Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Avon Barbel & Chub - Rotten Bottoms

Last weekend Martin & I discovered what appeared to be a choice Warwickshire Avon barbel swim, but one with a hidden secret — for it it turned out to be a dustbin full of lead. How many anglers have come to the picturesque spot and failed is not hard to imagine, and how many of those anglers vow never to return again is even easier to picture, because between us we lost a lead every third cast, and were snagged on pretty much each and every one between.

It was all but un-fishable using normal tactics, the flow pulling the feeder around and having it settle, but too often for comfort, in the crevice between two rocks — a breakage and the loss of the entire rig being the almost inevitable result. I'd estimate average tackle losses and costs to be in the order of one feeder per hour there, so eight lost feeders over an eight hour session, which at commercial tackle trade prices for large barbel versions is about £2 a throw, would set the angler back £16 for each trip. Add in all the lost hooks and  traces, swivels, beads and stuff, and of course, fish, it was no surprise that the banks were unworn.

Big fat 5oz porkers. Too heavy for today, but perfect for another.
Each is one double-figure barbel mouthful, by my reckoning
In the meantime between that first trip and our second, we've been working hard on solving the problems it presents — well, Martin has worked very hard at making me work very hard by supplying the raw materials for me to play with in order to forge a feeder that costs so little to make, that losing it is never a concern, but actually the point.

Northern barbel anglers will know all about what we were about to do, having to fish in rivers strewn with boulders and rocks. The Ribble for instance, is a river I've fished but once, and where I lost so much terminal gear that by the end of the day I was down to one rod, and the one remaining feeder out of the six or seven I'd thought more than sufficient for the session. I cast it very carefully indeed and into a swim that seemed to be relatively snag free - but had taken me hours to locate.

A 2oz piglet. Just heavy enough for toaday, but quite useless on another.
Each is one 5lb barbel mouthful, by my reckoning... 
Following the Ribble angler's example, I made a bagful of feeders out of scrap lead flashing, empty drinks bottles and heavy twine. A mould was fashioned out of hardwood in which the leads were cast, the body was made by cutting pieces of the plastic bottles and making tubes of them, they were married together, holes were melted with an old screwdriver and a loop of the twine was tied on for attachment to the mainline. When I had the process down pat, I could make a feeder in minutes — and I assure you, it is so easily and cheaply done, that I will never have to buy such a feeder ever again!

On the river we tied our rigs. Now, losing the feeders is one thing, but making sure that only the feeder is lost and not entire the rig itself, or that any fish that is hooked that then gets snagged, which we thought would be a likely scenario here, would always break free and be banked, takes a little thinking about.

Rotten bottoms, like cheap feeders, are another northern staple. Rock anglers fishing for cod use them as a matter of course. The principle is simple — a weak link between lead and trace that allows for casting but breaks well below the mainline strength when jammed solid in snags, salvaging the rig and saving hooked fish. Such fishing would be utterly impossible without this simple trick, and because it was equally impossible here, we needed our own rotten bottoms too.

We tied both tied up weak links from six-pound line. I'm not entirely sure how Martin fashioned his, but mine was a short length of the line tied with a one-turn loop knot at either end. I attached this to feeder and line by passing the loop through the feeder loop then through itself, and the other loop through the bottom eye of the swivel and the hook and hook-length passed through that. It was neat and quick, but would it work?

Martin had the first bite and hooked what was clearly a barbel. It snagged solid in seconds. He pulled for a break of the weak link, but lost his entire rig, probably because the swivel had jammed in the rocks and not the feeder itself.

Minutes later, my rod bounced as a fish took line from the spool. It was also a barbel and just like Martin's lost fish, it too snagged solid just moments after hooking. I decided not to pull for a break just yet, but do the opposite and allow slack line. A few seconds after, the fish broke free and the fight was back on, the rotten bottom having parted easily, ditching the feeder in the snag.

It was only a small fish, but had been banked where normal tactics would have failed. The one turn loop knot, which is a very weak knot compromising line strength by about 60-70% (and this the only time in my fishing career where I have ever employed such a weak knot by design) had parted at the swivel end of the link, leaving a pair of whiskers as evidence.

The rig had worked brilliantly!

Shortly after we both received bites. Martin's failed to hook up, and mine, well, it was a funny one. The rod top nodded once, bounced back flat, then nodded slightly every few seconds. I picked up the rod thinking I'd been weeded, only to find that the feeder had ditched, a fish had made off downstream on a free line, hence the strange bite, but had also ditched the hook on the way. I never felt the fish at all.

This meant that the weak link had worked, but had worked not exactly as planned. I believe what happened was this ~ the feeder snagged, if it wasn't snagged already, early in the bite, but the short link broke before the hook was fully set. It's possible that the hook point was masked, though I cannot dwell on such possibilities. It's more likely that my failure to strike cost me the fish, but only more bites and more fish would uncover the truth of it.

Unfortunately, the sun broke through the mist, and that was that. We had no more bites between the both of us in the hours after. Well, we hadn't done very well at all in terms of fish caught in the short window where bites had come, but had gained lots of food for thought, nevertheless...

Oh dear...

There were still issues to consider and ponder — it wasn't quite in the bag just yet.

Martin's was a free sliding rig, so tethering was not an issue and his lost fish swam free. Of course my rig was a fixed paternoster, and must be easily breakable if fish are not to be tethered should the line break above the swivel. This would usually be addressed by having a weak hook link and a strong paternoster link and mainline, but here the strength relationships of the links was reversed. Between fixed and sliding options though, I would always choose the fixed option, and I'll explain why ~

A snagged fish can pull and break a short fixed length of (what was effectively) four-pound line, reasonably easily, as my experiences had demonstrated, however, it cannot easily pull and break the weak link if the rig is a sliding one, because the pull it exerts will be compromised by the sliding action. Then the fish and the angler must work together in a see-saw of forces to break it — in effect, both must exert sufficient forces at similar angles to the link — both pulling in a straight line tug of war will not be enough.

Snagged on the rocks!

So, a well-balanced fixed rig is essential if the fish alone is to be able to easily break a weak link that is also strong enough to allow the casting of a fully-loaded heavy feeder. In retrospect I would say that the six-pound line was too heavy for an ideal 'rotten bottom,' and that four-pound line with knots that reduce its strength by a third, would be about right, because that would still be enough to make a cast with, so long as it weren't a forceful one, would still allow the feeder to be retrieved easily enough if it didn't snag, and would allow even the smallest fish that could feasibly take a large barbel bait and hook, to break the weak link and ditch the feeder.

Of course there is the issue of the link breaking before it had set the hook, but this could be addressed by not leaving rods to fish for themselves, and by setting hooks the old-fashioned way — with a well timed strike!

Or would that be too retrograde a step to make?

Well, between us we lost a grand total of seven or eight feeders in a just few short hours to both snagged fish and snagged casts, which is a phenomenal rate of loss to endure which would be even worse in a stronger flow, but a loss that's quite negligible at a cost of tens of pennies rather than tens of pounds. So, if you're wanting or having to fish in such a tackle graveyard as this, have no choice but employ ingenious tactics to do so, and such tactics demand such close paid attention, then striking bites just as they did in the old days, might be the way forward...

The Dustbin


  1. Nice read Jeff and nice to see the home made feeders, when I was a child, my father and I used to fish some very rocky embalses, tackle used to be lost at a very alarming rate, sometimes as many as 17 weights a day and that was just one of us, so he set about making feeders from many items, including spent cylindrical, toilet rim blocks, each one cut in half so as to make two feeders, they worked a treat and came in some very fetching colours including pink.

  2. That rig on the chair looks like mine. The link from the feeder to the sliding rig clip was 6lb mono,blood knotted to the feeder link complete with 2 or 3 over hand granny type knots along its length (3ins or so)and then a loop knot to the clip. It should break at around 3 or 4lb. The rest was a braid hair (not mono with the KK) joined to 3 foot of fluro with an albright knot and then a grinner in the fluro to the swivel. Jeff do you need more lead ?,we don't want you slacking now do we.

  3. If you ever get fed up of messing around with the plastic bottles these velcro curlers are the business for feeder bodies

    Just cut the velcro off and you are away, I'm told they are readily available in the pound shops but I always forget to look.

  4. Mark, pink would be good — what barbel would know what that was? Urban camo!

    Martin, yes that was your rig, not mine. Plenty of lead for now, swinging it as we speak...

    Rob, They would be handy. Damn sight easier even than cutting up bottles. I think I can muster the balls to buy them in the pound shop, though not in Boots the Chemist on a packed Saturday afternoon!

  5. Man up Jeff!

    Mind you, should have seen 'er indoors's boat when I undid my first delivery of them...

    If you ever find you need some proper sled/dead cow type feeder weights Merv Wilkinson knocks them up very cheaply and I believe is in your neck of the woods

  6. I did Rob, I bought some. Perfect they are, just right. Whilst I was about I bought all kinds of other cheap crap too, but that's pound shops for you!

    Merv is around these parts, and I do have his email address because he sent me an ad for his leads once.