Kitting yourself out with the right tackle for river fishing will not ensure instant success. What you do with your tackle is infinitely more important than which particular items you choose. For the most part, selection is an individual affair anyway, and you can do no better than opt for good quality along with the performance characteristics you personally prefer.
To some extent the rods you choose must fall in line with the design and feel you like, how much you wish to spend, and of course with the way you approach the sport. The same philosophy applies equally to reels, and indeed to every piece of equipment you buy. If there is an overall recommendation, it is to look for quality, for it is an inescapable fact of life that a fair proportion of the tackle sold for coarse fishing is poorly designed and badly built. Short life, low performance and unreliability are inevitably followed by increasing disappointment, frustration and sometimes pure rage. Stick to well-made tackle of respected brand names, and if necessary build up your outfit gradually rather than waste money by starting with a complete set of inferior equipment.
I try all the new lines as they become available, and always go back to Maxima. Other fishermen swear by Sylcast, Bayer Perlon and other premium brands. It really boils down to choosing the balance of cost, performance and quality that you like. Perhaps more important than brand is the need to change lines regularly, which is easier and cheaper if you buy bulk spools. My lines are replaced at least three times every season, and I have little sympathy for anglers who use the same nylon for ages then whinge when they lose a big fish.
For some years I have grown increasingly unhappy about using keepnets. Even soft, knitted meshes damage fish because they rub off slime and scales. Perch, zander and barbel are trapped by their spiny fins and gill covers. Lately I have used a modified nylon carp sack with a large ring and bank-stick fitting around the opening. The sack is held open just like a regular keepnet but there is a world of difference in the way it treats the fish. They remain in perfect condition and I never find loose scales in the bottom of the sack.
I doubt if I shall use a traditional keepnet again, and I look forward to the day when a manufacturer introduces a ‘proper’ keepnet built on the sack principle with long tubular body, full set of supporting rings and an opening bottom held shut with a toggle and draw cord. By slackening the cord you could release fish from the bottom of the net, a much neater and kinder operation than normal.
I have known fishermen buy landing nets as a symbol of prowess: big net, big white hunter! It is true that a capacious net lands small fish as well as big ones but even so it is illogical to encumber yourself with too large a model for all-round fishing. Mostly I use three different nets. The smallest, used for roach, dace, etc., is a 15in diameter round frame with shallow, knitted mesh. The largest is a triangular framed pike model with 42in arms, 30in deep and flat-bottomed netting. The flat bottom is important because ifyou use the tapered version on pike, they roll themselves up into a horrible tangle of mesh, fish and treble hooks. The ideal net for pike also has dual meshing – large mesh on the sides to minimise waterlogging, and small mesh stitched into the base to support the fish.
For chub, barbel and zander I use a 24in diameter round frame net which despite being light is big enough to cope if I chance upon a bigger species. Its frame carries a very deep 40in mesh for a very good reason: a lot of my chub fishing is the roving kind, and because I dislike returning some species straight away, chub included, I retain them in the landing net for the short period I am working their swim. The net being so deep, I can still land a fish without losing three or four already inside.
Small mesh is kinder, but a large waterlogged net becomes so heavy that it cannot be used in fast water unless you have arms like a gorilla’s. My barbel net therefore uses large mesh netting which allows the current to flow through rather than hit what amounts to a solid wall of small meshes.
One of my favourite occupations is poking about in my friends’ tackle boxes to find out what they use. Since it is not unusual to have my own tackle rooted through, I conclude that most fishermen are equally fascinated by bits and pieces of equipment. Tupperware are probably unaware of it, but their partitioned box about 12in by 8in with removable inner tray is just about perfect for storing sundry fishing accessories. In mine I store boxes of shot ranging from No.4 to SSG, a bread punch with three interchangeable metal punches – small for dace, medium for roach and very large, about lin diameter, for chub. There is also a tape measure, screw top containers for float caps, swivels, beads, etc., a spool of Vib nylon for tying hair rigs, bombs up to loz, and a few scraps of expanded polystyrene foam for making buoyant rigs. Individual tiny balls picked out of the foam and slid on to the hook make an effective and different method of presenting maggots, casters and red worms.
The box also holds link leger rigs, a tube of superglue, a pair of nail clippers for trimming knots, a tub containing leger stops and another filled with Drennan metal rings which I use for paternoster rigs. There are a few pieces of silicone rubber tube which stiffens link legers and prevents tangling with the main line. What else? Stray floats, Drennan hook dis-gorgers small and large, a hypodermic syringe for blowing air into lobworms and deadbaits and for squirting in flavours, a thermometer, a hook sharpening stone and a pencil. All of them fit into that one small Tupperware box.
Another hinged plastic box holds packets of Partridge Specialist and Kamatsu eyed hooks in sizes from 18 to 2. I prefer eyed hooks to spade ends and I never use hooks ready whipped to nylon – if a knot fails I want it to be my own fault.
Sometimes you can scrounge from an art shop tubular plastic containers that once held paintbrushes. Being rigid they make perfect float boxes. One should hold most of the floats a river fisherman requires: a few wire stemmed stick floats, Avons and peacock stem wagglers in a range of sizes appropriate to waters and tactics.
BAGS AND SEATS
Anglers who have yet to discover the considerable advantages of a hiker’s rucksack are in for a pleasant surprise. I use a Karri-mor Tote-Em Senior, a framed sack with many pockets that swallow flasks, food, spare clothing and anything else I might need, plus tackle of course. Make sure you buy a rucksack with a waistband that buckles down tightly to spread the load over your hips rather than just on the shoulders. It is so comfortable that you will forget it is on your back, and those distant and unfished swims become a more viable proposition than they are if you are loaded down with a traditional box. A chair with adjustable legs is a boon for river fishing, for more often than not you will be fishing on awkwardly sloping banks. The Ever Level available from good tackle shops is not cheap but does enable you to fish almost any swim in comfort. It is also the right height – perhaps I’m getting old but I do have a devil of a job getting out of a low chair in a hurry. Avoid chairs with arms. They prevent a sideways strike, which is what you do most of the time on rivers.
For short fishing sessions I leave the chair in my van and carry an inflatable cushion instead. It fits into my pocket and takes only a puff of air to inflate. If I need to take the chair, it is strapped to the rucksack along with my rod rests thus leaving both hands free to carry rods, net handle and perhaps a groundbait bucket.
By watching weather and river conditions you can predetermine which species to go for, so there is no need to take all your tackle on every trip. Nowadays I never carry more than two rods: a pair of pike or zander rods or a light leger rod and a 13ft trotter for other species if I need a more flexible approach with a wide variety of styles.
My two-sectioned rods are always made up beforehand because then I can get down to the important business of catching fish without losing time on the bank. As a matter of fact my much-used chub rods are left permanently assembled unless I need to change lines or make a repair. Do not try that with three-piece rods though. The mess you get into is not worthwhile.
Two piece rods can be held together with elastic bands top and bottom, and do not need a rod bag. I have not used a holdall for many years; instead I carry rods and net handle (and umbrella if neces- sary) by bundling them together with Vel-cro straps. However, it seems to me that today’s roll-up holdalls which accept made up rods might be worth a second look. The Happy Hooker version looks handy.
Night fishing on rivers is not always the way towards bigger and better catches. On the other hand I can think of many chub, roach and bream swims that come alive after dark, especially with the bigger specimens. Personally I regard night fishing with a few friends along some quiet, remote river one of the most enjoyable aspects of the sport. Tactics are no more complicated than they are in daylight pro- vided you are reasonably familiar with the swim or stretch of river. Unknown spots have a habit of throwing up problems like bad snags. Trees that sit tight all day seem to creep up and grab your tackle when you cast at night.
Knowing the lie of the land helps avoid most mishaps, and there should be no need to use a torch except to tie hooks or sort out tangles. A friend who watches for bites by illuminating his rod with a torch once called me over to see a group of chub that were gathered where the beam hit the water. Obviously the light had attracted them. The point to remember is that a stationary beam does not scare fish, but they will not stand for lights being switched on and off or being flashed about. Moreover, the less you use artificial illumination, the better adjusted to the dark your eyes become; indeed, the less you use a torch, the less you need it anyway.
Betalights are superb night fishing aids. Leger rods need a moderately powerful betalight fixed on the tip at right angles to the blank. Mine are 300 microlamberts output and whipped permanently to the tip. As good as quivertips are for bite detection, I never use them after dark because they are prone to line tangling, a problem considerably aggravated by the addition of a betalight tube.
Betalights can play tricks with your eyes. You are certain the tip is moving but it is actually an optical illusion. The best way is to avoid staring directly at the pinpoint of light. Instead, crook the line around your finger and feel for the bite as well; when the betalight moves you will then be left in no doubt.
Night trotting is effective when you use a float capped by a powerful 500 microlam-bert betalight. Bites are unmistakable because one moment the bright blob rides away in the darkness, the next it has disappeared. The float is a joy to use once the fish is hooked; it throbs and dances in the blackness indicating where the fish is and what it is doing. These powerful lights are expensive. Take the precaution of stepping up the main line’s breaking strain and using a lighter hook length below the float so that in the event of a snap you do not lose the float.
Although I hate unnecessary gimmicks, I am interested in a new gadget from Sun-dridge Tackle called the Fish Finder. It is a small tube with betalight enclosed and is attached to the line whenyou are legering. It indicates which way a fish is heading at short range, and makes a positive target to grab when you wind in to rebait. The gadget is so designed that the light drops into a black tube as soon as the leger sinks, so presumably it does not show up underwater. The tube automatically inverts during retrieve, sliding the betalight into the transparent end of its tube.
Fishing can be a cold business. Midwinter conditions on the river, night-time especially, can freeze your landing net to the bank, weld line to rod rings and turn fingers and toes to ice. A dab of glycerine on the rings helps prevent line freezing to them, and you can always dunk the net into the river to thaw. But what of the fisherman himself? Nobody enjoys fishing chilled to the bone.
Good clothing shrugs off all but the most severe conditions. Start with a string vest followed by a long-sleeved thermal vest, then a moleskin shirt and two loose-fitting wool sweaters. On top of all that go a sleeveless insulated waistcoat and warm scarf. Dressing the lower half begins with a pair of thick woollen socks, fleecy-lined or thermal long pants, a pair of thick trousers and then waxed cotton overtrousers. Finally, pull on a lightweight, windproof coat with a sensibly large hood. Cold feet are a thing of the past since the arrival of thermal lined Arctic boots. Mittens and warm hat take care of the other extremities.
Dressed thus you will resemble a cross between an Abominable Snowman and a refugee from Bangladesh, but you will stay warm enough to enjoy your fishing, and will still be catching fish when the other anglers are huddled around the fire.