Few fish eat weed for its own sake, but silkweed hosts a rich assortment of small animal life and, handled with care, it can draw browsing and predatory fish alike from weirs and rivers patch free with the handle of a landing net or bankstick, then scoop it into a large plastic bait box that is halffilled with water. Do not place a lid on the box—on a warm day it will cook and spoil the weed.
How to use silkweed
Baiting is accomplished by pulling the hook through the ball of weed within the bait box, then folding the weed round the hook several times to form a sizeable clump before pushing the hook through again. It has been suggested that the hook can be baited by pulling it through growing weed on the lasher of the weir. Certainly it is a quick method, but also one guaranteed to take the edge off the hook within seconds.
The ideal tackle for silkweeding is a long ll-12ft rod with a free running centrepin reel loaded with line of 3lb b.s. Selecting a suitable float needs thought. Anything with a fine stem cannot be seen in the swirl of water and froth of a weir pool and a float needing very few shot is unlike- J ly to get the bait down below the | surface. Suitable floats are big- £ topped celluloid ones, or round corks |
From early summer to late autumn underwater structures, like weir sills, piles and bridge supports are coated below the waterline with thick bands of silkweed—a green weed with a cotton-wool-like tex-ture. This weed is covered with minute crustaceans which provide an attractive food for fish of many species, including roach, dace, chub and occasionally barbel. The fish either nibble on the weed where it grows, or wait for it to be washed down to them—especially in weir-pools—and it is an excellent natural bait for the angler.
Origins of silkweed fishing
Silkweed fishing has a style and method that originated in the Thames weirpools. Acceptance of silkweed as a bait, at least on the part of the fish, is not, however, confined to the Thames, and any weir-pool throughout the country is worth trying in the warmer months. Collecting silkweed to use as a hookbait requires care. Pulling a tuft by hand from the weir surrounds will crush all animal life that it contains. It is better to rub a coloured bright red that are usually associated with minnow fishing. Clumsy though these floats seem, they are not required to register a bite in the accepted sense of the term but merely to allow the angler to see where his bait is.
Thick, red-tipped celluloid float temperatures that are lower than i4lv, normal will send the fish down to the 5 or 6ft mark. When fish appear not to be feeding or suddenly go off the silkweed, experiment by trial and error over a range of depths until the fish are located again.
A spin-off from silkweed is often overlooked. It is a natural hiding and feeding place for small fish fry, a fact known to every predatory fish in the river. It is well worth spinning any area alongside weed-covered marks, either with a small leaf-type spinner or a shallow diving plug—a trick that any Thames trout fishing enthusiast will readily recommend.
Where the angler should stand when fishing depends largely on the construction of the weir. Traditionally the Thames angler stands on the apron or sill (the concrete stretch which the water hits after spilling over the gates) and drops his float at his feet, allowing it to run downstream. This method is simple, but it does have disadvantages.
First, water flows over the apron, making Wellingtons or waders a necessity. The apron will be covered in weed, making it as slippery as an ice-rink. One false step and the angler goes into the pool below, with little chance of recovery once his Wellingtons are full of water. They act as anchors. So thighlength waders are preferable, for they tend to hold pockets of air. They do not support the body of the angler, but do show where he is.
Another disadvantage for the angler standing on the sill is that he is visible to the fish below and silhouetted against the sky. A better position, and a safer one, is at the side of the weir, where the current is still within easy casting distance, and also where there is usually a dry patch to stand on.
Keep a tight line
Following the cast, all line between the rod tip and float should be kept as tight as possible, with the rod kept at an angle of 45 degrees. Feed line out slowly, keeping the float in check, and be prepared for bites which will be felt, not seen, against the rod tip. The thumb can be clamped against the reel in a split se-cond and the hook driven home.
Landing fish in a weirpool can present difficulties, more so when the angler is sited well above the water level. Use a net with a very long handle, and fix a smooth stone or ledger weight into the mesh at the bottom. This prevents it being turned inside out when it is dipped into the running water below.