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John Bailey: Successful fishing is all about the sharp end

PUBLISHED: 13:32 22 October 2018

Back in Norfolk, the chub go ballistic for pink boilies it seems Picture: John Bailey

Back in Norfolk, the chub go ballistic for pink boilies it seems Picture: John Bailey

Archant

When I taught, I reckoned that lessons were a two-way street, me learning from the boys as much as they did from me.

For reasons I cannot divulge yet, I was down Essex way last week, getting down with the kids on a hot carp lake. Tom and Dan were my on-the-bank experts and, blimey, were they skilful or what? Half my age or less, they made me feel like the beginner out of the three of us.

Of course, my pro carp days are a quarter of a century behind me but I was never a patch on these two who, incidentally, work for the tackle giant, Nash. Blimey, I can see why they do. Their casting. Their technical mastery. Their watercraft. All extraordinary, but it was their attention to detail that I took home with me. Especially this. Cutting to the chase, their obsession with ultra needle-sharp hooks fascinated me.

You are probably like me. Whatever you fish for and however you like to fish, you know a hook is better sharp than not and you will have a good look at the point before some, if not most, of your sessions. With Tom and Dan, though, sharp has become a religion. Nash make a hook sharpening kit commercially and they use theirs to the limit. Or Dan does. Working for Nash, Tom will use a hook for just a single cast and then replace it with a new one. On a top, rough, carp water, a cast can last a good while out there, but this habit still comes in at 50p a pop. Most of us would prefer to invest in the sharpening kit, I guess, but why take hook love quite so far?

According to the dynamic duo, the simple fact of being in the water can blunt a hook point as the acids work on it. Reeling in can be disastrous as the hook ricochets against gravel, stones, branches or even swan mussel shells. Hooking a fish and then removing that hook can be a point killer, too, they said. You have to get that file out or tie on a new hook altogether once the fish has been caught.

These boys were fishing self-hooking rigs, so blunt hooks cannot be compensated for on the strike. They are also fishing waters where a couple of runs a season are the norm, so a take is not something you want to miss, or risk missing. Not many of us are quite fishing on such a cliff face. Or are we? Fly, bait, lure, freshwater or salt, if we put a hook into a fish’s mouth, surely we have a responsibility to land it if we possibly can.

In that department, I stink. Back in Norfolk, I looked at my tench rods, set up with feeders. The three of them were still made up from the last warm autumnal sessions after the species. Those hook points could not have penetrated a bowl of custard. The more I thought about them, I realised, uncomfortably, that the hooks probably had gone on the rigs in April and stayed there for months. That equates to hundreds of casts. Endless bait-ups. Plenty of unhooking operations and a depressing number of tench bumped, played a second and then lost.

The more I replayed my summer, the more tench I remembered coming unstuck. The more takes that never turned into hook-ups. I know we all have the importance of sharp hooks lodged somewhere in our consciousness, but I bet a lot of you are as casual about them as I have been. I hope this exhortation might land you more tench, trout, tope, or whatever in the future.

I’m less apologetic when it comes to knots. Tom and Dan had a list of them up their sleeves, notably grinners. I’m a half ‘blood’ knot slob and have been for decades. Okay, if I have to, I can muster a few specialist knots to cover occasional situations when the ‘blood’ just won’t do. Ninety five percent of the knots I’ve tied in my career, though, have been ‘bloods’, either double, single or tucked or not. Whatever variation, the ‘blood’ is almost universally reviled, but it has done me proud, almost without exception. I have suffered endless knot snobberies but still managed to put as many fish on the bank as most. Perhaps confidence in what you do is paramount.

Which is where I end, abashed a final time. Over the years, I have tended to choose flies, baits and even lures that have merged with the natural foodstuffs that fish are eating. Tom and Dan rather rubbished that, baiting up with pink and white boilies. Why not? Sweetcorn? Orange ‘blob’ flies? Fluorescent lures? On my first trip out back on the Wensum, the pink boilies that the lads gave me caught chub like I wouldn’t have believed.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for much of the winter. You will find me on the rivers with a pink bait attached to a blood-curdlingly sharp hook, tied to the line by means of a half ‘blood’ knot, of course.

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