Heaps on hemp

Hemp is one of the most devastating roach baits around. But are you one of the many anglers who avoids it because the bites are impossible to hit?

Well, help is at hand – Ian Heaps shows how to make the most of this enticing seed.

Fished properly, hemp is a brilliant bait for quality roach, and many other fish species. It may take an hour or two for the fish to switch on to it, but stick with it and they will. And when they do…

Pros and cons

Fishing with hemp involves more than just using a different bait. It has advantages and problems that are all its own. The biggest advantage is that it tends to catch the larger sizes of fish. This doesn’t mean you won’t catch 1 oz (28g) roach on it, but you are more likely to pick up fish in the 4oz-llb (115-450g) range. Perhaps it’s because bigger fish with better throat teeth can cope with hard-shelled baits such as hemp or casters more easily than small fish. Also, hemp never seems to harm a swim. Whatever bait you are using, feeding hemp doesn’t put the fish off. Its potent oily smell attracts more fish into your swim and often on to your hook.

The down side of hemp for many anglers is that, no matter what they try, they seem to miss ten bites for every one they hit. But there are ways of avoiding this as long as you keep things simple.

Seedy ways

There are broadly two strategies for fishing the seed. Hemp fishing proper is fishing for roach, loosefeeding grains, with a single grain on the hook. But you can also use hemp as an attractive carpet for bottom feeders such as tench or barbel. The hemp carpet is popular with specimen hunters, pleasure anglers, and match-men on venues with plenty of big, bottom feeding fish. Feed up to a gallon of hemp, mixed with casters or sweetcorn if you wish, at the beginning of the session. Fish a big bait such as double caster or worm over the hemp and wait for the fish to find it. Hemp fishing for roach is especially good for selecting the bigger fish in a swim. It also catches fish that have never been caught before. These fish often have orangy-golden gill covers (some anglers call them golden-gills). It works wherever you find roach — just tailor your set-up to the venue and the mood of the fish.

The basic technique is very simple. Feed little and often and start fishing on the bottom, moving up in the water as and when the fish start taking the grains on the drop. It is the refinements to this simple method which help you hit more bites and to get really good bags of big roach.

Hit and miss

One of the main causes of missed bites is heavy gear. Roach won’t bite confidently on heavy tackle, so fish as light as you can. In clear water this can mean a 0.06mm hook-length. If you start to miss bites on hemp, the first thing to try is a lighter rig.

Fish the pole whenever you can so there’s no need for a heavy float for casting. Fortunately, hemp often works best when fishing close in. On most venues, elastic is preferable to a flicktip because elastic allows you to fish light and still cope with the bigger fish that you often take on hemp. A flicktip is sharper but is only really useful on small fish venues.

On running water, the density of hemp makes using a pole easier. With lighter baits such as maggot, a strong current can take your feed, and fish, a long way downstream. But hemp is a dense bait, so it sinks quickly through the water. The fish tend to hang just under the point of impact of your feed to intercept it as it falls. This makes long trotting unnecessary. In fast, shallow water, however, the flow may force you to use a stick float and running line.

If, for some reason, using a pole is impractical, hemp works well with stick floats and wagglers too, as long as you use the lightest float tackle you can get away with in the depth and flow of water.

Feeding is also very important. Make sure there’s enough going in to keep the fish interested without overfeeding them; 8-12 grains every 30 seconds is a good starting point for summer fishing. Halve that for winter, but you do need to play it by ear.

If you start to miss bites, cut back on the number ofseeds you feed each time (though keep feeding just as often). If you feed too much each time, the fish don’t have to compete hard for the seeds and just flash at the bait, without producing hittable bites.

If you feed correctly the roach often move up in the water to intercept the grains, allowing you to catch them on the drop or with the bait suspended. As long as you find the depth at which they are feeding, these bites should be no harder to hit. The right design of float helps here.

If bites are still hard to hit after you’ve cut back on the feed, try using a float with a longer bristle, or leaving more of a waggler insert visible. This allows you to see how bites develop, and hit them accordingly. As a general rule, don’t hit small dips. Wait for a really positive indication.

Hot or cold hemping

Fishing the seed has long been associated with balmy, late summer days, but anglers are beginning to discover that it performs very well at other times of the year. You might find it works as well as anything else on a hard winter’s day and better than most in sweltering July conditions.

Clear water with a tinge of colour is best, so the fish can see the bait as it falls through the water. However, if it’s very clear the fish can be too wary and bites hard to hit.

If you do fish the seed during the colder months, bear in mind that the bigger fish won’t be exactly where they were in the summer. In summer, when the water is warm, most fish are in the faster, oxygenated water. The big fish are quick to move up in the water to intercept feed, pushing the smaller fish down in the water.

In colder water, the bigger fish tend to take up the best and warmest positions in the deeper water, and are reluctant to leave. This usually leaves the smaller fish higher in the water. In summer, you can often lose touch with the biggest fish if you don’t shallow up enough, while in winter it pays to fish deeper for longer.

If you follow these few simple hints, it won’t be long before you’re converted to hemp fishing and you have another weapon to take on those shy-biting roach.