Bill Rushmer is a Puntsman in the Francis Francis Angling Club. Here he steers a safe and comfortable course through boat techniques for rivers.
Although boat fishing is a great joy in itself, it also has some distinct advantages over bank fishing.
First, it allows for greater mobility. You can, within the limits of safety, roam almost anywhere on the river. This means you can explore all those interesting-looking swims that you’d always longed to fish but couldn’t reach from the bank.
Secondly, a boat often allows for much greater control over the tackle. Provided you can manoeuvre the boat into position without scaring the fish, you can usually guide a bait straight into the fish’s mouth -something which may be much harder from the bank.
Thirdly, you can change swims easily. Often this involves simply lifting weights and drifting or propelling the boat to a new spot. You don’t have the aggravation of carrying rods, nets and tackle boxes – often involving several journeys — in order to move from one bankside swim to another.
Types of river boat
Whether you are going to borrow a boat from a friend or buy one, you need to be aware of the pros and cons of the different types for river fishing. Inflatable dinghies Be quite clear what is meant by the term ‘inflatable dinghy’. We are not talking here of the little boats that are taken on holidays for fun. Made from flimsy material, they would be impractical to fish from and extremely dangerous. Here we mean boats made from tough materials – such as Neoprene. You can put wooden planks in the bottom of these boats to make them more solid. In other words, they are fiat-bottomed craft which, although still light, are durable and, because they are very wide for their length, extremely stable.
The great advantage is that you can store them in the boot of an average-sized family car for transporting about. When inflated they can be carried on one shoulder quite easily – even over fences. Being small, they are able to squeeze into fairly confined spaces – such as some of the excellent swims found between houseboats. And because you can keep them at home you don’t have to worry about mooring fees.
The disadvantages are that being fairly small you can carry only a limited amount of tackle and they aren’t as comfortable as bigger boats.
Dinghies These appear to be the most popular craft used by anglers. Flat-bottomed dinghies are more stable than those with rounded hulls and do not rock as much when the angler strikes. A good length for a two-man boat is 3.7m (12ft). Anything less is going to be cramped and possibly dangerous. Pram dinghies are too small and should be avoided. Most dinghies require two men to take them to a new venue. Punts There are many types of punts available but for fishing in deep, powerful rivers such as the tidal Thames, heavy working punts – such as the ones used by the Francis Francis Angling Club — are best. The club has up to eight punts, each 6.4m (21ft) long by 1.2m (4ft) wide and made from heavy traditional timbers. These punts are very stable and have wet wells built into them for keeping fish. The advantage of a wet well is that, should you need to, you can move the punt to a new swim without damaging the fish – something that is far more difficult to do if they are kept in a net and trailed over the side of the boat.
Whether you moor across stream or with it depends on the type of boat you are using. Heavy punts are good because you have a choice of mooring lengthways or width-ways. Being flat-bottomed, and almost as broad as they are long, inflatables give you the same choice – though with inflatables it is best to stick to slower swims since these boats are very light.
Flat-bottomed dinghies aren’t a problem either. The ones you have to watch are round-bottomed boats. Moored across the current they rock when you strike – and if the movement is particularly jerky they may turn over. A ways moor a round-bottomed boat with its nose to the flow.
Two methods are commonly used for mooring a boat. These are using weights or with ryepecks – which are poles driven into the bed of the river.
Weights have the advantage of being easy to use – all you have to do is lower them carefully over the side and then tighten the boat up to them.
The problem with using weights in rivers is that they can shift – especially if the current is fairly strong and the river bed hard so that the weights can’t bed in.
If you are going to use weights on a tidal river you must be quite sure of the times when the river is going to flood and stop fishing well before. For obvious reasons, fishing from an anchored boat in rising water is extremely dangerous. Ryepecks are long wooden poles with a heavy metal spike at one end. Because they are heavy and have to be carried inside the boat, they are only suitable for securing punts. The poles are worked into the bed of the river – one at each end of the punt – and the punt secured to them with chains. The chains allow the punt to ride up and down the pole which means you can fish in tidal rivers comfortably.
It may take a lot of effort to work the spikes into the river bed – especially when there is a strong flow and the river bed is made of gravel – but once in place they hold a boat securely in position.
Boat tackle and tactics
Trotting float tackle from a boat is one of the simplest and most enjoyable ways of fishing.
Reels Casting when fishing from a boat is rarely more than a little flick – often the tackle is just lowered into the water and left to run downstream, or held back. For this reason it is unnecessary to use a fixed-spool reel. Centrepins are far simpler and give scope for greater control. Choose one with the line coming off the top of the reel. This way the line flows much more freely through the rod rings and is less likely to be blown off the reel.
Handles are unnecessary and may cause the line to tangle round them. You can wind in by batting the rim of the spool and can play even quite large carp using the finger holes drilled in the side of the spool. Rods Often fish are located within 3-4m (10- 13ft) of the boat – which can cause problems if you are using a 12-13ft (3.6-4m) rod. This is where a rod of 1134ft (3.5m) is a very useful tool. A spliced tip is ideal because it means that the rod is forgiving on the strike — something which is important if you are right over the fish — but then the extra power farther down the rod is there when you need it.
Some swims are so tight that you can’t get a conventional rod in. This is when a short telescopic rod – such as a DAM Airline Hunter – can come in very handy. Line Choose a heavier line than you would normally use for a similar job when bank fishing. Bringing fish back against the full force of the current in deep, turbulent waters puts a greater strain on the tackle.
There is also the added danger of a fish going under the boat, causing the line to break as it rubs against the boat’s hull. For this reason it is best to use line with a good resistance to abrasion. For general purpose fishing for roach, bream and perch, 3lb (1.4kg) line straight through is about right. Floats, shotting and bait The size and type of float you use depend largely on the venue and the species you are after, but in general floats need to be heavier than those used for bank fishing.
Don’t forget that your own boat creates extra turbulence. Stringing the shot out shirt-button style may work from the bank but it rarely works in a boat – your bait is likely to be lost in all the turmoil. It is more effective to bulk the shot close to the hook or use an Olivette. A 2-3 SSG balsa or, where the flow is less turbulent, a pole float with a thick bristle, should do the job. water is often coloured (even if only slightly) by algae, or when the water is coloured in autumn and winter. This is probably because perch are sight-feeding predators.