Martin James extols the virtues of stret pegging

We would never arrive home from a trip and leave our gear in the corner of the shed – rods were taken from the bag given a wipe down and left to dry before being put back and hung in the cupboard by the small loop on the bag.

The first reference I can find to stret-pegging is in A Book On Angling by Francis Francis published (1867) he writes of tight corking often used for barbel fishing in the 1800’s. In Elements of Angling (1908) HT Sheringham writes a delightful piece tight corking for roach, without doubt tight corking is the name that preceded the description for Stret-pegging as used today.

In Angling Ways E Marshall-Hardy (1934) writes on page 105, when stret-pegging in high wind there is no more suitable method of searching a swim. The tackle is cast two or three yards downstream, and the float is held. This has the effect of causing the bait to wave gently on and off the bottom in a most attractive manner. If there is no response from the fish, allow the gear to roll down a yard or two farther. 

Roach Fishing (1936) by Faddist describes stret-pegging. In This Fishing or Angling Arts & Artifices (1948) LA Parker  writes about stret-pegging on page 91 as ‘Deep-Dragging’, known in Nottingham as ‘stret-pegging’. 

The best description of stret-pegging is by the master himself the late Dick Walker who in his book Dick Walker’s Angling Theories and Practise – Past, Present and to Come published (1979) on page 24 he writes stret-pegging demands skill born of practise.

You cast downstream and hold up the tackle until it has straightened out. Then you lower the rod, which lets the shot rest on the bottom. Pause a while, then raise the rod again, draw a bit of line off the reel, then lower the rod.

The shot, having been lifted, now comes to rest a little lower downstream. The float is lying tilted on the surface. By repeating this process, the tackle can be worked a long way down a swim, the bait being on or close to the bottom all the time except when you lift it. There is of course much more in his chapter on stret-pegging. 

In the book Fine Angling for Coarse Fish (1930) with various authors, you will find Edward Ensom (‘Faddist’) on page 70 again writing about stret-pegging.

Why do I stret-peg so often? 

First I must make it clear stret-pegging is just another successful style of angling from many, but not the only way. Over the years many thousands of anglers have float legered, I am not saying it’s wrong, I have done it myself when fishing small areas of water. The difference with stret-pegging is it’s a searching method where you cover more water offering more of a chance of putting a bait in front of a fish, a style I have found very good and successful, under certain conditions.

I have successfully used this method of float fishing since 1948, having been shown by my two grandfather’s Thomas and Leonard. As mentioned it’s a great searching method where one can quite comfortably fish fifteen yards or more down the swim. It’s not just for roach and bream fishing either and I have found it works for all bottom feeding fish.

On the rivers Kennet and Teme it’s accounted for many barbel and chub, and on the River Ure, I have utilised the method for locating the perch. I am not saying it’s the best way of angling, in fact I don’t believe there is just one winning style, all methods will work on their day. 

Remember stret pegging is just one successful way of angling, that’s stood the test of time, and for some reason very few anglers practise it these days. When I suggest an angler is in a swim perfect for stret pegging, I get told “It’s difficult and hard work,” Well, are not all ways of angling difficult to master at the start? I get my share of days when it isn’t the best method and so I will switch to some other way of trying to catch a fish.

On the River Thames, Beult, Stour, Medway, Upper Ouse, the Great Ouse  including the Fen drains plus many more when the water has a bit of a pull on with colour it’s proved a winning and invaluable method time and time again.

During the late 1940’s through the 50’s and 60’s if the river had a few feet on and with colour I would always start searching for roach and bream especially in the autumn winter as I found the method worked well indeed.

I look for a distinct seam between the slower water between the bank and the faster flow further out, if you have reeds and dying lilies close to the bank even better still. The water you are going to search is usually on or inside of the seam for your fish, under these conditions a bait that works, is the tail or head section of a lobworm, though on occasions when its bream a full lob, sometimes two will bring a better quality fish.

I well remember helping some members of the Barking Kingfishers fishing the LAA water on the river Beult during a mild winters day in 1959 or 60. The river was pushing through and the colour was of weak cocoa. I explained they would be better float fishing than legering, saying “Stret-pegging reigns supreme under these conditions.” Having explained the way to fish, several heeded my advice resulting in a lady member caught a most fabulous bream weighing in at 9lb plus. One of the best bream up to that date ever caught, several other members also managed to catch bream, perch and roach. 

In the 50’s and 60’s I experienced some great bream and roach fishing during the autumn and winter especially if the weather was mild, with a river carrying a lot of colour with a good flow.

In those days many waters including the Thames venues such as Goring, Bourne End, Pangebourne etc. The Medway from Wateringbury, Nettlestead, Yalding and West Peckham through to Tonbridge, and the Fen drains all provided for excellent catch rates of bream again especially when coloured with a good flow.

All these venues will often provide bream, often caught in good numbers by a few anglers. The LAA water on the Beult was certainly a great venue. My friends and I would fish with 15 foot cane rods, centrepin reels, 6lb line, a big swan quill float using a bored bullet stopped some fifteen inches from a size 6 Model perfect hook finished off with a lobworm.

We would ground bait quite heavily, starting off with half a dozen cricket size balls of bread and bran mash, with lots of chopped worms inside including a stone to help get the bait down on the bottom, often we caught fifty sixty pounds of bream averaging  4lbs plus. At some time one of us would get a 100lbs in a session, which was a highlight.

My personal highlight occurred on a very mild day with no wind, and an over cast sky the drizzle fell all day and the river was at the top of the bank. I chose to fish in a small copse, below Humphrey’s Hole where I could slowly work the bait downstream, it was a dream start getting a bream of 5lbs first cast, the day was one I have never forgotten.

Despite the drizzle, it was also a day when Billy Race had the magic hundred pound of bream fishing just downstream of the wooden bridge. In those days we often had a surprise tench or two show up in our catches. 

We often had some tremendous sport with pike, as we were float fishing most fish would be hooked in the scissors, so we didn’t suffer from many bite offs, we also had our share of double figure pike not an unusual  quarry in those days.

My Personal Suggestions On Tackle

When it comes to tackle, I believe and without any shadow of doubt the best reel is a centre pin. I feel I have far more control than when using a fixed spool reel. When possible choose a centre pin with a solid drum rather than a reel with spokes, as the line doesn’t get kinked, in the days of Black and White Spider braided terylene line from Henry Milward and Sons Ltd of Washford Mills in Redditch there wasn’t a problem with kinking. I rated these lines very highly but they had to be looked after, then all our tackle did in those days.

We would never arrive home from a trip and leave our gear in the corner of the shed – rods were taken from the bag given a wipe down and left to dry before being put back and hung in the cupboard by the small loop on the bag. Reels were cleaned and wiped down as were our baskets even bait boxes were cleaned and stored away. Some of my cane rods today look as good as new except for the cork handles which show sign of wear. And even today I follow the same diligent process. One of my :pride and joys’ is a 17 foot roach pole and its as as good as the day it was made with its original whale bone tip, I still use it and with great effect. 

These days I often look back to when I used a 15 foot rod in the 1950’s in fact there were about nine of us who had these rods. Today I always try and use a Milwards 12 foot Swim Master when possible, however there are days when my muscles are not working so well, and I resort to the services of a Drennan Acolyte.

Several far more experienced anglers than myself who are no longer with us, would use a float with a cork body, I prefer a slightly curved swan quill, unless I’m fishing in swirling turbulent water, then I use a cork or balsa body on a good size quill.

When attaching the float to line I use double rubbers, sadly today, it’s often hard to find decent float rubbers, I would give my back teeth for a few feet of the old fashion valve rubber, though I did buy some decent rubbers from Woodies of Hereford, what a great and helpful guy he is.

I was recently given some lovely quill floats which look great in appearance, but as H T Sheringham said “Even better in its disappearance” these are superbly made by Mark Sarul of Leicestershire who does a sterling service running the Traditional Fisherman’s Forum. 

My hooks in the 1950’s were Allcock model perfect, so popular were these hooks that sadly they were often hard to find and I would scour the London tackle shops during my lunch break and even if found they were invariably rationed to two dozen of a size. One day I hit the jackpot, I found a dealer who had a box holding a hundred size 6’s and after a bit of bartering I got hold of the box though I did pay an extra 3 shillings.

After the model perfects disappeared I switched to a variety of other brands and the only ones I thought good enough were the Partridge brand. In the late 60’s I started using low water salmon hooks cut down with a solder blob on top these had been popul-arised by the late Jack Hilton for carp fishing. But none in my opinion compared with Model Perfect hooks, except and possibly Au Lion D’or.

Today the new Pallatrax Gripz hook are my current choice, I cannot fault them, I used the old style Pallatrax hooks for some years with no complaints too. When fishing worms I make sure I have some small squares of rubber band, having baited the hook I will slide a small square of the rubber band onto the hook to keep the worms in place – I also use this idea when using barbless hooks with live baits for perch and pike.

Baits and Ground Bait

There is nothing special with reference to baits, boilies, pellets, pastes, bread, worms and gentles in fact you can use anything you feel a fish will eat. Having said this my choice of baits will depend a lot on the water and fish being targeted, if it’s a fast swirling turbulent water then worms would be a good choice along with cheese or sausage meat paste, for more placid waters bread cubes, flake, paste, sweet corn and bunches of gentles can be successful, also cheese flavoured bread cubes are a good bait in coloured water.

My usual ground bait is mashed bread, don’t make it by picking a loaf up in the supermarket on your way to the river to then dump it in the landing net as I often see anglers do. You will end up with a sloppy horrid mess, no self-respecting fish would be attracted too, its only fit for ducks.

Making Bread Mash

To make bread mash you need to purchase several loaves of bread not sliced, cut the bread into very thick slices then put these bread chunks into washing bags, these should then be hung in the airing cupboard for a week or more until all the moisture has dried from the bread, you can then store the dried bread for months in a plastic dustbin stored in the garage or shed.

I often visit the supermarkets just before closing time when its often possible to buy a large loaf for next to nothing at all. When making bread mash I use a mesh divers bag to put the very stale bread in, this is then immersed in a bucket of water, leaving it to soak for several hours.

I then twist the net until most of the excess water has gone, the bread is then dumped into a bucket where it’s given a pounding with a strong metal potato masher until all the lumps have gone.

Don’t use those cheap plastic mashers. they are useless for the job. Before I got a good strong masher, I used a 2 X 4 inch piece of timber for pounding the bread mash also adding some bran.

Before bagging the bread and bran mash I will often add a cheese flavour, then store the mash in the freezer until needed. Depending on the flow rate when I arrive at the waterside, I will often add more bran to stiffen it, let’s not forget bread and bran has been a very good ground bait for over a hundred plus years, and it still is today.

Stret-Pegging

When fishing I set the float about 2 feet 6 inches over depth, then lightly pinch on enough BB or AAA shot as needed for the swim being fished between 15 inches and 24 inches from the hook. If I’m using small baits such as gentles, corn, redworms, I will often pinch a BB about 6 inches from the hook as a bite indicator.

The float can do one of several things, it can move in towards the nearside bank, move out into the stream or sharply dip often pulling the rod tip down. Depending how the fish picks up the bait the line may go slack as the float drops flat on the surface. After fishing a spot for ten to fifteen minutes I will lift the rod allowing line to come off the reel then lower the rod allowing the float to settle further downstream. A word of warning, often when lifting the rod in preparation of letting out more line to fish another spot, you will often get a savage take. 

If conditions look good I often spend an hour working the bait down a long swim, before changing from one bait to another hook bait, often I can be fishing bread cube without success, then a change to flake, will often have a series of fish coming to the net.

Several chub and trout

I well remember one stret-pegging session on the river Ribble, leaving the car park I made my way downstream to an old alder tree, a few yards further down river a side stream entered the river creating a nice pool some two feet deeper than the rest of the river.  A certainty for a place where food would be pushed into this deeper pool, making it more attractive along with the trailing branches of a sizeable hawthorne bush that had created a small raft from the rubbish coming down on a recent big flood. 

A gale force upstream wind created waves on the rivers surface so I opted to use a quill float with a balsa body taking 5 BB shot, plumbing the depth I got a reading of about 5 feet I set the float at 7 feet bunching my shot 18 inches from the size 10 hook, with a Wallis cast I sent the tackle out into the stream against the very strong wind then held the rod high allowing the float to swing in and settle downstream in the crease.

The flow between the bank and crease being a lot slower also a couple of feet deeper was for sure an area where fish would hopefully congregate, certainly a place where food would collect.

After a few minutes I lifted the rod giving some free line allowing the end tackle to move further downstream. A few more minutes I then repeated the process, this time the tackle settled close to the raft ensuring the bait would be positioned underneath where I expected fish to be. Satisfied I had got everything correct I started feeding some mash bread down the line I would be working the tackle.

Some fifteen minutes I had been feeding pigeon egg size pieces of mash, and it was now time to bait with a piece of flake, after casting out, I was pleased to see the tackles settle just right. Ten minutes later with no action I allowed the baited hook to move further downstream, eventually it ended close to the raft but with no sign of a bite. 

Rebaiting with a piece of flake I threw in some mashed bread then followed up with the baited tackle, the float lay at a nice angle its red tip being the only bright spot on a windy rain swept river with the dark clouds touching the roof tops.

Ten minutes later the float moved out into the stream then submerged, as I tightened the reel screamed as the fish made a sudden surge well out into the river moving determinedly downstream, I was forced to give line, several minutes later I started to gain back some line.  It was a bit of give and take, but slowly the pressure of well-balanced tackle started to tell on the fish, a few minutes later I netted my first chub, estimated about 4lbs, normally I would walk well upstream before releasing the fish, today in the rough weather I released it in my swim. 

The next fish was a trout around 2lbs. Every cast was proceeded by a small ball of mashed bread which would help keep the fish in the area, it’s imperative to feed correctly to encourage the fish into your swim. The rain was sheeting down making it hard to see the float, I struggled to see my float as I peered through my rain covered glasses. Suddenly the rod tip pulled round savagely the resulting strike connecting with a good fish, another chub estimated again at around 4lbs. This was followed by another chub of a similar size, then four more trout around the pound mark.

Feeling cold and damp from the continuous heavy rain I decided a bowl of soup was on the menu, in the cabin I switched the gas fire on, then emptied a big pot of soup into a saucepan, a few minutes later I sat enjoying hot soup with a beef sandwich.

Looking back on the session with a feeling of warmth and pleasure knowing I’d defeated the conditions, using a style of angling that has been with me all my life, simply known as stret-pegging, going back to the 1800’s and perhaps even before that. Looking out of the window and seeing the rain streaming down and hearing the gale force wind blowing though the tree tops I decided to head off home.

Writing & Images Martin James MBE January 2022