Back Leads – The How & The When

Hi, I would like to know when to use back leads and when I shouldn’t. Can you help? Regards, Paco

Ask a group of anglers about the best way to use a backlead and it’s like about their favourite colour; in short, you’ll get a lot of answers! The use of backleads can be quite a personal thing and there are many different types available. As such, I’ll first try to explain the idea behind their use and then outline the different types available.

In simple terms, the idea is to pin the line down on the lake bed in order to stop fish spooking on your mainline and also to reduce line bites. If you picture how your rig lies on the bottom when in position; you will have your hooklink lying flat and attached to the lead, at which point the mainline then begins to rise up off the lake bed as it makes its way right up to the tip of your rod. Obviously the angle at which the line comes up off your lead depends on how deep the water is and how far out you are fishing, but at whatever distance or depth the fish could potentially spook off the line at any point between it entering the water and meeting your lead, either through seeing the line or by touching it.

There are three main types of backlead available;

Free-running Backlead – This type of lead usually features a ball or flat bottomed base with some sort of clip attachment in loop form at the top. Once your bait is in position you gently wind in the slack line to the lead and place the but of your rod on the ground whilst moving your hands up the blank until you reach the tip. Attach the lead clip to your mainline then pick up the rod again and gently slide the lead down your mainline to the lake bed in your desired location.

Captive Backlead – Captive backleads differ from free-running leads in that they remain attached to the bank by means of a cord. Rather than being able to slide out to any distance along the line they are designed to remain just below the rod tip. You attach the lead after the cast in the same manner as above and then slide them down into position under the rod tip. When you strike the line comes free of the clip and to re-attach, you simply pull the lead back in on the cord and attach onto the mainline again.

Zip or Flying Backlead - A zip lead remains attached to the mainline at all times. It is basically a miniature inline lead which you push your mainline through before attaching to your rig. The idea is that when you cast, the zip lead fly’s back along your mainline before the rig hits the water and pins the line down automatically at some point between the rig and rod tip.

So which is best?
I have used all three methods in the past and to be honest they all have their strengths and weaknesses, though I have to admit that my overall preference for the majority of situations where I need to pin the line down is to opt for free-running backleads. This is simply because they are the most versatile in any given situation. My main consideration when using backleads is the effect on bite indication. In a perfect world, to receive the best bite indication possible you should set the rod so that when the bait is positioned in the water there is no line angle between the reel and rod tip, and rod tip and bait, i.e. a flat line from the first rod eye right through to the bait. This means that when you receive a bite there is nothing to hinder the indication - and by the same token, any additional angle that you do add between rod and bait will therefore reduce the effectiveness of indication. As such, we can take it for granted that adding a backlead is going to hamper indication no matter what. However, you need to consider which is the lesser of the two evils; reduced bite indication or fish spooking upon detecting your line. If the water contains wary carp that may spook easily then I would opt for reduced bait indication every time as I know several waters where fishing with backleads is often the only way to get a pick up at all!

So, if it’s the case that I need to use backleads to stop fish spooking then I want to fish them in a way that has minimal effect on bite indication and for me this is where the main differences between the three types come into play. what you are looking to do is have the smallest possible deviation in line angle once the backlead has been positioned - So it figures that the closer you can get the backlead to the rig the lesser the angle. Obviously this cannot be done with a captive backlead which would remain static under your rod tips so I’m afraid it’s out of the offing and to be honest, as far as I’m aware, captive backleads were designed for a different use altogether so I’ll come back to them later. By the same token you can’t really dictate where a zip lead will land on a cast – they tend to hit the water anywhere between the rod tip and the rig, so again, they are out. I think I’m right in saying that their use is supposed to be aimed at distance fishing but my experience of using them is that if anything they actually hamper the cast, so overall they leave me a bit confused as to their plus points. I’ve seen people actually have zip leads fixed in place a few feet up the mainline held in place with anything from grinner knots to shot – a set up just asking to tether a fish! Some people advocate a PVA knot a few feet up the mainline to stop it shooting back too far but if distance casting the knot always tends to move and to be honest, unless you get the cast ‘right first time every time’ – it’s too much like hard work!

For me it has to be the free running lead every time as you can simply slide them into position no matter where your rig is - they are just so versatile. For me the only true reason to backlead the line is stop fish spooking at the rig and by their very nature, a captive backlead placed under your rod tip or a zip lead half way between rod and bait just can’t do that as effectively as a free running backlead. If it is the case that you need to pin the line down further back from the lead you can either not slide the lead as far or even add multiple backleads to the same line - a tactic that has worked extremely well for me on several occasions.

Another important factor with regard to indication and backleading is water depth. Not just the depth around the rig but the depth where the backlead is going to be placed. If you imagine your bait is positioned at sixty yards distance in three feet of water, and then imagine the water under your rod tips is six feet deep and you are intending to use a captive backlead - you don’t need me to tell you how bad the angle of the line is going to be between rod and bait and its effect on indication! In fact, there is a ve
ry good series of experiments in Strategic Carp Fishing (Hughes & Crow) relating to the use of backleads – the upshot is that in all bar one experiment (sixteen in total) the bait backleaded under the rod tip had to travel further from its original position before movement was signalled than a bait backleaded further out. As I’ve said, it’s all about cutting down the angle.

You may then wonder why people backlead under their rod tips at all and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Many like to think its stops the lines getting tangled if fishing a tight swim or it stops fish spooking in the margins. However, if it’s spooking the fish that’s the worry, I’d sooner concentrate on the line around the rig than the line under my rod tips and furthermore, I don’t really buy the anti-tangle argument either. Suppose you are fishing three rods all of which are backleaded near to the rigs – there’s no problem with netting the fish. If you happen to be tight on space you can simply lift the other rods off the bank sticks or rod rests and you are fine for netting. However, if you have three rods all backleaded under the tips, your sole aim on getting a take is to stop the fish getting near the other two backleads, which invariably are right next to each other, or else it is likely to pick up one or all of your other lines when in the margin.

I’ll name no names, but I have a friend who backlead's under his rod tips religiously - whether it’s needed or not. He’s under the firm belief that this is the best way to fish them and won’t be told otherwise (despite results to the contrary!). It’s often the case that on the take the fish has travelled a fair distance before indication is registered so the fish has the upper hand right from the off. This invariably results in the fish kiting one way or the other leaving him with a ‘big ask’ to get it back into the swim avoiding any further obstacles. There are often tangles with the other lines backleaded in the margins when netting does occur and for the life of me I can’t work out why he still does it. On more than one occasion, well, dozens if I’m honest, he’s struck into fish expecting them to be where the bait was positioned only to realise that they are in fact miles away from the spot – all down to poor indication.

So, why use captive backleads at all? Well, I think I’m right in saying that the original thinking behind their use was not in fact to keep a line backleaded under the rod tip indefinitely, but more to be used as a sort of quick-fix for sinking the line with a view to letting it come back up again once the problem obstacle has passed. Basically we are talking about boat traffic, water sports activities, wildlife or floating weed, all of which could end up towing your lines if not fishing a backlead. With a non-backleaded bait in position, imagine a raft of floating weed comes by. You can simply attach a captive backlead and sink the line. Then, once the weed has moved through your swim you can simply retrieve the captive backlead on the cord and raise your line again without having to reel in your bait. I have a friend who fishes a number of large Mere’s and uses this tactic to good effect. He fishes at extreme distance and so does not want to have a backlead in place as it would hinder indication too much, but on occasion needs to dip his lines to avoid obstacles, mainly floating weed or swans, and a captive lead is just the trick as it allows him to remove it again afterwards without having to reel in.

In summary, the effective use of backleads (if indeed you need to use them at all) is about matching their intended use to the situations you are likely to be faced with during the majority of your day to day angling, and if you do need to use a backlead, be sure to cut down the line angle as much as possible to improve bite indication.

Julian Grattidge
December 200