Freshwater traces

How the traces currently in use by freshwater anglers came by their format and popularity; how and when they should be used; and how they can cut down on your number of lost fish.

The first breakthrough in trace material came with the marketing of a trace wire under the trade name of Alasticum. This thin, supple, dark-coloured wire, available in several breaking strains, was rust- and corrosion-proofed and possessed the added virtue of stretching before it finally parted—a symptom that could easily be recognized.

The only drawback—the fact that it kinked, thus causing a localized weakness—was discovered some years later. This was then overcome by cabling or twisting together several strands—usually three—to form a stiffer, less fragile trace.

Ready-twisted Alasticum cable may now be purchased from tackle shops although many anglers still prefer to twist their own. It is a simple job, requiring three equal lengths of single Alasticum. Nylon lines, in any of their present forms, may be strong, but they cannot resist direct chafing and cutting from an abrasive surface, especially if they have been stretched.

For many years the only solution for the angler was to use gimp, a soft fine wire which was either plaited or twisted around a silk or flax core, and sold ready mounted with swivels and hooks as traces or snap tackle. At best gimp was successful the first time it was used. After that, however, the action of water on the wire quickly caused rotting and corrosion, particularly because of the centre core’s tendency to remain damp no matter how carefully the angler attempted to dry his tackle.


They should be held tightly at one end with a pair of artery forceps or pliers, well above the ground—over the well of a staircase is ideal—and a suitable weight attached to the other end. The weight is slowly twisted, turning the strands together, and when firmly formed the cable can be cut into suitable lengths. Take care not to overtighten during the twisting process otherwise stretching and subsequent weakening will occur.

Easy trace-making

Trace making is simplicity itself, and an amount sufficient to last the angler the best part of a season can be made at the dining table in an hour or so. An 8inlength of cabled Alasticum should be cut with a sharp pair of pliers or wire cutters, and a swivel should be threaded onto one end. The cable should be doubled back with an inch of overlap, and the overlap twisted around the main part until it lies flat. Trim off any loose pieces. To the other end a link swivel should be threaded and secured in exactly the same way. For added safety a smear of Araldite or similar glue can be rubbed along the twisted joints, taking care not to allow any to set on the swivel parts. Once dry, rub with an oiled piece of cloth before storing.

For heavy sea fishing a steel-cabled wire trace, plastic-covered to be corrosion-proof, is available in varying b.s. In sizes up to 20lb b.s., it is also suitable for freshwater fishing where extra-large baits are to be cast in very large waters—for example in Scottish lochs.

This plastic-covered wire trace is ready spooled, and necessary lengths can be cut and traces made in the same way as described for Alasticum. Allow sufficient overlap for joining swivels, hooks and other additions and after securing the ends by twisting, the plastic coating can be gently heated with a match or lighter flame to melt and bond it.

A stronger and more secure method of finishing, although a lot more visible and cumbersome in freshwater, is to use crimps or brass sleeves that can be slid onto the trace and over the ends to be secured. These are then gently crimped with the cutting edge of a pair of pliers, or a crimping tool.

Excellent though the coating on these steel traces may be, they still wear and chip with use, especially when used for ledgering over rock and gravel beds. After use they will benefit from a wipe over with an oiled cloth, particularly at the point where swivel or hook eye are looped. Discard any suspect trace length.

Storing and carrying traces made from steel wire is difficult. There is a natural tendency for them to spring apart when wound into a coil and this can only be prevented by fixing them firmly with pins into a sheet of cork, or around a block of polystyrene. Large mapping pins make ideal mounts, and have the advantage of coloured heads, so that colour-coding can indicate various b.s. And hook and swivel sizes.

For the majority of freshwater fishing, wire traces are only | necessary for four species of fish—pike, zander, catfish and eels. I.

Not all anglers agree on their use for all these. Many successful specimen eel hunters prefer the suppleness of a thick trace line.

A common method of spinning for pike is to mount a light plug or spinner direct to a 6-8lb line and roam a length of water casting to a variety of swims. Nine times out of ten, fish caught in this way are lightly hooked, so that the line is never in danger of being severed by a pike’s teeth. Occasionally, however, a biggerthan-average fish engulfs the spinner and becomes deep-hooked. This is highly unpleasant, so it is far better to use a light wire trace whenever spinning for pike, regardless of the kind of lure.

Under no circumstances should a deadbait be used for pike without a wire trace. No matter how soon after the take the angler strikes, it is inevitable that some fish will be deeply hooked and it is equally inevitable that some will sever the line. The result for the pike is not pleasant.

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