Alan Scotthorne looks at the pros and cons of netting or swinging a fish in
Whether to reach for the landing net or risk swinging a fish in is a decision that I am sure we have all had to make at some point in our fishing. It is a common dilemma when you’re after small to medium-sized fish such as roach, perch, dace and small skimmers. Usually fish of 3oz to 6oz are what I would class as borderline swingers when you are using standard silver-fish tackle on a typical English venue. When you get to fish around the 8oz mark I think you should almost certainly be reaching for the landing net.
Knowing when to reach for the net and when to swing the fish is key to optimum efficiency
The first thing I must say is that if you are ever in doubt you should always net your fish. However, it perhaps isn’t ever quite as simple or straightforward as that. Sometimes netting every single fish is not really necessary, especially when they are small. Netting fish can sometimes upset your catching rhythm and slow you down. The extra time spent netting could even cost you a pound or two of fish over the course of five hours. On the other hand, risking swinging a fish that then falls off midair can be an even worse predicament, especially if it leads to a tangled rig. Mistakes like that can cost you all-important extra ounces that are often so vital at the weigh-in.
There are clearly other factors that have to be taken into account and, once you’ve decided to swing or net that fish, you then have to consider using the right tackle for the job.
Alan's Elastic Secrets
A central cone helps Alan's elastic run smoothly...
... while a Drennan Tensioner bung helps him set his elastic just right
Spare elastic on the bung means a connector can be changed without rethreading the top kit
Speed is the most obvious reason. After all, in a match situation, we are all trying to amass as big a weight as possible in the shortest amount of time. Another is efficiency, because it can be a bit awkward and time-consuming reaching for a landing net all the time (although if you spend some time on your setup you can make sure your landing net is always in the same place and easy to grab when you need it). Sometimes you can scoop a fish and wish you hadn’t bothered after the hook inexplicably goes into the landing net mesh and causes all sorts of messy problems as you try to unravel it.
Another reason for swinging fish is when you need to extract fish quickly to stop them disturbing the rest of the shoal. Catching perch close in is a great example of this. Even small perch can fight hard and jag around all over your swim if you let them. By stepping the elastic up a notch you can normally persuade them out of the peg much easier and swiftly lift them out. This can really help to prevent spooking any other fish close rather than unnecessarily splashing around with a landing net.
Pike are another reason why trying to get that fish out of the water as swiftly as possible can be better. On my local Stainforth & Keadby Canal, for example, you sometimes have to ship back with a fish on really quickly to make sure a pike cannot grab it! If you are doing this then slightly stepped-up gear is required – stronger elastic, bigger hooks and a more robust hooklength. When I might typically use a No3 elastic to 0.07mm hooklength and a size 22 or 20 fine-wire hook, I wouldn’t hesitate to step that up to No5 elastic to a 0.09mm bottom and size 16 if pike were an issue. You might sacrifice a bit of presentation, but when a hungry predator is lurking you cannot afford to mess around playing fish cautiously. Don’t take control and that fish becomes a pike’s next meal!
Softly-Softly For Skimmers
In some situations, it is safer to net everything you hook, especially on really hard days. It is also good practice when you are targeting soft-mouthed skimmers. A good way to force yourself to net everything is to use much lighter pole elastic. Anything from No3 to No5 is ideal for soft-mouthed skimmers. Going lighter is better for smaller fish and on a shallow venue when you need to stop them coming straight to the top and splashing on the surface. Skimmers don’t have much of a reputation for fighting hard, so there’s rarely any need to fish stronger; you’ll probably just pull the hook out if you do.
The length of elastic in your top kits is a subject that I touched upon last month and is worth going into in a bit more detail. Top kits are not all a standard length between manufacturers, so it all depends on the make of pole that you own. Some top-two kits can be as short as two metres, while others as long as three. Fitting the same pole elastic into either of these extremes will greatly alter the way your elastic behaves. For instance, a No5 through three metres of pole will be much softer and mellow compared with the same No5 through just two metres. The same elastic can, therefore, behave very differently according to how much of it you have inside your pole and I think that is something people don’t always appreciate.
It is really popular these days to have pole elastic fitted through a full, long top-two kit. However, for a lot of my out-and-out silver-fish work I still only thread elastic through the long tip section of my Drennan Acolyte pole. This means I can have a really soft and forgiving elastic to cushion the strike, but the power can kick in relatively quickly. This allows me to control and guide any better fish in a lot easier than if I had the same elastic through a full top-two kit.
The main advantage of this setup is that it enables me to swing in slightly better fish and still be in control. If I were to attempt to swing in the same fish with more pole elastic the process becomes a lot more unpredictable because there would be a greater variation in the height that a fish came through the air. This makes it much more difficult to anticipate exactly where the fish will be when I need to catch it. Small points like this can make all the difference over the course of a session and ultimately help you to be much more efficient.
Incidentally, the top section of my Acolyte is 1.45 metres and a top two is 2.89 metres. You can elasticate these wide-bore kits as they come but I prefer to chop them back around 10 centimetres further to accept a 4.5mm internal Drennan Super Slick PTFE Bush. This allows me to use a wider range of elastics and still have all my kits the same length.
Elastic soft enough to stop you bumping roach but meaty enough to tame bonus skimmers like this is a must!
I normally like to have plenty of elastic coming out of the tip when I connect with a bite. This helps to set the hook and then cushions everything when I am shipping back. By having several feet of elastic coming out on the strike it also buys you a few seconds to do other things, such as throwing or catapulting bait immediately after hooking a fish. If you tried doing this with stronger elastic the fish would come straight to the top, splash around and potentially come off while you fumbled around to feed.
"I won't hesitate to stand up to catch or net fish if I ever need to. You have to do what's necessary to make sure that fish ends up safely in your keepnet."
The more elastic you fit the softer it will become, so always bear that in mind if you decide to use less of it in your pole. For example, a No5 elastic through two sections will behave very similarly on the strike to a No3 elastic through just one section.
If you are faced with the occasional better fish on the end that is a potential swinger, a little trick you can sometimes try is to leave an extra pole section on before lifting the fish out. This should hopefully compensate for the extra elastic and enable you to swing the fish swiftly to hand. So, if my pole rig corresponds to the top two sections of my pole I might unship another section longer and swing the fish in with three sections of pole. It can sometimes take a bit of skill and judgement to do this properly but it’s quite an efficient way of catching on certain days.
I must add that I won’t hesitate to stand up to catch or net a fish if I ever need to. You have to do what’s necessary to make sure that fish ends up safely in your keepnet.
I have already touched upon the importance of stepping up your tackle if you are expecting to swing fish in. As soon as a fish leaves the water its downforce is increased and puts greater strain on your hook-hold. You therefore need to ensure that you have a big enough and strong enough hook and sufficient elastic to cushion the fish as it flaps around. If you are using an ultra-fine-wire hook and gossamer-thin hooklength then a landing net needs to be on standby all of the time.
It can pay to have a couple of rigs set up – one for catching normally and one for a red-letter bagging day. Being prepared to step up a gear can help you to really capitalise on a peg full of fish. Failing that, just make sure you have plenty of spare hooklengths tied up so that you can quickly switch to a sturdier arrangement if you think the fish will accept it. Even one hook size up can make swinging in those better fish so much easier.
Even when I am targeting better fish that all need netting it is still worth experimenting with the amount of elastic in your top kits. For instance, last winter I had a lot of success with our lightest Drennan 4-6 Aqua Bungee hollow elastic through a full top-two kit. This was ideal for catching a mixture of F1s, small carp, skimmers and silver fish on tough days when every ounce was vital. However, when it warmed up I felt I was lacking control with this setup and sometimes had far too much elastic coming out. As the fish became more energetic it was taking longer to get them up to the net, even with a Side Pull Kit.
I overcame this problem by using the same elastic through a Drennan Double 2 Side Pull Kit instead. These are exactly the same length as my standard kits but with an extra joint in the No2 section. This enables me to elasticate just one and a half sections of pole (approximately 2.1 metres). This new arrangement still offers plenty of shock absorption but with much-improved control at the netting stage. There is also still a side puller slot for even greater control. Again, this is a good example of being able to control the amount of elastic you have in your top kits.
Whether to swing a fish or not is a decision we all get wrong at times. On several occasions, I have had my wife Sandra tell me off for trying to gamble and swing a fish that could have been costly had it come off! However, it all boils down to confidence and experience, plus having the right tackle for the job. Being a bit more positive and having the courage to attack has definitely won me a few matches over the years. It’s all about sizing up the situation and knowing what the right thing to do is on the day. Hopefully, I’ve given you some food for thought and the next time you hook a fish you’ll know exactly what to do.
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Alan’s Essential Skills
Alan Scotthorne explains why finer tackle can give you the edge at this typically changeable time of year.
Fishing with really strong gear is absolutely fine in the height of summer when the fish are really lively and active. With a lot more competition for bait, the water will be much more coloured, meaning you can get away with stronger hooks, thicker line and stronger tackle in general.
As we move from winter through to spring, however, things are often a lot trickier. You will have some really good sessions when the carp and F1s feed with a vengeance, but there will be just as many days when they are a lot harder to catch. While the water temperature is still low and the clarity quite high, you have to pay particular attention to your rigs and overall setup. Regardless of the bait, you are using – be that pellets, meat, worms, corn or maggots – fishing with a bit of finesse leads to better bait presentation and will undoubtedly bring you more bites.
The Fine Line
Fishing with a relatively fine hooklength is possibly one of the hardest points to get across to a lot of anglers who target carp and F1s. I cannot blame them because when you are hooking fish that could be 5lb or more it probably doesn’t sound right to use line that is of a much lower breaking strain. For instance, I use 0.117mm Supplex or 0.12mm Supplex fluorocarbon a lot at this time of year. These have a breaking strain of only 2.5lb and 2lb respectively, yet I will happily use either of them for fish that could potentially weigh more than twice that amount.
There are a couple of points that can be made here. Firstly, Drennan line is very accurately stated in terms of diameters but the breaking strains are more conservative than some other lines you may see on the tackle-shop shelves. The breaking strains on Supplex are based on achievable average knot strengths. Because you cannot use line without having to tie a knot, this should be the only way to measure its strength. If you tie a good, well-moistened knot then the breaking strain will, in fact, be slightly higher.
Cover your options and sey up a lighter strung-out rigs, as well as heavier bulked rigs.
What you must also realise is that a 5lb carp does not weigh 5lb when it’s actually swimming in the water. As long as there are not many snags to worry about and you tie decent, reliable knots I would be very confident of getting fish in the net with low-breaking-strain hooklengths.
Slim, pencil floats offer little resistance to a talking fish and strike cleanly from the water.
Of course, you have to be sensible when choosing the right strength of hooklength for commercials. I wouldn’t dream of deliberately fishing with 0.075mm (0.9lb) Supplex fluorocarbon just because it is the lightest in the range. However, it is still surprising just how easy it can be to get really big fish in the net on light tackle such as this.
Over the past few years, there has been a massive boom in silver-fish-only matches on commercial fisheries. Carp do not count, so people deliberately fish with very light gear intended for roach and skimmers, matched up with fine-wire hooks and very light pole elastic. I have lost count of the amount of ‘nuisance’ big carp I have seen banked in these events. Unless the fish has been foul hooked it is often quite difficult to get broken, even if you did try to deliberately pull for a break!
You can sometimes find that a carp will pull back less on this light gear and comes to the net with relative ease. I am sure that if you had used more substantial gear and more powerful elastic, the same fish might have fought twice as hard all the way to the net. It must be the extra resistance that causes a fish to pull a lot more the other way, so the stronger the elastic and the more you pull, the more a fish will pull back.
Light, soft, hollow elastics mean you can fish with fine hooklengths, but when matched with a puller bung, land very big fish!
These lessons learned from accidentally catching carp in silver-fish-only matches only serve to strengthen the case that you can catch carp on light tackle, even if you hadn’t planned to.
Now that we have established that you can land carp on light lines I must stress that the key is to use sensible and balanced tackle at all times. In summer I will typically use a hooklength that is anything from 0.15mm to 0.20mm (approximately 4lb to 7lb). When things are trickier, or if I’m targeting both carp and more fickle F1s, I am more likely to use hooklengths from 0.10mm to 0.13mm (2lb to 3lb). Match it to an equally light and soft elastic and I can fish with complete confidence.
Tie hooks to a variety of line diameters so that you can experiment during a session!
Puller bungs and puller kits have played a big part in the ability for us to scale down our tackle. In short, they have completely transformed the way we can play fish. You can now use much lighter elastic, which is really soft and forgiving when you lift into a bite and puts less pressure on the fish. When it comes to netting the fish you can also reduce the amount of elastic with the puller and play fish comfortably with just your top kit in your hand. A puller kit means that there is no longer any need to have several pole sections high up in the air when netting a big carp on light elastic.
Puller kits and light hooklengths go hand in hand with hollow elastic because this stuff is so much more forgiving compared with traditional solid elastic. It is softer and stretches much further, so there is less likelihood of having a breakage should a fish make a sudden lunge. I still use solid elastic, especially doubled-up elastic in the depths of winter, but that’s perhaps a subject for another time. For spring I still recommend you use soft hollow elastic for the majority of commercial-fishery situations.
At this time of year, there are two that I use the most, Drennan Green (6-8) Carp Bungee for general use and even lighter Aqua (4-6) Silverfish & F1 Bungee. This is most commonly used on F1-dominated venues and when a mixture of species such as roach and skimmers is also on the cards. You will still get those bigger bonus carp out on it, however.
Over the years I have fished with a huge number of poles from different manufacturers and that has made me appreciate that they all have different length top kits. This makes things much more difficult when it comes to recommendations because fitting elastic through a pole with a very long top kit will behave in a very different way to the same elastic fitted through a pole with a much shorter top kit.
I am fortunate with my Acolyte pole because there are two types of top kit available. The standard top kits are relatively long, so I can have plenty of elastic threaded through them. This is ideal for playing all sizes of fish, particularly in colder conditions when they are harder to come by. The other is called a Double 2 and this is the same length but allows you to thread elastic through just the first two metres or so. This means I can use incredibly soft elastic but because there is not so much of it inside the pole I can land fish of all sizes relatively quickly. This is more useful on better days when you are expecting more fish.
Complete The Puzzle
Although I won’t dwell too much on these aspects, the final pieces of the jigsaw are the floats and hooks. A slim pole float such as my latest AS5 ‘pencil’ is ideal for continuing the delicate and sensitive theme because you can dot it right down to register the most delicate of bites and it will lift really cleanly from the water on the strike.
The hook is even more important and at this time of year, I typically use a size 20 or 18 Kamasan B911 F1 for maggots, pellets, corn and small cubes of meat. If I am hair rigging baits (yes, you can most certainly still use a hair rig with fine hooklengths) then a size 20 or 18 B911 eyed hook is my choice.
There is another related point that I must stress when you finally need to use stronger tackle in the height of summer. Just because you are fishing for 10lb carp it does not mean you need 10lb line, size 10 hooks and No20 pole elastic to catch them. The only time you will ever need tackle this fierce is for extreme situations. With the advent of puller kits, I actually don't see the need for pole elastic stronger than Pink (14-16) Carp Bungee. I regularly fish for 10lb carp and have hardly ever felt that I needed to use elastic that was any heavier. In fact, I don't know many top anglers who would dream of using No20 elastic on your average commercial fishery swim. By using softer and more forgiving elastic I guarantee you will catch more fish in the long run.
Another reason why we can normally use these light and well-balanced setups is because there are not so many snags to worry about in most commercials. Yes, there will be the odd reed stem or platform leg to deal with, but that’s nothing compared to all the weed beds, obstructions and underwater hazards you might discover if you were targeting big fish on a canal or river. On a commercial, so long as you take your time I would be really confident of getting out fish of all sizes.
Finer tackle can certainly help you to increase the number of fish you hook. And once you have managed to hook a fish, you should take your time playing it. After all, if you’ve gone through all that effort to fool it, you want to make sure it counts and ends up in your net!
Typical Summer Carp Tackle
Float: Drennan AS2 or AS4
Main line: 0.18mm to 0.20mm Supplex
Hooklength: 0.15mm to 0.20mm Supplex
Hook: Size 16 Kamasan B911 up to a 12 Margin Carp
Elastic: 10-12 Yellow Bungee or 14-16 Pink Bungee
Typical Light Carp Tackle
Float: Drennan AS1, AS3 or AS5
Main line: 0.14mm or 0.16mm Supplex
Hooklength: 0.10mm to 0.13mm Supplex
Hook: Size 20 or 18 Kamasan B911 F1
Elastic: 4-6 Aqua Bungee or 6-8 Green Bungee
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