A Beginners Guide to Match Fishing

Ever fancied testing your skills in the match angling scene? It can be a great buzz, not to mention a sure way to improve your fishing skills. Dom Garnett has some useful advice and match fishing tips to share, with additional pictures from Jamie Lee.

Dom Garnett fishing on riverbank

They’re not for everyone, but matches add an extra excitement to your fishing.

Although it’s something I do once in a while rather than every week these days, I can highly recommend match fishing as a way of improving your angling skills. Many readers associate my name with humorous fishing stories and my exploits mixing coarse and fly fishing methods; but it is less well known that in my younger days I was very much smitten with match fishing.

My first efforts began as a teenager back in the mid 90’s when I arrived at a canal fishing contest with my ragged-looking seatbox and pole to take on the grown-ups. I learned an important lesson that day: if you’re friendly and ask questions, even the guys who want to beat you will often share information and set you on your way.

On that particular match, I amazed myself as well as the regulars, as my catch of mostly perch and eels scooped a section win – and I instantly understood the buzz of match angling. Nearly thirty years on, I am a more occasional match angler, but many of the lessons stuck and are still with me today.

How to Start Match Fishing

Before you even begin to enter competitions, it’s important to consider if you’re ready for it. You needn’t be a champion, but matches are no place for a complete beginner. A good rule is to start by looking for matches fished on venues you know and where you are confident of catching fish.

There are two main types of match to enter: a club match and a so-called open match. Open matches tend to be held on well-stocked day ticket fisheries these days, and are called ‘open’ because they’re open to everyone.

Entry fees and prizes can be high. The money involved may draw some very skilled anglers, as well as locals who know the water like their own back yard. Not ideal for someone starting out.

Dom Garnett with net full of fish

Matches are won on weight of fish, rather than numbers or individual specimens.

A club match is likely to be a far better first experience. These are held by local fishing clubs, often on more traditional waters like rivers and canals. They’re usually friendlier, involving fewer anglers and lower entry fees and prizes.

Lower prizes mean that the anglers tend to be more helpful and the atmosphere is more relaxed. There will still probably be some very good local anglers, but you have a realistic chance to compete on club level.

Match Fishing Methods and Waters

Man sitting by lake fishing

You’ll need to be versatile to compete in matches; but pole fishing is often essential

One of the first rules of match fishing is that you must be prepared to adapt your methods. It is no use fishing the waggler if all the winning weights are coming on the method feeder, for example.

Of all the methods you’re likely to need to compete, the pole is probably the most important. This is simply because it offers unrivalled finesse and presentation at shorter distances. That said, local club matches might just as easily require you to catch on the stick float or the method feeder, or use baits that you wouldn’t normally consider.

In short, match fishing will quickly challenge your skills and force you to improve at various methods. You’d be sensible to pick matches that suit your strengths at first, but you’ll need to be a good all-rounder if you want to develop.

Match Fishing Rules and Essentials

So how does a typical fishing match work? You must let the organiser know you want to fish. You’ll need to book a place, and pay an entry fee. The entry money from each angler goes into a pot, with the winner and runners up getting the prize money.

There may also be “optional pools”. These are additional prizes you can compete for, if you are feeling confident.

Matches are usually organised into groups of anglers called “sections”. For example, a match of 24 anglers might be divided into three sections of eight. This ensures some fairness, because even if you draw in an area where it is very difficult to win outright, there will still be a prize for beating your neighbours.

Every match has its own rules, so do familiarise yourself with these. If you fail to do this, the official regulations could lead to disadvantage or even disqualification to you!

One classic example I can think of is a local club with a special rule on pike. In most club and open matches, pike don’t count. But my local club’s canal has so many tiny jacks, they include these in the tally.

In one of the biggest annual matches, a visiting angler caught a pike of 5-6lbs. Not knowing the rule, he immediately released the fish that would have won him the whole event! The moral is simple: know the competition rules!

The Draw

Before the match, you’ll be allotted a numbered spot (better known as a “peg”) at random. The draw is always exciting. You can try to be early or late in the queue, but most of us like to be early, because this way you have a chance to draw any peg still available in the match.

Cross your fingers and go for it. Ask the other competitors where your peg is if you’re not sure, and if it is a good spot. You’re likely to get different opinions, but don’t despair if it isn’t a “flyer” (the term match anglers use to describe a really good mark where you have a chance to win the match).

You might also draw a lot called the “scales peg”. Each section requires an angler to act as an official at the end of the match who will weigh each competitor in the section.It is an extra responsibility but it’s also a good way to see what’s being caught, and chat to other anglers at the end of the match. Do point out to others if its your first time, because they are sure to help you out.

Starting the Match

Fish bait being added to water

Accurate baiting up is a must, but you must only feed once the match has started!

In the time before the match starts, set your tackle up, get comfortable and carefully assess your peg. Plumbing the depth is a vital step here, both to suss out where the fish might be and to get your float rigs set at the perfect depth.

Every match will have an allotted start and finish time, signalled by a whistle, hooter or a good old fashioned cry of “all in!” or “that’s it!” to start or end proceedings. Before the opening signal you must not bait your hook or introduce any bait at all!

Once the match starts, most anglers will start by feeding some bait. You can certainly overdo the amount you put in, but it is usually good to be positive, not to mention as accurate as you can be. More on this in our tips section!

The Main Event

During the match itself, concentration and the ability to read the peg are vital. Few match anglers have only one plan, because even a usually reliable tactic might not go as planned on the day. This is why anglers tend to fish several different “lines” in the same swim.

You might try a short line at just four metres to start with, for example, but also put some bait further out. Really skillful anglers will sometimes juggle as many as six different areas, moving between them when bites dry up in each patch.

Contests tend to last four or five hours, but shorter evening matches are also popular in some areas. Keep track of the time, and plan an overall strategy. Five hours is a long time, and on most venues you’d be very lucky to keep catching for the whole contest from just one peg.

Anglers with catch net

Catches are weighed at the end of the match. Now is a good time to see what has been caught and ask your fellow anglers a few questions. (pic: Jamie Lee)

Match Fishing Tips

The world of match fishing is a varied and challenging one, but some golden rules apply to most matches.

  • Perhaps the best tip is not to be too disheartened if you fare poorly at first.
  • There is a lot to learn, but by listening carefully, asking questions and watching others, you are sure to improve. And even if you don’t become a regular match angler, I guarantee that the experience will make you better at fishing.
4 fishing rods

Preparation is key in matches. Here, an angler has set up several rigs- marking accurate depths in correction fluid is a classic match angler’s tip (pic: Jamie Lee).

  • You can learn a lot just by watching skilled anglers at work. It’s not as much fun as fishing, but just doing the rounds at an event, or perhaps even going to a contest as a spectator can be a great way to pick up tips and learn new skills.
  • Little details count for a lot in match fishing. Whether it is having your float dotted right down, feeding bait accurately, or practicing unhooking fish and rebaiting quickly and efficiently, the small things add up.
  • Always think about where you can improve or save time, even if it seems quite a small difference. In the end, no match angler has a magic wand. But the competitor who does lots of things a little better than the average angler will gain a big advantage!
  • Practise very much makes perfect in match fishing. Even when pleasure fishing, you can be trying out different rigs, baits and approaches. For example, what happens if you step up your loose feed? Can you tempt different species by making your rig sink faster or slower? Does a change to a bigger or different bait result in a better stamp of fish? Keep asking these questions and your results will improve.
  • Perhaps the most important skill in match fishing is feeding. Doing this accurately is crucial. Feed too much and you could kill the swim; feed too little and the fish might go to someone feeding more aggressively. Do experiment and try to gauge what the fish want on the day. Usually little, often and accurate is a good way to start.
  • Presentation is another key part of match fishing. Finer lines and smaller hooks tend to earn more bites. You don’t have to fish with gear that risks a break off every other cast, but it is worth refining what you do. Get into the habit of using lower diameter lines and smaller hooks than you might for a pleasure fishing bash. For shy-biting fish, it can make a huge difference.
Fish in net

Cute presentation is a must, because it will get you more bites.

  • Think about your swim and the different areas or “lines” you fish carefully. By keeping these at different angles, well away from each other, you can avoid inadvertently spooking your quarry as you play a fish. For example, if you have a line simmering nicely at five metres to your right, the last thing you want to be doing is dragging fish through it every time you get one on your ten metre line.
  • Keep a diary and note down your mistakes and successes and what you learned each match.
  • Last but not least: the best thing about match fishing is that you never stop learning. Do chat and compare notes with others, while reading all that you can. Sources like Angling Times and Match Fishing Magazine are excellent, not only for match results but for tips and advice from the best, such as Dave Harrell, Steve Ringer and Bob Nudd.

Further Info

For more features, photography and a range of books and gifts, check out Dom Garnett’s new website at www.dgfishing.co.uk. For match reports and results, head to simplematchfishing.co.uk. And if you’ve got any good match tips or stories to share, let us know on our Facebook page.

A Beginner’s Guide To Commercial Fisheries

Perch

Perch are plentiful in many commercial fisheries

Commercial fisheries provide accessible sport for a whole range of popular species, while offering consistent fishing for everyone.

Read this great advice and top tips on fishing day ticket lakes from author and angling coach, Dom Garnett, to get you started.

Commercial fisheries are some of the easiest and most accessible locations of all. This is especially true for those who are newer to the sport, or returning to angling after an absence.

But even experienced anglers will visit them for a bite-filled day out. When rivers are flooded or the going is tough on so called “natural” waters, day ticket lakes provide welcome and consistent sport.

Accessible, bite-filled fishing

Roach

Roach are present on most commercials and offer sport all year round.

There are many kinds of day ticket fishing lakes across the UK. Many “commercial fisheries” have certain characteristics in common. They’re generally man made, relatively small in size and with high stocks of fish, from small roach and perch to larger carp. They often have better access than natural waters, with well-marked spots or platforms to fish from.

‘Traditional’ anglers may scoff, but these safe and relatively easy fishing lakes have several advantages. For one thing, you tend to pay by the day. There’s no special membership is, and discounts are often available for juniors and pensioners. Anyone can fish these waters.

They have plenty of smaller fish to keep kids happy, while those less mobile won’t have to carry gear for half a mile to get a decent spot.

Many anglers (and their families) also appreciate the fact that a lot of them have toilets, shelter and even somewhere to buy tackle and a cup of coffee on site.

However, in our discussion of “commercial” lakes, we should also add that there are a great variety of other venues that also share similar characteristics. The same tactics and advice discussed here will also ring true for many other locations, including park lakes, village ponds and small stillwaters run by fishing clubs.

How to fish a typical commercial style fishery

Angler with fish in net

You should have no problem finding fish in a commercial lake

Perhaps the best thing of all about day ticket lakes is the sheer number and variety of fish present. Unlike on a river or a big reservoir, you should have few problems finding the fish and getting bites. But just because there are plenty of fish to catch, it doesn’t mean that you can simply turn up and cast anywhere.

The first step to tackling a commercial lake is to do a little homework and have a good look round. Chat to the owner and other anglers; these fisheries tend to be friendly places where regulars will share advice. Sources such as websites and forums are also handy. They can tell you a lot about the best areas to fish and which baits and tactics to use.

Hot Spots and Features

Angler near bank

You needn’t fish far out on a commercial. Sometimes the bank itself is a good feature.

Not all “swims” (the term anglers use for individual spots on the lake) are equal on any lake, so it’s always a good idea to have a walk round and a think before you set up.

It’s true that some lakes can look rather bare or uniform, but many have tempting features such as islands, overhanging trees or lily beds. All of these will hold fish. You may also see obvious signs on a quick walk round, such as fish cruising or clouding the bottom as they feed.

Other features are invisible at first glance. For example, the depth can vary greatly- and areas that offer something different or a sudden change can help you find the fish. The shallows or “margins” can be a great place for summer fishing, for example, when fish such as carp and tench will come very close in to feed. But when it’s colder, the fish might be holding a little further out where there’s deeper, warmer water.

Ready, steady, fish

Angler on bank

There’s no need to cast miles out from the bank on a commercial lake

So you’ve found a spot you like the look of. You might already have seen signs of fish. But how should you start fishing? Another nice thing about commercials is that various different techniques will work. Nine times out of ten, however, my advice would be to try float fishing first, whether you try rod and line tactics or bring a pole.

The float is a great way to get plenty of bites. It’s also an ideal method to test the water’s depth. This is the most important task of all. See our Beginners guide to float fishing to learn how to do this correctly, along with other useful float fishing skills.

The fish will seldom be far from the bank on most day ticket lakes, so don’t feel you need to cast miles out. Often, you will be fishing within two or three rod-lengths of the bank.

Many lakes have shallow water at the edge and then a shelf or slope where things get deeper, dropping from say two feet to four feet of water. This is an excellent place to start, because the fish love this “drop off” where food tends to collect.

Which Tackle is Best for Commercial Fisheries?

Angler with fish in net

With balanced tackle, you’ll still land that bonus net filler.

A common mistake I see on commercial lakes is anglers using thick line and large hooks. These can make the fish suspicious. By far your best bet is to tackle up with balanced tackle with the finesse to get plenty of bites, but enough power to do battle with bigger fish.

For most pleasure fishing I would recommend a float or match rod, 4-5lb strength main line, and a finer hook length of 3-4lbs strength. For pole anglers, a size eight, or light to medium hollow elastic would be sensible to deal small carp as well as bread and butter species like roach and perch.

Hook sizes will depend on bait, but typically you won’t want to go much smaller than an 18 or bigger than a 12. Most commercials insist on barbless hooks – and that you have a soft unhooking mat to lay larger specimens on without damaging them.

What are the Best Baits for Commercial Fisheries?

Pink and white maggots

Maggots will bring plenty of bites

Another great thing about day ticket lakes is that many baits will work, including many that are cheap or even free. The first I would try is the humble maggot, simply because no other bait will get you more bites from all species. A few worms from the compost heap are also a great shout, because fish of many kinds, including the bigger ones, love them.

Other baits high on the list would be sweet corn and bread. Pellets are convenient, and ideal to use both thrown in to attract the fish and to catch on. Hard pellets don’t go on the hook though, so you’ll want some soft pellets for the hook or a packet of “pellet bands” to hold the harder baits in place.

It’s always a good idea to bring more than one type of bait, because you might find one works better than the rest. It’s also sensible to take a few bigger baits, like larger pellets or chunks of luncheon meat, in case you are getting lots of tiddlers and want to try something that only a bigger mouth can manage.

Whichever choices you make, be sure to throw in some bait too, besides just using it on the hook. Anglers call this “loose feeding” and it can make the difference between getting the odd bite and catching fish all day. The reason is that bait thrown into the water will attract more fish than just casting out with a single offering.

You don’t need to go crazy, but it is worth throwing in small amounts of bait every few minutes. If you do this often, the fish will start to compete for the bait and you’ll get lots of them in your swim.

Do try and be accurate and keep casting and adding bait to the exact same spot, because this will draw the fish to one area, rather than scattering them everywhere.

8 top tips for fishing commercial lakes

Angler on lake bank

Late afternoon when everyone else has gone home can be a great time to fish

  1. Float fishing is a great method, but one common mistake is to have too much float showing. You should apply shot until just the coloured tip is showing. If too much float is sticking out of the water, the fish will struggle to pull it under and will often reject the bait before you have a chance to strike.
  2. Many anglers will find a comfy spot and sit in it all day. This is fine if you’re getting bites, but never be afraid to move if you’re not catching. It might take you a little trial and error, and several sessions, to work out the best spots on any lake.
  3. Always test the drag on your reel BEFORE fishing. The drag is the mechanism adjusted on the back or front of your reel that controls how easily line will be let out when a fish pulls hard. Avoid making it very loose, but it should start to click and give out line well before you risk getting broken off. The worst time to adjust it is when you’ve just hooked a big fish!
  4. In case you get that surprise monster, never leave your rod unattended on the bank. If you’re several yards away, or not paying attention, your rod could be pulled into the lake. I have seen this happen more than once!
  5. A lot of anglers will pack up in the late afternoon and go home for tea, but the best time to fish on many commercial lakes is the last hour. As the light drops, the fish tend to feel safer and more confident. They also get used to anglers throwing their leftover bait as they leave! In fact, I’ve seen locals turn up just as the regulars are leaving, and go from swim to swim catching lots of fish where others have just finished.
  6. If there are two of you fishing, try different baits and methods side by side. It’s a sociable way to fish, and great for working out the best tactic on the day.
  7. Be gentle with your catch. On commercial lakes, fish could be caught several times in their lives. They deserve our respect. Always handle them with wet hands and never hold them while standing up or walking around. The safest way to return a lively fish is often to simply lower it back in the landing net, so there is no risk of dropping it.
  8. Whether you read paper magazines or online articles, there is plenty of handy information out there. However, little beats a session with a coach if you’re starting out or returning to the sport. In the space of a few hours you can learn good habits and techniques that might take you several seasons to figure out on your own!

Further tips and top angling reads

We hope the advice in this blog comes in handy on your next session. However, the subject of tackling commercial fisheries is a broad one, so here are some useful links to give you further food for thought. Enjoy your fishing, and remember to share your commercial fishery catches on the Fishtec Coarse Fishing Facebook Page.

Angling Times: How to Catch Roach From Commercial Fisheries

Fish on Friday: Top Tips for Carp on Commercial Fisheries

Anglers Mail: Top 5 Winter Baits for Commercial Fisheries

More from our guest blogger:

The author of many articles and acclaimed fishing books, including Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and his latest collection of angling tales Crooked Lines, Dom Garnett is a qualified angling coach based in Devon. Find more words, photography and his regular blog at www.dgfishing.co.uk

All images copyright Dom Garnett

Beginners guide to Barbel fishing

barbel-rod

Image source: Barbel Society
Avon barbel double and rod 

 

Barbel offer some of the most varied, exciting and dynamic angling in the UK. Aside from their sheer beauty and power, they can be found across a wide range of rivers. From small, shallow venues such as the Nene backwaters and Teme; steady flowing rivers like the Upper Great Ouse and Kennet, through to larger, powerful rivers like the Lower Severn, Wye and Trent.

The variety of river venues that we have in the UK offers the angler the choice of catching multiple fish of average size in a day, or putting the time in on tougher venues for a double figure fish. There is no finer moment in angling than when that barbel, big or small, picks up the bait and gives us the classic ‘three foot twitch’ on the rod. They can be caught all year round, using an endless variety of baits and tactics.

This piece shows you the very basics, along with a few simple tips to put your first barbel on the unhooking mat.

Location

barbel river

Just one of the reasons to love barbel fishing

Finding the right location is by far the most important aspect of barbel fishing. After all, you can’t catch what isn’t there! Barbel are usually found in clean, faster flowing rivers, such as  those mentioned in the introduction, although it often pays – especially in the winter months – to seek out the deeper, steadier flowing water.

Barbel love to feed over clean gravel; if you can find the gravel then you are half way to finding a good barbel swim. The most important part of your armoury in the summer months is a good set of ploaroid sunglasses. These cut out the surface glare on the water, and help you to spot the gravel beds, deeper holes, weed beds, and if you’re really lucky, some fish!

Swims to look for are areas of smooth surface movement with some cover nearby. Streamer weed beds are the classic holding area for barbel, and finding gravel channels between the weed will increase your chances of catching.

Barbel also love to have a roof over their heads so seek out overhanging trees and bushes, preferably on your near bank to make feeding and fishing easier. It’s worth noting at this point to avoid the temptation of fishing tight to the snags. It’s these areas of refuge that barbel like to drop back into and it’s easy to spook them out of the area completely if you fish right in to their front door!

The ideal barbel swim will have a deeper area of water among a streamer weed bed, about twenty yards upstream from an overhanging feature, nearside reed bed or undercut bank. The best time to find these features is simply by walking the banks in the closed season and having a good look about. You’ll soon get an idea of the river by doing so.

Tackle:

simple tackle

Pure simplicity

 

Barbel are one of the hardest fighting fish in UK waters. Couple this with powerful flowing water and you’ll need robust tackle to land your quarry. Robust tackle doesn’t mean heavy: using rods that are too stiff with very heavy lines will result in hook pulls at the net.

The ideal rod on small and medium sized rivers is a 1.75lb test curve rod with a good through-action to absorb the powerful lunges close in. There are dozens of superb rods dedicated to the species on the market now to suit all budgets. I like to have a pair of isotopes on the rod tip about twelve inches apart to aid bite detection at night and give a useful sight tip in lower light conditions.

Reels need to have a good, smooth clutch and be of medium size and reasonably lightweight. This makes them more practical while moving between swims. While baitrunner type reels are useful, their designed use isn’t recommended, especially if fishing in snaggy rivers. A barbel can cover quite some ground in a short space of time, and become snagged before you pick up the rod!

Line should be of at least 10lbs breaking strain monofilament. Don’t be afraid to go up to 12lbs if you think the river calls for it. My personal preference is Gardner Gr60, or good old Daiwa Sensor in either clear or brown. The TF Gear nantec mono is also good stuff.

All offer good strength and abrasion resistance. Hooklength material is another topic that can, and has, have entire chapters written about it. I prefer to use the new Mimicry hooklength by Pro Logic, or Airflo fluorocarbon in 15lbs breaking strain, with a short two inch piece of supple braid running to the hook as a ‘combi rig’.

This offers a superb presentation that helps to fool the wise, old barbel in my local rivers. There’s also no reason why you can’t use a decent quality soft braided hooklength in a nice gravel brown to match the river bed you’re fishing over.

Hooks need to be strong and sharp. There are dozens of good hooks on the market, and any good tackle shop will be able to offer advice. One thing worth looking for are hooks with an in-turned eye as fishing over gravel will soon blunt your hook and you’ll be changing rigs every cast!

You’ll need a selection of leads from half an ounce to two or three ounces depending on the flow, and some free running rings and beads. A simple running rig is all that’s needed for barbel with a hooklength of around two feet, three feet if the barbel are a bit wary of tackle.

A couple of small lumps of plasticine three and five feet back from the lead can also help to pin the line down to the river. Of course, you’ll also need a rucksack to carry your tackle and refreshments, a decent hat in the summer, a lightweight chair if desired, and some comfortable clothing.

A decent landing net of at least 36’’ is essential, along with an unhooking mat. Most clubs now insist on the above items and good fish care can’t be emphasised enough. More on that later.

Bait

fishing bait

A world of baiting possibilities exists for barbel

This is every barbel angler’s favourite topic and one that has also had entire books written on it! Favourite baits include pellets, both big and small; luncheon meat, boilies, paste, maggots, caster, lobworms, bread, sweetcorn…… I’m sure you get the picture! Many anglers’ favourite bait is a decent quality boilie.

You can use a variety of sizes depending on conditions and the river I’m fishing. 14mm is a decent average size for both feeding and hookbait, though it pays to have a mixture of sizes and shapes both whole and broken up. Pellets are a superb summer bait too but use them in small amounts It’s very easy to overfeed, especially on smaller rivers.

Luncheon meat is a fantastic bait, and the following preparation is a simple and cheap way to make an effective bait:

Using an apple corer, bore into the meat in the tin and halve the pieces that you remove. With the leftover oddments, tear these into small chunks and pop into a freezer bag with the cylindrical shapes you already made.

Sprinkle in a generous amount of curry powder, shake about and pop in the freezer. Thaw out the night before you go fishing and you have one of the finest and cheapest hookbaits about! The cylinders can be presented on a short hair or directly on the hook, with the rough pieces that you tore off threaded onto a PVA string and tied to the lead.

Tactics

simple fishing

Beautiful barbel caught with simple tactics

Undoubtedly the best tactic for barbel is the ‘bait and wait’ method. The theory here is that the fish build up confidence in feeding in your swim over several hours, so that when you arrive and cast out, you’ll get a bite within minutes.

You might be crying “but I don’t have time to feed a swim, I only have a day to fish so I need to get my hook in the water!” Well, every angler is in the same situation and the predicament is easily solved as follows:

You arrive at the river full of excitement and anticipation. You get out the car, pop on your polaroids, fill your pocket up with a few dozen boilies, some broken up, and maybe a few 8mm pellets.

The biggest mistake is made at this point by many anglers is that they do not move along the bank quietly and stealthily enough! Barbel will sense bankside noise and disturbance while you are still a long way from the swim, so stay low, quiet and use any cover you can.

Pick out three or four swims, and using your bait dropper (a handy item of tackle that’s neglected by far too many anglers), lower in no more than a dozen samples of your hookbait over your chosen area in the swim.

On the last swim you come to, your ‘’banker swim’’ (ideally one that’s got a lovely deep hole about twenty yards up from an old overhanging willow tree), deposit a good couple of dozen broken boilies and small pellets. Forget about this swim completely now for several hours.

Quietly wander back to your first swim and get yourself comfortable, and if possible, off the skyline. Fish with your bait and a small PVA bag of free offerings over the baited area. It’s worth spending a couple of hours in your first two or three swims before moving into the final swim.

Barbel commute along the river all day long so it pays to wait just that little bit longer in a swim to increase your chances of catching one as they swim through and find your bait. Fish with the rod pointing roughly towards the bait, low to the water, with a slack line as possible  to avoid spooking the fish with a tight line to swim into. Many anglers believe that barbel can sense a tight line ‘’singing’’ in the water.

When the barbel does find your bait, you’ll know about it! Barbel give the most spectacular bite of any coarse fish so it’s essential that you sit with the rod butt on your knee, or within arm’s reach. Play your fish firmly and keep the rod bent. With the right tackle you can stop the most powerful specimens in their tracks and it’s never good to prolong the fight.

Don’t ‘’bully’’ the fish to the net, but have faith in and use your tackle as it was intended. Once you have the fish in the net DO NOT LIFT IT FROM THE WATER STRAIGHT AWAY. Barbel give everything in the battle and they need to recover. You too will want to catch your breath and steady your hands after your first encounter with ‘Old Whiskers’!

Landing your barbel

rest fish before landing

Always ensure fish are fully rested before lifting fom the water

Make sure your net is in a steady flowing margin, with plenty of depth and that you won’t slide in. While the fish is upright and resting, wet your unhooking mat and weighing sling, zero your scales and set up your camera. With practice, the fish can be out the water, unhooked, weighed and photographed within a very short space of time.

Always check for other anglers’ hooks in the mouth, especially on pressured stretches or rivers that are match fished. Ensure a barbel is fully recovered by holding it in the flow with its head upstream. You’ll feel the fish regain its strength and only let go when you are sure it’s strong enough to swim away.

For more detail on handling this glorious fish, check out the Barbel Society’s handling code right here:

As the start of the barbel season starts on the glorious 16th of June, there’s plenty of time ahead for you to get out and find your first barbel. The methods mentioned in this piece are ideal for summer barbel fishing. But with a little bit of adapting, they can also put a big winter fish on the bank.

For further information, check out the Barbel Society Facebook page or website. Happy barbel fishing, and tight lines!

All pictures (unless stated) and article from Dan Whitelock of the Barbel Society

Beginners guide to carp rigs

simple carp rig

Image source: shutterstock
A simple carp rig – you can make this!

Every carper will have his own opinion on rigs, and the topic can get quite complicated. It’s important, though, to avoid getting caught up in the potential minefield that rigs can be.

It’s much better to keep things simple at the early stage of your carping career, and in this article we’ll outline a couple of very basic carp rigs which will get you started and catching carp in very little time.

What is a hair rig?

The hair rig is the simplest form of rig used today. It was designed by the late Lenny Middleton, who was trying to gain better hook holds from the straight onto the hook. In the carp fishing boom of the 1980s anglers became aware that carp can very easily single out hookbaits. It was clear that there was a need for a rig which helped overcome the poor hookholds which the traditional methods offered.

How to make a hair rig

It’s very easy to make a simple hair rig. The material used to make the hair can be made from a number of different products. Some anglers prefer to use line, whilst others use braided material. Each will have their own advantages, and with a bit of experience and experimentation you’ll doubtless make your own mind up as to which you prefer. For now though, we’ll run you through what is known as the knotless knot hair rig, which combines the hooklink material into the hair.

The knotless knot hair rig is one of the most widely used methods of attaching your hooklink to the hook. All you need to make it is your favourite hooklink material, a hook and some scissors. Here’s how you tie it up, in pictures:

cut hooklink

1: Cut a 15-inch length of hooklink

thread hooklink onto hook

2: Take one end of the hooklink and thread three inches of it through the rear side of the hook eye.

rest hooklink beside hook

3: Rest the three inches of hooklink (known as the hair) along one side of the hook. This is the part which will form the hair.

start to wrap around the hook

4: Holding the hair in place, wrap the longer length of hooklink around the shank just below the hook eye ensuring that it is kept tight.

continue to wrap around the hook

5: Continue to wrap the hooklink around the hook in the same way as in step 4, working your way down the shank.

give at least ten wraps round the hook

6: It needs to be wrapped around the hook at least ten times for it to hold firm. Ten wraps normally ends up finishing opposite the point of the hook. This is a good position for the hinge of the hair.

loop through the back of the hook eye

7: Keeping the wraps in position, loop the long hooklink end through the back of the hook eye and pull through.

tighten gently to bed the knot down

8: Bed the knot down by tightening gently. The knotless knot has now been tied.

now put a loop in the end of the hair

9: All that is needed to complete the rig is to tie a loop in the end of the hair, to which you can now attach your hookbait. Many anglers make the hair long enough so the top of the bait just touches the bottom of the hook bend.

slide bait onto a needle, then onto the hair

10: Slide a bait onto a needle and then onto the hair. Secure the bait in position with a hair stop.

When the hair rig was designed it produced some amazing captures. Indeed, it still works today. If you take this simple example to your local day ticket pond, I guarantee if you fish well, it will catch you plenty of carp.

Next steps – the line aligner

Thinking anglers are always looking at ways to improve success, and one of the most widely used advancements of the hair rig is the line aligner. This incorporates a piece of silicon tubing onto the rig, which is pushed over the eye of the hook to protect the knot. It also helps the hook twist when inside the mouth of the fish, increasing your chances of hooking.

The line aligner can be used with almost all carp rigs. To avoid confusion, in this example we’ll simply add it to the knotless knot hair rig which we made earlier. Scientific tests have shown it to be 15% more successful at hooking when compared to the standard knotless knot hair rig.

How to make a line aligner

To make an effective line aligner, you need a pair of scissors, a fine baiting needle, some 0.5 silicon tubing and a finished knotless knot hair rig. Here’s how you set one up.

Cut a small length of 0.5mm tubing

1: Cut a small length of 0.5mm tubing (this will be pushed over the eye of the hook so must be of the soft or shrink type). A good length is one which just fits over the eye of the hook (approximately 0.8cm).

push the baiting needle through the side and into the central cavity

2: Approximately ¼ of the way down the tubing push the baiting needle through the side and into the central cavity until it exits the end.

attach the hooklink to the needle latch

3: Attach the hooklink to the baiting needle latch and pull it through the tubing cavity so that it exits through the side wall.

Thread the tubing down the hooklink

4: Thread the tubing down the hooklink towards the eye of the hook.

push the tubing over the eye

5: Now push the tubing over the eye. Be careful not to split the side when doing this or you may have to start again. A good tip is to work the tubing through your fingers for a minute or two to make it warm and more manageable.

align the tubing properly with the hook

6: Make sure the face of the tubing where the hooklink comes through is in line with the point of the hook. The line aligner is now complete.

Is it worth the effort?

Scientific tests have shown that the line aligner will hook 18 times out of twenty, when compared to 16 out of twenty with the knotless knot only set-up (as documented in Strategic Carp Fishing). It is without a doubt the most advanced hooking arrangement of the modern day carp scene. If you still have reservations, here’s some proof of the effectiveness right here!

simon crow and carp

The author, Simon Crow with a recently caught 30lb common on a simple line aligner hair rig

Happy carping!

You can read more from Simon Crow at simoncrowcarpfishing.co.uk or follow him on Twitter, where he appears as CarpmanCrow.

 

 

 

All images courtesy of Simon Crow unless otherwise stated

Beginner’s Guide to Canal Fishing

canal fisherman on boat with child

Image source: Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB / Shutterstock.com
Canal fishing is for everyone

Canals are accessible, cheap as chips and found all over the UK. Better still, our canals are full of fish and great venues for anglers of all tastes, tells Dominic Garnett, towpath fanatic and author of the book Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide.

For many anglers, canals are their first childhood fishing venues. However, these classic locales are so commonplace they’re sometimes overlooked.

For many anglers, canals form a continual part of their angling life, from childhood onwards.They’re classic venues to explore, and yet so commonplace we sometimes overlook them. In fact, over half of us in the UK live within five miles of a canal.

They’re highly accessible for anglers too. Some canals offer free fishing, but most require a local angling club (or Waterway Wanderers) pass.These are as cheap as chips, though, with some at around £30 for a whole calendar year. Want a day ticket? You probably won’t have to spend much more than a fiver.

Don’t be fooled by their modest appearances and cheap prices however. These are amongst the most consistent and productive fisheries out there, whether you enjoy pole fishing or drop shotting. And while they can be challenging, Britain’s canals are endlessly fascinating and always capable of surprising us.

Canal Basics and Watercraft

colourful canal

Canals offer value and variety to anglers of all kinds

So, you live or travel near to a canal and are thinking of fishing it.But where should you start? There might be miles of water to go at.If it is a rustic canal, it could be pretty and feature filled; but if it is a busy, urban canal it could just as easily all look the same.

Your first job on any canal therefore doesn’t involve a rod and reel, but your feet, eyes and ears. Look at a map, and ask questions at the local tackle shop, fishing club and forums:

  • Where are the popular areas to fish?
  • Where are the match stretches – and which pegs produce winning nets of fish? (regularly fished areas can concentrate fish because of the bait going in over time)
  • Where is fishing going well at the moment (or tends to fish well in this season)?

Better still, get out there and walk the towpath for yourself with a pair of polarizing glasses. Do this early or late in the day and you may well see fish such as roach and rudd rising, or larger fish rolling or bubbling.

Even the most uniform looking canal will have features to discover. Wide bays will hold fish like bream and tench.The areas close to locks, walls, bridges and other structures will shelter small fish and the predators that hunt them.

Bends, overhanging bushes, barges and other features will all draw fish seeking safety and food. It’s important to get out and explore – the peg next to the car park will rarely be the best to catch from.

The “Typical” Canal

canal anatomy diagram

Anatomy of a canal

While all canals have similarities, each is unique and different. Some are very deep and clear, others shallow and muddy. All have distinct areas in common to think about when you fish them, however. Above is a cross section of a typical canal, and here’s an explanation of its features:

  1. The near margin and shelf: Don’t assume that you have to reach the far bank to catch fish on a canal.The bottom of the “shelf” on the near bank, just where the water starts to deepen, is a great place to start fishing, where you’ll find roach, skimmers and other fish. Even the shallow water very near the bank may also hold fish such as gudgeon, rudd and pike, especially if there is cover close in.
  1. The central “track” is the deepest part of the canal. Boat traffic tends to keep it clear and weed free. This can be a good place to find bream and other bottom feeders all year, but especially in colder months, when many fish retreat to the safety and warmer water of the depths. On neglected, heavily silted canals, the only water deep enough to hold many fish might be the deeper central track.
  1. The bottom of the far shelf is a key area for bigger “bonus” fish of all kinds including tench and carp. As with the slope on the nearside “shelf”, natural food as well as the bait you introduce tends to gather here. Plumb the depth carefully to find exactly where the slope ends – this is always a good place to fish.
  1. The far margin can hold surprising numbers of fish, and sometimes big ones, especially when the water is coloured or there are “features” to offer them safety and food. Species such as perch, chub and carp particularly love lurking here.

Canal fishing methods

pole fishing canal

The pole is a brilliant canal method

What is the best way to fish from your local towpath? The lovely thing about canals is that just about any method can work. However, as a starting point you cannot beat simple, old school methods such as pole and waggler fishing.

The pole is especially good for canal fishing because it lets you fish quite fine tackle accurately.Even if you have only just started angling, a short pole or “whip” fished line to hand is a cheap, fun way to get bites. A pint of maggots and a simple float rig are all you’ll often need to catch.

For the more advanced angler, the long pole is a brilliant method, allowing you to fish accurately at any distance and present your bait with complete precision, tight to the features.

If you don’t own a pole, the waggler will also work on just about any canal. Avoid starting out with thick lines and large floats howeve. Try light line and a hook length of 2-3lbs to start with, using small hooks (typically sizes 16-20). With this tackle you’ll be able to catch plenty of fish such as roach, perch and small bream.

Canals are versatile waters.Some canal anglers target specimen carp, and some will even cast a fly. But perhaps the biggest recent revival in canal fishing has been with lure fishing. With only short casts usually involved and predators from small perch to giant pike all catchable, you can have an absolute blast with anything from traditional plugs to dropshot gear, covering a lot of water.

Typical Canal Species: My Top 5

canal caught roach

Roach are beautiful and widespread on virtually all canals

There are stacks of species you’ll find in canals; one of the joys of these waters is that each is a genuine “lucky dip” and almost anything can show up. That said, some species crop up again and again, and offer reliable sport just about everywhere. Here are five to catch all year round:

  1. Roach: Common as muck, but always easy on the eye and great to catch. The small ones are easy but the big ones are a genuine challenge. If your canal is clear, bread is a brilliant bait to try; if it’s coloured, pinkies and groundbait are a great combo.
  2. Bream: From just about any canal, bream give you the chance of catching a real net-filler, or even several! Try the deeper water in the main track with worms or casters.
  3. Perch: While you’ll find various predators on UK canals, the one that seem to do well everywhere, from clear rural canals to city stretches, is the humble perch. A whole worm over chopped pieces is a great method to catch them – or you can try small jigs or drop shot tactics.
  4. Carp:  Many UK canals now have carp to a good size. Finding them is half the battle. If you only have eyes for a big carp, larger baits such as tiger nuts and boilies are useful to dissuade the smaller fish.
  5. Tench: Canal tench are beautiful and hard-fighting fish well worth any angler’s attention.Try an early morning session with baits like casters and sweetcorn.

Top Canal Fishing Tips

canal caught bream

Canals are not just about tiddlers. Specimens such as this bream are there to be caught, once you suss them out.

Use your eyes and feet to locate the fish on your canal. Time spent walking, asking other anglers or studying Google Earth are all worthwhile. Be prepared to walk and you can find spots that are rarely fished.

  • You don’t need loads of bait to fish a canal, as you might on a heavily-stocked water. Try introducing just a little pinch on a regular basis and you won’t go far wrong.
  • Do keep tidy on the towpath. Avoid leaving items of tackle sticking out that could be walked or cycled over. Pole anglers can try shipping back sideways along the bank rather than directly behind, or breaking down into sections rather than unshipping all in one go.
  • If you are struggling to get bites on the canal, try finer tackle and smaller hooks. They’re often a good idea for fish such as roach and skimmers.
  • Don’t be alarmed by boats; most of the time they don’t spoil the fishing. That said, you should always be aware and watch your lines. If they really do your head in, try fishing early and avoiding busy times.
  • For bigger fish such as carp and tench, you could try pre-baiting on your local canal. Try cheap baits such as stewed hempseed and frozen sweetcorn, or boilies for carp.

Further Reading and information:

The Canal & Rivers Trust are currently the main body for canal fishing in the UK.They run a great value ticket called The Waterway Wanderers Scheme, offering many miles of canal fishing nationwide for just £20 (or £10 for Angling Trust members).

Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide by Dominic Garnett (Merlin Unwin Books, £18.00)
canal fishing coverPacked with useful tips and stunning photography, Dom’s book is a great read on tackling these classic waters whichever style of fishing you enjoy. Covering all the major species, with methods from old school to modern, it is also has a huge amount of handy information, with history, local hotspots and specimen fish records from virtually every canal across Britain. Available on Amazon, or try the author’s site dgfishing.co.uk for signed copies, and Dom’s regular blog.

 

 

All images courtesy of Dominic Garnett unless otherwise stated

Beginners guide to float fishing – waggler floats

bream caught on waggler

A nice small water bream to a very simple waggler rig.

The sight of a dipping float is something that sums up the excitement of coarse fishing. Learn to fish the waggler, and you’ll have a method that will work on countless waters for all manner of species, and bring you that excitement wherever you fish.

Fishing For Dummies and Canal Fishing author Dominic Garnett provides an easy-to-follow guide to waggler float fishing.

What is a waggler?

There are various types of float used in coarse fishing, but the waggler is perhaps the most popular these days. They’re easy to set up, and allow for a stable, relatively tangle-free presentation that works with all kinds of baits on all kinds of fisheries. So what exactly is a waggler?

In simple terms, wagglers are floats that are attached by the bottom end only. This makes them easy to rig, because you can simply pinch them in place on your main line with split shot. This type of float also gives good stability, with the angler able to sink the line into the water, beating surface tow and debris.

Which waggler to choose?

types of waggler

There’s a wide selection of wagglers

Walk into any tackle shop and you’ll see various waggler floats to cater for different fishing scenarios. It’s well worth buying a variety of wagglers to suit various uses. You might be fishing right at your feet one session and casting well out into a stiff wind the next, with each scenario requiring quite a different float. There are several kinds of waggler to look out for:

canal wagglers

Canal and mini wagglers

A: Canal & Mini Wagglers are for fishing sensitively, usually at close range. They are often tapered and have a fairly fine tip. These are great for fishing on natural stillwaters and canals, where species such as roach, skimmers and crucians can be shy biting. Short versions like those shown also make sense for shallow water, where you don’t want a long or heavy float crashing down each cast.

insert wagglers

Insert wagglers

B: Insert Wagglers: Come in many sizes, but have a noticeably finer tip section or “insert”. This aids sensitivity for spotting gentle bites, although larger models can still be cast quite a distance.

Straight wagglers

Straight wagglers

C: Straight Wagglers: As the name sounds, these floats are straight, and have a thicker tip than insert models. These are sensible floats to use when you need extra stability; for example, when wind or tow will pull a skinny tip under and give false bites. The longer, larger floats can handle blustery conditions and be cast a fair distance. Some also have little “bodies” or thicker sections to offer even more casting weight and stability.

loaded and pellet wagglers

Loaded and pellet wagglers

D: Loaded and Pellet Wagglers: Some wagglers are weighted or “loaded” at the bottom, or come in much chunkier dimensions to allow longer casts made. These are excellent for aiming at distant features such as islands, and are often used for carp with slow sinking baits.

Typical Waggler Fishing Tackle

pellett waggler

Image source: UK Match Angler
A pellett waggler, hard at work!

The best rods for waggler fishing are float or match rods, although you will also get away with a light spinning rod for fishing close to the bank. However, ideally a float rod will be 12 or 13 feet long and suited to use with lines of 4-8lb breaking strain.

Many quite powerful “Carp match” or “power match” rods exist these days, and are ideal for commercial fisheries stocked with hard-fighting carp. Lighter rods that are ideal for natural venues and species such as roach and rudd are less commonly available, but a lighter rod is a lovely tool to use on canals and rivers.

It’s best to combine the rod with a small to mid sized reel, loaded with quality line (avoid cheap mono at all costs!). 5-6lbs main line would be typical where species such as carp and tench are the staple, or 3-4 lbs strength for silver fish and bream, where the odd bonus might show up.

Last but not least, it is always worth using a hook length (a foot or so of finer, more sensitive line to which the hook is tied). Not only will this give you better presentation (fish are less able to detect thinner line), but means that should you snag up, you will only lose a hook, not your whole rig. You can tie these yourself, but they also come ready-tied for convenience.

Tackle and typical waggler rigs

fishing tackle

Tackle!

Setting up a waggler rig isn’t rocket science, but the way you do this can be crucial to success. While not essential, it’s very helpful to use a float adaptor. This is a little silicone sleeve which accepts any waggler float.

The adaptor allows you to change your float at a moment’s notice without starting all over again. For example, you might decide to switch to a larger float to combat wind, or to make longer casts.

First, attach your waggler by trapping it onto your main reel line with split shot. Most floats will tell you how many shot are required by the numbers and letters written on the side (for example “3BB” or “5AA”).

A good general rule is to trap the float in place with at least two thirds of the required shot. This is because having most of the weight in one place helps with casting; lots of shot scattered down the line tend to cause tangles.

Attach your shot snugly to the line, but avoid squeezing them on so tightly that they’re fixed. You should be able to move them along the line to adjust the depth.

waggler on line

A balanced waggler outfit, ready for action

With your float secured in place, you will also need to attach some shot down the line, to help sink the bait and indicate bites. A few smaller weights (typically sizes 4, 6 and 8) will be much better for this than one or two larger samples. If you want the bait to get down quickly, try a little “bulk” of shot clustered together a foot to eighteen inches from the hook.

If you want a slower sinking bait, for example when you can see fish such as rudd or roach swimming higher in the water, try spacing the shot out evenly (see drawn illustration below).

Last but not least, you’ll also notice that we always set up with a final, small shot just 2-3 inches from the hook (usually a size 8,9 or 10 shot). It might be the least visible, but this little shot (often called the “tell tale shot”) is so, so important.

Why, exactly? Because when a fish takes the bait, this little shot also moves and gives you an early indication that you have a bite; without it, you will spot bites late, leading to more missed and deep-hooked fish.

waggler rigs plumbing depth

Try a “bulk” of shot to get down quickly; or space evenly for a slower fall of the bait.

Basic Waggler fishing skills

Many new and inexperienced anglers just want to cast their float as far as possible. However, the best advice on most popular day ticket lakes would be to start much closer in, because there will often be many more fish right by the bank and close to marginal features.

Sometimes you might fish off the bottom when fish are cruising in midwater, or even fish “overdepth” with a little line on the bottom if it is too windy to keep the bait still. Most of the time, however, it is best to start with the bait just about touching the bottom. This ensures that any bites you get will quickly be transmitted to the float tip. 

Plumbing the depths

Sussing out the depth of your chosen spot is a vital skill. Too many anglers either don’t bother, rush the job, or get it wrong. Do take your time, because there is a huge difference between having the depth spot on and “about right.”

The easiest way to test the depth with a waggler is to carefully pinch a larger shot, such as an AA, onto the final inch of line right next to the hook before casting out and observing what happens. If the float plunges down and out of sight, you are set too shallow and should move the float away from the hook.

If the opposite happens,and the float sits up too high or even lies flat, you have too much line between float and hook and must narrow the gap. Adjust this length carefully, until just the very tip of the float shows and you have the right depth.

Be warned though, you must give a little slack line when testing the depth. This avoids creating a diagonal angle between hook and float and getting an inaccurate reading.

You’ll find it much easier to get the exact depth closer in – and it’s also worth spending a few minutes trying different spots around your swim and seeing how the depth changes. This can give you some handy answers to important questions. How deep is the water right by the bank? How deep is it two or three rod lengths out? Does the depth drop away suddenly or gradually? Answer these kinds of questions, and you will be able to catch more fish!

Where to begin

A good starting point for your waggler fishing session is often to try just down the “shelf”, where the margin drops away into slightly deeper water, often between one and two rod lengths out. In warm weather, fish like carp might come right under your feet; in the winter, you may fare better by fishing deeper water.

Once you’re happy with where you want to fish, it’s time to add some bait. Start with a small handful of samples, but be prepared to keep adding a small amount to this at regular intervals.

Spotting Bites and Striking

action on the waggler

The author plays a good fish on the waggler; in this case a tench, hooked in deep water with a long bodied float

Bites can vary a lot between different fish species. The classic movement will be the float just pulling straight under – for fish like carp and tench it’s best to ignore the tiny movements, and wait for this to happen before striking.

Other bites can be cagier, however, with the float “taking a walk” but not submerging. Sometimes the float can even lift slightly. Experience and practise will tell you when to strike, but with shy-biting fish like roach and skimmers, you might have to hit these indications early!

Above all, pay close attention to that float, observing how it settles as the bait and shot fall through the water. If the float stops or behaves suspiciously, this can quite often be a fish taking “on the drop” as the bait falls. Strike!

Waggler Fishing Tips

waggler caught tench

A margin caught tench, caught on the waggler

    • One of the best tips for all float fishing is to hold the rod at all times. Don’t be lazy and put the rod down in a rest! Much of the time you will have missed the fish by the time you pick the rod up. Instead, be ready to strike with a nice positive lift.
    • As with the casting and feeding, the strike takes practice. It should be decisive but not violent – find a happy medium! Strike too softly and you won’t set the hook Strike brutally and you’ll “bump” fish off, or risk breaking the line on a big one.
    • One of the most common mistakes when fishing the waggler is to have too much float showing above the water. If you give the fish too much tip to pull under, many of them will simply get suspicious and drop the bait. Aim to have just the brightly coloured tip showing – or just the final 2-3mm if conditions are calm.
    • For most waggler fishing, a floating reel line is sensible. However, in windy conditions, you can also sink the line to avoid tow. Do this by dipping the rod tip under the water and giving a couple of pulls after casting out.
    • As with most types of general float fishing, you will usually catch a lot more by loose feeding. Try doing this “little and often” by throwing or catapulting in just a few samples of bait every three or so minutes. If you keep casting to the exact same spot and keep your feed accurate, this will help concentrate the fish.
    • Try Stotz rather than dust shot for your smaller weights. They tend to stay on the line much better than tiny traditional shot in sizes 8,9 and 10.
    • Don’t just sit there when you waggler fish. Quite often the fish will bite just as the float settles, because they have spotted the bait sinking to the bottom. Try recasting to get extra bites – or search different areas of your swim. For example, if you’re catching a lot of fish in your main feed area, you might find that the fish start to back off or go a little further out.

Further Info:

You can find more of Dominic’s fishing tips, tales and photography at www.dgfishing.co.uk

His book “Fishing For Dummies” is excellent for beginners and those returning to the sport, while Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide provides the lowdown on a wide range of methods, species and locations across the UK.

 

All images courtesy of Dominic Garnett unless otherwise stated

Beginners Guide To Fly Tying

Image Source Rene’ Harrop
All you need to know about fly tying!

If you don’t tie your own flies, you’re in good company. Over a third of fly anglers have never tied a fly. Maybe you’ve heard tying is too difficult, expensive or time-consuming?

Well, it’s none of the above. And once you get started, you’ll see how easy, enjoyable and addictive it can be.

Master of your own bait

Image source: Tim Hughes
The best way to match the hatch

Fly tying offers so many advantages you’d be crazy not to give it a go. But one of the most compelling is the freedom and versatility it grants you. Tie your own flies and you’ll always be able to match the hatch.

“The fact that I have an open canvas to put whatever I want on a hook draws me to the vice again and again,”

agrees Cheech Pierce on Fly Fish Food blog.

Convinced? You should be. Carry on reading, and we’ll tell you everything you need to get started.

Essential equipment

steady hand for tying flies

Image source: shutterstock
Pair the right equipment with a steady hand

You’ll need some basic tools to get tying. Start with the holy trinity of vice, scissors and bobbin holder.

Vice

While it’s possible to tie a fly totally by hand, we wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner. Most fly tyers choose to use a vice, and so should you. There are many types available, so do your research before you buy. As the Fly Dressers’ Guild advises:

“Choosing your first vice and tools is a bit like buying your first car: very exciting, potentially expensive, but easy to end up with something poorly made and not up to the task.”

Pick a vice that’s easy to use, has a good grip and will hold a variety of hook sizes.

Scissors

Next on your shopping list is a pair of sharp, pointed scissors. Those rusty old scissors in your kitchen drawer literally won’t cut it. Get yourself a dedicated pair of fly-tying scissors.

If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, Global Fly Fisher has the most comprehensive guide to fly-tying scissors you’ll ever read.

Master fly tyer Barry Ord Clarke recommends two pairs of scissors: “one with extremely fine points for the more intricate work and a pair with larger and serrated blades for deer hair and heavier work.”

Ceramic bobbin holder

fly tying bobbin holder

Image source: shutterstock
Spend a little more on a ceramic bobbin holder

Last in the trinity is the bobbin holder – a device that carefully holds your fly-tying thread so you don’t have to. In The Riffle recommends ceramic bobbins – they’re more expensive but worth it:

“The ceramic inserts on the tip of the bobbin will protect the fine fly-tying thread. Without the ceramic, the bobbin will develop burrs and grooves in the metal. This will cause the thread to constantly break during tying, very frustrating!”

Extra equimpent

fly tying gadgets

Image source: shutterstock
More shiny fly-tying gadgets

Next we move on to less essential, albeit still useful, secondary tools.

Hackle pliers

Hackle pliers are useful for big fingers that can’t get a good grip on small feathers. But the Fly Dressers’ Guild warns:

“Check that the edges of the jaws are not sharp or they will cut through your materials. A quick rub with emery paper or the addition of a small piece of silicone tubing will cure this problem.”

Dubbing needle

A dubbing needle performs a variety of roles. It will pick out dubbing (fur), apply varnish, undo knots and separate feather fibres. You don’t necessarily need to buy a dubbing needle if you can find something else that’s long and pointy to use instead – the Fly Dressers’ Guild recommends “Grandma’s hat pins”.

Whip finish tool

Some tyers love ‘em and some tyers hate ‘em. Whip finish tools come in various shapes and sizes and are used to finish off the fly. But they can be a real faff to handle. The alternative is to whip finish by hand.

Tying lamp v natural light

hillend dabbler fly

Image source: Hillend Dabbler
One of Hillend Dabbler’s al fresco creations

Depending on where your tying table is located you might need to shine some light on your handiwork. There are a number of fly tying lamps that give the magnification and shadow-free light you’ll need for the fiddly stuff.

But in warmer weather, natural light can work just as well, as Hillend Dabbler comments:

“Today I managed to get outdoors into the garden and tie a few patterns on the garden table with a nice cold beer close to hand. It has to be said the light was absolutely tremendous which I believe is a very important factor whilst tying. The natural light really assisted me outdoors today so maybe tying al fresco is something I should consider doing more often.”

Materials

good quality hackle

Image source: shutterstock
When choosing hackle, quality really does matter

Now it’s time to choose the materials you’ll use to create your first flies. Don’t go bonkers and buy every possible variation of anything you could ever need. Take it slowly at first.

1) Hackle
Before you choose your hackle – or feathers – consider the type of fly you’re going to make. When it comes to poultry, smaller, softer hen capes work best for wet flies as the fibres move better in the water. While for dry flies, cock capes are better, as the fibres are stiffer and so float better.

Fly Fishing Connection (which provides a good, quick overview of what you need to know about hackle) warns against scrimping on price:

“When choosing hackle, quality counts. You will end up being frustrated if you do not spend the extra money.”

wet and dry fly hackle

Image source: shutterstock
Wet and dry flies require different types of hackle

If you have friends who shoot, ask them for game bird feathers. These can come in handy for soft-hackle fly patterns. And start keeping an eye out for anything interesting on your travels. But be warned; David Cammiss says:

“Once you start collecting fly tying materials no walk along the river, or lakeside will ever be the same again. You will find yourself gathering feathers and anything else which ‘just might be useful’. On a recent trip my colleague could not believe I was collecting sheep’s wool off the barbed wire. Now that it has been washed in detergent in boiling water it will be dyed.”

2) Hooks

Choice of hook is very important!!

Choice of hook is very important!!

Your choice of hook is also very important, says Al Campbell of Fly Anglers Online:

“If you choose the right hook, your fly will be better proportioned and thus perform better in use. If you choose the wrong hook, you’ll have a flawed fly and your success with that fly will likely be less than the success you would enjoy with a properly tied fly.”

But with so many sizes and types of hook, how do you know where to start? Campbell suggests you first decide which flies you want to make and then buy the hooks you need to make them. Not the other way round.

3) Thread

There are almost as many types of thread as there are types of hook. But Fly on a hook blogger, Bernard Sunderland, advises beginners to start with a ‘standard’ thread – polyester, 70 denier – and not to buy any specialist thread in the early stages.

Once you’ve made your first few flies you’ll soon have a favourite combination of materials that you can draw from.

Rob Waddington’s top six are: “A B175 #10 hook with some white marabou, hare’s ear, peacock feathers, natural cock cape, pheasant tail and a few brass beads. You could tie anything with them.”

For Bob Mayers: “Hook would be Fulling Mill comp heavyweight, materials would be Booby Eyes, Straggle Fritz, Bronze Mallard, Pheasant Tails, cock hackles, Jungle cock Eyes.”

Technique

fly fishing gear

Image source: shutterstock
All the gear but no idea?

Teaching technique is way beyond the scope of this short guide. But we will point you in the direction of some very useful resources:

1) Reference books
A quick search on Amazon or a question posted on your favourite fishing forum will quickly lead you to the most helpful beginner’s guides to fly tying.
Here are three of the most popular:
Fly Tying for Beginners: How to Tie 50 Failsafe Flies, by Peter Gathercole
The Fly Tier’s Benchside Reference to Techniques and Dressing Styles, by Ted Leeson
Beginners Guide To Fly Tying, by Chris Mann & Terry Griffiths

2) Online tutorials

davie mcphail youtube

Follow Davie McPhail’s tutorials for beginner fly tyers

There are literally thousands of how-to videos on sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Some of the best beginners tutorials include:

Learn Fly Tying, by David Cammiss
What Makes a Good Fly by Mikael Frodin
Flies for Beginners by Davie McPhail

3) Lessons
If you know a fly tyer, ask them for help. If you don’t, try contacting your local Fly Dressers Guild for details of any fly-tying classes near you.

Expert advice

1) Simply does it
Without doubt, the main piece of advice for the beginner fly tyer is to keep it simple:

“Don’t over complicate, watch YouTube videos, start with easy patterns,” advises Bob Mayers of the Llandegfedd Fly Fishing Association.

“Don’t try to replicate complex patterns when you start, start with easy-to-tie patterns and build up your skills slowly,” agrees McFluffchucker blogger, Dave Lindsay.

2) Less is more
Resist the temptation to overdo your first flies, says Lindsay:

“Don’t use tons of materials when you tie a fly; always remember less is more when it comes to big pike flies, flies become more mobile in the water if you use less material.”

Waddington agrees: “Less is more, don’t ‘over-tie’. Sparse materials look better in the water and have a luminous effect.”

3) Don’t worry about perfection
And last, but not least, don’t worry if your first fly (or even your 101st) isn’t perfect. The fish don’t care. Dave Lindsay tells us:

“Even if you think your first tyes dosnt look professional they will still catch fish”

And take this advice from trout fly fishing maestro Geoffrey Bucknall:

Recently, fly tying has become very sophisticated. And master fly dressers, at the demos have raised the craft to a pinnacle of perfection. It is great to watch… and yet, I wonder, are we not discouraging a handful of would-be beginners who believe their sausage fingers could not manipulate what is needed for a woven body?

True, the fly must be basically right in colour and size, but the trout locks onto the natural fly by the way it behaves in or on the water. In other words, a simple fly presented in the natural way, that does the business. Fly dressing can be raised to a high level of craftsmanship but that has nothing to do with catching fish!

So, my advice to fly dressers is this; write in big letters above your bench: TROUT RECOGNISE THEIR FOOD BY ITS BEHAVIOUR. That will govern the way you make your flies.

And on that encouraging note, here endeth the lesson.

Fishtec stock everything you need to start fly tying – including amazing value tool sets, materials and hooks from all the major suppliers, plus the best selling all-in-one Airflo fly tying kits! Click here for further details.

Beginners guide to fly fishing

learn fly fishing

Image source: Flickr
Passing on the wisdom

New to fly fishing? Not sure what equipment you need to buy? Or how to get started? This guide is for you.

Here we cover the very basics of fly fishing. We don’t pretend this is all you need to know to capture a record fish – but it is just enough to get you fly fishing. The rest takes a lifetime of practise – enjoy!

Get a rod licence

Image source: Angling Times

Image source: Angling Times
Don’t forget your rod license

Next time you nip out for a paper, pick up a rod licence too. You need one to fish any inland waterway in the UK – anywhere but the sea. You can get one from your local Post Office.

Here are the current rod licence prices:

Rod licence pricing UK 2014
Rod licence Type

Non-Migratory Trout & Coarse

Full annual £27
Senior/Disabled concession £18
Junior concession (U16) £5
Children under 12 FREE
8-day £10
1-day £3.75

Salmon & Sea Trout

Full annual £72
Senior/Disabled concession £48
Junior concession (U16) £5
Children under 12 FREE
8-day £23
1-day £8

Choosing a rod

shakespeare fly rods

Image source: Shakespeare
A fine selection of fly rods and flies

Next up you need a fly fishing rod. Here your choice depends to a large extent on where you’re hoping to fish, what species you’re most interested in catching, and whether or not you’re likely to be travelling with your fishing rod.

Fly rod selection is a tough subject, so check out our guide to choosing the right fly fishing rod for more tips and advice.

Prices for a new fly rod range from around the £50 mark to £300 and upwards, but to get you started, you won’t go too far wrong with one of these little beauties – an Airflo elite fly fishing kit – a four piece rod, reel and quality fly line in a cordura tube, starting from just £129.99.

Here’s what the guys here at Fishtec thought of it when it was launched:

Which fly reel?

Die cast or machine cut? Large arbor? Click drag or disc drag? When it comes to choosing the right fly reel for you, the most important question is, what type of fish are you trying to catch?

For smaller fish like trout, a good and inexpensive choice is this Airflo Sniper Fly Reel – incredible value for money and even better – it comes with a free fly line.

If it’s larger freshwater species or saltwater varieties you intend to target, you’ll be looking for something heavier duty and with a great drag system, like the Airflo Xceed, as recommended by Trout and Salmon Magazine as one of their top reels of 2014.

For more information on reel selection, read our fly reel buying guide.

Fly line and leader

fly line

Image source: Greg Davis via Trek Earth
Flaming fly lines

Now for your first fly line. For beginners we recommend a floating line because you’ll be able to use it for fishing both dry flies on the surface, and wet flies just under the water. The weight of your line or AFTM rating should match the rod you fish with, so make sure you look for the information written just above the handle of your rod.

Taper is an important factor to consider as it affects the distance you can cast, and the presentation of the fly. Then there’s the backing – usually braided, it’s the line you tie your specialist fly line to.

With so many factors to consider, what you really need is a guide to fly lines and backing. Luckily we prepared one earlier…and just in case you need a quick recap, check out this brief guide from Fishtec’s Tim Rajeff:

The fly

Will it be a Greenwell’s Glory, a Woodcock and Yellow, or a Red Palmer? The choice of fly patterns is endless.

Some fly fishermen fish just one pattern in different sizes, others have an armoury of tufted hooks at their disposal. The best advice here is to ask around to find out what works in your local water – and be prepared to experiment.

A top tip is to take more than you think you’ll need. You can expect to lose a few – especially to begin with.

Fly fishing clothing

Traditional fly fishing clothing

Image source: Unaccomplished Angler Traditional fly fishing clothing

A set of neoprene chest waders, a Harris tweed jacket and hat with a feather in it – that’s all you need to keep you warm and dry isn’t it? Well, sort of.

Fly fishing clothing needs to do three things: wick moisture away from your skin; hold warm, dry air close to your body; and keep the elements out. Layers are the answer, the more you have, the more clothes you can take off as it gets warmer, or put on as the temperature drops.

Here’s a guide to carp fishing clothing – don’t worry – it works just as well for fly fishermen. Layer up and get out there!

Putting it all together

We could try to show you how to cast – but diagrams, video tutorials and written instructions won’t get you very far. To learn to cast, you need lessons from an expert, and you’re in luck because here at Fishtec, we have our very own directory of fly fishing instructors.

The good news is, you can pick up the basics in a day. But then you’ll need to perfect your technique which will take you…a lifetime! What are you waiting for?