The freeline angler crouching hidden from his prey, watching currents sweep his bait into some dark, difficult refuge, gains a pleasure from his fishing denied any other style of angling.
Freelining, or loose-lining as some anglers call it, is possibly the most efficient way of catching the better quality fish.
It is mainly used to catch big fish on stillwaters, and has a useful, if somewhat limited, application on small streams or slacks and bends on bigger rivers.
One of the aims in all forms of fishing is to reduce resistance and present a bait in the most delicate way possible, and it is hard to imagine a presentation more delicate than the offer of a bait on tackle completely free of leads. The only weight is in the baited hook, and the only resistance comes from the pressure of water on the line.
Clearly, such a method has limitations. It is impossible to freeline a fast flowing river, unless the aim is to catch fish from the nearside bank, and even on stillwaters casting virtually weightless tackle presents difficulties.
There are ways round the problems, though, the simplest being to use heavy baits. It is remarkable how far you can cast a single lobworm—provided that you use a correctly loaded fixed-spool reel. A single lobworm will go three or four rod lengths, and a bunch of lobs much further, given reasonable cooperation from the wind.
Another good freelining bait is paste in one of its many mixes, including the high protein concoctions beloved of carp anglers. Alternatively, crust, dunked in the water before casting, is frequently freelined as a floating bait. In fact, anything fish will eat, and which has some weight about it, can be freelined.
Favourite freelined baits commonly used on small streams and the eddies and bends of rivers, are the slug and the crayfish. These baits stand a good chance of enticing biggerthan-average chub and, because of their weight, can be cast quite easily over several yards. They should drop invitingly upstream of overhanging banks or undercut banks. As the bait falls through the water, the takes no time at all for a huge bow to form in the line, especially in a cross-wind. To prevent this, the trick is to drop the line just before the bait hits the water so that it straightens out a bit. Then eliminate more slack after the bait has hit the bottom. Pull back the line gently until you feel resistance from the bait, then reel up most of the slack, keeping a yard or so on which to pinch silver paper.
By eliminating slack, you will see the bite indicator (andor the line) move as soon as a fish moves with the bait. Otherwise, with lots of slack line about, a fish could go several yards without a sign at your end of the tackle; and in that time it might feel the hook and eject it.
Fishing with a sunken line is much more effective in windy conditions than a floating line which is likely to current does the rest. The offering sweeps lifelike and naturally into the subterranean lairs—something quite impossible with weighted tackle.
Bites obtained when freelining slugs and crayfish are mostly ferocious, and the angler will be left in no doubt as to the size of the fish, the moment he sets the hook home.
Advantages of PVA
Life gets a little more complicated when these baits have to be used at extreme ranges, or when smaller or lighter baits are required. In such cases, carp anglers often use a substance called PVA (Polyvinyl alcohol). It looks like a softish tissue paper and its chief virtue is that it dissolves very rapidly in the water. It is usually sold in the form of small bags, which are supposed to be packed with loose feed (such as maggots and casters) and a stone, and then thrown in as groundbait. But it can also be rolled into strips and used for attaching disposable weights.
Scrap lead makes the best weights, although there are now environmental arguments against their use, and if you do not want to use them, there are other ways. Some anglers swear by balls of clay, for example, which soften in the water. One extremely simple but effective method of casting a freelined bait over a long distance is to mould a ball of groundbait around the baited hook. This serves a dual purpose, baiting up the swim on impact as well as adding casting weight. But beginners should forget such sophistication and concentrate on big baits at close range. The method is simple and deadly—provided you avoid the obvious pitfalls.
Basically, you cast out the bait and drop the rod into two rests of the sort that allow free passage of line, and leave the bale arm of the spool open. You then attach the line to whatever bite indication method you intend to employ—be it swing-tip, night bite alarm or a fold of silver paper—and wait.
But you will wait for ever if you do not pay attention to one important detail. With no weight on the line it end up somewhere in the margins. A little washing up liquid applied to the spool is sufficient to make most monofilament lines sink, while the application of a proprietary grease will make it float.
The only other major problem with freelining is undercurrent, which can pull line through the rings and hinder bite detection. The only answer is to pinch a little weight on the line—bread paste is usual—to stop the line pulling out.
A variation on freelining is used by match anglers, although its use is limited to stillwaters and very slow land drains. These matchmen have appreciated that there is no better method of bite indication than watching the line. They use normal ledger terminal tackles, but instead of using a swingtip, quivertip or indeed any other bite indicator, they simply watch the line.
To do this, they use a short rod, and set it up pointing towards the wind, which, ideally, comes from one side or the other. As the line is cast, the wind blows back towards the angler and it enters the water more or less in front of him. The idea is to watch the curve of the line on the water, or the little black dot where line and water meet. With practice, bite detection is simplicity itself, but the big bonus is the number of fish caught simply because resistance is at a minimum.
The swingtip, with its flexible link to the rod, succeeds because it minimizes the resistance which a taking fish feels. It gives the angler that little bit of extra time before the fish ejects the bait. But the tip does offer some resistance. Imagine how much less there is when a fish merely starts to straighten a bow in thin monofilament line.
If you want to baffle the spec-tators, this is an outstanding way to do it. You will be striking fish which are not giving the slightest indication of a bite to anyone but you.
The method’s drawbacks
Unfortunately, it is also a method with very limited application. Even on the stillest waters there are conditions in which it cannot be used, such as when the sun glinting on the water surface obscures the line. Indeed, some colours of line blend so well with the water that they are difficult to see in any conditions, although greasing a few yards beyond the rod tip (after an exploratory cast to determine how much line is needed) can help. It is well worth persevering with, for the benefits can be enormous.