All posts by Dave Burr

About Dave Burr

Keen angler and naturalist who likes to ask "why?"

Hair Rigs Made Simple

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.

First tie a loop in your hooklength material using a figure 8 knot so that the loop does not slip. Now pass the other end of the hooklink down through the eye of the hook.


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.

The finished rig.



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.

Paste Baits

By Dave Burr

As the summer fades for another year it is time to change our mindset when targeting barbel and chub. Due to the amount of pressure on many of our rivers, the fish can be wary of big baits especially during those hot summer days when the rivers are low and clear. We have been forced to use smaller baits with a particle approach to tempt the fish to feed, well that is about to change.

Come the autumn floods and with the generally higher water levels that we experience over the winter, so the water visibility is effected and the fish are far more likely to make a mistake and suck in our hookbaits.  This we can use to our advantage with rigs and baits that would have been ignored just a month or so ago. Many anglers return to that good old standby bait – meat, but for me this is the time of year for paste.

Why paste? That’s simple, paste can be of any flavour, colour, shape or size that you want it to be. You can make it stiff or soft and adjust the rate of flavour leakage, what is more barbel and chub just love eating it. The limitations of paste are restricted only by your imagination but, if you have never gone down the paste route, I’ll give you a few ideas to get you started.

The first paste I ever used was simple bread paste, made by kneading stale bread with a little water until the required consistency was found. It was cheap, easy to make and caught fish everywhere. It still works but bread, for whatever reason, seems to have gone out of fashion and I have to admit that when I discovered cheese paste, I rarely went back to bread.

Cheese paste has a better consistency than bread and is attractive to most of our species of fish, I’ve had trout and eels and a mate had a pike on the stuff! But, in the main, I use it for chub and barbel although it is a top bait for carp and roach. To make it is simplicity itself and, as with all pastes, it can be adapted to your own recipe with consummate ease. Here’s the easiest method.

Take a packet of ready made shortcrust pastry (you can use any pastry, I just prefer shortcrust). Cut the block in half and freeze what you aren’t going to use today. Place the half you are using onto a work surface and, with a rolling pin, roll it out to about 3 or 4 mm thickness.

Take an equal weight of mature cheddar and grate it and spread it over the pastry.

Add to this a couple of ounces of grated blue cheese or add 5 – 8ml of blue cheese flavouring.

Now all that needs to be done is the physical bit. Fold and refold the pastry around the cheese to make a parcel then get to work kneading and mixing the whole lot into a smooth, even paste. This takes a while and there are no shortcuts, do not do it in a food mixer as it adds way too much air to the mix, I once did and, at the river, I stood agog as my cheese paste floated off into the distance. I had to scrounge some bread to mix with it and make it sink.

Once your paste is ready just pop it into a plastic bag and leave it in the fridge. You can use what you need and freeze the remainder after a session. Cheese paste can be refrozen loads of times; topped up with fresh ingredients now and again your batch will go on catching all winter.

That was a basic paste. Using pastry rather than bread as a base mix will stop the paste from hardening in cold water but bread will also work especially in mild conditions.

If you want to experiment then jump in with both feet, there are no boundaries. When you have your pastry rolled out in front of you and the grated cheese waiting to be poured on – stop. Now is the time to get creative, how can I improve this mix? The first option is colour. You may feel that the bright white/pale yellow bait is be too obvious to the fish so how about adding a few drops of liquid or a sprinkle of powdered colouring? You choose – but don’t ignore green.

To enhance the flavour well, you are in the kitchen, just open a cupboard and take your pick. For cheese paste you can add Marmite, fish paste, spices like chilli or garlic. You may want to add some of your favourite boilie base mix or even a few finely crushed (and sieved) pellets, it all works but be aware that some items affect the consistency of the paste which you always want to keep on the soft but sticky side so that it stays on your hook.

You can, of course, dispense with the cheese and just add a selection of ingredients to pastry mix. Making a pastry based paste gives it a relatively low food content, (the cheese  actually turns it into a milk protein bait) so it is all about instant attraction and catching the inquisitive fish. This works perfectly well, especially in high water but, if you are thinking of using paste on your chosen venue all winter, you may want to make it a little more complex and effective. For a bait like this look no further than boilie mix. Boilies are, after all, just boiled lumps of paste so you can buy a bag of your chosen mix and instead of making boilies, just add eggs and you have your paste. Or, you can make your own, it is simplicity itself – and cheap.

Semolina is probably the best ingredient to start with, make sure it is fine as it is easier to work with and creates a superior paste. Some anglers look down their noses on semolina as a bait ingredient but they are missing the point, it is a good carbohydrate food stuff in itself, it binds well and fish will happily eat these pastes with no need to spend time pre-baiting. The old 50/50 mix, used to such great effect in carp days of old and now, was merely a half and half mix of semolina and soya flour. Try it, mixed with eggs it forms a fabulous paste but I suggest you add a few more bits and bobs to make the fish pull your string. Again, the flavour or ingredient list is inexhaustible but here’s a few to get you going.

6oz semolina

6oz soya flour

4oz finely ground and sieved pellets. Any pellet will work but for winter fishing, keep the protein level low to help the fish digest your bait so avoid salmon pellets.


6oz semolina

6oz soya flour

2oz custard powder

2oz ground rice

This creates a sweet paste and the rice adds density and is especially good in fast water.


4oz semolina

4oz soya flour

4oz maize meal

This is another good mix to which you can add a multitude of additives such as  a ounce of Robin Red, 4oz Nectarblend or 4oz crushed boilies/pellets etc.


Another excellent ingredient for any base mix is roasted peanut meal which can be bought from dealers such as CC Moore, it is cheap, has natural attraction and smells wonderful.

A last quick and easy mix is simply to take a few handfuls of your favourite boilie, grind them up and push the crumbs through a sieve to make a fine powder, now just add eggs to make a paste.

When mixing your paste you can flavour or boost it with any liquid flavours you wish to buy from the tackle shop or, just go to the cupboard again and dig out seasoning such as curry, chilli, or steak seasoning. Marmite, Bovril, Malt, fish paste, meat paste, Angel Delight, garlic, black pepper, sauce (brown/soya), liquified fish (sardines, anchovies etc.), the list goes on and on.

Once you have your paste, how do you fish with it? Remember, rather than a hard boilie or pellet fixed to a hair, this stuff is soft and will fly off the hook if cast clumsily. You can put it straight onto your hook but, there is little for the paste to purchase against and lost baits can be frustrating. Therefore you will need something on the hook to wrap your paste around. You can buy little rubber beads that sit just off the hook which really do work well (check out Enterprise Tackle ‘Pastemates’) or you can simply hair rig a bead to your hook and make your own. As often as not, I’ll simply hair rig a pellet or small boilie and wrap the paste around that, this way you know that whatever happens to the paste, you always have an attractive bait on your hook.

To introduce free baits you can simply loose feed or, to get the free bait tight to your hook, use pva and make a stringer. When doing this I attach the stringer to the lead rather than the hook as it gets the free bait down quickly making it less likely that the string will melt and your bait all float off downstream and, if the bulk of loose feed is above your bait, theoretically the fish will get to your bait first.

Going back I said about mixing boilie crumb with eggs and this, of course, makes a lovely firm paste. However, as an alternative, you can mix boilie crumb or pellet crumb with a little water until it becomes tacky enough to mould around your hookbait of a similar flavoured boilie. Being mixed with water the paste will quickly breakdown and leave your boilie exposed but amongst highly attractive paste crumbs after several minutes. This is a real edge on those hard winter days as you are leaving a lovely attractive scent trail that will lead any interested fish right to your hook.

Like I said, the limits of paste are only restricted by your imagination and I have given here the tiniest hint at a world of experimentation and the satisfaction of catching on your own creation. I hope that you have found this useful and that it has encouraged you to give it a go.

The Only Rig You Will Ever Need.

By Dave Burr

There are few articles written about barbel rigs because, let’s face it, they aren’t usually that difficult to tempt. But there are considerations to be made and some of the dog’s dinners I’ve seen anglers using have made me shudder.

Let’s get one thing straight from the off – barbel are not carp. If you use carp tackle, especially lead clips, you are risking damage or death to fish in the event of a break off. I have recovered rigs with lead clips that I have had difficulty pulling apart with my hands so a tired, tethered barbel would have no chance.

Over the years I have tried numerous adaptations on a theme and have made all the mistakes that everybody else makes but, I have kept experimenting. I now have a rig that I haven’t changed for two or three seasons which means that I am quite happy with it. It ticks all the boxes and I believe that it is just about perfect – the only one I and hopefully you, will ever need.

The hook and leader are adaptable to conditions, more of that later. The important part for me is where the lead connects to the hooklink. This area is where we have to place most consideration to the fish’s welfare as a fish towing a lead is in severe danger. Also, and of great concern to me, was the number of times I lost a fish when the leader wrapped around the lead link. A barbel in full panic flight will make short work of most leader materials if they are tied around a lead or link swivel, recovering a short, broken hooklink is usually a sign that this has happened. I tried beads, sometimes two or three in a row to create a stand off effect and this usually worked but not always, the same is true of tail rubbers. Using a link swivel is always liable to create a tangle just by virtue of the amount of drop from the main line. Any roll on your end gear, something we often do to provoke a take, is likely to tie the whole lot into a knot.

So, let’s get to the point – Korda anti tangle sleeves (Kats), the answer to the barbel angler’s prayer. The pictures will show what I am on about so have a look first at the old, tangle prone version.

Now look at the one with the Kats. Immediately it is apparent that the stand off effect is exaggerated which helps us no end. But the clever bit comes when we eliminate the swivel from the link to the lead. By taking the swivel out of the equation we remove most of the problems associated with tangles. By using just the link and attaching it directly onto the Kats we create a semi-fixed, self-hooking rig that is generally what we are looking for when barbel angling. The taper of the sleeve allows us to fine tune the amount of tension on the link and, in the event of the fish snapping you off and by carefully attaching the link at the correct point on the Kats, the lead will easily slip off and the fish will not become tethered. It really is simplicity itself and works with leads and feeders.

But, I here you ask, what about when I want to use a running lead? Easy, just slide the link off the Kats and away you go, a running lead. If you want to be cute and, in true Boy Scout manner, prepared, simply add a bead above the Kats when you set up. Now, if you are roving and altering your approach in different swims, you simply reattach the link above the bead which will stop it from riding up the Kats and give you a perfect running rig.

You can even do away with the swivel at the end of your mainline and use a quick change link. This allows you to switch and swap your terminal gear as well as going from fixed to running lead with the absolute minimum of fuss.

My last bit of fine tuning is to cover anything shiney – usually the link when its been on gravel for a while – with bits of modelling clay which will stay in place as there are no moving parts such as you have when using a link and swivel.

For the bit between the Kats and the hook, well that’s a whole article in itself. I am certain that many of you have your own opinions of hooklinks and I have tried them all. For the record, I generally start off with a length of Fluorocarbon which gives me a hooklink that will sink and sit well on the bottom. This may go directly to the hook or, when I feel it is necessary, I will form a combi-rig by attaching a short braided hooklink to the fluoro via a mini swivel.

I believe that Conrad is setting this up so that comments can be added below the articles so please, discuss, argue and add your observations.

The rig in fixed mode
In running mode
With bead for the full boyscout mode
All the bits you need