Welcome to the third piece in this surface fishing mini-series. In Part 2, we looked at the different tackle items I use and in this piece I’ll cover my actual set up when surface fishing.
As previously explained, I see effective surface fishing as a stand-alone approach, essentially a mode of stalking, so to get the best out of it you really need to travel light. All my tackle is housed in one 10lt bait bucket, which also houses a good few kilos of dog biscuits too, so space is at a premium.
The biggest tip I could give is to go pre-rigged. By this, I mean that my whole set up is ready to go when I get to the water, right down to having a hookbait already mounted. This way, you can be fishing within a minute of getting to the water should you see something from the off, rather than potentially missing an opportunity because it takes you ten minutes to set up your rod. I could not even begin to estimate the amount I’ve fish I’ve had off the top within five minutes of arriving at a water!
I fish two different set ups in the main for my surface fishing. The first is a free-lined set up, whereby I’ll fish a thin mainline of about 8-10lb breaking strain right down to the hook. I’ll mount the hookbait really tight off the back of the shank using a bait band, and then grease about ten foot of line back from the hook with Vaseline, which keeps the line up on the surface. If you use a nice smooth action rod you can cast just a single hookbait some way without the need for any type of controller and, as many of my fish are taken within a rod length of the bank, this method is about as simple as it could get.
If I know in advance the water I’m fishing is likely to require some casts to get to probable fish holding features, then I will incorporate a controller float. Again, it’s all about simplicity. I see anglers surface fishing and getting into all sorts of tangles and wrap ups using some pretty naff set ups. I was shown a set up many years ago that worked straight out of the box and I can honestly say that it’s never let me down. Every cast tangle free and the hooklink, controller and hookbait land perfectly every time! Here’s how to make it up;
- Slide a tail rubber onto your mainline, then tie on a Carp R Us Gizmo Link (or a decent sea fishing snood clip).
- Tie your hook onto one end of a 6ft length of mono. At the other end, tie on a small barrel swivel.
- Mount a bait band on the shank of the hook so that the loop faces backwards.
- Grease the hooklink with a small amount of Vaseline – just get a bit between your thumb and forefinger and rub it up and down the hooklink.
- To put together, slide the hooklink swivel onto the snood link, then slide on the controller, before sliding the tail rubber back down to keep everything firmly in place.
The exact size of hooks and hooklink will depend on the water in question; what size the fish are I’m likely to hook and what kind of hazards there may be when trying to get them in, like snags, weed, pads and such like. In the main, I like to use a hook between 14’s and 16’s and my hooklink will usually be between 7.9lb and 10lb breaking strain.
I’ve used all kinds of hooks over the years, but over the last few seasons have been using The Hook, from Pallatrax, between 14-16… absolutely perfect for the job; lovely gape and super strong. For hooklinks, I use WB Clarke match line. Again, its super strong even at low diameters and it has never let me down.
In terms of hooklink length, again it will depend on the water, but usually I like a link of around five of six feet in length so that it drops nicely on the cast. I’m a big believer in feathering the cast, too, as this allows you to get much closer right from the off. Nearly every article on surface fishing will tell you to feed a spot, build confidence, cast well over so as not to spook them, and then draw back into the area slowly - but the better you get at feathering the cast, the closer you can get to the action from the start without spooking them, and it’s quite often the case that I will feather a cast that plops the hookbait right into the ‘zone’ and a fish will take the bait within just a few seconds!
What you have to remember is that when they are really going for it and feeding hard off the top, there’s going to be all kinds of noises and disturbance around them as they and other fish quickly whip around and mop all the freebaits. If you can accurately feather a cast right into the zone, the disturbance (relative to what’s going on in their immediate vicinity) is so minimal that, nine times out of ten, they don’t even notice and will often go for the hookbait with a second or two of it landing.
Therefore, I may tailor the length of my hooklink to suit this. By tying a longer hooklink, I can actually drop the controller five or six feet short of the zone so that the hookbait lands smack in the middle. You can, of course, go the other way and fish a very short link - I’ve done well with this when trying to place a bait next to tricky features or up to an island, for example.
The bonus of my above set up is that I can easily change hooklinks, controllers or whatever, so I can very quickly adapt my approach to suit whatever is happening in front of me. I find successful surface fishing is all about how quickly you can react to changes as the session unfolds, and by travelling very light with tackle that can be quickly changed at any point, you stand a much better chance of keeping in contact with the fish.
My tackle pouch for surface fishing is a stand-alone pouch that only ever houses my surface gear, so that I know everything will be there and I’m not carrying around unnecessary bits of kit. It contains a little tub of Vaseline, a small supply of swivels, hooks, bait bands, hooklink spools, and such like, along with scissors, forceps and a few other bits and pieces.
With this little pouch I can go surface fishing at any time, and so can just grab it and go should I get a spare hour or two, rather than having to root through all my other tackle to get the bits and pieces I need – after which time, the opportunity will often have been missed!
I’m a big believer in making the most of any opportunity and in the summer months see anything over an hour as viable. That that last hour before dark is prime time on many waters, so having a very simple set up allows me to put the kids to bed, grab my gear, get an hour's fishing in and be back for Newsnight; more often than not with a couple of fish under my belt!
In the next piece, we’ll take a closer look at baits for surface fishing.