Frenzee Fishing Products - Bagging by Design
Does length really matter?
Does length really matter? According to Andy Neal it does for hair rigging! Read on to find out why...
One of the biggest things to rock the match fishing world has to be the introduction of the hair rig. Since match anglers borrowed it from the specimen fraternity it has dramatically changed the way we fish and catch fish, and has done so for many years. In this feature I want to take a closer look at the effectiveness of the hair rig and a detailed inspection of the mechanics behind it.
At some point we will probably all have used hair rigs, but do we really understand how and why they work and, more importantly, when best to exploit them? We owe a debt of gratitude to the specimen boys (Lenny Middleton and Arthur Clarke both lay claim to inventing it) for sharing the rig with us. Their knowledge of hair rigging far outweighs ours as they seem to completely understand the rig and how to use it. As match anglers we have merely scratched the surface and have a long way to go before we get anywhere near its full potential.
I believe the biggest part of competitive fishing is feeding, but get the last little bit wrong and it all becomes a wasted effort – without the right rigs and tactics you may as well be feeding the birds! I use hair rigs in different situations but two methods in particular have taught me an awful lot about when and how to use them correctly – the straight lead and the pellet waggler. Both are devastating tactics and ones that some of you will be using to great effect, especially now the water is warming and the fish are really starting to feed again.
When I first went to White Acres I returned scratching my head as the boys in the know repeatedly beat me up with these methods. Not being one to put up with this it was time to find a similar venue and go back to school. I found Viaduct Fishery, in Somerset, and soon realised that it was home not to just phenomenal fishing but a lot of very good wag and bomb anglers – some of the same ones who’d hammered me in Cornwall! Let the lessons begin.
Needless to say that over the last couple of years I’ve done my fair share of pellet wag and bomb fishing, and without a doubt the hair rig is the key factor in both of these methods.
This fish fell for a bait presented on a very long hair.
For years I simply used a ‘standard’ length of hair (with the bait hanging just off the bend of the hook) and caught plenty of fish so the length of hair wasn’t really something I gave much thought to. I’m a great believer in ‘fishing to your confidence’, so if it wasn’t broken and all that…
So, it wasn’t until I started to understand what happens underwater that I gave it any more thought. I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying how carp feed and with so much information available these days in the way of DVDs, websites, You Tube and so on it is something that everyone has access to these days. Watching big carp feeding is amazing as it shows how they can go from being a gluttonous scoffing machine, demolishing loads of bait in next to no time, right the way through to a super crafty and frustrating fish to try and catch.
Now it’s all well and good when you have those awesome days when the fish really get their heads down and the tip’s sailing around, you don’t lose any and everything just seems right, but in reality this type of day doesn’t come around very often. I was finding that on occasions I was losing the odd fish, and in fact more than I was happy with. From time to time I’d see that the hook was only just in the mouth or even just outside the mouth. This made for a poor hook-hold and sometimes you could get them all the way to the net before the hook pulled.
This puzzled me, as surely with a hair rig they have to be hooked properly? Having been through the card with hook patterns and trace lengths and with no real answer forthcoming I turned my attention to the hair rig itself and the reason why they actually work.
ANDY'S HAIR RIG TIPS
Fox Series 2s in regular, fine and strong gauges are perfect hooks for hair rigging.
Short hairs are generally best for up in the water with longer ones for bottom fishing.
Carrying plenty of spare hooklengths provides scope for experimentation.
Andy will go right up to a 14mm pellet on the hook at times.
When carp feed on or near the bottom they are constantly sucking in food as well as anything else that gets in the way. The astounding part is the way they seem to exhale unwanted items, and all in a split second motion. The purpose of the hair rig is to have the bait away from the hook, leaving an unmasked point to try and catch in the fish’s mouth. This happens when they realise there is something wrong and try to get rid of the bait by blowing it out.
I soon realised that it was in fact the rig that was causing my fish losses, as when the fish were exhaling the bait the hook was only just catching in the lip. If this was the case, how many times had a fish had my bait in its mouth and got rid of it without me ever knowing? I’d hazard a guess at LOTS!
The next thing to confirm this is when the tip goes around and you lift into thin air or ‘bump’ the fish off. This doesn’t happen that often but really and truthfully it shouldn’t happen at all. When fishing the lead you do get liners, you must watch these and decipher the difference between a true bite and an aggressive liner because striking at liners is going to get you nowhere and potentially spook the fish from your swim.
Generally with a hooked fish you’ll get a couple of sharp pulls on the tip before the rod heads for the lake as the fish piles out of the swim. The sharp pulls are from the fish shaking its head, trying to get rid of the hook, and in the past it would occasionally manage it, much to my annoyance! It is the worst feeling when these raps on the tip occur and you pick your rod up to find nothing, knowing full well there was a fish with your bait in its mouth that should be heading towards the keepnet.
One look at this hooklength box shows that Andy is prepared for every eventuality!
The solution to the problem came from talking with some specimen-carp anglers. One thing that stood out from these conversations was that they all mentioned about the hook flipping, dropping and ‘turning’ in the carp’s mouth, and therefore naturally taking hold and hooking the fish in its bottom lip.
My next visit to Viaduct landed me on Cary Lake, a pool full of big carp that at the time were averaging 8lb (now more like 10lb!) with plenty of low doubles thrown in for good measure. With a warm but strong wind blowing it was a perfect day for the straight lead and so I started off with a hair about 5mm to 8mm (standard length to me at the time) and a single 10mm pellet. An 8mm is the norm on this venue but with the strong wind and distance I wanted to fish (40 yards) they couldn’t be fed properly. It worked fairly well as I caught a few in the first hour before the dreaded ‘thin-air’ bite occurred. After shouting at myself for several minutes I went to my hook box and got out one of my double 10mm pellet-lasso hooklengths. Rather than put the normal two big pellets in the loop I opted for just one 10mm and pulled tight. This left me with a pellet hanging over an inch below the bend of the hook which, in theory, enabled the hook to have more freedom in the carp’s mouth to penetrate and take hold.
Now being a typical match angler this looked ridiculous to me, as like most anglers I want things to look ‘pretty’. Nevertheless, I cast it out with the full intention of proving myself right and that it would never work. Well, let me put it like this – I had never had such clean, positive bites! Not only this but most of the fish were hooked right inside the mouth and most in the bottom lip. The hook-holds were so good that these fish were not coming off! I went on to weigh in 212lb and come second in the match (second, I know – gutted!).
The next few trips were spent confirming my ideas on the long hair as even some of the little plucks that I’d put down to liners were turned into strong, confident pulls and ultimately fish in the net. It just proved even more that the fish were sitting there sucking in and ejecting my bait without me even knowing it.
Fishing shallow, however, is a different kettle of fish (excuse the pun!). When we catch fish away from the deck they don’t have time to ‘inspect’ the bait like they do with bottom baits. A lot of the time a fish will hit the bait at speed as it competes with others for the feed. This is where I revert back to a short hair length because the fish is moving when it takes the bait. By the time the fish has realised there is something wrong it has moved too far and given us a bite to strike at. I see a lot of my shallowcaught carp hooked in the scissors and this is the reason for that, as the fish swims away with the bait and the line tightens and pulls the hook into the corner of its mouth. This is why when they are really competing for feed shallow you don’t have to strike and the rod is pulled round.
This is the reason for the short hair, because if the hair is too long you may find yourself hooking the fish outside the mouth or even missing lot of bites. Because they snatch at the bait and don’t fully inhale it like they would on the deck, you need to have your hook next to the bait to make sure it is sucked in properly – and I believe the only way to make sure of this is to have a short hair.
I use just two hook patterns and my choice depends on the situation I’m in or the method I’m fishing. The main pattern and the one that sees the most use is the Fox Series 2 in various sizes, depending on the bait I’m using. To start with this is used with a medium hair length, which to me is having a gap of about the same size as your bait between your hook and bait – so if I’m using 8mm pellets then I would use an 8mm gap between hook and bait. Depending on the bites this will tell me to either switch to a longer hair or change to a long tail with a shorter hair.
I will also use a finer-gauge hook to achieve a slower fall of the bait if I believe the fish are grabbing baits as they fall through the water. Bites on this will be very quick after casting and this is a good indicator of whether or not they are looking to come shallow as they respond to your feed. This is used in conjunction with a short hair as the fish are snatching at baits as they fall. Hooks for this are Drennan Match Carps or Fox Series 2 Fine Wires, which are both finer gauge and lighter patterns. Incidentally, I have no problems whatsoever using these finer hooks for bagging and big fish as to date I have never taken a bent hook out of a properly hooked fish and feel that it’s foul hooking that causes the majority of hooks to bend.
For longer hairs I’m now using the Fox Series 2 Extra Strong or even the ‘specimen’ Series 2b hook for really big fish. These hooks are in a heavier-gauge wire and weigh a lot more, which helps the hook to drop in the mouth of the fish and find a spot to penetrate. This gives the fish less chance to blow it out as they may do with a finer-gauge hook that’s right next to the bait. Don’t worry about the weight of the hook, because when a carp sucks in a bait it does so with huge force, and the bigger the fish the stronger the hoover action. I once witnessed a large carp suck in two grains of corn in one go that were three inches apart on the bottom. It was quite remarkable to see and certainly food for thought.
All of this does, however, depend on the size of the fish you’re targeting. If I’m looking to catch fish from around 5lb upwards then using a really long hair is absolutely fine, but for smaller fish you have to tailor your approach slightly as they have smaller mouths and therefore a shorter hair will be the way to go. The fish have to be able to suck in the hook with the bait to get hooked but it’s surprising even with small fish and small baits how long a hair you can use and the effectiveness of it.
All this means a little time is needed in preparing hooklengths and I carry more than enough to cover every eventuality. It may seem like extra effort tying different hair lengths for different situations but all of this is done in the comfort of my own home before I go anywhere near the bank. Remember, preparation is key and WILL result in better fishing and improved results. I never go ill-prepared, and I know that if the angler next to me is there will only ever be one winner in that contest.