Using a Centrepin for Trotting
Like Paul I am a centrepin enthusiast, some may say fanatic, and one of my main angling failures is that I tend to fish swims which allow the use of a centrepin rather than those that are likely to hold fish. I love the way a centrepin allows you to control a fish during the fight and I believe I can put a fish on the bank quicker with a centrepin than with any other type of reel. The quicker you land a fish and return it the less stress is caused to the fish and the sooner it recovers.
It is a coincidence that Paul and I both started fishing with ariel replicas. I bought mine from Fred Crouch through the old Association of Barbel Enthusiasts and initialy used it just for legering for barbel. About the same time, in the days of a still water closed season, I was doing a bit of flyfishing in the spring when a fishing collegue of mine was bought a strange looking fly reel by his mother-in-law. He showed me the reel and I realised that it was in fact a very fine centrepin. I discovered it was not a true centrepin but had ball bearing races and was made by Adcock and Stanton. We used it on local rivers as soon as the season openned trotting light floats for roach, dace and chub and I found myself on a very steep learning curve. At an angling show I discovered another manufacturer of these ball bearing reels more within my then limited finances, Lewtham Engineering in Sussex made a reel called the Leeds. I purchased one of these and although it was not as well made as the Adcock and Stanton it worked very well, trotting even the lightest of floats with ease. I was well on my way to becoming a "centrepin freak".
My ambition was to catch barbel on the float but I found that barbel required a different bait presentation than the silver fish I had been catching as they tended to inhabit much faster flowing water than I had been fishing. Another steep learning curve was embarked upon and once I had learned to use a much bigger float than previously I began to catch barbel on the rivers Wey, Colne and Kennet. The rod I was using at the time was built on a one pound test curve Sportex blank made by Tony Fordham and coupled with the Leeds centrepin was a joy to fish with. The line was a six pound co-polymer monofilament which needed constant treatment with line floatant to keep it on the surface to aid float control. The hook length was between four and five and a half pounds breaking strain tied to a Drennan Super Spade hook in sizes fourteen or sixteen.
I had a couple of seasons of great sport with this tackle until one day on the Dorset Stour at Longham when I hooked what turned out to be a barbel of nearly nine pounds. I had to play this fish nearly to a standstill and had to nurse her in the shallows for almost twenty minutes before she could right herself. Even then she swam off slowly and sulked under the nearby streamer weed for the rest of the day in clear sight of the bank.
Shortly afterwards I joined the Wasing Syndicate on the river Kennet and using the same tackle I caught another large barbel weighing nine and a half pounds which also took me too long to land. I decided to upgrade my tackle and as I had a little more disposable income by then I looked for a heavier float rod. I experimented with various carp waggler rods that were just comming onto the market but I found they were all designed to be tip actioned, presumably for casting heavy wagglers, and not very good for playing large fish under the rod tip. At this time I was using Harrison blanks for the rest of my barbel fishing and my local supplier showed me a Harrison Interceptor heavy float rod at twelve feet nine inches and this proved to be the ideal tool for my purpose. The next problem was the line, six pound monofilament had been difficult to manage and had made float control a problem but eight pound monofilament proved a nightmare. I had been experimenting with various braids for about a year using them for lure fishing, legering and long range pike fishing, the one thing I noticed was that they all floated very well, even if you wanted them to sink.
I had just bought a five and a half inch diameter version of the Leeds centrepin to give me a faster line retrieve when long trotting and I loaded this with a ten and a half pound breaking stain braid made by Shakespeare. This was a "dynema" braid and was called Bionic Dynacord (shame about that!). This stuff has the same diameter as four pound mono,it floats on the surface film, not in it, and makes mending the line back behind the float a pleasure. It also does not need re-greasing every hour or so and with no stretch it gives prefect float control and hooking power even at long ranges. It does cast a sharp shadow as it is not translucent like some monos and experience tells me that however hard you hold back your float, a bow of line between the float and the bulk shot allways passes over the fish before your bait reaches it. I worry that this might spook the already cautious barbel so I replace the last five feet or so of the braid with a new monofilament called flourocarbon in eight pounds breaking strain. The manufacturers of this line claim that it has the same refractive index as water and therefore should not cast a shadow, our fly fishing friends have caught on to this particularly when fishing shallow salt water in bright sunlight for bonefish and such. To the end of this line I attach a co-polymer hook length of up to eight pounds breaking stain as flourocarbon tends to be a bit stiff.
This set up has caught me barbel up to double figures from several rivers without over fatiguing the fish and I can recommend it to all unless you fish the river Kennet.
I love the river Kennet and have fished it on and off since the sixties but in the last couple of years it has changed. The river used to be crystal clear and full of steamer weed and the barbel used this weed as cover. On the stretches I fish around Aldermaston this weed has disappeared and the barbel now seem to live in substantial snags such as fallen trees (during daylight hours atleast) and whilst they can be tempted a little way out of their sanctuary to feed, they bolt straight back when hooked. Given that the Kennet is a narrow river this means that they are never far from a snag. Add to this the fact that the barbel in the Kennet have become much larger then you will realise that I have had to further upgrade my float fishing tackle.
I now use a Harrison Stepped up, Stepped up (not a typo- that's what it's called) float rod. I have changed the line to fifteen pound braid with a ten pound florocarbon and a ten pound co-polymer hook length. This enables me to hook and hold most fish, but there are some swims I no longer float fish as the risk of losing a fish is too great.
In the last couple of years on the Kennet I have been catching good bags of roach and dace on eight pound hook lengths and heavy forged size fourteen hooks, some of the dace have weighed nearly a pound and the roach are reaching a pound and a half. I also fish with lighter float rigs on both the Kennet and lately the Itchen and I will now explain the tackle I use for smaller fish.
When I discovered the grayling fishing on the river Itchen about five years ago I was faced with new challenges. The river is even faster flowing than the Kennet and it is very clear and shallow. The large grayling and chub it contains are very wary and long trotting is required,sometimes up to forty yards. To control a float at this range in such a fast current braid is the ideal line but I could not find a braid that was finer than ten pounds and in the very windy conditions so near the coast this tended to tangle very easily. I was advised to try Berkley Fireline in four pounds breaking strain and with a suitable length of flourocarbon and I now use it for most of my light float fishing. This is a "fused " braid and still foats very well but is a little stiffer than the normal braid and tends to tangle less.
The rod I use for most of my light float fishing is another Harrison blank and is marketed as the GTI match. This is unlike any match rod I have ever used, being a more through action but still sets a hook at forty yards with ease (using braid ofcourse) being fifteen feet long.
One word of warning to anyone starting to use braid - beware of using stiff tip actioned rods. Braid has very little stretch and unless you have the shock absorber effect of a through actioned rod you will pull hooks out of fish or get broken more often.
The only time I use mono filament line for trotting is when I am fishing with very light hook lengths below two and a half pounds. In this case I have found I need all the shock absorber effect I can get. This is particularly true when I am using my newest aquisition which I found recently on Ebay . This is a Drennan Super Stick float rod which has a very fast tip compared with my usual rods and is not soft enough to use with braid. Small hooks would be pulled out or fine hook lengths broken without the stretch found in the Bayer Perlon line I use.
This rod is a joy to use when fishing a stick float with a BoB James lightweight Purist and two and a half pound Bayer. Even at my advanced age I can hit dace bites with this set up. I recently caught my first barbel on this tackle with a size twenty hook tied to one and a half pound hook length, it only took me three or four minutes to beat the fish and it weighed nearly a pound. I also catch a lot more Kennet chub on this set up than on barbel tackle as these old chub have seen it all and are quite tackle shy.
One last point about my use of the centrepin and here I know I differ from Paul. I wind about forty yards of line onto my reel but I wind it on backwards. By this I mean that I reel clockwise to gain line (I'm right handed and reel with my left hand) and the line comes off the top of the spool instead of the bottom. There are two reasons for this, firstly the thumb of the hand holding the rod has immediate control of any loops of line that might be blown off the spool by a cross wind. If the line came off the bottom then any such loop would have caught round a handle before you noticed, with disastrous results if you hooked a fish. Secondly when a fish is taking line under pressure applied by the same thumb to the rim of the spool, then the movement of a clockwise rotating spool will push the thumb up and away from the spool, losing control. In my case a running fish will cause the spool to rotate anti-clockwise and an even pressure can be maintained with the thumb.
There has never been a better time for centrepin anglers with so many good makes of "pin" on the market. Even those with a meagre tackle budget will find a useable reel to suit their pocket. My favourites are those produced by J.W. Young for Masterline but the new Okuma reels are certainly worth a look in the cheaper end of the market. I will leave recommendations of true centrepins to those more qualified than I.