Ramblings of a Carp Angler – Hair Rigs

 My thoughts on the hair rig, running leads, semi-fixed rigs and slack lines…

The hair rig

This rig was a revelation for specimen fishing.  Kevin Maddox and Len Middleton first came up with the idea of presenting a bait leaving the hook free to prick into the lip of a fish. Here we had a new way of presenting a bait with the hook totally exposed. Prior to this, the hook was buried and hidden in a paste type bait or particle, trying to get carp to feed on your hook bait and actually eat your offering. Studies of carp by the early specimen hunters realised that carp always taste a bait, by sucking and blowing on the bait before getting stuck into their meal. This is where the hair rig works.

As the bait is sampled by the carp, it is sucked in and blown out and the bare  hook hopefully drops onto the bottom lip. What we want is an instant reaction on the bank, as indication, which is where a heavy semi- fixed lead engaged the hook into the lip, causing the carp to bolt.

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Quality Baits new HG All Seasons boilie perfectly presented on short hair rig.

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Brie common caught at distance on tight line and semi-fixed rig. There would have been no indication with slack lines or running leads. I hit this fish as the rod tip was knocking and it still only gave a couple of bleeps on the indicators.

Running lead with slack lines

So that is the idea of the hair rig! So why are some anglers returning back to pre-hair rig days and trying to get the carp to eat our baited hook? It is my opinion that we are not only missing the opportunity to detect proper bites but also creating welfare issues for the carp. With a running lead, especially if it is fished in conjunction with a slack line, there is every chance that the fish will swallow the whole hook link or get deep hooked. I fished a set up similar to this some 25 years ago, hooking and landing a deep hooked carp. Not a pretty sight! I was distressed with this capture, never mind what the carp felt. Never again will I use this set up. In my opinion it was cruel to say the least.

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The only time that I will fish a running rig is when I am barbel fishing and this is because I am fishing with my rod in the air and a very tight line to the lead or feeder.

Running leads and tight lines

Running leads can give you immediate indication, which also includes when a carp is testing baits, however you do need to fish a tight line to get the proper indication. Create a slack line and straight away you have lost that indication but have created a problem if a fish has decided to taste and eat the bait.  The only time that I will fish a running rig is when I am barbel fishing and this is because I am fishing with my rod in the air and a very tight line to the lead or feeder.  I know there will be plenty of critics out there that will totally disagree with me, but just picture a carp feeding and the risk of the bait being taken down the throat of a carp. As I said, the hair rig with a proper semi-fixed set up reduces the chance of a carp swallowing a bait and hopefully creating a run. Something else that will increase runs when carp are testing baits, are short hook links, this is probably why the chod rig type set ups are so popular at the moment, as it incorporates a very short hook-link.

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The result of tight line and running lead, a 16lb 10oz barbel

So is there a place for slack lines?

I get great pleasure in free-lining a boilie on a short hair rig, fished in the margins around crumbed baits. The difference is I only fish this method stalking, in other words I am sitting with one rod in my hand and watching the movement of the slack line. Close range fishing on indicators, and you will see me slackening off my main line so that the line drops off my rod tip so as not to spook any marginal touring carp. With this method I would only use the semi-fixed lead set up and would not entertain a running lead because of the danger of deep hooking a carp.  I am sure that other anglers have different views on my ideas, but I can only go on my experience and what I believe is happening at the business end of my rigs.  Paul

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Slack line to semi fixed lead at close range with short hook link and a January caught 28lb 4oz carp


6 thoughts on “Ramblings of a Carp Angler – Hair Rigs

  1. Shaun Harrison says:

    Interesting comments but not ones I particularly agree with in this instance.

    These days I rarely fish a semi fixed lead as it is such a common denominator that on many waters the carp have only ever seen this situation. When I do use a semi fixed rig it is when using relatively small leads (2 oz maximum). Since reverting back to running rigs my registered take rate has increased no end and I can say hand on heart that I have not deep hooked a single fish so feel some of the comments could be armchair musings rather than actual practical fishing facts. I use running rigs, I don’t hook fish deep or indeed suffer bite off’s like we all used to (see the last paragraph).

    The rig I favour actually exaggerates the take in as much as. to every inch the carp takes I receive 2 inches of indication at the rod end which ends up giving what appear to be quite violent takes because everything is exaggerated. I don’t use tight lines either as the stretch in most when tightened up to a lead (particularly so at range) ends up performing like elastic and thus doesn’t transmit back to the rod end as effectively as a ‘in-between’ balanced set up will.

    By this in-between I mean not tight, and not slack but balanced against the indicator so that it will sit at half mast. A tight line defeats all of the advantages of not offering what appears to be the same scenario they have come across for years – a tethered bait on a semi fixed rig which is so easy for them to suss.

    When I started carp angling in 1977 there was no such thing as hair rigs or semi fixed bolt rigs. It was normal at the time to free line only adding a leger weight if you couldn’t reach where you wanted with a free lined bait and then the leger bomb would be the smallest you could reach them with and usually fished on a free running paternoster rig. Yes some fish would knock the bait back and you would suffer a bite off from the powerful pharyngeal teeth but this must have been something the carp’s natural stomach muscles must have been able to cope with as dead fish never used to pop up.

    I applaud your concerns for the carp Paul but in the reality of my last couple of seasons fishing with running set ups (where allowed) I have not had the situation of deep hooking happen. The fish are pricking themselves on the open hook rigs before the bait is getting knocked back into their teeth and this is with my usual tiny 6, 8 and 10 mm hook baits.

    Shaun Harrison

  2. Shaun Harrison says:

    Sorry, I meant to say ‘Stomach Acid’ not Stomach Muscle

  3. Paul Cooper says:

    Hi Shaun
    When I talk about a tight line I do not mean tight so the line is taught. Maybe I put it across wrong in the first place. Following a cast, I will pull of the line from the reel until it slackens and then apply the indicator so that I can register a take or a drop back. These days I am using the Korda stow bobbins which I find I can set up so that the slightest indication registers, that is drop backs and initial bites. I must admit that a lot of my bites are not screamers but I rarely fail to hook a fish on a take. Short hook links seem to increase the speed of a take. An example of this was what I found at Brocard. Until I shortened my hooklinks I was getting finicky bites, then with the short hook link, screamers.

    I still stand by the deep hooked theory, as I said in my article, I was fishing with slack line and running rigs on one of my old syndicate lakes when I hooked a carp that had swallowed the lot. This was first hand experience and it did put me off using this rig for good. I could not forgive myself if I caused extra stress to a carp and possibly death.Running leads do work well with semi-tight lines, either back leaded or not. My concern are with very slack lines and running leads.
    Along with yourself, it is always a good thing to try and get the edge over other anglers on a lake, but there has to be a cut off point when there is the slightest chance of endangering our beloved carp.

  4. Pat Gillett says:

    Hi Paul,
    Not sure about “the rods high up in the air and tight lines to the lead / feeder for barbel”. Personally where possible i will always fish with the rods quite low (especially on smaller on rivers – this helps to get the line down quicker). After casting i pay out quite a bit of line to create a ‘nice soft bow’. This came about whilst fishing the Teme about 15 years ago. You could observe the fish in this clear little river and it was interesting watching their reactions to various baits and methods. They would clearly spook off a tight line (especially if they brushed up against it) whereas a slackish line was soft to the touch (like weed) and wouldn’t really bother them.


  5. Shaun Harrison says:

    I always worry about the tight line to the lead or feeder making the all too obvious vibration (if that’s the right word to describe it) similar to a tight line singing in the wind. Also the slight change in current immediately above the hook bait caused by the line not to mention the rubbish gathering and making its way down to the rig again making things perhaps a little too obvious at times.

    I too prefer to throw the loop after the rig has settled to give that all important bow to hopefully trap rubbish away from the rig and to basically keep things much more natural.

  6. Paul Cooper says:

    The trouble with having too much line in the water when fishing a river with a medium current, is that you gather even more rubbish than if it is entering the water closer to the rig. We all fish different and have different technics, but I do generally catch on a regular basis from a very difficult river. I am not an expert on big barbel fishing so perhaps I can pick up a few tips from your good selves. It all helps.

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