As early as the sixties, match aces like Ray Mumford were converting hollow glass roach poles into rods. These rods had properly built cork handles with a counter weight in the butt to make them easier to use. They were also fully rung and normally used with a centre pin for better control. Not only did these rods account for many match wins, they also proved to be a deadly tool for Thames barbel.
The technique was to fish an over-weighted crow or porcupine quill over-depth and hold it back under the rod top. It was really a form of float ledgering and many anglers used ledger weights in fast flowing or flooded water to hold bottom. The swim was normally fed by panning down a mixture of hemp with casters and then fishing over it with two or three casters on a size 12 or 14 hook. Although I caught plenty of Thames barbel on this technique, I believe the best catch was made by Paul Lancaster out of the Desborough cut. If I remember correctly he had 12 good barbel in an evening session on his long rod. I never had more than 9 in a session on this method but I was still pleased with the quality of fish.
However, it was in flood water that this technique scored. As very little line is exposed to any debris in the water there is less fouling than with conventional ledgering techniques. The bait was also nailed to the bottom which was useful in colder water when most fish tend to be rather lethargic.
The direct line from the rod top to the weight can be a bit of a double edged sword. It allows for a faster, more direct strike but at times shy biting fish can feel the resistance of the rod top and drop the bait. Under these circumstances a good tactic is to let the float drop back behind the lead. This allows a loop of line for the fish to take before the resistance of the rod top is felt. This little dodge in the past has in the past proved deadly. I once used it to catch six barbel and three chub from the Thames.
Obviously these old converted hollow glass roach poles were very heavy with large butt diameters. You certainly knew that you had fished a session particularly if you had caught a few barbel. Arm-ache was common.
The use of carbon, has lead to a revival for these longer rods. They are so much thinner and lighter than the original glass pole rods and a pleasure to use. These modern long carbon rods are slightly heavier than the corresponding pole as it has both a handle and is fully rung. It has, however, one great advantage over a pole in that you can give line. It is even possible to long-trot with many of the modern long rods where their length helps keep the line off of the water whilst allowing superior line pick up on the strike.
At longer lengths I use modern carbon rods in roles that many anglers reserve for poles. Again, it is this ability to give line that attracts me to the use of the rod. I know some big fish have been taken on strong poles with heavy elastic but with the increase in carp sizes I feel much safer using a rod. I have had carp to 21lb 12oz safely landed on a long rod.
At present I am using a Shakespeare Triplex Excel Match rod which can be used at 5m, 5.4m, 5.7m and 6.1m. It gains this flexibility by having two butts and an extension piece. I normally use this rod for long trotting in the shorter lengths matched with a new Ariel centre pin loaded with 41b b.s. line. However the more I have got used to the rod, the longer I have managed to use it. In fast water the float is either a swan necked balsa, or in exceptional fast water, one of the new Topper Haskins floats with a crow quill stem and expanded polystyrene body. These floats carry a large amount of shot for their size and create less splash on the strike. Both floats are fished with tungsten olivettes in place of bulk shot with dropper shots below. The great advantages of a tungsten olivette are that it is denser than lead and more streamlined which means less resistance on striking.
I once used this outfit to fish the rod at 5m with the Topper Haskins float to trot the far side of the Upper Hampshire Avon with two maggots on a size 14 hook. Grayling and trout were in a far bank swim so it was easy to lower the tackle in to trot the bait down with minimum line exposed. Basically I had to lift the rod rather than strike to hook the fish. I had had three trout and a grayling of 21b 3oz when the swim went dead.
I walked downstream to find a big eddy on the far bank under a tree.
The near-side was very shallow and fast flowing. I needed a long rod to keep the line up out of the fast current and to place the float under the tree in the eddy. I set the rod up at its full twenty feet and literally poked the float under the tree with the rod. The swim was 6ft at that point which made the swim the deepest in the section. It would have been impossible to fish the swim with a shorter rod which made me doubt if it had ever been fished before. I fed the swim with maggots and held the float under the tree and waited. However, I did not have to wait long before the float flew under. The strike was more like a lift. The rod took on a healthy bend under the fight from a good grayling. To avoid disturbing the swim I bullied the fish away from the tree to play it out in the faster water. Again, it was a good fish weighing 21b 10oz. I took three more grayling all over 21b from that swim before it went dead. That extra length had really paid dividends.
Obviously the use of long rods is not just confined to river fishing. I regularly use a long rod to fish deep local gravel pits where the extra length allows me to fish a light fixed float, rather than a heavier, less sensitive sliding waggler. It is so much easier fishing with a long rod and fixed float. I now use a lot of pole floats to fish fixed depth in the pits. I particularly like the Preston Innovation Tyson Pole floats for this work. These are very robust yet exceptionally sensitive.
Most of these gravel pits are gin clear, holding some very big tench and bream. They are not commercially stocked fisheries and do not hold a terrific number of fish. Prebaiting coupled with careful observations are the keys to success. Once I have located the routes taken by shoals of fish, I start prebaiting to stop the shoals from moving through without feeding. I have been known to prebait an area for up to four weeks to get the results that I was after.
I used the prebaiting technique the other year to fish a sixteen foot swim in a local pit. It was late season and I knew the fish would move into the deeper water. I prebaited regularly for two weeks with 6mm mini boilies and fished it with a 20ft rod with a centre pin loaded with 41b b.s. line. The float was a largish Tyson pole float with a size 10 hook tied directly to the main line. I fished a couple of feet out from the rod top with a paste of the same composition as the mini boilies that I had been feeding. In just four hours fishing I had six tench to 71b 10z and two bream. No other angler on the water had a fish in that time.
On other venues I have used my long rod with a pole float for crucian carp with great success. True crucians are notoriously shy biting. I once observed them feeding in Stan Talbot's Ashford lakes. I was in a tree looking directly down on the crucians that were taking some mashed bread that I had placed in the swim. Other species, like tench, took the bait but did not move off. They just closed their mouths on the bait and remained static. Only the most sensitive tackle would have shown these bites.
However to bring balance into the feature, I would like to recall a session that I had at Clawford Vineyard in Devon. It was one of those rare days when the owner, John Ray, gave permission for a small local club to hold a Sunday morning match on one of his lakes. There were only about 12 anglers completing on two banks of Fletchers Lake. This lake holds mainly a mixture of roach, rudd and ghost carp that all run to a good size.
As I sat eating my breakfast with the other resident anglers, we saw the anglers arrive and set up. Nobody was really concerned about the match as there were 6 other good lakes that were completely vacant. There was in fact plenty of room on Fletchers if anybody wanted to fish it. Most of them set up long poles and I remember one angler commenting that they were all fishing away from the rushes into featureless open water. We all knew that most of the better fish were in or near the rushes.
After breakfast we all dispersed to fish other lakes that nobody was fishing. I walked past the match anglers on my way to Wandas lake and could see that they were certainly struggling to catch. I settled down to fish Wandas lake with my wife Virginia. We both fished closed in to the margins with conventional 12 ft rods with centre pins to fish the pellet and paste. We caught plenty of carp up to 151b 10oz with a few bream up to 61b.
John Ray came down in the early afternoon to tell me that the match had been won with only 4 1/2 lb. Four of them were fishing on but the rest had packed up. I thought that I could have done better. Therefore I packed up on Wandas lake and went into Fletchers, where I set up near the reeds. My tackle was a fairly powerful 12ft float rod with a centre pin loaded with 61b b.s. line. The terminal tackle was a Tyson pole float with a number 8 shot down the line. The hook was a size 8 baited with trout pellet paste. I placed a few handfuls of pellet in by the reeds and then started to float fish over the top. As soon as the float hit the water it was taken by a 10oz roach. This was quickly followed by another at 14oz. I then saw the bubbles from carp that had just entered the swim. A few minutes later down went the float and I was playing a scale perfect common ghost of just over 101b. I then had two golden orfe both well over 21b in consecutive casts followed by a nice mirror ghost of just under 131b. I finished the one hour session with a few more good roach for a bag weight in excess of 301b.
I suppose that this last section really illustrates the fact that me must not blindly use any tackle. We need to think about when we are going to use a long rod or pole and the advantages we would gain from using such tackle. Certainly longer rods have their day. They can be most useful in long trotting fast rivers, laying on and fishing deep sections of rivers or lakes. I think we are going to see more and more anglers adding a long rod to their armoury.