By Dave Burr
The hair rig has been with us for a long time now and since those days in the early 70’s when Len Middleton and Kevin Maddocks came up with the idea and set specialist angling off into a flurry of discovery, it has become the mainstay of our big fish approach. But why did it develop? Why does it work? What are the mechanics? And how do I tie one effectively? Read on and I hope to cover all of these points. Before the hair rig all baits had a hook in them, this meant that your bait had the added weight of a hook and the restriction of movement imposed by your hooklink material which wily carp had wised up to. Any hard baits had to be ‘side hooked’ (nicking a boilie in the side) everything else had to be struck through when the fish bit but softer baits had severe casting limitations. The idea was born that a bait held away from the hook would be far more natural and the hair rig was born.
The name hair rig came from the material used to create the hair, quite literally a human hair! This was replaced by fine mono and more latterly to braid.
The system works by virtue of how fish feed. Most species and certainly carp, tench, barbel etc, suck both food and detritus into their mouths where they sort out what is edible and what is waste, the waste is blown back out and the food swallowed. This sucking and blowing is often done several times before the food item is swallowed. With a hair rig the fish will suck in both bait and hook then, to rid it of the waste – the hook, it will blow it back out but, on the way, the hook will catch the lip and the fish is nailed. Certain factors help to make the rig effective and the more aggressive the angle between the hook and mainline, the more effective its hooking ratio will be. In order to get this angle right you need to tie the rig correctly but more of that later. I will explain more about the rig and its effectiveness as I explain how to tie one.
Next, position the hair so that with a bait attached it will hang just below the bend of the hook. It may help you to actually mount a bait first and then tie the rig until you get the hang of the dimensions. Having established the correct hair length wind the long length of the hooklink around the shank of the hook in touching turns until you reach a point opposite the point of the hook. Before making these turns check the eye of the hook and see which side the eye has been turned from, there will be a minute gap at the side to which it was turned and you want to make certain that you wind away from that join. Once the knot has been tied pass the end of the hooklink down through the eye of the hook and pull everything tight.
Pulling that end down through the eye ensures that you obtain that aggressive, inward facing angle of the hook. This means that it will not only snag the fish’s lip more effectively but as you pull against the fighting fish it will ensure that the pressure is increasing the hook hold whereas if you hook it the other way, as you pull it is in effect trying to pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.
It is possible to increase the aggressive nature of the rig by adding a short length of shrink tube to the end of the hook and for a centimetre or so up the hooklink. Once this has been heated over the steam from a kettle, angled then cooled to set in place, you will have a rig that will turn in the fish’s mouth and help to set the point as it passes across the lip. You can check the effectiveness of your rig by pulling the baited rig across your hand, the hook should turn and stick into the skin every time you do this.
If you can’t be doing with shrink tube and the like then there is another way of increasing the effectiveness of your rig. When you have tied the loop at the end of the hooklink thread a short (3 or 4mm) length of narrow rig tube onto the hooklength then, after you have passed the line through the eye of the hook and before you tie the knotless knot, pass the point of the hook through the rig tube so that it sits in the way in the diagram. For bottom baits this rig ensures that as soon as the bait enters the mouth the hook follows and will catch on the lower lip. Again, pull it across your hand and see just how effective it is. Experiment by moving the rig tube to see how it effects the turn and penetrating abilities of the hook.
There are of course, many other methods for attaching hairs and hooks but these and the one’s mentioned in my article in Riffle 3, will cover you for most of your needs. Remember, many of the fanciful rigs we see in carp magazines are designed to catch fish with a buoyant bait which is not really that effective for barbel in fast water (I know, I’ve tried), so they are not for us humble barbel men. If you want to know more about rigs then you will find plenty of information in the monthly carp magazines and on-line.