I have used the following feature finding set-up for many years and having tried many other similar set-ups, I’ve found it to be the best for the majority of my angling as I fish a lot of weedy waters and the length of braid from the lead upwards helps keep the rig free from weed and debris on the bottom allowing accurate, tangle-free measuring.
How to set up.
To make the set-up, take a length of durable braid and tie one end to your lead (I use a length of Quicksilver leader material). Then, at the other end tie to a swivel. Ideally the length of this section wants to me measured so that when added to the length of the marker float the combined length will be around 12 inches. So, as my marker float is 5 inches long, the length between the bottom of my lead to the swivel will be 7 inches, giving a combined length of 12 inches.
Next, thread your mainline through the swivel, then thread through a bead, and then tie securely to the bottom of your marker float - job done.
How to use.
1. Once you have made the initial cast, point the rod directly at the spot where the lead entered the water and reel in the slack line until you feel resistance as the float meets the swivel. At this point you may need to pull back in order to dislodge the lead from any silt that may be present, then just tighten back up to the lead again. You should now be left with the rod pointing directly at the lead with taught line.
2. To accurately measure the depth; simply pay out line from the spool in measured amounts, i.e. a foot at a time. When the float breaks the surface simply add the length of the leader and marker float (12") to the amount of line you have paid out and you have the exact depth of that spot.
3. In order to find features; tighten back up to the lead with the rod pointing straight out in front of you and then *slowly* pull the rod round to your side at around waist height (left or right). This action will then slowly pull the lead across the bottom of the lake. By holding the rod in one hand and the line in the other, you are then in direct contact with the lakebed. Once you have pulled back 90 degrees to your side, tighten back up to the lead (with the rod pointing at the lead again) and repeat the process pulling round to the side.
Feature finding; an essential part of specimen angling.
How to read the features
It’s all about resistance on the lead. Different features will pass different feelings back up the line. It will take a little time and practice to effectively sort it all out, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. However, as a rough guide;
If the lake bed comes up shallow towards you, you will normally feel resistance on the retrieve as the lead is pulled up the side of the incline. Checking your depth at various points on the retrieve will confirm this.
In the same way, if the lake bed deepens off coming towards you, you will normally feel very little resistance on the retrieve as the lead comes down the slope towards you. Again, checking your depth will confirm this. So for example; a bar running left to right in front of you would be relayed as sharp resistance on the retrieve of the lead as you pull it up the back of the bar’s incline, then a level amount of resistance as it comes across the top of the Plato and then zero resistance on the lead as it falls down the nearside of the bar towards you. By stopping the retrieve and checking the depth at both the top and the bottom of the bar you can then work out how much the bar rises above the lake bed, etc.
If you have to pull back hard on the initial cast to get the lead to move, the chances are the bottom is silty. A clear silty bottom usually gives a smooth retrieve free of bumps or knocks. The density of the silt can be worked out by how far the lead sinks into the silt both on the initial cast (i.e. how far you have to pull it back out to get the lead to move) and also at the end of each 90 degree retrieve, as when you point the rod back towards the lead and reel in the slack line ready for the next retrieve, you may need to give a little pull to dislodge the lead from the silt to get it moving again. If the bottom is nice and firm with little or no silt there will be no need to pull out on the initial cast or in between retrieves and you will feel the odd vibration as the lead skips along the hard bottom.
If on the retrieve you feel lots of tiny knocks and vibrations but the lead moves quite freely, then this may well be a gravel or stony bottom.
A sand bottom can also be smooth like silt, however it will feel much firmer both on the initial cast and in between the retrieves. Also, the lead won’t drop back in the bottom between retrieves and may also pass tiny vibrations up the line similar to those of a hard bottom.
If the bottom is weedy you will feel resistance on the retrieve. The type of resistance will vary depending on the type and amount of weed, but if it is difficult to get a smooth retrieve and the lead seems to keep digging in meaning you have to apply greater resistance to free it, it’s quite likely there is weed present. Very light silt can sometimes have a similar feel so it always helps to examine the lead on the retrieve, as deposits of silt, weed or other debris will often give a simple indication as to what the bottom is like.
Weed can hamper the operation of feature finding, and if you seem to be getting lots of resistance without depth change - weed is the most likely cause. However, by using the length of leader described in the set-up, the float should sit off the bottom and
not get tangled too much. When you get heavy weed you are looking for those little spots on the retrieve where just for a moment it goes from lots of resistance to nice and smooth with no snagging and then back to resistance - a sure sign of a clear spot. Repeated casts to the same area picking up the same signal; resistance, then no resistance, and then resistance again, will confirm a clear bottom. All you have to do then is pop up the float to the surface to act as a marker and get some bait on it! Practice will make perfect if you stick at it, and in time you will be able to build up a complete picture of what's going on in any swim beneath the surface. Once I’ve found a spot I like the feel of, I often pop up the float to the surface to mark the spot, then grab the rod with rig and hook bait that I’ll be using and have a few casts around the marker just to ensure everything is as you suspect.
In time you will find that you get so good at telling what’s going on on the bottom that you can almost do-away with the feature finding set-up entirely. By learning to feather your cast and stopping the line at the spool, you can actually learn to count the lead down to the bottom to gauge the depth and even feel the little bump as it comes to rest on the bottom. You then simply retrieve as above to feel what’s going on.
One of six fish including four twenties from the same spot after using a feature finding set-up to locate a clear area in weed.
If you are fishing extremely weedy waters it can sometimes help to attach a piece of cork or foam just below the swivel to ensure the leader stays above the weed making accurate feature finding that bit easier. Alternatively, if you know for sure there is no weed at all, you can do away with the length of leader entirely and thread your mainline through the lead clip, bead, and direct to the marker float as this can sometimes give a better feel and make things easier to read on the retrieve.
A tip is to use a decent sized lead. I usually use a 2.5 or 3oz lead. A bigger lead means it holds bottom better, reducing the tendency to skip on the retrieve which lowers the level of feeling.
Always be careful not to kill a swim though too much casting about, especially if you are about to fish it! Furthermore, spare a thought for other anglers. I'm never too keen when someone sets up next to me and starts thrashing the water to pulp with a marker rod - Common sense really.
I hope the above guide helps you to find those troughs, bars and clear spots!
Happy feature finding!