Rather than trying to put a small piece on the hook, drag the hook through the weed then wrap the weed around the bend of the hook to form a little ball.
Powerful currents and deep water make weirs potential death traps. Never climb along the top of a weir – the force of the water can push you over. Silkweed is very slippery and the area around the sides of weirs is often coated with it. Watch your footing. Don’t get too close to the edge!
Silkweed fishing seems to have originated on the Thames but most weirs have silkweed growing on them. When collecting weed, grab a few handfuls and put them in a container of water so that you don’t disturb the organisms. Give silkweed a spin and you might be lucky enough to catch dace, chub or a belting roach like this. When trotting, keep the rod high and the line off the water so that the float travels smoothly through the swim.
Silkweed is actually a generic term given to green filamentous algae that grow on the sills of weirs. It is largely regarded as an old-fashioned bait for catching weirpool roach and dace — look at a chapter in a modern book on baits and you’re unlikely to find it mentioned.
According to fishery consultant Bruno Broughton, this is not because silkweed has lost its effectiveness but because most anglers use popular baits like maggots and boilies to the exclusion of everything else. He believes that the absence of influential angling writers — such as the late, great Dick Walker – who were willing to try less mainstream baits and then report on their findings to other anglers, is one reason we’ve got stuck in a rut.
Do fish eat weed?
In any case, silkweed seems a pretty odd bait to catch fish on. Do roach and dace eat it and if so, why?
Dissected fish have been found to contain silkweed in their guts. So they certainly swallow it, but do they eat it deliberately or swallow it accidentally while taking in other particles of food?
A popular theory says that fish are attracted not so much to the weed itself but rather to the creatures that live in it. In the well-oxygenated water below a weir there’s usually a profusion of organisms such as freshwater shrimps, snails and diatoms living in the weed. It is these, so the theory says, that fish are after when they take a weed-baited hook.
However, when you consider that a fish can nip off the very end of a caster and suck out its contents without swallowing a hook, or nip the end of a maggot without being caught, you come to the conclusion that fish are adept creatures, able to discriminate easily between what is food and what is not. Furthermore, fish have been found to contain significant amounts of weed in their stomachs. In other words, it’s likely they take weed deliberately. Perhaps they’re after a varied, nutritious diet consisting of both vegetable and animal matter.
Gathering and use
The sill of a weir over which water tumbles and the apron on to which it falls are usually covered in silkweed but are often inaccessible. Look for areas to either side of the weir or around the pool where you can reach the weed safely. Wooden piles often have silkweed clinging to them.
Rather than picking off a small piece of weed and then putting it on to the hook, pull off a good clump and keep it in a container of water. This way you do not disturb the weed and (possibly) lessen its appeal by driving out any creatures.
Use a fairly large hook such as a 16 or 14, drag it through the weed then wrap the loose ends around the bend to form a ball. Trot the bait in the main flow below the weir. Stay alert at all times since bites can be very fast with this bait.