John Weeden’s silverfish pole fishing tactics and the pole fishing rigs he uses really are bizarre!
Incorporating a rig with a three-foot pole ‘float’, the Maver match ace regularly takes roach bags well in excess of 30lb.
Crude-looking, highly unconventional, downright strange, but devilishly effective when it comes to catching rudd and roach, John’s three-foot float rig is actually a yard-long length of greased monofilament that floats and provides resistance-free bite indication when fishing up-in-the-water.
Having been invented and used to devastating effect in the 1960s and 70s by London Association Anglers who’d use greased line rigs for snatching bleak on venues like the River Lea and Thames, John has revived the tactic, putting it to use on today’s modern commercials.
Used for catching any fish that is feeding up-in-the-water, John has landed everything from roach and rudd – his best day being 63lb taken from Gold Valley Lakes, Hampshire – through to skimmers, chub and even carp, the best of which weighed more than 10lb.
John told us: “It’s a tactic that I saw being used nearly 40 years ago and it has been a little edge that I have kept in my back pocket ever since.
“If I am in a match and, for whatever reason, the carp aren’t feeding confidently, I have employed the old greased line trick and more often than not walked to victory with a bulging bag of silverfish.”
To witness John’s bizarre three-foot pole float in action, Features Editor Mark Parker, joined the ex-Kings Cross lad on the banks of the beautiful Bridge Farm Fishery, at Litcham, near Kings Lynn to witness a day of greased line fishing that he wouldn’t forget...
It’s so very simple, yet so very effective...
With a deft flick of the wrist, John’s top-three pole section propelled the six-foot rig out into the swim.
In similar fashion to a great fly angler casting out a team of flies to a wary rising trout, John nimbly held the pole’s top kit at two-o’clock, allowing the rig to land softly on the surface of the lake, before lowering the top kit to just below horizontal – primed and ready to strike at any movement.
The three-foot length of line – smeared in a thick coating of bright orange bristle grease with an array of small loops tied in it every six inches – looked wholly alien as it lay on the surface of the pool.
Hurling a pinch of maggots round the end of the floating line, the countless swirls and oily vortexes on the lake’s surface indicated that John had the fish feeding, and feeding hard.
Moments later, and in an instant, the length of curly orange line pulled bow-string tight, before it slid beneath the surface.
A flick of the wrist was all it took to strike the hook home into yet another one of Bridge Farm’s healthy roach.
Swinging the fish to hand, John rapidly unhooked the plump five-ounce fish, before repeating the process once again.
Watching John closely for around 30 minutes, I noticed that I had started to involuntarily rock back and forth in time to his casts and strikes, so fluid and quick was the momentum of his fishing.
Shaking myself out of the angling-induced daze, I set to work quizzing John about this highly unusual, yet devastating silverfish tactic.
More years than I’d care to remember…
Having grown up in the ‘smoke’, the young John and his mate, the now prolific match angler Terry Dalgarno, used to regularly travel on the train from their Kings Cross home to the River Lea, in order to watch the great matches of the day.
Here, the two young aspiring anglers would spend hours closely watching angling legends like Dickie Carr, Bill Bullock and Ade Scutt as they went head-to-head in large 200-peg matches that stretched for miles along the banks of the Lea as it wound its way through north London and eventually into the Thames.
“We could never afford to fish ourselves, so we’d sit behind the anglers that we looked up to, soaking in what they did and how they did it,” said John, as a wistful look of far off fondness crossed his face as he recalled age-old memories.
“They were all superb, but it was Ade Scutt who was the true master of greased line fishing.
“In those days they used to use lengths of invisible mending thread, rather than a section of high-tech pole line which had yet to be invented. But it fitted the bill perfectly.
In fact, I’ll still use invisible mending thread on occasion, even now. The trouble is that it is nylon with a breaking strain of around 1.5lb – ideal for bleak, but too light for commercial pools.
“You’ve got to remember that in the 60s and 70s tackle was very crude.
“Small fish, like bleak, would often reject the bait if they felt the weight of the float. A greased line rig offers these fish a totally resistance-free presentation and it was the real thinking anglers like Ade, Bill and Dickie that really pushed the boundaries, looking for alternative products to employ in order to catch these previously uncatchable fish.”
Since these early beginnings, John has converted the old tactics by using modern lines and has won more matches with just silverfish than he’d now care to remember.
His best result to date is a 63lb bag from Hampshire’s Gold Valley Lakes as well as plenty of 30lb and 40lb nets both in matches and during pleasure sessions.
And the real beauty of the tactic is that it’s so simple.
The greased line rig
Fished ‘whip-style’, with only an elasticated top three kit and a line long enough to swing any smaller fish to hand, John’s greased line rig will catch any fish that is willing to feed up-in-the-water.
The shorter you fish, the easier it is. He further simplifies his approach by not even plumbing up. He simply casts out the rig, feeds a few maggots and catches fish.
The elastic is a 5-8 Maver Match This Dual Core threaded through the whole top kit and set to fish quite soft. Having a hollow elastic gives John a forgiving set-up for catching silvers, while it still has a bit of backbone if a larger fish takes his maggot hookbait.
The mainline is 0.14mm (4lb 2oz) Maver Genesis Extreme II mono.
John ties small overhand loops into the line along a three foot length.
“The reason for the loops is so that I can see the line much easier,” John explained.
“When you cover these small loops with a thick smear of fluorescent orange pole bristle grease, the rig stands out brilliantly on the surface of the lake, even in a heavy ripple.
“It also allows me to see the bites develop, as each loop gets pulled under the surface. However, most of the time, the bites are so positive you don’t get a chance to see bites develop all that well!”
At the very end of the looped section, John attaches his small 12-inch hooklength.
This is 0.14mm, 0.12mm or 0.10mm depending upon the size of the fish that he is catching on any given day.
When it comes to hooklengths, John thinks the heavier that you can get away with is best.
A short length of mono has very little tensile strength compared to longer lengths, so you need to make a compromise somewhere.
Also, John will quite often catch well over 200 fish in a day, so the heavier the hooklink the fewer problems you’ll have and the less often you will have to change it.
On the hooklength, John will place two tiny number 13 shot.
These will generally be equally spaced, although he will move them up or down the hooklink depending whether the fish want a slower or more rapidly descending bait presentation on the day.
The hook is a size 18 Maver Match This MT Series 3.
“The two shot simply help the hooklink to sink effortlessly,” said John.
“This allows me to present my hookbait just 12 inches below the surface.
“This is an ideal area for catching fish. Over the years I’ve found that the larger, more aggressive roach tend to sit and feed higher in the water so they get at the food before their smaller cousins.
“Combined with regular casts and even more regular feeding, I very quickly get into fish.
“The hook is big enough to land larger fish, while not being too big to hinder overall presentation.
“But even though these fish are in a feeding frenzy just under the surface, it doesn’t mean that they are suicidal.”
When is a float not a float?
At the pole end of the rig, just before the strange, three-foot looped section starts, John attaches a small piece of plastic.
On one rig, this is a cut down section of plastic disgorger. On another, it is a small white plastic lolly stick which originally came from his kids while the family was on holiday in Turkey.
“It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as it floats,” John explained.
“Even though this looks like it should be the rig’s float, it is only for casting weight and to help prevent the rig tangling on the cast. Even though it floats, you never watch it for your bite indication.
“It is the three-foot length of looped and greased line that you need to watch.
“When the greased line tightens and submerges is when you should strike.”
Baits and feeding
When it comes to hookbaits, John uses maggots, but John isn’t too fussy when it comes to free offerings.
His first choice is maggots as they complement the hookbait, although the tactic also works superbly with loosefed hempseed as well as regularly fed small balls of light, sloppy groundbait. Something like Van Den Eynde’s Supermatch or Special are among the best as they form a cloud in the water, while providing very little substantial food to eat.
For hookbait, John tends to use maggots, which he threads up the shank of the hook. This helps to mask the hook as well as making the set-up more robust.
By hooking a maggot this way, he can take a few fish before having to change the hookbait.
“This is one of the reasons I like to use more robust baits, like maggots or hemp,” John told me.
“Softer hookbaits like casters, which roach love, can be pulled off the hook without a bite registering, even on a greased line rig.
“With maggots, especially ones threaded on to the hook, you can use the same hookbait to take a number of fish.
“Although not allowed in matches, one of my favourite dodges to avoid having to re-hook all the time, is to use a plastic maggot.
“The fish are in frenzy and will readily take anything that looks like food, as long as it is well presented.”
Feeding-wise, John will easily work his way through two pints of maggots in a session.
He is not looking to feed loads, but he is intent upon getting a constant stream of food raining through the swim.
Between eight to 10 grubs thrown around the end of the rig every 30 seconds is ideal to keep the fish actively searching the upper layers and feeding confidently.
To throw the fish off balance, he will often throw in a bit of hemp, too – perhaps every sixth or seventh feed – to pick off the larger roach which adore seed.
Greasing the swim
Fishing two swims over the day, John constantly drip feeds each one, taking between five and six fish off each line before swapping to the next. This keeps fish coming all day and prevents plundering just one area to depletion.
By flicking, feeding and then striking as the orange line straightened and sunk, John was steadily and very, very easily putting together an enviable bag of silvers while many of the surrounding anglers were struggling to get any bites at all as they fished conventionally on the bottom.
The total lack of resistance offered by the greased line meant that the shy-biting silverfish took his hookbait without hesitation.
After four hours, we decided to call it a day and return the fish.
Lifting the keepnet out of the water to take a shot of the finished catch, the sound was deafening as two keepnet ringfuls of roach noisily flapped their annoyance at being lifted briefly out of the water.
The result had to be seen to be believed – a net well over 30lb was sitting comfortably in the base of John’s keepnet.
As a great man once said: “History is not what you thought, it is what you can remember,” and it seems that John’s formative years watching and remembering how some of the sport’s legends fished has rewarded him in spades – if not silver. IYCF