Modern Bank Fishing: Ledgering
Modern Bank Fishing: Ledgering
European bottom fishing techniques are the best in the world, far better than our (by comparison) crude methods for catching catfish, carp, and pike. For most of us a large hook and several ounces of weight (for distance) are enough. If a fish tries to pull the rod into the water we try to hook it. More often we miss the fish and come up empty handed. The modern bank angler has a tremendous advantage when it comes to bottom fishing because his methods are more sensitive and more likely to succeed.
Legering is the British term used for a variety of bottom fishing approaches. These methods include sensitive bite indicators and terminal tackle suited for each technique. In this chapter I will focus on swingtipping and quivertipping, techniques which are best used for the smaller bottom feeding species such as catfish. Methods for carp and pike will be explained elsewhere.
There are two terminal schemes used in legering, the paternoster and the link leger. The paternoster rig is characterized by weight being placed at the end of the line while the link leger has the weight somewhere between the hook and the rod. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The Paternoster Rig
The paternoster is a rig borrowed from ocean fishing and adapted to fresh water needs. A weight (a bell sinker in North America) is tied onto the end of the line and a loop is placed four to 12 inches from the weight. A leader and hook are attached to the loop. Variations on this theme include a swivel instead of a loop and several gadgets which form a loop without a knot. The loop to weight distance, called the link, is always shorter than the leader. This allows the baited hook to float down while the line is held tight against the sinker.
The paternoster is a sensitive terminal rig in both still and moving water. Leaders of up to six feet are used in still water but the link is never longer than 24 inches. When cast, the weight dives towards the bottom with the hook trailing behind. Once the rig reaches bottom (or just before it does) you start reeling the line in both to move the sinker towards you and to tighten the line. The result is a straightening of the leader and a tantalizing action on the bait.
It is very common for a fish to hit the bait at this point so the process of setting the rig must be done smoothly. Otherwise you will miss the strike. Strikes will be quick with the paternoster as the fish will feel the weight of the sinker fairly rapidly. Some species will reject the bait once they feel lead so you have to pay attention to the indicator when using this rig.
In moving water the leader and link can be shorter. Since the leader is always longer links tend to be four to eight inches and the leader 12 to 24 inches. The motion of the water will straighten the leader but you will still have to achieve a tight line by reeling it in.
A short leader and a shorter link are used when fish are shy biters. Experiment to find the correct combination for your conditions.
Leger Link Rigs
The static leger link is the most commonly used bottom fishing method in North America. It consists of a sinker crimped onto the line with four to 18 inches of line left before the hook is tied on. Ironically it is considered the least useful of the leger link rigs by Euro-style fishermen. These anglers think that the running leger offers more versatility and sensitivity since the running rig allows the bait to roam free once the rig reaches bottom. It is especially helpful when the fish are leery about weight.
The weights used can be a bell sinker, large split shot, or swimfeeders. Each of these has a specific use and can be employed with or without a link. Elaborate booms and other devices have been designed for running legers but are generally unavailable in this country.
The easiest running leger is a bell sinker placed directly on the line and a small split shot used to keep it from hitting the hook. The hook can be connected to a leader whose breaking strength is less than the main line and attached loop to loop or to a swivel. This is a good rig for long range casting and is used extensively by the carp fishermen.
Another type of running leger is heavy split shot clipped to both sides of a length of line looped over the main line. This is called a swan shot leger and it is good for moving water where the bottom is rocky or full of snags. The split shot will pull off when caught and the rest of the rig is saved. It has the added advantage of your being able to add or subtract weight in an instant.
The link can be made from the main line, can be a special rigid tube with snaps, or can even be a float. The latter two are useful in mud and weeds as they allow the bait to rise above these obstacles.
Forged hooks are used with most of the rigs you will set up. A variety of specialist hooks are available in Europe but any good quality sharp hook is acceptable. One of the most common mistakes made is to use too small a hook. Tiny hooks are needed for float techniques where the majority of fish are not going to bend the hook and the angle of strike is overhead. Bottom feeders can be any size and these fish often hook themselves sometimes with considerable force.
The best configuration is a short to medium shanked forged hook (such as the Gamakatsu Live Bait hook) which is sharp and strong. It is tied to the leader with a palomar knot or snelled on if preferred. Check the link and knot often because this part of the outfit takes quite a beating between catching fish and setting up the rig after the cast. Replace the leader as often as needed.
Wire hooks have their place when the fish are paranoid due to intense pressure. A slight outpoint can be placed on a wire hook which will render it more efficient. Wire hooks will have a shortened lifespan when legering.
Rods and Reels
European anglers have a wide variety of quality bottom fishing rods to choose from while North Americans have no specialized legering rods. The 1990 Diawa catalogue from England lists 25 different styles ranging from inexpensive graphite-fiberglass quivertip rods to an elaborate combination Kevlar and graphite rod which boasts the best Fuji guides. Most of these rods reflect the fishing conditions in England and are not needed in North America, but the technology and design can be adapted for our styles of angling.
The most common setup for bottom fishing in this country is a Zebco spincast rod and reel combination which is propped up on a forked stick or stuck in a single rod holder. The fisherman waits for a clear indication of a strike (usually the fish pulling the rod into the water) before setting the hook. Good strikes can be few and far between. As a result most of the concern of anglers in the new world centers around bait and placement (mostly bait). Periodically the angler will check his hook to see if some little fish has stolen the bait. Usually it has.
More enterprising fishermen have added bells or other indicators to the line or rod tip to alert them to a bite. They meet with more success and have learned the shortcomings of the five and one half foot rod when dealing with finicky eaters. These anglers catch a lot of fish because they use what they have to its best advantage.
Euro-style rods used for legering have a fairly stiff all-through action which is similar to a flipping rod. Because these rods are eight to eleven feet long they have a different feel than the flipping rod and tend to have a lower test curve. A good feeder rod needs guts to set the hook and cast an ounce weight while remaining sensitive. The rods that would be useful for catfish, etc. are eight to twelve feet long with enough power to cast long distances. The extra length allows you to set the hook even if the line is not as tight as it should be. The only way to achieve this with a short rod is to run backwards while setting the hook.
If you are handy enough to make your own rods, you will find that heavy steelhead blanks can be used to make a good bottom rod. The newer crappie specialty rods make a good substitute for a leger rod.
Almost any good spinning reel can be used with leger rods. Casting rods and reels are useful with the larger species such as flathead catfish but are ignored in Europe for this purpose. Reels which can be set on free spool or have quickly adjustable drags are better, especially if you use the same reels for carp and catfish. Reels designed for long range fishing are very helpful. The Mitchell 300 is still praised by the Europeans in spite of its age.
Any reel you feel comfortable with is good. You will have to work the reel quickly when the fish bite so pick one which is simple and reliable.
This may seem a minor point but there are no decent rod rests made in North America. The majority of them are gadgets resembling outriggers and most anglers use a forked stick or nothing at all. The bank stick is a very important part of legering systems and the position of the rod is crucial to its success. If you just add three rod rests to your present system, you will improve your fish catching by 25 percent.
The best rod rests come in a variety of lengths and are made from quality aluminum or stainless steel. Specimen fishermen consider the purchase of a good set of bank sticks an investment. Cheap rod rests do not provide stability and will wear out quickly. In England you can buy several brands of rests with a variety of screw on heads. These heads have various purposes such as holding the handle or the tip of the rod. Rests for the body of the rod will have a groove cut in them to allow free flow of the line. This technology keeps being refined (like all modern bank fishing) and new ideas added yearly.
How to Leger
Legering is the Cinderella form of Euro-style fishing. For years it was thought of as a last resort when match techniques failed. Now it has an exclusive following who are constantly refining the methods and broadening its scope. These anglers are concerned with presentation, bite indication, chumming and/or finding the fish, and setting the hook. In North America there are still plenty of naive fish who take the bait and run but the other 90 percent of the fish population are now available to you with legering techniques.
All of the legering techniques are used over baited areas in Europe. Old world waters have been transformed to canals and the remaining fish are usually cyprinoids who are wary and smarter than the average North American counterpart. In order to assure the presence of fish large amounts of chum may be used especially in moving waters. Canals in Europe have little structure so fish have to be attracted.
We don't think in these terms because our waters have good structure and we can usually pinpoint where the fish are supposed to be. But the use of feeding can open up worlds of opportunity for the astute fisherman.
If you add the element of free offerings to your favorite fishing hole you may greatly increase the chances for fish. Feeding is a time consuming affair but is an integral part of the system of legering. After you feed to your favorite structure you will find that it will become more consistent. If you feed time and time again fish will alter behavior and deliberately seek where you chum assuming you pick a spot which has obvious structure. Carp anglers will feed a gravel bar for an entire season to attract one large fish.
For example you could use a slingshot and put several ounces of sweetcorn at the head of a pool which carries the fish you want. Sweetcorn is cheap and an almost universal bait for most freshwater fish. Don't feed too much (little and often) and the fish will find your bait quickly. You can also use groundbait to attract fish without actually feeding them very much. Once you are at the water's side and have begun the feeding process you should prepare your site. Set up your rod rests, place your seat, and put your net in place. Bait, drinks, umbrella, target board, etc. should be ready before you assemble your rod. This serves two purposes: it allows you to plan your fishing a little better and it preserves your rod from clumsy feet.
A word of advice. Don't take more equipment than you can carry in one trip. Often you will set up only to find conditions better in another spot. After several such moves you will become a master of angling minimalism.
This is a technique familiar to most of us, keeping the line in hand while waiting for a strike. When all else fails, Euro-style fishermen will go to touch legering but its sensitivity is actually its greatest drawback.
Touch legering requires no rod rests and is simple to understand. A strike is readily felt because you are in direct linkage with the fish. It requires constant attention and it is so sensitive that it is difficult to tell a line hit from a slight nibble. This can lead to striking too early. It is an expert's method and best used when there are frequent light strikes.
This is the oldest of the sophisticated legering systems but the one which has wide application in the new world. Swingtips were invented by Jack Clayton (in the 1950s) who added a 15 inch extension to his rod to catch shy biting bream. This indicator had an extruded nylon link attached to the rod which allowed it to rise and fall as the fish struck. Now you can find swingtips of various sizes and weights to suit conditions. Swingtips are utilized in still water and slowly moving rivers or streams. They allow you to see virtually every bite which occurs and after a while you will learn when to strike. But you must pay attention to the details.
The usual swingtipping setup is a paternoster terminal rig, three rod rests, and a seat close to the handle of the rod. Set the rod pointing directly at the bait. The rig is cast over a baited area then drawn back towards it. As the weight hits the water you should reel in the slack line and pull the weight in your direction. This will have two effects: the line will become taut and the bait will begin to float down behind the line. At this point many fish will strike as they are triggered by the swarming effect of feeding and the slow fall of the bait. Your attention should be on the swingtip throughout this process.
If you don't get a strike at once reel in until the swingtip shows some movement and set the rod on the rests. The tip of the rod should never be more than 12 inches from the third rod rest or you will lose sensitivity. Set the angle of the tip 45 to 90 degrees from the water. The swingtip should be as close to the water as possible. In heavy winds it can even be in the water a little.
A strike will be indicated by a lifting of the swing tip to almost 180 degrees. This can be a quick indication and will require close attention. Usually you will get a few preliminary movements caused by fish mouthing the bait or hitting the line. If you strike then you will almost always miss. The wind can cause movement which is mistaken for a fish. On windy days it is best to use a heavy swingtip or weigh it down with lead wire. You will lose sensitivity but still catch fish.
When striking you should just lift the rod. If you are set up correctly the line will be taut when the fish hits and the bait in the fish's mouth. A quick lift will drive the hook in and the ten foot lever you use for a rod will multiply the force. If you give the fish a bass shaking yank you may pull the bait and hook out, especially with small fish.
If the swingtip suddenly flops into the water you have a fish swimming right towards you with the bait in his mouth. You must reel in a few inches and then set the hook. This is the only time you may want to add a little extra oomph to the hook set.
If the swingtip will not stay at an angle steep enough to register fish you should go to the quivertip.
This is a later refinement in rod tip indicators and it consists of a thin fiberglass tip spliced into the rod or screwed in via a special rod tip. Quivertips come in a variety of sizes, lengths and resistances which fit various conditions. It is set up by casting a heavy (3/4 ounce or more) weight and reeling the line in until the tip arcs slightly. Any pull on the bait will cause the tip to move telling you there is a fish on the line. Like the swingtip you will soon learn how to read it and when to strike.
The quivertip can be used in fast moving water with great success. Swimfeeder users will weight the feeder until it holds in place (barely) and then set the quivertip by reeling in line until it bends. When a fish hits it will dislodge the swimfeeder causing the tip to spring back and then bend when the force of the current moves the swimfeeder or weight. In slower moving water the same trick can be used with lighter weight. The quivertip is set after the rig is in place and watched. Any twitch not due to wind will be a bite.
The rod is set up at 90 degrees to the bait when quivertipping. This allows for a to and fro movement of the tip and takes full advantage of sensitivity. Three rod rests are used but one of these could be your tackle box. When a fish hits strike across the current to add the force of the current to your hook set. You should cast directly in front of you when using a quivertip so the rod is parallel to the bank. The rod should then be pointed downstream. This assures maximum sensitivity.
In fast moving water, especially with a swimfeeder, a different method is used. Current tends to move line and the line can act like a sail in some circumstances. Under these conditions the rod should be held almost vertically in the rod rests with the quivertip high in the air. Most of the line is held out of the water and the swimfeeder doesn't have to be burdened with excessive weight. The tip will indicate in the usual way. This trick can also be used in any situation where the rod can't be placed in a horizontal position. It is hard to use a vertical rod in high wind conditions.
Quivertips are especially good to use in stiff winds because they are stabilized by the tight line. With a swingtip the wind can move the line and give a false signal. In the new world strikes are still vigorous enough to be seen in a 25 knot wind. In fact you may see your rod pulled off the rests by an aggressive bluegill if you don't keep your hand near the rod.
This is the latest refinement on rod tip indicators consisting of a swingtip linked to the rod by a spring. It combines the best features of the quivertip and the swing tip. You use it the same ways as the other methods and the sensitivity of the method changes with the strength of the spring. It is especially good in wind.
Sometimes the strike is very tiny and after several minutes of watching a thin tip your eyes will begin to play tricks on you. This is where the target board comes in. It can be used with swingtips or quivertips and it consists of a board on a stick placed as a background to the tip. Most anglers make up their own target boards by painting a piece of plastic or wood a dull color and putting in a series of parallel lines to act as reference points. When the tip moves there will be a steady background to watch instead of water or leaves. This is much kinder on the eyes. In addition the target board may serve as wind break for the tip and add to the sensitivity of the system.
What to do When the Fish Won't Bite
In spite of advanced technique, you will run into situations when you know the fish are present but they are neutral or negative. This is where twitching is a good method for triggering strikes. Twitching consists of moving the terminal tackle through the baited area by lifting and reeling in a few inches every minute or so. This slow lifting and falling of the bait will get the fish's attention and probably cause a strike. At times this is a devastating routine which will fill your keepnet. Don't be too eager to move the bait. Let it settle and wait for a while to see if a finicky fish will bite.
Swimfeeders are hollow tubes one half to one inch in diameter which are attached to the line instead of a weight (although weights are commonly added) and are filled with bait or groundbait. Two types of swimfeeders exist: open and closed ended. Open ended swimfeeders are used with groundbait which stays in the swimfeeder until it hits the water. The groundbait then loosens and falls towards the bottom. Closed end feeders are used for bait such as maggots which exit the swimfeeder while it lies on the bottom. Maggots can be used in open ended feeders if they are packed in with ground bait while commercial catfish baits and loose groundbait can be used in closed ended swimfeeders. There are no hard and fast rules.
Swimfeeders serve the purpose of depositing the feed in the same spot that you are fishing thus attracting the fish to you. Most of the time you will not feed the area before using a swimfeeder, but there are times when both feeding methods can be used. When using the swimfeeder you must cast accurately so you leave food in the same area each time. Eventually the fish will come.
Swimfeeding is a waiting game which can yield large catches. It may take an hour consisting of casting, waiting a few minutes and then reeling in an empty swimfeeder, but the wait is worth it. It is especially good for catfish.
The setup for swimfeeding is a little different from the other legering methods. A quivertip is the usual indicator and the swimfeeder can be placed as a paternoster or link leger. I prefer a modified link leger in which a large 12 inch loop is placed on the main line with the swimfeeder running freely in the loop. A smaller loop is placed at the end of the large loop and a small hook with a 12 to 18 inch leader is tied in loop to loop. I also prefer to use a snelled wire hook since my main bait is usually maggot or worm.
I commonly use ground bait in the swimfeeder as an attractant, especially for catfish, and leave more smell than bait. This may be the best place to put those commercial stink baits which never seem to stay on the hook all that well. In sandy bottoms the swimfeeder is a killer.
Vic Bellars, well known English pike angler , uses ground fish and Alka-Seltzer to attract fish. The bubbles appeal to sight and sound senses while distributing the odor. In this country the same trick is deadly on catfish.
If you learn these techniques and apply them to catfish, bluegill, or you name it, you will catch fish often and consistently. You must practice them in order to make them work and at first they will seem odd. My experience of watching a good fisherman with bad equipment out fish me was tough at first, but as I improved that same fisherman came over to learn about the swingtip (which he called a "neat idea"). On our next session together one of his rods boasted a crude swingtip. There will be times when legering will not work and times when legering will catch fish not usually thought of as bottom feeders. Bass and trout fit in this category not because they aren't bottom feeders but precisely because they are. Most food eventually ends up on the bottom and all fish have to become opportunists if they wish to survive. Try these methods when all else fails.
Most of you are not going to be able to go to England for equipment but never fear, help is on the way, sort of. The new interest in crappie fishing has brought us several rods ideal for legering. These rods have thin tips and are fairly stiff. They are eight to fourteen feet long and are designed for light line. Most of them are fiberglass or fiberglass/graphite and are reasonably priced. They work fairly well.
For those of you who cannot find or afford a new rod a quivertip is still possible. If you live where ice fishing occurs you can find wire bite indicators for sale in any tackle shop. These are designed to go on the rod so the loop is directly over the tip. This way a vertical bite is indicated. If you place it in the tip itself and let the wire extend beyond the tip it will indicate horizontal takes and becomes a quivertip. It is not as sensitive as a built-in quivertip but it has the advantage of being cheap.
If a quivertip or a swingtip is not practical you can try a technique called float legering. This is an old North American trick which uses the tension of the line to hold a float in place against a rig on the bottom. Set up a waggler (as a slider) and a running link leger terminal rig. Make sure the line below the float is overdepth. When the bait hits bottom, reel in the line until there is tension on the line. Put the tip of the rod in the water and continue to reel until the float sets up correctly. The tension of the line will hold the float in place as long as the water is not moving too fast. Any take by a fish will pull the float in or cause it to rise. This is the time to strike.
The author, Michael J. Keyes, MD is associated with the The Carp Anglers Group. The above article is a chapter from his book, Modern Bank Fishing