I believe the pin allows me to present a bait far more naturally than either a closed face or fixed spool reel, allowing me to work the bait slowly yet smoothly down a swim.
Many beginners and some experienced anglers don't actually know why it is so important to slow the baits progress across the bottom. The reason is the water nearer the surface is travelling much faster than that at the bottom. Friction, boulders causing mini back eddies and weed all slow the current at the bottom. The float is in the faster water near the surface and therefore tends to travel at surface speed which drags the bait below through at the same speed. This means the bait will be moving much faster than the water's speed at bottom, giving unnaturally fast presentation. Fish would be very suspicious and ignore the bait so it pays to hold the bait back and make it appear more natural. The skill comes in judging the amount the float must be held back and doing it very smoothly. Initially it is a matter of trial and error but with more experience it becomes much easier.
By letting the float pull line off the centre pin, a smoother, slower presentation can be achieved which is difficult to copy with any other type of reel.
There are many good well machined centre pins on the market but they are not cheap. However one of these reels should last a life time. I still have in use an Alcocks Ariel bought for me by my Grandfather on my 16th birthday and that is over forty years ago. This reel is now possibly smoother than when it was given to me. I still use reels manufactured by J.W.Young the firm that built my old Ariel. These more modern reels are lighter built from superior grade metals and to much finer tolerances. I prefer open, wide-drummed centre pins with a diameter of about 4.5 inches. These give good line recovery without being too heavy.
Using a open cage centre pin, I load the line so it comes off the top of the drum rather than the bottom, which means the line has to be recovered by winding in the reverse direction to normal. This might sound strange but the big advantage is that the line is so close to the rod, so it's less likely to be affected by any cross wind and it's easier to bat the spool to recover the line as you are striking the rim of pin away from your body.
Many good centre pin anglers fish with reels which have no handles to prevent the possibility of line tangling around them. It also improves the balance of the reel. Instead of using handles holes in the drum are used to recover your line. I have used these for some of my fishing for more than 20 years, taking plenty of double figure barbel up to 12lb 8oz, roach to 31b 2oz, dace to 1lb 2oz 8drm and grayling 3lb 6oz. However with so many big carp turning up in catches to centre pin tactics, I have changed back to centre pins with handles for much of my fishing.
A lot has been written about casting with a centre pin and the legendary Wallis cast but in my opinion this is not the way to start off using a centre pin. As most centre pin work is carried out close-in with light tackle that is impossible to cast with a Wallis cast, the loop method is the best way to start. It could not be easier; just hold a few loops of line in your hand and release them at the correct moment in casting when the line starts to pull on your fingers.
Obviously the easiest cast comes in when trotting from a punt moored across the stream. All you need do is lower the float into the stream in front of you and let out line. Although I started off learning to use a centre pin with my Grandfather from the bank, I gained a lot of experience trotting from a punt on the tidal Thames.
Starting off with simple loop casts you will soon get the feel of a pin and be able to perfect your line control in trotting and move on to more advanced methods of casting. It will take time, which is not popular in this age where instant success is so often demanded, but once you have those centre-pin handling skills your bait presentation will become second to none.
As regards floats, books have been written on selecting the right float for the job. But on a more functional note, the float only performs two functions - to present the bait where it is acceptable to the fish and to detect the bite.
The centre pin is traditionally a trotting tool but I also regularly use mine on still waters to good effect. I will look at trotting fast flowing waters before moving into still water tactics.
Rivers like the Hampshire Avon, Kennet, tidal Thames and many tidal sections of Sussex rivers have powerful currents. They are often fairly turbulent in winter so we need a float with great buoyancy near the top so it doesn't drag under. The crow quill Avon with it's quill and balsa body is ideal. These floats hold plenty of weight but remain sensitive to bites in fast flowing water.
Bristol match ace "Topper" Haskins has improved the crow quill Avon by using high density expanded polystyrene instead of balsa wood for the body. Being much less dense than balsa wood, these expanded polystyrene floats are much smaller, offering less resistance to the strike which, in practical terms, should mean more fish are hooked. To my knowledge these floats are in few tackle shops but available directly from Topper or Veals in Bristol. I've tried but can't match these floats.
To stop these floats folding on the strike you are best off to secure it with three float bands. One is on the tip, the second at the bottom of the body whilst the third is at the bottom of the quill. I fish mine with a shot as a depth marker directly under the float and a tungsten olivette between 12 and 18 inches from the hook. This olivette is denser and faster sinking than shot and is more streamlined causing less resistance to the strike. Below the olivette I place a couple of number 6 shot spaced out.
When trotting with a pin in fast water, I often use bread flake as my hook bait. I buy a fresh loaf on my way to the bank and simply tear out pieces of the white interior, gently squeeze the bread onto the line, slide it down, pinch it lightly onto the hook shank and then trim off any excess.
The groundbait is made by mashing up a three day old loaf of bread in plenty of water and then add bread crumb to stiffen it. The faster the water the stiffer the groundbait. When the water is really fast and quite deep I mould the groundbait around a stone to make it sink quickly and hold bottom. Usually I put three balls of groundbait in the swim before starting and then top up as necessary. Results on this method do tend to be somewhat instantaneous. I normally move swims if I haven't had a bite within an hour.
Although, as I said earlier, the pin is a traditional trotting tool, it has its uses in still water. The pin gives more direct control than traditional fixed spool reels. You can feel the fish and sense when to let line out and adjust the pressure applied with greater sensitivity. This can give you a marked edge particularly when playing larger species like carp. For this reason I regularly use a pin for close-in still water work or stalking.
One of my favourite methods of catching carp is to use a powerful float rod with a centre pin loaded with heavy line to present trout pellet paste under a Preston Innovations Tyson pole float. I normally start off feeding three or four swims with trout pellets. I then fish each swim in rotation. On this method bites range from deliberate slow dips to fly-away, but all are detected by the sensitive pole float.
On waters such as Willow Waters in Pocklington where the banks shelve away very quickly to give, in places, depths of up to 20ft this method fished close in can be without equal. Virginia and I have had just under a hundred carp averaging double figures in a week, fishing only short morning or evening sessions. Anglers fishing the depths with legered boilies thought they had done well if they caught ten fish in a week.
I hope in the space of this article I have given you some ideas of how to start fishing with the pin. I still use a pin for the majority of my fishing as I am convinced it does give me that edge.