Freshwater leads

The range of freshwater leads on the market is vast. Using the right lead—and as little as circumstances will allow—adds a new dimension of skill and enjoyment to your fishing.

Leads have become an indispensable item in every freshwater angler’s tackle box and are used to perform a variety of functions. In float fishing they provide casting weight and, if the right amount of lead is selected, they cock the float enabling it to ‘ride’ the water with the required amount left above the surface. Cor-rect spacing of the lead—usually split shots—is one of the most important factors in this style of fishing and for achieving a natural presentation of the bait.

The number of different leads on offer in any tackle shop today is enormous. Thirty years ago the range was limited, with the most popular leads being the coffin, the bored bullet, the barleycorn and the Wye. In the 1950s Richard Walker introduced his own invention, the Arlesey bomb, and later came the pyramid-shaped Capta lead. In recent years, French-made leads have become popular among match fishermen, particularly when pole fishing is involved.

Split shot

By far the most commonly used leads are split shots. These are round with a split across them which when pressed shut over the line holding the weight in place. Their use is common to float fishing and to a lesser extent ledgering and by anglers ranging from the beginner to the specimen hunter. Split shots are available in various sizes. The largest, swan shot or SSG, weigh about 15 to the ounce, while AAA weigh about 35, and BB about 70, to the ounce. A numbered scale of com monly used split shot runs from 1-8, with the latter often known as dust shot, weighing about 450 to the ounce. Smaller shots, called micro-dust are also available. These No 10 and 12 shots consist of over 1,000 to the ounce and are used almost ex-clusively by the match fisherman and are best ignored by beginners.

The sliding link rig

Today, with angling becoming more sophisticated, the coffin leads and bored bullets have lost much of their appeal. While bored bullets are stll used by some ledger fishermen, the majority of anglers now prefer the sliding link rig—a length of nylon with swan shots pinched on it. By using this rig. And adding or removing shots, the angler is able to adjust his tackle to fine limits—the bait either rolling along the bottom or remaining stationary according to the style of fishing.-

Sliding link rigs have further ad-vantages. First, because the shots are positioned away from the reel or main line, less resistance is felt by the biting fish. Second, when the line becomes snagged, the shots will either pull off the link or, if of lower b.s. Than the reel line, it will break, so avoiding the loss of hook and perhaps yards of line.

Coffin leads were designed to hold to the bottom in fast water—a job they performed very well. The length and shape of coffin leads, however, requires at least lin of line running through it and this sets up considerable resistance to the taking fish. To overcome this difficulty, a swivel may be placed at one end of the lead held in place by tapping it with a hammer. The line is then passed through the swivel. This reduces resistance while enabling the angler to keep the bait in one place in a fast current.

Like the lead coffin, the once popular bored bullet is now seldom used. This is partly because of the limited range of sizes, but more importantly, like the lead coffin, it suffers from problems of line resist-ance. However, in fast water and where the size of the bullet allows the bait to roll along the bottom, this lead can be effective. A fish picking up a bait along the bottom and moving off puts pressure on the line or weight, or sometimes both, helping to shift the lead so that the fish does not feel it. But despite this, bored bullets remain a crude form of ledger weight and are of no use at all to the float fisherman.

In the 1950s another lead intended for use in fast water and similar to the coffin made its appearance. The Capta was pyramid-shaped with a swivel in the top, and came in a number of different sizes. It was rather like a cross between an Arlesey bomb and a coffin. The Capta did not last long. Although it held bottom firmly and was held away from the main line by the swivel, its shape made accurate casting difficult and set up resistance when being retrieved.

Arlesey bomb

By far the most successful modern lead is the Arlesey bomb, designed by Richard Walker for casting baits 50 yards into Arlesey lake. Streamlined in shape, it is easily cast and the swivel in the top, through which the main line runs, creates minimum resistance. This swivel also ensures that if the tackle becomes twisted as it flies through the air, the twists in the line come out as the tackle sinks. The line also runs easily through the eye of the swivel no matter what the direction of pull. Because of its rounded shape, the Arlesey bomb has the additional advantage that it does not easily snag on the bottom. It is available in several sizes from Vsoz up to 1 1/2 OZ.

The fold-over or half moon lead is occasionally used in small sizes to replace split shot, but has more value as a casting weight for spinning and does not allow the line to become kinked by the strain this technique puts on it.


The plummet is another form of lead with a particular application. It is used by the angler to discover the depth of the water in which he in-tends to float fish. Several different designs of plummet are available but two are most popular. One has a piece of cork in the bottom, the other spring jaws. On the former, the hook is passed through a ring at the top then stuck into the cork base. On the latter the jaws are opened, the hook placed inside and the jaws allowed to close. Both types are good, though the latter can get lost once the spring which operates the jaws begins to weaken.

The depth of the swim is ascertained by attaching the plummet, pushing the float up the line some 5ft, then casting into the swim. If the float sinks, push it further up the line. If it lies flat it must be pushed down. When it has been ad-paternoster leads. 10 Barrel leads. 11 Clip-on swimfeeder weight. 12 Lead wire used with self-cocking floats. 13 Add-on leads for the Drennan Feederlink. 14 Pierced bullets—a crude ledger weight in most circumstances, and virtually useless for the float fisherman.

What can I do to stop my split shot closing by the time I get to the water?

Justed correctly, the bait rests on the bottom when the plummet is removed. When the bait is presented off the bottom, it is vital that the angler knows the depth of his swim so the bait can be fished at the depth that he considers necessary or the depth fish demand.


One very old pattern of lead which still has its uses in freshwater fishing is the barleycorn. This is mainly used for float fishing when long casts and heavy baits are necessary, as when, for example, ‘trotting’ the far bank with bread or meat bait for chub. The lead is streamlined and, used in conjunction with a heavy float carrying two or three SSG shots or the equivalent, smooth and accurate casts of considerable length can be made, even against a wind. The barleycorn, however, is not suitable for ledgering.

The Wye lead is spiral-shaped and has a wire spiral top and bottom. This allows the lead to be attached and detached without disconnecting the line and trace and when slightly bent, it has a useful anti-kink effect. Employed mainly by salmon anglers, this lead is not used in coarse fishing.

The popularity of Continental styles of fishing in recent years has resulted in several different Con-tinental leads becoming available to the British angler. Styl leads are cylindrical in shape and are claimed to be the most carefully made leads on the market. The lead has a groove which is shaped so that the line is not damaged when the lead closes on it, which is important when using very fine lines.

These leads are very small and, because of their shape, do not attract false bites when using hemp, unlike split shot which looks similar to the fish. The pear-shaped Olivette leads have recently become popular and are available in two different varieties and various weights: one with a hole through the centre, the other with a groove down one side. With the former the lead is threaded on the line; with the latter the line is pushed into the slit which is then pinched together. Both leads are stopped from moving down to the hook by a split shot.

The Paquita lead is shaped like a tear-drop with a minute central hole. It is attached to the line by either squeezing the thin end or stopping it with a minute shot.

All these leads are used mainly by pole fishermen in conjunction with very fine lines of 1lb b.s. Or less.