The Complete Book Of Legering (Revised) Introduction

Here’s the introduction to the legering book

Take A Leaf Out Of My Book
Bob Roberts

This section of Bob Roberts Online delves into the popular technique of legering. Back in the early nineties, I wrote a hugely successful book on the subject but it is now long out of print, yet still in demand, so, I’ve decided to satisfy the demand by breaking out of the conventional book mode by producing a literary work that will be available on this web site alone, completely free of charge. The project aims to bring the much sought after book right up to date. It’s a massive work that encapsulates the entire original work while taking a closer look at specialist angling and carp fishing in the year 2001 and beyond. Month by month I’ll add new chapters until the topic is exhausted but as and when new ideas arise I’ll do my best to add further content.

The Complete Book Of Legering Revisited

I can’t believe I’ve agreed to do this. Who in his right mind sits down to re-work a project that was put to bed over a decade ago? Especially when he’s just retired from the day job in order to create a bit more time to go fishing.
I can detect the smell of a candle burning at both ends already!
It seems a long, long time since I produced ‘The Complete Book Of Legering’ for my publisher David and Charles. At a time when angling book sales were approaching today’s all-time low, that book somehow managed to buck a dire trend and sold out completely. Unfortunately for all anglers with a penchant for the written word, David and Charles promptly dropped out of the fishing book market. Consequently there were no re-prints or softback editions of the book.
As flattering as it may be to have written a commercially successful book, at the first time of asking, during a period when relative giants of the game were having their books remaindered and sold off at bargain basement prices, I was left with a problem. Hundreds of anglers still wanted to buy a copy and there were simply none available. To this day, I still get letters, emails and phone calls, from various corners of the world, enquiring if I know where copies can be found. As far as I can ascertain, there are none. Even second hand dealers struggle to get hold of copies.
Where have all those thousands of copies gone, I wonder?
In truth, any attempt to reprint the original work would be both uneconomical and pointless, because so much has changed. Never mind, the wonders of modern technology have at least presented me with a solution, why not just give it awat to anyone who wants it? All you need is a home PC and you’re away. No costly print runs, no piles of unsold stock getting in the way, and a worldwide audience to boot. Whether it’s popular or welcomed by just a handful of folk the demand can be met with exactitude.
Not everything in life should be about money. Every once in a while it’s nice to have an opportunity to put the record straight and possibly inspire and educate a new generation of anglers.
Before going any further, let me make two things clear. This is not an exact copy of the original book, far from it. The book I wrote in the early 1990’s is clearly out of date. Yes, I have retained some of the text, but much has had to be completely re-written, updated, and augmented. Hence a significant number of new chapters have been added. Frankly, I find it hard to believe how much has changed during the intervening years. But then, so has the depth of my personal experience.
Perhaps most importantly reason I’ve rewritten the book is that writing has always been my way of analysing problems, of drilling down into the reasons why certain techniques work. It’s easy to follow your instincts, or someone else’s lead, but I like to know why things work. For me, there’s no better way of addressing this, than to sit at a keyboard and begin to work things out for myself. It’s not enough to know how, I have to know why.
Anyway, let’s get down to business. Here’s how the Complete Book Of Legering began…

My late stepfather, Raymond Saxton, introduced me to fishing in the early 1960s. Mostly we fished the River Trent, near Newark. It was hard work. Like most working-class families in those days, we had no car. We had to rise at the crack of dawn to catch a bus into Doncaster and then catch a train to Newark Northgate. From the station we would walk to the Rack at Winthorpe almost 2 miles away. How different things are now.
Coming back, we always stopped off at the Robin Hood pub opposite the station. A bottle of pop was my reward for guarding the tackle while my stepfather went inside for a much-needed pint of bitter.
I could never understand how he caught so many roach on that Spanish reed rod with the split cane top while I inevitably struggled next to him. Periodically, he would stop fishing and come to show me how it was done. Magically, he would transform my swim and within minutes he would be catching roach on my own tackle. At his peak he was a masterful float angler.

It was a frustrating time for me and often, as the day wore on, I would remove the float and replace it with a drilled bullet. This was my introduction to the leger which was almost guaranteed to catch me a few fish, even if they were only gudgeon and not his precious roach.
Ray scorned the leger, regarding it as the lazy man’s way of fishing. He even treated with contempt any fish that I was fortunate enough to catch on it. This clouded my judgement for many years to come, as I strove to emulate his skills with the centre-pin reel and porcupine quill float.

Practice, practice and more practice was the solution to my float-fishing failures. The more work I put in, the more fish I caught, but the world was changing. The centre-pin gave way to the fixed-spool reel, the porcupine quill was replaced by the stick float and then the waggler was introduced. Cane rods became fibreglass, which in turn became carbon and boron and kevlar, among other innovations. Once I had learned to catch fish on the float, I had my hands full just keeping up with the developments in that field without attempting to grasp fully the dramatic changes taking place in legering.

Youngsters today may not realise how recently the revolution came in legering. My stepfather’s view of legering was a widely held one in those days. The swing-tip was only just taking off and was not available commercially. The quiver-tip had still to be developed and Dick Walker was ridiculed by some for suggesting that the national championships would one day be won by someone using the leger. Nowadays, it is almost a surprise when someone wins a championship not using the leger.
No-one fully realised what the impact of Jack Clayton’s swing-tip was going to be, yet this simple development revolutionised fishing in Fenland and was instrumental in turning anglers like Jim Todd and Syd Meads into living legends. Even among these giants, one man stood out. Fred Foster, a miner from Swinton in South Yorkshire, hit the angling headlines week after week and fittingly became known as the ‘Swing-tip King’ before his untimely death in 1976, aged only 53. By then, there was a new contender for his crown – the mercurial Ivan Marks from Leicester, a genius at the game and arguably the most popular figure in angling.

These famous anglers were synonymous with two things: bream and legering. By developing new techniques and tackle, Foster and Marks gave legering a credibility that it did not have previously. Moreover, their successes opened not only anglers’ eyes, but their minds, too. Everyone wanted to learn how it was done. A new era had begun.

The development of the swingtip is interesting in that Jack Clayton, who is generally credited as the man who first stumbled upon the idea while attempting to make a very fine tipped rod, was in effect trying to make what we now call a ‘quiver-tip’. Some modern writers now credit the late Peter Stone with the invention and it is unlikely we will ever discover the truth, for who can tell if there weren’t other secretive individuals out there who were using fine tips for bite indication but preferred to keep it to themselves. I guess ‘the who’ doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the angling world soon came to recognise the advantages and the quivertip played a massive role in the way we fish today.

Amazingly, the swimfeeder was still a novelty. Feed was introduced by hand or by catapult and an Arlesey bomb delivered the hook to the fish. Swimfeeders had been used for many years, but it was several more before they made their real mark.

I still recall seeing a swimfeeder used for the first time. It was in 1965 on the Great Ouse at St Neots, and when I saw it in action, I almost collapsed with laughter. I could not believe that anyone could throw something like that into a swim and seriously expect to catch anything at all. Surely the disturbance would frighten every fish for miles? In my opinion, only a fool would employ a swimfeeder. How wrong I was.

I’ve often wondered who it could have been that I first saw fishing with a swimfeeder at St Neots. At the time, I was on holiday with my parents, on a houseboat moored directly opposite St Neots common. How fascinating then, to read in John Wilson’s book, 50 Years An Angler (Boxtree), of how he and his friends took large catches of bream on St Neots Common in the early sixties. Logic tells me that it probably wasn’t John on the far bank, but you never know, we live in a very small world and it would make a nice tale. Then again, how many other anglers fished the Common at night for bream during that era? Not many, I’ll gamble.
Like I said, it’s a small world.

Prior to this, except for bream fishing, the leger was predominantly the tool of the specialist angler. Then came the Seventies and in particular the barbel explosion on the River Severn. The stocking, carried out by the Angling Times, of just five hundred fish at Knowle Sands and Arley, had startling results. The barbel bred prolifically and spread rapidly throughout the entire river and its tributaries. Before long, they began to dominate every match. This was seen by some as a disaster. While it was not uncommon to see 801b or even 1001b catches in matches, this would entail using huge quantities of bait. A gallon of hemp and a gallon of casters was often the order of the day. There was only one way to introduce that amount of feed to where the fish lay – the swimfeeder, and what a feeder it was Home-made block-end swimfeeders were described colloquially as cocoa tins because of their size. it was the era of the instant angler. Anglers who knew only one method – and a crude one at that – were winning matches because they were drawing well There were so many barbel in the river then that it was often simply a case of more food, more fish. Skill hardly came into it.

It’s perhaps worth noting the rise in popularity of specialist barbel fishing during the late nineties. Throughout the previous five decades, the capture of a double figure barbel was regarded as a magnificent achievement. Today you might catch three ten pounders in a morning from the Great Ouse and it would hardly warrant a mention in the press. Whether this is because more anglers are now specifically trying to catch big barbel or the species is actually betting bigger, I don’t know, but the increased press coverage has fuelled a popularity spiral that shows no signs of slowing down. One thing is certain, barbel now stand second behind carp in the big fish popularity charts, having comfortably ousted the pike.

Realising that swimfeeder techniques were not limited in their use to the River Severn alone, several talented anglers, particularly Mal Storey and his companions from Kidderminster, chose to export the method to the River Trent. For a while they dominated matches they fished, catching chub from the middle the river, while the locals were still fishing down the edge for roach.
Their dominance did not last long before local anglers such as Colin Walton and Clive Checkley from Newark took over. Ground-bait and caster in open-end feeders was the key to the success of this pair. Furthermore, because barbel were not the main target fish, the methods had to be refined. Whereas barbel seem oblivious to the strongest tackle, chub and skimmers soon learned that the splash of a feeder not only meant food, but that it also meant danger.

How times change, and indeed, how rapidly. Since writing the above, the entire fish population profile of the Trent has completely changed. The roach population has been drastically reduced by cormorant predation and similarly this means few chub are surviving much beyond the fry stage for the same reason, but those that do are growing to previously unimaginable size. More notable though, has been an explosion in the barbel population. Today they are everywhere and growing at a most welcome rate. Fish topping 18 lb have been recorded and fish in the 8 to 11 lb range are relatively common. Indeed in some areas you are as likely to hook a barbel as anything else when fishing with a feeder.

It was around this time that I took up feeder fishing in earnest. For too long I had been blinkered by my float-fishing ideals and had mastered the methods that my stepfather had introduced me to. Indeed, I could proudly show him a clean pair of heels with a stick float but the swimfeeder was winning matches more often than not.

In order to progress, I had to start again. It was essential that I learned how to use the swimfeeder, and quickly. In the early days the swimfeeder had attracted derisive names such as ‘the cruncher’, ‘the plastic pig’ simply ‘the pig’, but the days of crude simplicity were over. More sophisticated methods were in use and attitudes were changing. Tackle was developing rapidly to match the new mood. Fishing the feeder had achieved a degree of subtlety few could have imagined in 1960.

Even my stepfather had accepted the method, often recalling proudly how he won his first match on the River Severn using one. Last Christmas I built him new feeder rod. It pleased him greatly. Sadly, he died before he ever used it. This book is for him.

I do wish I could say that I still have the rod but, alas, I fell victim to the scum that steal anything they can lay their hands on. Thousands of pounds worth of my hard earned tackle disappeared during a break-in. The spoils included his two favourite rods. In monetary terms they were practically worthless.

It wouldn’t hurt half so much if I knew that it was stolen by somebody with a passion for angling, someone who couldn’t afford fine tackle but was desperate to go fishing. Sadly, it was probably stolen and flogged off within days to fuel someone’s drug habit.

But anglers are to blame at the end of the day; they buy the stuff. If they didn’t, there would be no market for the thief’s ill-gotten gains and there would be no point in stealing the stuff in the first place.

Frankly there are no words that can convey my contempt for an angler who is prepared to buy cheap second-hand tackle from a stranger in a pub or on the bankside. Don’t try and tell me that they don’t realise it is stolen, for that insults my intelligence. They know well enough what they are buying and they perpetuate the trade by turning a blind eye rather than reporting the details of who, when and where to the police.

They are no better than the scum that break into our properties and desecrate the contents.

Hmmm, lecture over. Let’s get down to some fishing.

Bob Roberts