When the bites from big specimen carp stop coming there’s only one thing to do – reach for the maggots. Top carp angling specialist Lee Birch explains how he gets that little extra something from these superb baits...
Maggots first popped on to my radar when I started fishing Bluebell Lakes and heard the tales of how Martin Locke had really done the business on there fishing with them.
Never one to pass up an opportunity, when I started tackling Kingfisher a few winters later maggots featured in my attack. Although I caught, I hadn’t really got the method sorted, and this was mainly because there were so many silver fish in the lake that I had to resort to fishing small boilies over the top, rather than matching hookbaits.
I was happy with my results but still thought that perhaps I could have got more from this obviously devastating tactic.
It was around this time that the maggot revolution really kicked in, mainly due to the fantastic catches of Rob Maylin. Now Rob was doing things slightly different and had come up with the Mag Aligner, a presentation that has dominated many waters for several seasons. I was lucky to get a chance to chat with Rob at one of the winter shows and picked his brains about the technique.
Then, armed with even more information, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to give my fine-tuned tactics a try, and now, several years later, I still reach for my wriggly friends when I need a bite in winter.
It’s all in the lead
Out of the myriad of rigs I’ve tried, the two that have scored the best for me have been the Mag Aligner and a presentation using a ring tied to the end of the hair. This second rig is very simple, but before I explain how to tie both set-ups we need to talk lead arrangements. Maggot fishing definitely works best with a good dollop of them around the hookbait, and there are two ways of doing this. The first is to spod a bed of maggots out to your area using a taped-up spod, which keeps spill to a minimum.
When I fish like this I only use a small PVA bag of free offerings, because I know that I’ve already got a good spread on the lakebed thanks to spodding.
The second technique – and this is where the lead set-up really does become important – is when you cast using just a giant mesh bag of maggots. This really is an acquired skill, and it can be frustrating at times. Tying one of these large bags is time-consuming, and the only thing I can suggest is to take your time, because when you pop a maggot, the liquid melts the PVA and you have to start again.
I use large Maggi Mesh from Nash, slowly adding maggots to the tube and carefully working them down until I’ve got a large compact mesh bag which, thanks to its tight weave, doesn’t start releasing its contents before you are ready.
With the bag tied, you then have to get it out there – not easy with something so big and cumbersome. My rig utilises a Diffusion leader set up helicopter style with an inline lead: I’ll talk you through it but the pictures will tell you loads more.
Get your leader and add a ring swivel to one end before sliding down an inline lead so that the swivel locates inside in the normal way. Everything now slides down the leader above the lead to create the helicopter rig – first a buffer bead, then another ring swivel, with the ring rotating on the leader, and finally a rubber bead.
As you can see, I mount the buffer and rubber bead on the stiff tail of the inline lead holding the ring swivel in place. In the event of a breakage the hooklink can separate from the leader. Now comes the clever bit – when you’ve tied your bag of maggots, leave a long piece of mesh which you’ll use to tie the bag to the ring protruding from the lead. This will take all the force of casting the massive bag, and it allows you to nip your hookbait into the side of the bag with the hooklink lying neatly and tangle-free alongside.
Lee's maggot rigs
Both presentations are similar and use a coated hooklink with a very supple inner braid core, in my case Missing Link. The suppleness allows the hook to drop and catch properly in the bottom lip, and the stiff outer helps to stop tangles.
For my first presentation I tie on a small ring to the stripped-back braid before tying it knotless knot style to a hook. Then I slide down a fake maggot to create the bent hook effect, with the added advantage that the rubber grub negates the weight of the hook and helps to camouflage it too.
It is important that you add the fake maggot correctly, and the easiest way to do this is with a baiting needle. Push the needle into the fat end of the maggot about a quarter of the way down one side, then go through the centre so it exits straight through the point.
Now catch the hooklink and pull it back through the maggot using the needle, and manipulate the grub so it sits correctly, creating the right effect. To complete the rig, thread several maggots on to a piece of fine braid using a sewing needle before tying them to the ring.
The Mag Aligner is tied in the same way except that it doesn’t have a hair. You simply nick two or three maggots straight on to the hook. Now you are ready to go.
Everything eats maggots
Thankfully, most carp waters don’t have a massive head of coarse fish, but if yours does you’ll need to think about when and how you use maggots, otherwise you may get a little frustrated. There are no hard and fast rules but these few pointers may help you out a little.
In winter, coarse fish tend to be tightly shoaled, so try to avoid these areas if possible – not easy if that’s where the carp happen to be.
Also, when spodding, pay attention to when the silver fish become active. On many clear gravel pits this can be at dawn and dusk, so if you spod in the middle of the day it is often possible to get a carpet of food into place before these brief feeding spells.
As I said, it won’t be easy and it is often a case of just using big bags and recasting fairly regularly. Now, maggots can dominate waters and in recent years their heavy use has seen certain venues become virtually maggot-only through the winter. Like any bait, if it’s used a lot the carp can become difficult to tempt on maggots.
One little edge that has seen me put a few extra fish on the bank is using flavours and sweeteners on my maggots. It is surprising how well they take these additions and you can really get some great smelling grubs. That should get you started and put you on the right track to catch a few on maggots – make no mistake, they can be simply devastating at the right time.
For a tenner you can get five pints of maggots, the same price as a kilo of boilies. That’s enough to last you a day session, and I know which I’d rather have with me. But be vigilant when things get over-used. It’s the clever angler that looks for something different to give him that extra edge.
Rigging a fake maggot