November 2013 - Feeling the way


From the water’s edge


I try not to preach, I try not to to get technical and I try not to suggest that my way is the right way. That is why you won’t find many ‘how-to’ pages on my site. There are no absolutes in fishing. Reduce the weight on the line and hide the hook when fishing for carp suggested no less a person than Richard Walker. The techniques that revolutionised carp fishing basically turned out to be increase the weight and make sure the hook is exposed. It’s a counter intuitive method but in practice it works better than any other method ever has, ever. So what I say will certainly go down in history at some point as a total load of hogwash. The problem is we all love our lure fishing. When we can’t get there we need our fix and so we buy the gear and talk about it, analyzing everything in fine detail. So in the spirit of the desperate, I have decided to explain in more detail the technique that I think of as dibbling. Several people have contacting me asking for details, so although this information and my thoughts on it are scattered throughout the posts on my journal, I have decided to draw them together in one place for the benefit of anybody who might be interested.


The first and most important thing to say is that I didn’t invent this technique. It was shown to me by Andy Horwood, a very thoughtful, skilful and successful perch angler. Although I latched on to it straight away, I only really started to make any real headway with it over the last season. Originally the lure of choice was a 3” tripple ripple curly tail mounted on an American walleye jighead. The technique worked well and thinking back caught more zander for me then than it seems to now. Even as I write this I wonder if that was lure-related as I tend not to use 3” curly tails as much these days.

I think it is relevant to tell you what drives me when I am lure fishing. I want to catch as many fish as possible. I would prefer them all to be big, but would always choose a lot of small ones over the occasional specimen. If I was as intent on catching specimen fish today as I was in the past I would use bait. Lure fishing, like fly-fishing is a technique designed to make angling more interesting. Bait fishing is the way to make it most effective. I am not as patient as you might expect given that I am also a wildlife photographer . Ten minutes without a take and I am convinced that I will never catch another fish on a lure. I am easily put off and the most depressing sight imaginable to me, up until now at least, is the sight of dirty water. I have always struggled with dirty water. I had caught little more than the odd fish in such conditions and it was depressing to wait all week for the chance to fish only to see such conditions when I arrived on the bank. Even worse given that the vast majority of my fishing is on canals was to start catching, only to be interrupted by a succession of cheery boaters ploughing up the silt. Catches would then collapse in an instant and at 9 am I would be left rueing another screwed up session. Nearly all the perch that we caught would come in clear water during the winter or during lock closures when all the silt had dropped out. To be honest we caught far more zander most of the time than we did perch. I wanted to catch more perch because they are my favourite lure caught species and because nobody takes them out. In fact they tend to put more in. How bizarre is that? Clubs like to get the pike and zander out in case they eat the small fish and then they re-stock with among others perch and chub?? Even when the electro-fishers have been through (happily a rare event these days) there are still plenty of perch to be caught.

It used to bug me that bait fishermen could keep catching perch in dirty water. The glaringly obvious reason being that real bait gave off a scent that enabled fish to find it, no matter how thick the water. I am still sure that scent is part of the reason. Lure anglers have always been trying to find an effective way of applying scent to a lure. I have tried it myself, with utterly dismal results. Other techniques lure anglers employ revolve around particular colours, vibration and size of lure. The general feeling is that if you use a ‘loud’, heavily vibrating, large lure in the best colour results will improve. They don’t - not noticeably anyway. In my experience the only one of those parameters that has any effect and that is marginal anyway is colour. I like yellow in dirty water. But then I know a guy that swears by black which doesn’t work for me at all. I think that we have been missing the point. No matter how noisy, how colourful or how large or even how smelly your lure is, I think that in dirty water even a slow retrieve is too fast to allow the fish time to pinpoint it and decide to have a go. My approach now is to fish it so slowly that when it gets within inches of the fish, it stays there long enough for greed and proximity to overcome any reticence. Plan A now for me is to smack them in the face with it and then leave it close enough for long enough to annoy them. If you think about it , those few fish that were caught on an ordinary retrieve in dirty water might just have fortuitously been in the path of the lure. Once you approach the problem from this angle, the answer is easy. Find the fish in the edge and bounce the lure up and down on its head! This is pretty much what I am trying to do now when I am dibbling. It will also be obvious to everybody by now that all we are talking about technique-wise is vertical jigging. What makes this method so different is where we fish it and the tackle that we use.

It may surprise some to know just how many perch live within a few inches of the bank of a canal, especially given the proximity of the towpath and the predominantly shallow depth. I am happy to fish anywhere with 12” of water as long as the bottom is not visible. I don’t doubt that the fish are still there even then, but that opacity is enough to give the fish the confidence that they are not visible to predators from above. Given that you will be standing right near the edge, it is no surprise that they are spooky in clear water. When it’s dirty they really aren’t bothered and we use 6’ rods all the time and make no special effort to stay quiet or still. The fish are used to joggers and dog walkers pounding the banks. Even so I don’t make a habit of stamping my feet to keep warm. Just act normally and all will be well. I say act normally but you do feel a bit self-conscious when boaters start likening you to the proverbial garden gnome. Dibbling is not a spectacular method involving pinpoint accuracy or long distance casting.

So lets meet on the bank now and look at the gear that I like to use for this. Every item has its purpose, but is not irreplaceable. Collectively the tools that I choose for the job are fun to use and hopefully make the method as effective as it can be, but if you don’t have exactly the same tackle, it doesn’t matter a damn.

The rod is short, delicate and sensitive. It is effectively a ringed up quivertip which you not only watch but use to feel bites. Floppy rods are horrible and will cost you bites. That is you will not know about a lot of the bites you get. It doesn’t mean you cannot catch on them. I use a Spro passion ultra lite (obsolete) rated 2 - 14 grams and a greys G lite rated 6-12 lbs. Rating rods is the usual British hash up. Some in pounds and ounces, some in grams, some referring to the line strength, some to the lure weight. Pathetic. Add to that few of them are right. The only way to choose, is to waste a heap of money trying them out. Pete uses a Ron Thompson Flexide Spin, 6 3", 4 to 12g from Sovereign superbaits and I would buy one tomorrow if I needed one. You certainly don’t need to spend more than £50 on a rod. It’s not essential, but I fancy that being able to touch the blank with one finger while you are using the rod can only be a help. The reel is chosen to suit and can be anything you like really - you aren’t casting. Just keep it as small as possible, you don’t want a heavy reel damping out the sensitivity that you are striving for in the rod. I use a tiny Mitchell fixed spool because I like to switch back on a whim to chucking the lure across and I find them more accurate in my clumsy hands than a mulitplier/baitcaster and they throw tiny baits far better. Personally I would use a baitcaster every time if I had the right rod and didn’t need to flick baits into tiny gaps on the other bank. They are much better reels and are perfectly suited to dibbling - you are always in contact with the spool and control of depth and the ability to strike easily with the bail arm open/off are superior. I certainly can’t cast a 1” kopyto on a 2 gm jighead with any accuracy though, so I don’t use them as much as I would like to.

Line - I use bright yellow fluorescent braid. It is important to be able to see it clearly. Many takes are minute. All that gives them away might be a tiny movement of the line. If you can’t see that you won’t even know you  missed it. Braid has no stretch so there is maximum sensitivity there as well. I doubt if there is enough stretch in nylon over the distance that we are talking about here either, so I am sure that will do the job fine when you are dibbling. As soon as you are casting across the cut, things change. The braid is still as sensitive, nylon less so. Hook length, nylon or fluoro. Neither is tooth-proof and I can’t see any difference in visibility between them but then I’m not a fish. Neither are the manufacturers so I am puzzled as to how they can be so sure that one is better than the other. Fluoro is more easily straightened and less easily damaged, but it is far dearer. Pay your money and make your choice. Neither will get you more bites than the other but both will outfish wire by a country mile. Sorry but that is what I believe. It doesn’t matter how you join your lure to the line. A knot might be the best, but I change baits and colours a lot so for me a clip is a no-brainer and I use Genie clips. They are not designed for this, but they are the best option I have used so I am happy to stick with them.

And so to the pointy end. Standard ball head jigs on whatever hooks light your candle will do. I like fine wire hooks for this but I don’t suppose it matters a damn. I did straighten one out on a big perch a couple of weeks back so there may be better options. I wouldn’t use too light a jighead though. Two grams is as light as I go. You need to keep the line taught with it and be able to tell when it hits bottom and what it is hitting down there. Any lighter and you have no control and no feedback. Once you have your eye in you can pretty much tell what the bottom is made of and will quickly learn the difference between the jig touching the bottom and a fish mouthing the lure. You don’t want to have to have a lot of slack line to be sure that the lure is on the bottom, you need to know the very moment it touches so you can stay in contact with it.

Baits are legion. My personal favourite is a 1” kopyto in yellow or red/pearl. Yellow is the only colour I would not leave home without. I don’t know if it is the best colour for the fish or for me. It doesn’t matter really I catch most fish on it regardless. Absolutely any other lure in the 1 - 2” bracket will do but 1” will get more takes even if some of the fish are likely to be tiny. Some suggestions are curly tails, crayfish, bits of rubber, bits of rubber band, bits cut off larger baits. Anything basically that could conceivably be food to a perch. They have to try before they buy and by then it is, or should be if you are concentrating, too late. The most important thing is too get it as close to a fish as possible and make sure it is in that zone for a reasonable time, so don’t expect to cover three miles of bank in a morning with this method.

Everything I have written so far is as of no importance compared to the next bit. How and where to fish the method. Bear in mind I am talking canals here. It’s where I fish. Location,location,location. Little else matters. There is no method of fishing a lure that will catch a fish that isn’t there. And despite the best efforts of the advertising moguls to convince us otherwise, there is no lure that can overcome that impossibility either. Structure the Yanks call it and that is where I would start. Bricks and mortar, pilings, concrete, boats, I would always make a bee-line for human activity. Probably the surest swims of all are structure incorporating moving water. Perch will sit against  the torrent in the adjacent slacks and around the point where that moving water hits the opposite bank or its power peters out mid-canal. There are hundreds of miles of stunning looking swims out there in the countryside and some of them hold fish, but the vast majority don’t and this is not a searching method. If you want to fish out there, cast and retrieve your favourite bait until you have located them and then if you want to, try dibbling. If you don’t know that there are fish to be caught you can’t judge the success of the method, and you will certainly abandon it as useless if it doesn’t work. We are seeking fish that are holding station close to the side or the bottom of the canal, so drop the bait in the edge, within eighteen inches of the bank and just let it hit bottom, take up the slack and slowly walk it around the swim. Lift the bait a couple of inches, move it an inch or two at a time and put it back down again. This will disturb the silt and cause a detectable vibration for the fish to home in on. It will also immediately show you if you have found a hollow in the bottom or the depth has changed. You will also feel if it hits a brick or a rock. If you find a snag, don’t move away from it, explore it in detail with the lure. Every so often lift it up a few inches and just hold it there. Jiggle the rod tip a little if you like then put it back down and press on. You need to think at a different scale. Your quarry is small and its world is small. Your whole world should be centred on the meniscus where the line enters the water. Don’t watch the far bank, watch the line where it enters the water. When you move the lure along is the line following or wandering off to the side. Is something odd? That’s a bite although you won’t believe it until you lift the rod and there is a fish there. I know I have said this before, but when you are doing this properly, a headache is not a possibility, it is inevitable.

There’s one other instance where dibbling can add fish to your account. When you have been casting in one spot for a while it is always worth giving the method a try. Fish will often follow in from way out and collect at your feet. Those fish can be persuaded if you tease them with a small bait even when they have refused a larger one. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t interested. Give them a reason to try what you have to offer. Make them an offer they can’t refuse!


Many takes will be the usual pluck or knock and even if you only detect those and hit them, you will catch plenty of fish. If you can get your head round the tiny bites, your catches will increase again, sometimes quiet surprisingly. Those smash takes you get winding the lure in at speed are rarely smash takes, they are the result of the fish stopping the lure and you winding the rod tip round like mad. With this method the fish will still stop the lure but you are not winding so the signs are negligible. I won’t say it never happens, but if you wait for the tip to go round, you will die of old age before you get two in a day. If for any reason you have to stop fishing, maybe a boat is passing, maybe you are looking through the lure box or maybe you are on the phone lying to the wife about how long you are going to be in the pub, tuck the rod under your arm and leave the lure hanging in the water. I promise you will get a few surprises even if you don’t move it.

My last words on the subject are echoed in scout huts across the land every week. Be prepared. Not all of these fish will be small. So set the clutch, keep the landing net handy; and don’t bully them or faff about with them, be firm and careful and get them in the net or on the bank quick before the hook hold tears. Do as I say not as I do. Above all else, enjoy it or don’t bother. Always remember it’s not life or death, it’s fun.

I hope that you find my journal interesting and entertaining. If, having read this, you think that I am talking rubbish then at least you have stopped and thought about it long enough to come to that conclusion which is something of a result in my book. If you would like to comment on this article or anything else relating to my website, please feel free to contact me using the adjacent form. Feedback is always greatly appreciated and very helpful when it comes to improving both my site and my angling. Thank you for looking.

artificial lite




journal 2013.



journal 2013.