When you consider the variety of ground that makes up our ragged coastline, you quickly appreciate why so many different sea leads exist
Leads for sea angling range from split-shot to bombs weighing as much as 4lb which, keep a bait on the bottom in deep water during fierce spring tides. There are many different types and each performs a specific task. With a few exceptions, it is of paramount importance to use the right shape and size of weight for the type of fishing being undertaken.
Split-shot, the indispensible lead used in freshwater fishing, also plays a vital role in saltwater, where it is used in float fishing and drift-lining for such species as pollack, mackerel, garfish and the wily mullet. Shot is available in a variety of sizes, and should be gently crimped on to the line with pliers.
Ball leads (also known as pierced bullets) and barrel leads, which are designed to run freely on a line, range from £oz to 3oz. These leads are correct for making up the sliding float rig used to suspend a bait close to the bottom in almost any depth of water. The ‘slider’ is popular with anglers seeking wrasse, pollack and bass over rough ground. Barrel leads weighing up to 6oz are sold in many tackle shops for bottom ledgering, but they roll around on firm sandy ground, and tend to twist the line. These larger sizes, therefore, make a poor type of lead and are best avoided.
Leads for muddy ground
For ledgering on muddy ground in tidal rivers and estuaries where the water is shallow, flat leads are by far the best. Although they make for poor long-distance casting, those with a thin profile sink to the bottom more slowly than bombs and consequently do not penetrate more than a few inches into the 0 oze. Ex-tensions of the smooth, flat weight are the Circular Grip, Capta and the Six Pointed Star. These are useless as casting leads, but they hold well on firm mud, shale and sand—even when the tide pours out of rivers during spring tides.
The long-casting beach angler needs a variety of weights ranging in size from 2oz to 10 oz, which offer minimum wind-resistance. Across the years numerous patterns have evolved, and present day beach fishing experts think little of putting an intact bait 160 yards out into the surf where the big fish roam. A small band of men who specialize in this fascinating branch of sea sport, using carbonfibre rods, are already casting way beyond 225 yards and, as this material becomes even more sophisticated, 300 yards may well fall within the range of normal beachcasting as opposed to tournament casting.
The long-distance lead
Aerodynamically, the Arlesey bomb is the best lead for reaching these great distances. A swivel at the narrow end stops the reel line twisting during its flight, but once on the sea bed it is a poor holder and is easily rolled around by water movement. The compromise is a Torpedo with four flat sides and with its weight concentrated at the pointed end, which prevents the lead turning over in flight. From this lead came the Spiked Torpedo, featuring four or more soft wire arms embedded in the heavy end. These dig into the sand and prevent the lead from moving in all but the roughest weather. Under retrieving pressure, however, thef arms bend backwards and the lead-can be wound in easily.
An extension is the Breakaway which features grip wires each holding a small bead. These slot into depressions in the body of the lead which hold them in an upright position under tension. A rubber band is sometimes added to increase the tension. When the weight is retrieved, contact with the bottom pulls the wires down, allowing the lead to be drawn in without difficulty. This type of lead has found great favour with surf beach fishermen and is replacing the more basic and long-popular grip-wire torpedo.
Pirks also come into the category of lead weights—at least those made from a mixture of lead and zinc, which is added for toughness. Pirks range in size from a few ounces to l£lb and feature a body moulded to a specific shape to achieve a fluttering action as it drops to the bottom and is jigged with the rod. Molten lead is also used to fill sections of chrome pipe—a cheap way of making an unsophisticated pirk. Lead poured into a length of pipe, cut for example from an old pram handle, produces a pirk at virtually no cost.
Although similar in appearance to the normal Torpedo, the Sectional Deal beach lead is made up from five 2oz pieces, moulded in a V-shape, which fit together on a central bar, fastened into a pointed bottom section of 4oz. Each piece simply lifts off the bar—giving six casting weights ranging from 4oz to 14oz.
For spinning from the shore, the weight must hug the line and present the minimum resistance to air and to water. A spiral like the Jar-dine takes a lot of beating. It has a continuous groove running from end to end, and twisted wires through which the line is passed. Jardines come in weights from 2oz to 8oz, the lighter versions being the most suitable for general spinning work with natural and artificial sandeel or fish-strip baits. The banana-shaped Wye lead, fitted with a link swivel, is also excellent for spinning. As with the Jardine, nothing should be placed on the line between the lead and bait. Both these types are suitable for working ultra-light metal lures, or for increasing your fishing range with the heavier models.
Leads for boat fishing
It is possible to break down boat fishing into four categories: inshore, offshore, pirking and trolling. Many types of lead and many different techniques used in shore fishing have a use when working from a boat in shallow water. Float work is exactly the same, but for drift-lining when the boat is anchored in a fair run of tide the weight must be increased to get the bait down below the surface. Two- or three-hook paternosters can be weighted with Arlesey bombs, plain bombs or small Torpedoes. For ledgering, it is best to use Cones, Circular Grip and Star types.
In offshore fishing the angler meets with the combination of deep and swift-running water, particularly during spring tide periods. The type of reel line is a most important factor when fishing in more than 20 fathoms. Monofilament creates much less drag than braided line, and less weight is needed. From an anchored boat, a 4-5 knot run of tide will push a 1lb lead connected to braided line almost to the surface. When this occurs, the lead will be some 300 yards away, down tide.
In water 35-45 fathoms deep it is impossible during spring tides to keep 3lb of lead on the bottom. This is one reason why charter skippers always drift-fish during new and full moon periods. It is as well to remember this when booking a deep-water fishing trip; working ‘on the drift’ can be a hard, tiring business.
Paternosters can be made to sink with bombs or torpedoes, and it is wise to have a range from 6oz to 2lb with you even when the tide is a neap. The same types are used in association with wire boom rigs for long-trace, single-hook fishing. Rarely, however, do you need more than 10 oz when this method is used as the bait is fished up to 60ft above the bottom so drag on the line is less.
Leads for ledgering in deep water must have a large diameter base. The cone is the best type, but grip leads do an adequate job. Ledger leads can be rigged with a ‘rotten bottom’ by tying a small swivel to the eye with light nylon. If the weight gets caught up in a rock crevice or a wreck, steady pulling will free the trace end. This is a big advantage when expensive wire traces are in use.
Trolling for bass and pollack is a popular and often rewarding way of fishing. The size of the lead depends very much on the strength of tide, speed of the boat and how deep the fish are running. For deep work 1lb is about right, and for shallow fishing 8-12oz should be used. Trolling leads should have a centre of gravity below the level of the line. This prevents any suggestion of spinning—providing, of course, that the swivels mounted behind and in front of the weight are in working order. Large Jardines rigged in the manner described earlier are also widely used and can be changed very quickly, without cutting the reel line, should a heavier or lighter one be needed as the tide alters.
Factory-made leads are now very expensive. The average 8oz weight costs at least 22p and a 2lb bomb will set you back 70p. The alternative is to buy die-cast aluminium moulds and lead from a scrap metal dealer and to make your own. A mould that will make four different sizes of pear weights retails at £6.50. It gives leads of 2.5oz, 3.3oz, 4.3oz, and 5.5oz—all from one casting.
The initial outlay for a set of moulds to make 2oz, 3oz, 4oz, 5oz, 6oz and 8oz weights plus a bag of grip wires will be about £12—but of course you can start with a single block and gradually build up the range. The price of lead varies from week to week; a modest fiver will get you enough to make several dozen leads of various sizes and, certainly, the unit cost is less than half the shop price. Over a period of time it is a worthwhile proposition.
Lead weight making should be done in a shed—never in a kitchen. Unless approached correctly it is a dangerous business, and children must be kept well away from the operation. Lead pipe should be cut up into small pieces and melted in an iron ladle over a paraffin or gas blow lamp. When ready for use the metal is poured slowly into the block which should be gripped lightly in a vice. Moulds must be absolutely dry before use or the molten metal will spit in all directions when it strikes the aluminium—with tragic results. After allowing a few minutes for the casts to set, the mould can be removed, split open and the lead dropped to one side. After a dozen or so leads have been fashioned the block becomes very hot and must be left to cool for at least ten minutes. Needless to say, welder’s gloves must always be worn throughout.
For bottom fishing from the shore over very rough ground, when long distance casting is unnecessary, a conventional lead weight can be replaced with old nuts and bolts or a round pebble tied in a square of nylon. If this is connected to a swivel with light line only, the worthless bag and its contents will be lost when it snags. The method is extremely useful when shorefishing in deep water for conger from steeply shelving rocks.