For your first fishing trip, I would recommend you to find a water such as a small lake or pond, which is teeming with small roach, rudd and carp. While many of them are private or club waters, others are open to anglers on a day ticket permit —usually very reasonably priced.
If such a water doesn’t exist in your area, then go to your local canal or river — but pick a stretch where the water moves slowly — this will make life much easier when learning the rudiments. Most rivers hold a quantity of small fish and these will be the ones you will practise on.
Once at the water’s edge you will need to assemble your tackle correctly. Here are the basics to tackling up:
The Rod: Push the top joint into the middle joint and then these two sections into the butt joint, making sure the eyes on the rod all line up.
The Reel: Push the reel on to the rod’s reel fittings, making sure it is firmly secure at the top of the handle. Now open the metal bail arm on the reel and thread the line through ALL of the rings one by one, starting with the butt ring and finishing with the end eye. Pull the line down level with your handle and then engage the bail arm by turning the handle of the reel. This will click it over.
Attaching The Float: On any still water you will be using a float which is attached by the bottom only. These are wagglers and antennas. The small wire ring at the bottom of these floats should be threaded on to the line and then locked with two split shot (to be dealt with in a minute).
Hooks: You need a finer line on which to attach the hook to your reel line. As I have said, the hook length should be slightly lighter than the reel line. If you have tackled up with 21b line, make sure you have a spool of 1lb line in your box. Take off about 18 inches, make a small loop in one end and tie this end to your reel line. Use a blood knot (as shown) to tie it on. On the end of your hook length comes the hook. This will be either an eyed or spade end. Remember if you have bought hooks attached to nylon, you will not need a hook length as this is already provided with these models. Just tie the hook to nylon straight on to your reel line.
An eyed hook is also tied with a blood knot but the spade end types are a little trickier. With a little practice at home you can easily master this before making your first cast. (Remember always to keep the hook length tight when tying a hook on.) Use the line guide already mentioned to select your hook size.
Shotting is a vital aspect of float fishing. Many anglers have their floats shotted incorrectly — either they have too much float showing or the way they place their shot on the line is wrong. There are three reasons for putting shot on the line — to make the bait fall through the water naturally; to give you the weight required to cast out; and to cock the float (make it sit upright in the water) so there is little resistance for the fish to feel when taking the bait. I have already mentioned the different sized shot you will need. Today many floats you buy have their shotting capacity on them. If a float’s shotting capacity is two swan shot it would be impracticable to put two of these shot — the biggest available — on the line and cast out. The approach is to break down the shot to the required amount, using many of the different sizes available. The bulk of the shot should be around the float. This will make casting easier. The rest of the shot should be placed on the line so the bait falls slowly through the water and also cuts out tangles when casting.
Example: If the float you have placed on your line takes two swan then a swan and an AA should be used to lock the float (set the float at about five feet and pinch the swan above the float, push the float tight up against the swan and then pinch on the AA. Now the float cannot move up and down the line). Two AA equals one swan, so it stands to reason one more AA will cock the float. This AA can be broken down even further. Two BB = one AA and two No 4’s = one BB.
Whatever depth you are fishing, place the BB and No 4 just below half way between the float and the hook and then a further No 4 between the two shot and the hook. The BB and No 4 should always be as close together as possible. You then have a total of five shot on the line — a swan, an AA, a BB and two No 4’s two swan. After casting out the float will cock up, cock still further down as the BB and No 4 reach their limit and the final No 4 will submerge the float to the correct level.
The float should always be cocked so that only the tip is visible on the surface. If a two swan float doesn’t cock after putting these shot on the line — and sometimes the markings given on manufactured floats are slightly out — just add another small shot to the BB and No 4 until the float sits correctly.
Plumbing the depth: A most important procedure and one which should never be neglected. On any water you will want to know how deep your swim is. By placing a plummet on to the hook (pushing the hook through the wire loop and into the cork strip) cast out at your set depth — say five feet. If the float disappears the swim is deeper than five feet and the float and locking shot have to be moved up the line. If the float just cocks as it should, the swim is shallower and the float and shot have to be moved down. It is easier to plumb the depth when only the locking shot has been pinched on. When you have found the depth then add the other shot at the correct intervals. (See image.)
Baiting up: Your tackle should now be set correctly with the hook just on or near the bottom. To start with, maggots are as good a bait as any. With a size 20 hook use just a single maggot and with 18 or 16, a double maggot. The point of the hook should be pushed very gently into the maggot’s skin, making sure not to burst the maggot. When placed on the hook (as shown on page 12) the maggot will remain lively and tempting.
Casting: This can be a tricky operation for beginners but it really is just a question of timing and positioning the rod at the correct angle. ( I will post a separate article on casting)
Bites: There are three main ways a fish takes the bait on float tackle — taking the float down, lifting it up, or running with it. A fish which moves off with the bait after the tackle has reached the bottom will take the float under (unless you have the last shot on the bottom and it will then signal a lift bite as the weight is lifted from its resting place). A lift bite is normally registered when a fish intercepts the bait as it is falling through the water. This can be seen as the tackle is beginning to settle. The float will cock — but the tip will stand out of the water higher than normally because the No 4 shot you have near the hook has not reached its limit. A fish holds it up as it swims away with the Runs are more common on still waters where fish will at times move slowly along the bottom after picking up the bait.
Striking: It is not enough just to get a bite to enable you to catch a fish — you have to be able to strike at the bites — that is, to lift the rod sharply up to set the hook into the fish’s mouth. The strike should always be smooth, carried out with the whole length of your forearm. The handle of the rod should stay as close as possible to your arm. Do not strike with your wrist.
Your strike should be hard enough to set the hook home — but not too hard or else you could easily snap the line if a big fish has picked up the bait. In deepish water — anything over four feet — the strike should be an upward movement. In shallow water of only a couple of feet, strike to the side. This will stop the tackle tangling if you miss a bite. Strike upwards in shallow water and if you miss the bite the float and hook will fly out of the water and it is odds-on that the line will ravel up.
Playing a fish: Small fish should be wound in carefully and swung in to the hand. Try to judge the distance between the rod top and the fish and then swing the fish in so that it comes to your hand. Too much line out and the fish will still be in the water as you lift the tackle out. Too little line and the fish will end up half way up the rod — forcing you to let out more line by back-winding. Many youngsters swing the fish on to the bank and then put the rod down and walk to the fish. This is wrong. You should always be aiming to make things as easy as possible. If you happen to hook into a big fish, take your time. Allow the rod to bend but if the fish starts to swim off quickly give it some line by back-winding. (Winding the reel the opposite way without the ratchet on. It is always best to fish with the ratchet off.) The rod should always have a slight bend in it when playing a large fish — never allow the line to go slack. As the fish starts to tire, keep its head out of the water as it reaches the surface but be ready for the fish to make sudden dives and again give outline. Once the fish is completely exhausted place the landing net under it and scoop it out.
Unhooking: All fish should be unhooked carefully and gently. If the hook is in a fish’s lips take hold of the hook’s shank and pull the point out gently. A disgorger should be used on a fish which has swallowed the bait — use a disgorger with a small slit in the side. This slit is placed on the hook- length, making sure the line is tight. Slide it down into the fish’s mouth to be pushed gently against the hook. This should force it out. If you cannot get the hook out don’t keep prodding about, cut the line as near to the hook as possible and quickly put the fish in the keep net or return it to the water. No fish should be kept out of water for more than a few seconds.
Your fishing techniques will be very much improved if you are lucky enough to have an experienced angler with you on the banks to show you the ropes. Many areas have angling clubs with thriving junior section, which also organise tutorial classes. If there is one in your area, my advice is to join. Reading about the basics and then being shown them in practice is the quickest way to learn.
Here are some important points to remember. Some of them will be dealt with in greater detail in the float- fishing article.
. Always shot the float up carefully.
. Plumb the depth correctly and fish near the bottom.
. Always throw in a few maggots — or whatever hook bait you are using — around the float. Say six to a dozen maggots or casters every five minutes and continue to feed when the fish start biting. Small, soft balls of ground bait as described earlier can be thrown in but not quite so often as with loose feed. Always place loose feed into your groundbait.
. Change your hook bait after catching a fish.
. With mixed maggots you get different colours. If, say, white hasn’t caught any fish then change to red or yellow or a combination of the colours.