.
But enough of this, the point I’m making is, don’t rule out the float leger as a tool that is worth keeping in your armoury for very special occasions. You will read, elsewhere on the disc, about pole legering. That, too, is a method which is closely aligned to float legering. Many exponents dispense with the float all together while others put a float to good use in what is effectively a conventional float legering style.