Fishing with feathers

As long ago as the 17th century, feathers were being used as a means of catching fish in the sea. Today strings of feathers which have either six or twelve hooks – tied to short snoods – are made by the tens of thousands. They are used principally to catch mackerel. It is likely that the fish are fooled into thinking a string of feathers is a shoal of small prey.

The most commonly used feathers are often called ‘holiday feathers’ – because of their wide use during short summer fishing trips for mackerel. ‘Holiday feathers’ consist of a string of six plain or multi-coloured feathers whipped to size 1/0 hooks.

A good trim

There is often too much feather on a commercial hook. A well-used set of mackerel feathers – in which the feather content has been worn down to little more than a wisp — seems to catch a lot more fish. Therefore a good trim with a pair of scissors dramatically improves a string’s catching potential. A string of feathers, with a weight, simply dropped from the side of the boat will catch. But your chances of success are much improved by loading’ the feathers with oxygenated bubbles before they sink into the depths.

To achieve this you cast the string out so that the weight strikes the water hard, creating the necessary disturbance. In calm conditions you can see the value of this as the feathers bubble while they sink. Mackerel, which have an incredible turn of speed, often stop the string as it plummets down.

Suddenly, everything goes light for a second or two, then you feel the weight as you put the reel into gear and the rod takes the burden. Six good mackerel on at the same time – all of them trying to dash about -puts quite a strain on the tackle. A ‘full house’ – every hook with a taker – can take some bringing up if the mackerel are large. Experienced boat anglers only use ‘holiday feathers’ when they are catching large numbers of mackerel for bait – it is considered ‘unsporting’ in normal angling terms. A string offeathers can also be used to catch mackerel very effectively from the shore, as long as there is a reasonable depth of water. Steep shelving beaches are ideal for this type of fishing.

Big predators

Big, fast predators like pollack and coalfish can be caught on strings offeathers close to the sea bottom. These species are fooled by a size 6/0 hook heavily laden with different coloured feathers which slick down when wet. These are whipped to the shank of the hook with light monofilament and treated to a coating of instant glue. A 5cm length of bicycle valve tubing worked down over the whipped shank protects the binding and adds to the attractiveness of the offering. This type of feathered hook is usually fished on a long flowing trace called a ‘flying collar.’

Mike once fished a wreck with a three hook rig and 10/0 hooks. At 69m, three ling hit – a catch of 47kg !