Straight lead tactics for rivers

England International Steve Gardener coaches you on straight lead tactics and explains why the right rig, accurate feeding and total concentration are essential.

There are days when it’s wise to start on the straight lead – legering down the side without a swimfeeder. Typically these are in winter when a river is either flowing too hard for the float or the water temperature is extremely low.

Rivers in flood

You only have to look at rivers like the Severn, Trent or Thames when they have just a few extra feet of water on to appreciate why the straight lead works well on a flooded river. Typically the water is chocolate-coloured, turbulent and fast flowing. The sheer power and extra depth mean that in all but the slackest swims a floatfished bait is liable to be lost in all the turmoil and may never even reach the fish.

On days like this fish are pushed into the sides of the river by the force of the flow. They tend to hug the bottom where the current is less severe. A straight lead is ideal for getting the bait down quickly and exploring the inside line between about one to three rodlengths out.

Cold water conditions

A less obvious application when the straight lead can work is when the water is exceptionally cold. Although a river may look okay – there being little or no extra colour — the low temperature means that fish are torpid and reluctant to chase a moving bait. Often you are looking for just two or three bites in a 20 minute spell during the session, perhaps when the temperature lifts slightly, but these may be from big fish – 2lb (0.9kg) chub, say. Obviously, two or three fish of this size in your keepnet can make all the difference, and the odd thing is that on days like this you can often go for five hours on the float without a knock!

As a fish finder

Sometimes at the start of a session you may be uncertain where the fish are. Perhaps you have set up a stickfioat but don’t know quite which line to fish or how far down the swim to expect bites. You may be unsure whether there are any fish there at all. ‘Try the stickfioat and see’ might seem like the obvious answer, but running a float through until you contact fish can take a while—especially if the current is slow. This is when the straight lead can help.

Drop the bomb at different points down the swim. Even a missed bite or a bust maggot at least tells you that there are fish down there. This works particularly well for tightly shoaled dace. If you are getting plenty of bites try the float but if bites are slow you may do better on the lead.

Assessing depth and flow

Let’s imagine that you’ve arrived at your swim. You’re hoping for dace — they’re quite big here – so you start on a size 20 barbless hook (such as a Kamasan B510) to a 0.08mm diameter hooklength that breaks at around Mb (0.68kg). The tail is about 60cm (2ft) long and you’ve opted for a 3/soz bomb. The first job is to assess how deep the swim is and get a feel for the flow.

Drop the bomb straight out in front. Experience tells you that the amount of time it takes for the bomb to hit bottom means the swim is about 2.4m (8ft) deep. The lead settles about 6m (20ft) down the swim. The flow is slightly stronger than you anticipated because the lead is still shifting about but a quick change to a 1/2 0Z bomb does the trick. Now, with your rod on the rest straight out in front of you, a nice right-angle between your tip and line and just the slightest tension in the tip, your tackle is holding still.

Next, work out where to introduce your loosefeed. Again this comes down to experience. Thoroughly cleaned and with the maize riddled off, your maggots should sink as quickly as possible. Toss a few off the end of your rod and watch them. They soon disappear from view, taking a more direct route to the bottom than your line. You decide to introduce them about lm (1yd) downstream. If bites aren’t forthcoming you will continue to feed in the same place but work backwards and forwards – up and down the swim – with the lead until you start getting bites. That is really the only guide to knowing when you’ve found your feed. When the current is strong or a swim deep, it may be necessary to introduce the maggots upstream of your rod so that they hit the bottom inside your swim and not farther downstream in that of the next person.

Hitting the hites

Anglers often suffer the frustrations of missed bites and bumped and lost fish with this method. Sometimes it can’t be helped but often the smallest adjustments can make all the difference. Roach are a fish that need care. Often they hit a bait hard. The combined effect of your striking one way while the fish goes in the opposite direction means that you may snap off. A controlled strike is essential. The problem is not so great when bites are frequent because you can concentrate, but when bites are few and far between your concentration wanes and that is when you can easily over-react. That’s why it’s important to use a soft rod. Try a size 22 micro-barbed hook and start with a tail of about 60cm (2ft). Bites often come as soon as the bait hits bottom. If you are missing bites, shorten the tail. You may have to go down to as short as 25cm (10in). Dace If you can get away with it, try a bigger hook – a 20 or 18, say – without a barb. These don’t damage the bait but they penetrate more easily, resulting in fewer lost fish. The first few bites are usually easiest to hit but after a while the fish wise up and bites become faster. Concentrate hard and try to get into the rhythm of how the fish are feeding- psyche yourself up!

If you are missing bites only to find that the maggot has been sucked then you are doing something wrong. Try shortening the hooklength or try fishing farther up the peg — closer to you. If you are missing little digs where the maggot isn’t damaged, try a smaller hook. Ignore the little knocks and strike at the better pulls. Eels can be absolute murder – though they pull the end of the rod right round, you still can’t connect! You can miss 20 bites in a row like this and it’s usually because you’ve overfed them. The eels are simply darting all over the place killing the maggots. So cut back on the feed. Use a size 22 strong barb-less hook for better penetration.

Bites on maggot are usually good pulls but on caster they can be very slow and gentle – often much easier to hit. It really depends on the venue. Chub frequently respond to the straight lead when the float fails. Often, when fishing for chub on rivers such as the Wey or Mole in Surrey on very cold days, you might be fishing for only a few bites. Feed lightly and assess as accurately as possible where your feed is ending up. Concentrate hard in order to hit your few bites. Three may be your lot! Use a size 20,22, or 24 strong barb-less hook.

In general it pays to be on the ball – ready to strike at any movement of the tip. But particularly when there are a lot of small fish milling round the feed area, little knocks and jerks of the tip may be caused by fish swimming into the line. In this case it pays to strike only at the positive pulls. Striking at liners simply results in missed bites and sends the bomb whizzing through the shoal – possibly scaring the fish away.