Let's Talk About Rigs

I have been a carp angler for approaching 40 years and in that time I have seen many developments and changes in rigs but one thing that has not changed is the thinking of the majority or the anglers using them. Or to be more precise, the lack of thinking. Ask yourself this one question, “why am I using this rig?”. If you haven't already asked why before tying it then you have proved my point. So let's go a little deeper and decide what questions we should be asking ourselves before we even pick a hook out of the packet but first let's take a look at the history of rigs and what has driven their development.

Well the first thing you see is I am not an artist.

Number 1 is the original hair rig with the hair tied to the bend in the hook, developed by Lenny Middleton (and Kevin Maddocks). The first anglers to use this nice lakes apart. They caught ridiculous numbers of carp compared to the other anglers still putting the hook through the bait. The exposed hook turned the carp world upside down. Carp were getting caught in numbers never seen before. It was a secret very few knew about and they weren't going to give their advantage away. Like all things though, eventually the secret leaked and became public knowledge. Every carp angler in the land started to use the hair rig and their captures too increased. Carp are wary creatures though and have some of the heavily fished lakes they soon learned that if they sucked a boilie in then moved away there was a chance they would get hooked. They learned that by sucking the boilies into their mouth then ejecting them again they could determine which were safe to eat. The badly drawn diagram shows how a boilie being ejected by the carp turns the hook so the point is no longer facing the direction needed by the angler.  On these pressured lakes catch rates began to drop so some clever thinking angler decided to try tying the hair from the eye of the hook. Whether the carp moves away or ejects the bait the effect on the hook is the same in that it straightens the position of the hook and puts the point in the right direction. This simple change resulted in catch rates increasing again.

Here comes the original point I was making ........ The new version of the hair rig, which was called the anti-eject rig, was publicized and everyone suddenly switched from the hair rig to this new and “better” rig. The vast majority of carp were still getting caught on the original hair rig so there was no need to use the new one. The carp had not learned how to avoid the original yet !!!!!!! The change of rig was done because anglers wanted to use the latest rig NOT because there was a need to change. They did not ask themselves the question “Is my current rig working effectively?”. If something isn't broken don't try to repair it.

A prime example of this is back in the mid 80's Dacron was a popular material for hooklengths and it was something I used with confidence. I was catching plenty of fish with it from my local lake but when I went to the “big fish lake” I was catching nothing. It was only through talking to other anglers I discovered the carp were wary of Dacron so I was one of very few people still using it there. At the time there were no other braided hooklines on the market so I switched back to monofilament line and immediately started to catch fish. This was certainly a case for something being broken and needing repair.

Since the original hair rig there have been many versions that have been developed but all have some common themes. Firstly, they have been developed because the carp the angler that developed the rig was fishing were proving difficult to catch. Secondly, the carp had learned how to avoid being caught or at least reduce the chances of being hooked on the rigs being used at the time and thirdly, they were developed for a particular situation. It is this third point that raises the next question, “Is the rig suitable for the situation I am fishing?”.

The example I mentioned a moment ago also highlights this second question. On the big fish lake I stopped using Dacron but back on my home lake I continued using it with great success. It wasn't suitable for one situation but was for the other.

To effectively answer this second question we have to ask a number of other questions, some of which are easy to answer but some may take time and trial and error to answer. So let's start with the simple ones, "what is the lake bed like where I intend to put my bait?". This should be easy to answer, drop a lead on it and feel it. Is it hard or soft can be answered in moments. This simple question and answer should have a major impact on the rig chosen, not so much in terms of hook arrangement but in something now anglers overlook, the length of line between the lead and the hook. On a hard bottom it is possible to use rigs from just 4 or 5 cm long up to 40 or 50cm but if the lead is going to sink 10cm into the soft bottom do you really want your hookbait pulled into the soft bottom with it? Your free baits aren't going to sink that far. So how long should it be? That prompts the next question, “How will a carp feed on the free baits?”. This largely depends on how you are baiting. Time for another badly drawn chart.

Let's assume that the area covered by the baits in 3 and 4 are both 1 square meter, the distance between the baits in 3 ma be 90cm, whereas in 4 they may be 10 to 15cm. A carp feeding in 3 will be searching for each food item so will pick up 1 then swim around looking for the next. In 4 it doesn't need to search, it already knows the next mouthful is a short distance away so moves around the area picking up the food items. It may be that in 3 the carp moves to a distance of 30cm from the lake bed but in 4 it is unlikely to move more than 10cm. Let's now assume the area covered by each diagram is 10 cm x 10 cm. The carp in 4 now doesn't even lift off the lake bed, it moves around hoovering everything in sight. So in these 3 examples how long do you want the hook length to be? In the first example the carp is likely to react to a bait pulled from it's mouth so a very short hooklength is probably not the best choice, whereas in the third example, the carp moves such a short distance a hooklength of more than a few cm will not result in the hook point catching a hold before the fish ejects the bait. If I am putting my hookbait on a hard bottom and baiting as in the third example I will usually use a rig that is less than 10cm. I want the hook point to take a hold as soon as the fish  moves.

There is an exception to what I have just said. A number of years ago I fished a notoriously ultra hard lake. The carp has been fished for by the best UK anglers almost constantly for the previous 20 years. Now anglers there would be ecstatic with 1 chance of a carp in a whole year. So cautious were the carp that they would bolt away from an area if they saw a boilie. I have sat and watched them over a baited area like in the third example. The fish would swim over the area on their side, beating the lake bed with their tail, similar to the way a male salmon cleans the river bed for mating. Every bait in the area would be swept away, except the one with a hook attached. They would then safely feed on the bait that had been moved.

Almost every angler I use hooklengths that probably don't vary more than 5cm between them all. How many  have asked the question, is it the right rig for the given situation?