Back in the early Nineties I wrote a book called the Complete Book Of Legering. It received tremendous praise from critics far and wide and very soon all 6,000 copies had been snapped up. And then the publisher decided to abandon the angling market.
This left me with a dilemma. The book was still in demand but the publisher held the copyright and wouldn’t release it to me unless I paid a substantial release fee. At the time I was also selling lots of DVDs in Poland (don’t ask why!) although I never received a single penny from that venture – a recurring theme throughout my time in the spotlight, unfortunately.
When a Polish publisher approached me with a proposal to translate and publish the book in Eastern Europe I was thrilled. Unfortunately the fee I would receive was substantially less than the cost of reclaiming my copyright and I had to abandon hopes of being one of England’s few exports to Poland.
Despite there being a healthy demand for it both at home and abroad I had no choice but to bite the bullet and let my manuscript gather cobwebs. Of course an author can do a re-write and release it as a ‘new’ work although the terms of the original contract decreed I would have to give the original publisher first refusal. So back in 2001 I did just that. I re-wrote the whole book and it was a massive eye-opener. So many of the things I originally believed in 1993 were just plain wrong. Times had moved on but instead of abandoning the original thinking I revised it on the page allowing the reader to see what was the leading edge of our knowledge in the Nineties with my take on how things could be improved.
The new work amounted to 120,000 words or double the wordage of the original version. It was quite a mammoth technical work. And then I put it on the back burner again. Within the web site I’ve been revisiting the second manuscript and releasing a chapter here and there whenever I felt like it. If you search the site and you’ll find chapters 1 to 4 are already on-line.
This is chapter 5. Okay, I would have liked to include images and diagrams as I surely would if I ever got around to publishing it as a book. For now you basically get text. The original words are in italics, my thoughts, observations and updates are in normal text.
This particular chapter was written at a time when 6lb line was probably the top limit used by a match angler and the target species on rivers like the Trent were more often than not likely to be chub or bream when a 3lb fish was regarded as a big old lump, so hook links were much lighter and hooks tended to be quite small, mostly size 16s to 20s. It’s a style of fishing seldom practised today, sadly, and not to be confused with modern day barbelling techniques where 10lb line is more often than not the starting point (going upwards) and feeders of 4, 5 and 6 ounces the norm.
Tackling the Big Job
One technique that puts off anglers more than any other is the long-range heavy-feeder approach, which may involve throwing 2, 3 or even 4oz of lead long distances across powerfully flowing rivers. Ordinary rods are no match for this game, nor are small reels which are better suited to float fishing. Specialist tackle is called for, which rarely comes cheap.
The first item on your shopping-list is a heavy-duty quiver tipped rod, which is based along the lines of a fast taper carp rod. If it was to be used in conjunction with 10lb breaking strength lines and large hooks, it would be a stepped-up carp rod. Unfortunately, it may have to handle hook lengths as low as 1lb breaking strain and tiny hooks. Thus a dilemma occurs.
Fast taper rods are throwing sticks and what little action they have is contained in the tip section. It is quite feasible to play fish on light lines with such a rod at long range. Unfortunately, as the fish comes close to the rod, any elasticity in the line is quickly taken up and the rod itself is virtually ‘locked up’. It cannot respond to the lunges of a lively fish and frequently the hook will rip out or the light hook length will fail.
Soft taper rods do not have enough backbone to cast heavy weights long distances, but they are extremely responsive when fighting fish at close ranges.
A compromise is reached by the use of compound tapers which seek to utilise the benefits of both. Great skill is required to achieve such a balance and as a result few rods exist that can do the job satisfactorily. In the early days, spliced-tip float rods were utilised as feeder rods with some degree of success, but inevitably catastrophes occurred when anglers attempted to cast such heavy pay-loads. It was the use of float rods which alerted designers to the use of longer rods for this branch of the sport and all the best examples I have used have been 12½-13ft long. The extra length allows a more forgiving rod to be designed while retaining the essential casting ability.
Over the course of a couple of seasons I was fortunate to get involved with Daiwa in the design of a dedicated barbel rod. The action of this rod perfectly suits the requirements outlined above. The production models have a test curve of approximately 1 lb 10 oz and feature what I describe as a ‘progressive’ action. It is a superb tool and one I am proud to be associated with. I no longer need to mess around with converted carp rods because this rod will do everything I could ever ask of a heavy feeder rod whilst still retaining the desired playing action and able to cope with relatively light hook links. (This was the old Powermesh twin-tip that has since been copied by several other manufacturers)
To buy a cheap reel for the ‘big job’ would be a false economy. A suitable reel requires a wide spool with a well-designed line lay to avoid ‘bedding in’ when reeling in under tension. High gearing is not necessary, but robust construction from top quality materials is. Reels commonly associated with carp fishing are usually ideal and the extra outlay involved will be recouped as they will outlast inferior cheaper models.
The importance of winding power was brought home to me, and thousands of others for that matter, at a National Angling Exhibition staged at Birmingham’s NEC. A demonstration was staged on the Daiwa stand where two rod butts each with a reel attached. The reels were made by rival manufacturers, one Daiwa, the other, a very high profile brand that had better remain nameless, and were practically identical in style, size and specification. Each was loaded with line and attached to a heavy lead. Visitors were invited to turn the reel handles and compare their winding power. The Daiwa reel coped easily but it’s rival struggled and surprised all those who had a go.
The demonstration was brought to a premature end when the manufacturer of the reel that performed so poorly sought legal intervention to prevent potential customers being exposed to their weakness.
Of course, you will say I am biased because I have an association with Daiwa. That is true, but it cannot be allowed to overshadow the facts when it comes to such a graphic example of what a reel needs to be able to do. Make sure the reel you decide to use for this branch of feeder fishing is up to the job.
Don’t be mislead by high gear ratios, go for low ratios.
Don’t go for small spooled reels, wider diameter spools are better.
Lines And Knots
There is no room for economy when you buy a line. Quality lines are necessary not just to withstand the stress involved, but also from a safety point of view. Should a line failure occur while you are casting, the weight could fly off in any direction. Fatalities have occurred in sea fishing through casting accidents when anglers have used similar sized weights combined with much stronger lines. It is doubtful whether many anglers give consideration to the safety implications of heavy feeder work, but there is no doubt that unless knots and lines are checked very carefully, a catastrophe is possible. I have personally witnessed a casting failure where a 3oz swimfeeder completely cleared the middle reaches of the River Trent before thudding into the far bank some 70yd away. Had that struck an angler or passer-by, the consequences could easily have proved fatal, so do beware and take time to check those knots.
A shock leader is a length of line that is stronger than the reel line and is normally long enough to stretch from the swimfeeder back to the reel, on which there will be about four full turns, when casting. This leader takes the strain of casting the heavy weight and also helps to avoid fraying where there may be gravel bars or similar abrasive underwater features. To employ a reel line of this diameter would necessitate the use of an impractical amount of lead to hold the feeder stationary at long range.
A shock leader of, say, 5lb breaking strain will allow the use of, say, a 3lb breaking strain reel line when casting much heavier weights than could be safely cast with such a line. The biggest drawback with the system is the size of the knot joining the two different diameter lines together. The greater the breaking strain of the leader, the greater the size of the leader knot. Obviously, this knot has to pass through all the rod-rings, including the much-reduced diameter ones on the quiver-tip, making the choice and design of rod-rings crucial on a rod of this type.
Several knots are suitable for this job, as you will see from the diagrams. Surprisingly, few match anglers have taken a leaf out of the carp anglers’ books and converted to Dacron as a shock leader material. This braided material has excellent abrasion resistance properties but remains very supple. Leader knots tied in it tend to be neater, smaller and less obtrusive than those tied nylon to nylon.
There is only one rig that seriously lends itself to casting such heavy swimfeeders and that is the running loop rig. Swimfeeders are adapted to take a power-gum loop on to which a bead is threaded. Many anglers employ swivels, but the small surface area of the swivel in contact with the line is a weakness to be avoided and a bead is much safer. You may wish to push a hot needle through the bead to increase the diameter of the hole, but it will make very little difference to the effectiveness of the rig.
The power-gum link is essential to the rig’s successful use. It provides a shock-absorber on the cast and has just sufficient give in it to avoid some of the crack-offs that occur on savage bites. When playing fish, particularly those prone to head-shaking, such as perch or chub, you must remember that there is a 3oz weight suspended between you and the fish. Savage shakes of the head pull directly on the lead as well as the rod-tip and can seriously affect the hook-hold. Power-gum helps to soften these shakes and increases your chances of putting fish in the net.
A second loop below the running loop is essential with these heavy rigs in order to protect the hook length from damage by the weighted swimfeeder. Many anglers choose to tie several loops or to put knots in this loop to stiffen it up. The idea is to make the loop stand off from the feeder, but it has to be remembered that any knot is a weakness in the line. One way of achieving this without using additional knots is to twist the line and smear it with Super Glue.
To join the hook length to the rig, there is little choice other than to use the loop-to-loop knot. Half-blood knots are totally unsuitable, the result being a higher proportion of failures than is acceptable.
Here we go again. Please, whatever you do, don’t use the loop rig suggested above. I realise the UK’s angling press continue to operate double standards by promoting ‘safe’ carp rigs and then suggesting feeder anglers use loop rigs that are very likely to ‘tether’ a fish should your line be broken above the feeder. The previously mentioned lead clips make loop rigs redundant and I recommend them to you wholeheartedly.
There is a very limited choice of hooks suitable for this style of fishing. Hooks must be sharp, have some sort of barb, and above all need to be forged. The bigger the weight used, the stronger the hook required. Hooks also need matching very carefully to the breaking strain of the hook length. There is absolutely no logic in tying a Drennan Superspade to a 1lb breaking-strain line any more than there is of tying a fine wire-hook direct to a 6lb line. See Chapter 2 for further details and clarification about hooks if you are not sure.
Today there are many alternative hook patterns to choose from, thanks mainly to the proliferation of commercial carp fisheries.
Choice Of Swimfeeders
Swimfeederschosen for heavy-duty, long-range work must be the strongest available. Fortunately, there are many choices available, but do not be tempted to use some of the thinner walled plastic varieties. They are excellent choice for many situations, but not for this one. Some feeders are actually available that weigh 2oz before trim weights are even added. These make an excellent choice, reducing the number of clip-ons required and resulting in fewer tangles.
The Big Job In Practice
There is little difference in fishing the big job in practice than there is in fishing a lightweight critically balanced feeder. Despite the fact that more fish than ever will now hook themselves as they run into the brick wall the weighted feeder represents, it is still essential to balance the feeder, otherwise bites simply will not register and you may be stood waiting for a bite long after a small fish is actually hooked.
Big bows in the line between rod and feeder become a necessity, because any attempt to tighten up will result in the feeder bumping around. Further, more crack-offs on the bite will increase in proportion to the tightness of the line.
Careful striking is vital with such a powerful rod. Most of its action will have been taken up by the current and casualties will be frequent if consideration is not shown for this built-in power.
Despite these simple precautions, breakages do still occur. Barbel are notorious for producing savage takes, but there are still a few dodges to explore. First, by altering the rod-rest set-up, the rod can still be held at exactly the same height, but with several extra feet protruding from the front rest. In its regular position, the front rod-rest is high and only the short section of rod above it can respond to a taking fish. Unfortunately, the flow has normally exhausted what flexibility is available in the rod action and bites register on the equivalent of a stiff poker, leading to breakages. The lower position gives some extra cushioning, but is obviously less stable in wind and prone to overbalancing when a bite occurs. Any overbalancing that might occur is not a problem as such, provided that you do not grab at the rod and try to strike when it happens. The consequences of that are inevitable.
Another precaution is to increase the length of the power-gum link to increase its stretch factor.
It goes without saying that increasing the strength and length of the hook length will also reduce the casualty rate significantly.
Critical Balance v Bolt Rigs
You may realise that, although this rig relies on critical balance to register a bite, it has much in common with the carp angler’s bolt rig when hooking the fish.
The diagram (see p 147 bottom) shows a carp angler’s basic semi-fixed bolt rig in which a 3oz lead is held in place on a piece of silicon tubing wedged over a swivel. A short hook length is finished off by an extremely sharp hook. The idea is that the carp picks up the bait in its mouth and the very sharp point pricks the fish, causing it to panic and bolt. As it does so, it runs straight into the resistance of the large lead which hooks the fish instantly. What, then, is the difference between this and heavy feeder fishing?
The main difference is that, despite the mass being similar, our feeder weight is in a state of balance created by water pressure on the main line. However, the principle is exactly the same, using the leger, rather than the rod, to hook fish. In later chapters other instances will arise which take the bolt-rig idea several stages further in dealing with the needs of specific circumstances. Remember that these are special cases and may appear to contradict many of the basic rules carefully outlined so far.
• In these two photographs the rod is set at exactly the same angle. In the second one, however, the rod projects much further beyond the front rest, giving some insurance against savage biting fish such as barbel. The drawback is that this set-up is much less stable in windy conditions, making bite detection from other fish more difficult.