Laying On

The day had started well with a steady stream of bites as I targeted a series of fast runs where the chalk-filtered water polished the stones below with much gusto and dragged my float downstream at a pace until an obliging grayling decided to intervene. Such an abrupt stopping of the hook bait meant the bites were impossible to miss, although unfortunately not every one was converted into a landed fish, a common scenario with a species that has such a bony mouth and huge sail for a dorsal fin that once broadside into the river would test the best of hook holds. It mattered little because I was soon playing another grayling and given the sport maybe I could have been seen as a little ungrateful that by lunchtime I was starting to be disappointed.

This wasn’t because of the action but the size of the fish that had found their way into my net. On a venue that was capable of producing a grayling of a lifetime I had yet to better 1½lbs and had to conclude that I was doing something wrong. Maybe, like many fish, once grown to specimen proportions they prefer a more sedate pace of life and that would mean targeting the slacks found on the inside, or outside, of bends where the river’s energy was deflected leaving a calm pocket in which to sit. But how would I target such an area? Allowing my trotting set up that I had used all morning to drift around aimlessly in slack water wouldn’t work!

If you love float fishing then you should own the classic work by Billy Lane, called The New Encyclopaedia of Float Fishing, which was later revised to include Colin Graham’s work.

For anyone relatively new to angling this great fisherman’s position in the legends of our sport might have missed you but in 1963 he became the fist Englishman ever to win the world championship. He was a master of float fishing and importantly understood their mechanics in conjunction with shotting patterns that few seem to comprehend. Fortunately he transferred his thought process onto paper so even after his death in the early 80s anglers can still benefit from such knowledge. It covers both still and running water, equally beneficial to match and specimen angler alike, and indeed within its pages sat the answer to my current dilemma with a section about ‘laying on’.


The 14ft Acolyte plus didn’t need to be changed nor the 4.4lb Floatfish line sitting on my centre pin. Fine monos have no place with big floats and heavy shotting patterns which was exactly what I would be using. A big Avon would provide the bite indication with the weight used to cock it now sitting on a 6-inch boom 20 inches away from the hookbait. Billy created this via a water knot but with float stops at my disposal I made the boom via 10lb fluorocarbon passed through 2 of these widgets. This would be less harsh on my mainline and allow me to lengthen the hooklength at will. By then fishing over depth which would be dependent on flow strength in any particular swim I could present my bait far better in the areas I had now decided to fish while maintaining the instant bite indication without resistance that a float affords.

With my new approach the first spot I decided to try was the edge of a calm cattle drink where a crease revealed a dividing line between it and the main river. The normal approach would have been to flick in a few maggots via my bait pouch for 5 minutes to draw the grayling to me. If however the assessment was correct, that the bigger fish were sitting in the calmer water, then they were already in front of me. To ensure then that the free feed would land exactly where I wanted it the random approach of feeding the river maggots was replaced by the accuracy of a small baitdropper. This was attached to the end of my rig before being filled up and lowered to the gravel bottom before being repeated twice more. I then waited 5 minutes before repeating the process to the complete the priming of the swim. Removed from the size 18 Super Spade hook I then passed 2 red grubs over the barb and was ready to fish.

I had guessed a depth of 3 feet so added 2 more but while my estimate of the river depth was correct the surface energy was a little too strong and once it grabbed hold of the Avon and mainline the fluorescent tip was drowned. Lifting the rig back out I added on another foot before lowering it back down, ensuring that the line between the rod and float never came in contact with the river. The Avon duly cocked but only just past the bulbous body allowing me to see a bite and there it sat waiting for a sign that would come quickly if I had grayling in front of me.

Thirty seconds later I noticed a tiny bob. Was it a minnow sheltering for the winter? A further half a minute passed before I had the answer as the tip was drawn into the water. My strike saw an arc of carbon that even a record minnow would fail to achieve and I then felt the powerful headshakes of a big grayling resonate into and through the handle. Below a flank of silver and jade twisted, allowing the huge dorsal fin to catch hold of the flow. I had my answer to where the specimens were residing today and Billy to thank for the method to unlock the secrets of the slacks.

Top 5 Tips

1. ‘Laying on' works for a range of river species including chub, barbel and roach.
2. Only use just enough shot to hold bottom as occasionally, if it shuffles across the gravel it can induce a bite.
3. For grayling sweetcorn is a great change bait.
4. When laying on never add shot to the mainline as this will ruin the rig’s mechanics.
5. You need plenty of buoyancy in the float tip to stop the river dragging it under and an Avon is perfect for this.