Static Feeder Techniques
Throughout this book you will find many references to the term ‘critical balance’, which relates to the amount of lead required for a swimfeeder or leger weight to hold its position against the flow of a river. Lead trim weights are attached to the swimfeeder until it holds the desired position on the riverbed. The further out you choose to fish, the greater the weight required to do this will be. However, if too much weight is added, it will reduce significantly the number of fish you catch. If too little weight is added, your bait will not be in the right place for long enough to catch any fish at all.
If you can create a situation where a swimfeeder is literally teetering on the brink and will move at the slightest disturbance, you have taken your first steps towards becoming a successful feeder angler. It is impossible to place too much emphasis on critical balance, for a perfectly balanced feeder will almost certainly give you the kind of bite we aim to attract at this stage, the drop-back bite.
Trim weights are available in all tackle shops from as small as 1/8th oz. Even weights as small as these can be too large in some circumstances, and on these occasions swan shots can be added to the swimfeeder itself to fine-tune the balance. Obviously, modifications as fine as this are pointless if your casting is not up to standard. If you get the casting right and the balance right, you can look forward to catching a few fish.
Before even attempting to go any further I feel I have to make you, the reader, aware of what I regard as a ‘safe’ rig. Many of the rigs I portrayed in ‘The Complete Book of Legering’ do not meet with the standards I impose upon myself today. Frankly, it appals me when I read magazines and newspapers today in which the use of what I feel are dangerous rigs, are promoted.
If a fish picks up your baited hook and for whatever reason the line breaks at some point between that hook and your reel, it is not unreasonable to expect that the fish can easily get rid of the feeder. To fish in any other way is reprehensible.
I did consider removing whole sections of this chapter on that basis but to do so would leave the field wide open for some imbascile to ‘invent’ those rigs again. I am going to include them for the sake of thoroughness but please, please, do not use them. It is wrong to do so and wild river fish are such a precious resource today that it is wrong to even promote any way of catching them that might put their lives at risk should any mishap whatsoever occur.
Attaching the feeder
I have to confess that the following method of attaching a feeder is one that I no longer subscribe to. Yes, the hook link is weaker than the feeder link but any breakage occuring above the link know means a fish is attached to the feeder and the only way it can rid itself of the feeder is to snap the hook link. Not every fish is powerful enough or capable of snaping a line with a breaking strength similar to it’s own body weight under water. Please read the text and take on board the principle. I’ll explain alternative solutions at the end of the piece.
There are many ways to attach a feeder to your line. Some are so complicated that I am often left wondering if the inventors actually fish or just spend their days by the river tying knots!
The simplest way to start is with the feeder on a fixed paternoster. This is created by taking a 12in length of line and tying it to the reel line with either a three- or four-turn water knot. To tie a water knot is simplicity itself. Lay the length of line alongside the reel line and form a loop with both of them. Pass the ends of both lines through the loop three or four times to suit your preference and then pull up the knot, making sure that you wet the knot before tightening. Clip the small end off and you will have what is called a paternoster link, to which the swimfeeder can be attached.
Most swimfeeders come complete with a loop of line, to which you may attach the paternoster with a half-blood knot. Unfortunately, the half-blood is not the most reliable knot in the world and will have to endure the rigours of casting. Rather than tie a different knot at this point, the best solution is to eradicate it entirely. This is done by lifting up the lead strip under which it is trapped and pulling it free. A loop can then be tied in the end of the paternoster which is slipped under the lead strip; do not forget, of course, to thread it through the feeder cap first. You now have a perfectly serviceable rig and all that remains is to add a hook length on to the main line.
To reduce water resistance when reeling in the feeder for recasting, thread this paternoster through the centre hole of the feeder rather than through the slot provided. The difference is significant, as you will discover if you experiment with both ways.
Attaching the hook
To tie a hook length to the reel line creates a problem. This knot is the point of failure in the majority of cases when a fish breaks free. Many anglers switched to the hi-tech lines for hook lengths when they became available. They had many advantages to offer, particularly as a smaller diameter line could be expected to attract far more bites on heavily fished waters than standard monofilament lines. Unfortunately, in many cases they suffer from a reduction in wet knot strength.
Most anglers tie up their hooks at home on hook lengths of a constant length. This makes sense because it enables them to change hook sizes or hook length strengths without altering tail lengths. This seriously restricts the choice of knots for attaching this hook length. Usually a loop is tied to the end of the reel line for the hook length to be tied to. This leaves the angler with two choices of knot.
In the first case another loop is tied at the end of the hook length and a loop-to-loop knot is used. This knot is sound and reliable. Unfortunately, it tends to be bulky and stand out.
Alternatively, a half-blood knot can be employed, but the manufacturers of hi-tech lines have begun to warn of the pitfalls of this knot, such is its unreliability. Provided that the fish expected do not run too large, the half-blood knot can be employed successfully, but cannot be recommended where large or hard-fighting species are likely to be encountered. Where it can score is in weedy swims when tackle is being lost. It is much cheaper to sacrifice a hook than a swimfeeder.
The safest knot to employ is probably the water knot used to attach the paternoster, although two turns will be quite sufficient. This provides a strong unobtrusive knot that can be relied upon. Unfortunately, each time you have to tie on a new hook due to breakages or tactical reasons, the reel line is cut back by an inch or two. This results in the tail length being shortened, but more significantly, should the distance from the paternoster knot to the hook length knot become shorter than from the paternoster knot to the feeder, then it is possible for the hook length to rub against the feeder itself and become weakened a situation that is certainly not desirable.
When to use this rig
This rig is one of the simplest of all feeder rigs to set up and use. However, it does have its limitations and those are flow and distance. Wherever the flow is slow-to-medium pace, it is a good starting ploy. While it will work efficiently at longer ranges, there are better rigs for that type of work and a rough guide would be to use the rig only where balanced feeders up to 1oz or maybe l½ oz are necessary.
Although I have stated from the outset that I am fan of simplicity and prefer to avoid complicated rig mechanisms, I cannot ignore the fact that fixed paternosters amount to nothing short of being potential ‘death’ rigs. How much more difficult is it, then, to tie the link to a 2mm diameter stainles steel ring and have this running free on your main line. Providing a tiny 4mm soft rubber bead is threaded onto the main line, a similar sized ring can be used to join the main line and hook link together.
You now have a sliding paternoster that is fish friendly while remaining unobtrusive. It will not result in less bites and will take precious little time to construct. Surely the lives of the fish we hope to catch are worth the minimal extra effort.
Starting to fish
The placing of rod-rests is the first decision that must be made before you start to fish. Several factors govern this decision and there are no hard-and-fast rules. Often this causes some confusion among novices. Ideally, on running waters the rod-tip should be positioned as high as is practically possible to lift the maximum amount of line out of the water. This reduces drag on the line and allows the feeder to be fished with less or lighter trim weights.
If the intention is to fish with a bow between the rod and the feeder, then the rod should be positioned slightly downstream. On the other hand, if the circumstances demand a tight line, this may work better with the rod pointing upstream. This is fine in theory, but your peg may have an overhanging bush or a tree restricting your choice, or the sun may be directly in line with where you wish to be, making it impossible to watch the tip. Strong winds may force you to seek shelter for the tip. These and a multitude of other reasons all have a bearing on where you set up.
Where you start to fish is not nearly as crucial as how. Study your peg, make sure there is room to strike, room to cast, and room to position the keep-net and landing-net. Will anything affect the playing and netting of fish? Can you place your box nearby so that in the event of breakages you can repair the damage quickly? Does your bait need protection from the sun or rain? You must ask yourself all these questions before tackling up. A little thought now will head off problems later, so do not rush into things.
Your first cast/balancing the feeder
Having prepared the ground and decided on the distance at which you intend to fish, cast your feeder out towards the marker you chose to establish the correct direction, but do not bait the hook. Until the tackle has been trimmed up accurately, there is no point in confusing the issue with bites. This cast should land slightly upstream of your position, so that the feeder comes to rest directly in front of you, although, if you are not match fishing, casting a few yards further upstream will give even more pronounced bites. Feed a few yards of line to the feeder and put the rod in the rests. As the feeder falls through the water, the quiver-tip will take on a bend until it reaches the bottom, whereupon it will relax before once more pulling forwards as the current takes its effect on the line. Watch carefully at this point for any movement of the tip. If no movement takes place, then too much lead has been added to the feeder and this must be reduced. Conversely, if the tip pulls forward only to judder back before pulling again, then the feeder is not holding its position and more or larger trim weights will have to be added.
By trial and error you will eventually reach a situation where the feeder is just holding nicely and it is at this point that many anglers think the job is done. It is not. If the feeder is holding, it is still overweighted. Cast out again, let the tackle settle and drop the front rod-rest by an inch and study the tip. By doing this you have increased the amount of line in the water and thus increased the pressure on the feeder. If it holds, then it is still overweighted. Repeat the procedure, dropping the front rest by just an inch at a time until the feeder moves.
Making these adjustments in small increments means that you can establish the point at which the feeder is balanced exactly. As soon as the first movement is detected, it is time to raise the front rest an inch and the feeder will be perfectly trimmed. When this is achieved, a fish has only to breathe on the bait and it will dislodge the feeder. When this happens, the quiver-tip will spring back, indicating the perfect drop- back bite.
Taking out an insurance policy
A term you will hear all to frequently when anglers relate their familiar tales of woe is ‘crack-off’. For example, ‘If I hadn’t been cracked-off twice, I would have won the match.’ This is when the line, invariably the hook length, is snapped by a vicious bite. Unprepared anglers suffer these crack-offs all too often. It is impossible to eliminate the phenomenon entirely, but steps can be taken to limit their occurrence if a little extra care is taken. The first thing to do is to set carefully that expensive clutch you have paid for. Many anglers simply tighten up the clutch and forget it when they are fishing, but it can be vital where fish like barbel or carp can occur. Rod-wrenching bites frequently result in a hook length being broken before the angler has a chance to react.
It can happen also when chub are competing with each other for food. Individual fish rush into where the bait is lying, suck up all they can and then suddenly bolt out of the area. Presumably, they feel that unless they get away from the pack, they will lose the food they have picked up. When chub behave in this manner, the tendency is for them to hook themselves instantly. Unfortunately, if they happen to bolt directly away from the rod, crack-offs can and will occur.
By slackening off the clutch after casting, the incidence of crack-offs can be significantly reduced. Should a violent bite occur, the line will be yielded by the reel rather than by the fish slamming into the rod with the inevitable result. In order to do this successfully, the first priority is to use a rod-rest that does not trap the line. The line must be free between the reel and the fish, or you are wasting your time. The clutch is set in such a way that the pressure of the river alone is almost sufficient to release line. This is done by slackening it off completely until the spool rotates and then gradually tightening up to stop it. Should a savage take occur now, the reel will instantly release line to it.
All that remains now is to check the clutch setting number, which is usually found on the setting knob; you will be able to reset it correctly after every new cast. Obviously, if you reel in without having had a bite to refill the feeder and recast, it will be necessary to tighten up the clutch a little in order to do so.
Striking and playing fish on the clutch
If you study the sequence described so far, you will notice two important principles of feeder fishing. First, when a bite occurs, the likelihood is that for the feeder or rod-tip to have moved, the hook itself will certainly be inside the fish’s mouth; more often than not, because the hook is extremely sharp with either a flattened down barb or a micro barb, it is actually lightly hooked already. Secondly, the line is in tension between the rod-tip and the fish. If you now strike wildly, the chances are that you will either rip the hook out of the fish’s mouth or, worse still, you will snap on the strike. Striking in these circumstances is necessary only to secure the full penetration of a hook that is already half-way home. It needs to be no more than a gentle lift. In most cases, simply picking up the rod and feeling for the gentle ‘bump’ that tells you a fish is hooked is adequate, provided, of course, that you have placed your forefinger or middle finger on the spool to stop it revolving.
Assuming that you have mastered the hooking procedure, which can be difficult at first because instinct, eagerness, enthusiasm and excitement all combine to make you over-react, you will now have a fish on the hook that is immediately free to take line against the clutch should you choose to lift your finger from the spool.
Having overcome the most frequent cause of fish losses at the bite, you now face the second most common cause of failure. As soon as fish such as chub feel a hook penetrate, they tend to panic. This is totally understandable. More-over, their initial reaction is to bolt in the opposite direction to where the danger lies. Because they feel a hook which is attached to a line pulling in your direction, they generally choose to swim straight towards the far bank. The power produced on this first burst is quite remarkable and a 1lb chub can easily break a 21b line. So often anglers hook a fish that suddenly wrenches the rod almost out of their grip and breaks free. The angler is left convinced that he has been ‘seen off’ by a huge fish. Often that fish was simply a modest-sized chub or barbel that he wasn’t prepared for.
With your clutch set to release line at the slightest pull, you should avoid this happening to you. All that remains is to tighten up the clutch a little and play the fish gently towards you. Provided that your tackle has survived the bite and the initial explosive burst of action, and there are no obstacles between you and the fish, the rest should be plain sailing until you come to the final hurdle, netting the fish.
Netting the fish
A swimfeeder rod is rarely in full compression while a fish is being played until the moment when the fish is underneath the rod-top and you have to bring it to the surface. A large fish can sometimes ‘lock-up’ a rod here – that is, it has reached its maximum test curve and does not respond easily to the fish’s lunges, which always become desperate at this stage. Where they find those extra reserves of energy is remarkable. Fortunately, you can predict that it is going to happen and prepare for it. The fish will use every ounce of cunning to find a snag and escape. It has numerous options to choose from and none is more popular with chub than the keep-net itself. There is always going to be a multitude of options open to the fish, such as weed, debris, tree roots, branches or rocks.
Despite this, the most common cause of fish losses at the netting stage is not snagging-up. The biggest problem is that the hook pulls out. That hook has been working loose gradually, and it only needs a tiny bit of extra pressure for a disaster to occur.
To avoid such a disaster, the clutch should be slackened off just prior to bringing the fish to the surface. Any dramatic finales the fish may have planned for you should then be catered for. One very important point to bear in mind is that, if possible, the fish should only be brought to the surface once, and that is when the net goes under it. If a fish is not ready for netting, don’t bring it to the surface unnecessarily. Actions like that can only spell disaster. Take your time and tire the fish out in open water where you are in control and then bring it to the net. Never, in any circumstances, chase the fish with the net. Simply prepare the ground by having the net submerged in front of you and, as the fish is drawn smoothly over it, lift gently and the fish will be yours. Never rush the job and never panic.
Bites and work rate
When feeder fishing, bites vary constantly from day to day and from species to species. The initial aim in river fishing is to create the drop-back bite whereby a fish picks up the hook-bait and dislodges the swimfeeder. Indoing so, the hook tends to penetrate lightly somewhere in the mouth. This type of bite is seen clearly on the rod-tip, for it will spring backwards. When bites like this occur, it is not unusual to connect with every one. Chub and barbel commonly give this kind of indication.
Often, even when a swimfeeder is perfectly balanced, different types of bite occur. If a fish picks up the hook-bait and turns directly away from you, the bite will register as a pull on the tip. Despite the clear indication, these are frequently missed. Sometimes the tip will merely tremble or show a gentle pluck as the fish takes the bait, but does not move far enough to dislodge the swimfeeder. Small fish are often responsible for this, but it is not always the case. There are days when even the largest fish give only tiny indications. What is certain is that, provided you concentrate fully, some sort of discernible bite will register on the tip.
To turn these bites into fish, they must all be struck at. Often the bite turns out to be a paper-bag or floating leaves. You may find yourself striking time and time again at nothing in particular. This can be very frustrating and the temptation is to give up and wait for a positive bite, but this is not the answer. Feeder fishing can be hard work and to be successful involves sticking to the task. The angler who develops his work rate is an angler who will catch more fish than the next man.
It is not necessarily true that small fish mean small bites, because often the humble gudgeon is responsible for spectacular bites, yet large bream might give only the tiniest pull. To disregard even the smallest indication is folly, but if small bites do occur, then there are a few options open to you to try to improve the situation.
Tail lengths, bites and fish behaviour
So far, I have avoided mentioning any dimensions about tackling up because there are no hard-and-fast rules in legering and it is a rare day when you finish the day fishing a feeder in the same way as you began. A good starting point is to have the feeder around 6in from the water knot and the hook maybe 2ft away. Provided hittable bites are attracted, there is no immediate need to change the rig. However, if bites come and you keep missing them, the first thing to try is shorter tail lengths. Make the hook length 18in, but if you have no luck with that, shorten the feeder length to 3in. If the fish are still biting but not connecting, shorten the hook length further to perhaps 12in.
What you are doing is making the bite register sooner on the tip and also by shortening the overall distance between the hook and the feeder, you are increasing the likelihood of the fish hooking itself.
Sometimes this does not have the desired effect and it may be necessary to increase the tail lengths rather than shorten them. To understand why, you must imagine what is going on under the water.
Two things happen to the bait contained within a feeder when it is cast out into the swim. On impact with the water, some of the bait bursts out. The rest stays inside until, after settling on the bottom, it is either washed out by the current or crawls out of its own accord. All your initial attempts have been aimed at catching the fish attracted on to this area around the feeder from where the bait is escaping. Usually you will be successful, although do not expect the fun to last because the fish soon become wise and come to associate the swimfeeder itself with danger, but because they still wish to eat the food contained within it, will change their feeding habits. Fish soon realise that any bait off the bottom is safe and that the bait washed down with the current away from the feeder is also safe.
Commonly, anglers fishing the feeder are rewarded with a few quick fish only to find that the peg dries up. The angler believes that the fish have gone from his swim, but the fish are usually still in the peg. What has happened is that the fish have changed their pattern of feeding in recognition of the danger. The fish have adapted to the circumstances. It is up to the angler to adapt, too.
By switching to a longer hook length, which can be as long as 6ft or more, should you wish, you can alter the presentation of the bait. For a start, instead of being taken straight to the riverbed by the feeder, it will now fall slowly through the water, enabling you to catch fish that are swimming and feeding some way off the bed. You are fishing in a manner that can take fish at all levels.
Fish that are shy of the feeder generally drop down the peg and wait for the bait to be carried to them by the current. An angler fishing a fixed feeder with a short hook length will be unaware of their presence. The longer tail now puts you closer to them and you should begin to catch again.
What length is correct?
Assuming that you have contacted the fish again and are getting bites, how do you know if the tail length is correct? Obviously, if you are hitting every bite, there is no reason to change your tactics. Simply continue in the same way until the circumstances change. However, let us imagine that you are hitting only every other bite. The clue to what action to take is contained in the fish’s mouth. If you are using the disgorger frequently to remove the hook, then the chances are that your tail is too long. The fish are swallowing the bait long before a bite is registering. Equally, they have plenty of time to reject that bait if they become suspicious of it in any way. The answer in this case is to shorten the tail.
Alternatively, if you are missing bites and those you catch are mostly lip-hooked, it is likely that the missed bites are a result of the fish feeling some resistance. In this circumstance, try lengthening the tail to overcome the problem.
When refilling the feeder, it is essential that you always check the hook-bait for signs of damage. Often bites occur that you do not see and it is pointless casting back out without changing the hook-bait first. There are days when these mystery bites will make you feel very frustrated. No matter how hard you concentrate, there is no indication that a fish has had the bait in its mouth, yet each cast sees the bait taken.
The phenomenon happens mostly in summer and is caused by fish – not necessarily small ones swimming high in the water. Skimmer bream are frequently the culprits. Your bait is intercepted but the fish doesn’t swim off. It simply smashes the bait and then rejects it.
If you shorten the tail length, as I have suggested, the hook will simply plummet through these fish to the bottom and bites will apparently cease. Provided that you recognise the situation for what it is, these fish can be caught.
For successful fishing in these circum-stances, stay with the long tail, perhaps even extending it, and begin to count seconds from when the feeder lands. On your first cast try counting to six and then strike. Reel straight back in and check the hook-bait. If a bite has already occurred, you must try striking at five seconds on the next cast, then at four seconds and so on, until you find the depth at which the fish are feeding. If no bite has occurred, then obviously the count has to be increased. Soon you will establish where the fish are and you should start to hit these mystery bites.
Be aware of the fact that bites will start to tail off, as the fish will rarely stay at one level for very long. When this happens, simply adjust your count-down either way until you come back into contact again.
This method invariably works better if an open-ended feeder is employed. When doing so, mix the ground-bait very dry so that it will explode out of the feeder on impact and thereby encourage the fish to stay high up in the water.
Of small fish and missing bites
It is not unusual in summer to fish rivers like the Trent and to be plagued by small fish to the extent that you have a bite on every cast, yet hit only one bite out of three or worse. Very often it will not matter how often you alter the tail lengths, because the result is just the same. When this happens, it seems impossible to build up any kind of weight because so much time is lost reeling in, rebaiting and casting out again. In order to make a weight of these small fish, it becomes essential to catch a fish on virtually every cast. Many anglers think this is impossible and give up.
The answer lies not in hitting every bite, but in catching a fish every cast. By way of explanation, if you can hit one bite in three and attract three bites per cast, then logically you can catch a fish every cast. You may wonder how you can get three bites per cast. The answer lies with two contradictions.
First, critical balance has to be dispensed with. To succeed, it is important that the feeder does not move when a bite occurs. As a result, it will probably hook as many fish as you do. By slightly over-weighting the feeder, it becomes a semi-bolt rig.
When a bite registers on the quiver-tip, gently lift the rod and hold it there. Down at the business end, the swimfeeder is lifted off the bottom, whereupon it swings towards you. The weight of the swinging feeder should be sufficient to hook the fish. If a fish is hooked, you will either see it rattling the tip or simply feel it. Alternatively, if you failed to connect with the bite, the feeder has remained in the killing zone ready for a second bite.
Obviously, that next bite will not come if the bait has been damaged, which brings us to our second contradiction: use poor quality hook-bait. Always carry a handful of old maggots with you in summer in case you are faced with this all-to-common situation. Last week’s leftovers are ideal. Store them in sawdust, in a fridge, and they will toughen up to perfection. They look awful and feel awful but this does not seem to deter the small fish. One thing you can guarantee is that they will not smash them very easily. This is the secret to getting those three, or even more bites each cast.
Bows v tight lines
If you walk along a riverbank where anglers are feeder fishing, you will see some anglers tightening up the line between quiver-tip and swimfeeder. You may well see others creating a bow between them. Should you question both groups of anglers, it is likely that each will be adamant that theirs is the right way. To be fair to both parties, neither way is wrong, yet neither is right. Each style has its supporters, but to get the best out of every situation you cannot afford to be dogmatic. Versatility is the key.
The first rule-of-thumb to employ is to study the pace of the water. Should the water be stood or flowing very slowly, the tight line approach is essential. If, on the other hand, the river is very pacy, you will have no alternative but to fish with a bow. In fast water it is all but impossible to tighten up to a lead without causing it to move. A swimfeeder that will hold with 1oz of lead when a bow is fed into the line will probably require 2oz or more if you attempt to tighten up to it.
Wherever you can fish with a bow it can be used to your advantage. Study the diagram and you will see how a swimfeeder lies on the riverbed. Many publications imply that the feeder lies across the current, when in reality it tends to face downstream. What is more, in this set-up you will see when a fish picks up the bait that there is almost a direct line between itself and the swimfeeder. This means that when there is a bow in the line, a biting fish hooks itself against the weight of the feeder more often than not before a bite is seen on the rod-tip.
Obviously, the likelihood that this will occur increases as the size of the bow increases; however, the indication of the tip decreases with the size of the bow. The reason for this is that the feeder becomes virtually free-standing against the flow. The pressure from the line on it comes from a downstream direction. A bite simply increases this pressure, momentarily dislodging it. As soon as the feeder moves downstream towards the biting fish, the pressure is released and the feeder stops again.
The greater the size of the bow, the less lead is required to hold, but the indication of a bite may well be less obvious to the eye. Despite the bow, striking does not have to be wild and over-zealous to compensate. Before a bite registers, the hook is already in the fish’s mouth. Striking is necessary to move the hook point perhaps an eigth of an inch, but no more. It is not necessary to straighten the bow to effect the strike. Many people fail to realise that the water holds the bow in position and a strike immediately pulls the end of the tackle towards you as surely as if the line was tight.
Bows also represent an insurance policy against savage biting fish such as barbel. I have described elsewhere their feeding behaviour within a shoal and it is obvious that should your bait be taken in this manner, then crack-offs against the rod-tip are all but eliminated as a result of the slack line a bow creates in these circumstances. The one problem that can arise, particularly when using light hook lengths or low-stretch lines, is breakages caused by the weight of the feeder itself. Despite the fact that the swimfeeder, plus whatever trim weights are added, amount to much less than the breaking strain of the hook link, inertia, friction and riverbed obstacles or characteristics can combine together to present breakage problems where savage takes are encountered. It is for these reasons that consideration has to be given to the use of different types of rigs, modified swimfeeders and in particular power-gum.
Everything I have written up to this point regarding the positioning of rods, bite registration, hook lengths and so on is as relevant today as it was on the day I wrote the original text. However, I have little choice but to contradict myself in the next section. Let me state, once and for all, feeder rigs in which the feeder is trapped inside a loop of any description are potentially lethal. I no longer use them and cannot condone their use by others. They should be outlawed forthwith because they have the potential to put a fishes life at risk. I am not prepared to play any part in promoting that concept.
Please treat the following paragraphs as historical. Repeated merely for the fact that they represent the way many leading anglers used to fish, rather than a suggested way that you might fish.
Introducing a length of power-gum into your rigs creates an element of shock absorption that helps to take some of the strain when casting heavy feeders a long way, as well as reducing savage bite failures. It was the introduction of this material that led directly to the development of the most common rig in use on rivers today, the double-loop rig.
This rig has endless variations, but in essence the double-loop rig contains one loop in which a swimfeeder is free to slide up and down and another is designed to attach a hook length to. The swimfeeder is adapted to take a loop of power-gum attached under its lead strip, which is then passed through the feeder cap. On to this loop is threaded either a bead, a swivel or simply a piece of Biro tube. Frankly, in most circumstances the Biro tube is not only the cheapest solution, but it is also the most effective because its larger diameter centre enables a much freer movement of line through it (see diagrams).
Power-gum is available generally in three different strengths. The medium power is preferable for this kind of work.
Power gum can still be used in similar circumstances, but preferably in a series of rigs that I will describe in detail later on.
The use of loops provides an endless variety of permutations that can be employed by the feeder angler. There are no hard-and-fast rules to determine the dimensions of these loops nor, for that matter, are there any restrictions upon how many can be employed. To understand the need for these loops it is necessary first to understand their function.
The loop nearest the angler or furthest away from the hook contains the swimfeeder. This is free to slide along the length of the loop which can vary considerably. A simple guideline is smaller loops, say 4in, are used when casting long distances. For shorter casts, longer loops of about 8-12in can be employed. The reason for this is that the further out a feeder is fished, or the greater the amount of lead required to achieve the necessary critical balance, the more likely it is that bites will be indicated as drop-backs. Conversely, when fishing relatively close in or with very little or no additional weight, the probability of pulls on the quiver-tip increase.
These are mere guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. There is nothing to stop you using any sized loop if you feel that that set-up will increase the number of fish you catch. Remember, a rig that works well today can fail tomorrow. If you stay flexible and are prepared to experiment, you will be successful. However, if you use the same tactics everywhere, irrespective of circumstances, your catches will be but a shadow of what they could be.
The second or subsequent loops exist to tie the hook length to and to protect the hook length from damage against the swimfeeder and its trim weights. They can also be used to make the hook length stand off from the feeder loop and help to eliminate tangles.
As stated earlier, I no longer condone or promote the use of loops.
Beads, swivels or biro tube?
When the rigs described in this chapter first began to appear on the match-fishing circuit, they usually incorporated a swivel. The power-gum was attached through one eye and the loop in the reel line ran through the other. Most developments of this nature tend to be pioneered in the match-fishing world as its exponents continually search for better methods that will give them that crucial edge over their fellow competitors.
Fortunately, there are few secrets among matchmen and any new developments are soon common knowledge. This knowledge is generally passed on through the many excellent educational articles published in the weekly angling press to the rest of the angling community shortly afterwards.
Occasionally, a little fine-tuning takes place after the methods enter the public domain. Even if the changes do start to appear in future features, the actual thinking and reasoning behind the changes is rarely explained.
The use of swivels is a case in point. Many diagrams that are published nowadays will show a two-loop rig with a bead rather than a swivel, without explaining the logic behind it. The use of a swivel was originally a means to an end. Swivels might well work for sea anglers battling with monster conger eels, but in virtually all coarse-angling situations they are simply no more than a convenient item to tie a line to. There is insufficient resistance in day-to-day fishing-lines to force a swivel to rotate rather than the line. It just does not happen. Swivels simply collect rubbish.
Unfortunately, getting snagged up is all in a day’s fun when you are legering – in fact, some days seem to be spent entirely with the tackle stuck in some snag or other. If a swivel is used in these circumstances, tackle losses are likely to increase as a result of the small diameter of the wire in contact with the line.
To use a Biro tube instead, with its wider diameter and softer materials of construction lessens the chances of the line breaking, but only at the expense of the tube failing, with the same resultant loss of a swimfeeder.
The logical solution where snags are known to exist is to use a bead. Its greater surface area in contact with the line reduces the number of failures at that point and the bead will not fail. Unfortunately, this will not guarantee the safe recovery of your swimfeeder; nothing can do that, but at least it gives you your best chance of success. At the very worst it has saved you the cost of a swivel when you tackle up again!
Since writing the above, Fox International and a number of other carp accessory manufacturers have introduced a range of tiny stainless steel rig rings that make ideal replacements for swivels in feeder rigs.
Alternatively you may wish to consider one of my favourite ways of attaching a feeder and that is by threading a tail rubber and a Korda lead clip onto your main line before attaching the appropriate matching swivel to the end of the main line. The clip fits snuggly over the swivel and once your feeder loop is slipped over the ‘trigger’ of the clip, it is secured in place with the tail rubber. You now have a fixed feeder that will safely withstand the most determined cast while retaining the propensity to break free should an unfortunate breakage occur. This has become the rig I favour for 90 per cent of my big fish angling on rivers.
By the time you have read this far you will have learned enough to go out on to the riverbank and catch fish using simple tried and trusted legering techniques. In an attempt to keep these basic methods interesting, I have deliberately not discussed several important points so that the explanations are not full of technicalities. However, now that the basics have been covered, the finer points can be discussed.
Swimfeeders come in many guises and if you study the many different types available in tackle shops you could be forgiven for wondering why they need to be modified further when they will clearly catch fish as they are. The reasons lie in better bite indications, casting efficiency, tangle reduction and control of feed distribution.
If you fish with the simple rig described on page 38, the chances are that after a while the swimfeeder cap will start to wear and work loose. As a result, it will flip off as the feeder hits the water when casting out. You will not lose the cap because it will slide up the line, riding over the knot until it reaches as far as the hook length will allow. Sometimes the hook tangles with the feeder, sometimes with the cap itself. It is messy and time-consuming, and because the feed contained within it bursts out on the surface, it becomes impossible to feed the fish into a tight area. Obviously, this is not desirable.
To prevent the cap from sliding too far up the line is simple, because a bead or split shot
can be put on the link above the feeder. Unfortunately, this will not stop the feed bursting out and the device itself becomes a tangling hazard. Undoubtedly, the best solution is to reverse the swimfeeder on the link and to have its cap at the bottom. There are many alternative ways of doing this, a number of which are described in the accompanying sketches.
You will also see in every sketch that whether line or power-gum is used on the links, it is always threaded through the centre hole of the feeder and not the slot provided by the manufacturer. The reason for this is to reduce water resistance when reeling in. Strange though it may seem, this small modification reduces the drag by almost half and saves considerable wear and tear on the reel line.
In the ideal situation a swimfeeder should empty its load momentarily before a bite occurs. This way bait is concentrated in the killing zone and is not spread all over the swim as a fish is played to the net.
The release of maggots from a swimfeeder is governed by the size and number of holes in it. When trim weights are added, they reduce the number of holes available for bait to escape through and when you also consider that the uppermost holes can only be utilised by maggots while the feeder is still full enough for them to reach those holes, you can see that very few of the holes in a feeder can actually be used.
This is not too much of a problem in winter when activity is reduced and the bait has time to escape slowly, ensuring a small but steady trickle of loose feed past the hook-bait. However, in summer when fish are more active and bites more frequent, it is essential that the speed of escape is stepped up to compensate. Of course, the warmer air and water temperatures combine to make the bait livelier and escape quicker, but this alone is seldom enough. The size of the holes in the swimfeeder usually have to be increased either by using a drill bit or a pair of scissors. If casters and hempseed are the chosen feed, it is perhaps better to cut slots in the feeder by joining up some of the holes diagonally.
Conversely, if activity is very slow, some of the holes can be blocked up completely with waterproof insulating-tape, or if you have chosen one of the popular Thamesley swimfeeders, specially designed plugs are available that actually fit into the holes.
Numerous other adaptations are used but for the meantime I will leave the subject and return to it when these modifications are relevant to the text.