Preparation - The Gardener Way Pt2

Like all top anglers, Steve spends a lot of his time at home preparing rigs for matches. We wanted to follow hime through the process of how he sets these up at home and then focus on some of the little details that he's developed from years of experience, fishing at the very top of the sport.

Float selection
There are two types of waters relavent to Steve Gardener’s float choices. First, there are the waters he fishes at home which tend to be relatively shallow, 3 metres and under. These are either canals but more often commercial fisheries where big bags of fish, of all sizes, will generally be needed to win matches. Secondly, there are the floats he uses on the world stage. Here, venues are often deeper lakes, rowing courses or river venues and they are all very different from the waters from those back home. The floats he needs for these international venues can be anything from big bodied lake floats, to massive Milo and Cralusso lollipop floats.

The approach to float selection for both jobs is the same. Steve is no tackle tart and does not use hundreds of different float patterns. He prefers to place his faith on just a few models that he knows and trusts well. So let’s look at the sort of floats he actually has on his winders.

Home choice
Most of the UK floats are under 2 grams in size, with the majority less than a gram. And a surprising aspect is that all Steve's floats under 0.75g are set up with shot, rather than olivettes! Steve showed us the range of floats he depends on for almost all of his UK fishing, these are:
Milo Saxo: an all purpose float with a carbon stem and hollow bristle.
Milo Oxon: another all purpose teardrop shaped float, but stronger with the line running through the body.
Milo Teck: a versatile Milo pattern with longer carbon stem and hollow bristles. These are used for bloodworm fishing for bigger fish on venues such as Surrey's Willow Park as well as for general fishing throughout the winter months with natural baits.
KC Carpa: These constitute his bigger fish stock range. He favours Carpa 2 floats for general bigger bait work and the Carpa Raisor for pellet style fishing. He also mentioned the Carpa Power, which has a short bristle with the fibreglass stem running right through it, a near unbreakable float!

Steve uses lots of in-line floats and is quite a fan of them. He explained that the Italians use in line style floats a great deal, but they as yet, they don't seem to have really caught on elsewhere in Europe. Steve likes them for a number of reasons. First, they don't damaged easily. Secondly, you can move them up and down the line without the danger of an eye fraying the line. He accepts that the 'line lay' may not be as good as with an eyed float, but in situations where you are catching lots of fish, of any size, in-line floats have a logical place.

Steve also displayed some surface bleak floats and a couple of shallow water/margin carp floats. All of these basic patterns, constitute the bulk of the many rigs found in Steve's box.

It's worth noting that most of the floats he uses are carbon stemmed. Steve explained that he's been a fan of carbon stems for many years. “I am an engineer by trade and I like floats to be straight and true” he explained adding, "a wire stem can be bent too easily and this can happen on a fish, or even sliding the float along the line. If the stem gets bent, the float will not sit right and work properly. Wire stem float bodies are also bulkier and more resistant on the strike than carbon stemmed models." Steve also pointed out that wire stems are more prone to tangling, especially if using either a short or a long line.

As he spends most of his match fishing time in the UK, on venues stuffed with fish you generally need big weights to win and these are not necessarily made up of big carp. On a lot of his match venues, the fish are all around the half kilo mark (1lb+) so you simply need to be faster and smoother than the other anglers to do well. Steve has designed his rigs to be as trouble-free as possible, and as carbon is prone to fewer problems than wire, he therefore places more trust in them.

hardasnails.jpghardasnails.jpgSteve's Top Tip
Steve fishes a lot of venues where you never really know what size of fish will take your bait. He maximises bites by using relatively fine floats, but this also risks them being damaged by bigger carp and tench, which will cause the line to dig into the balsa body of the float under pressure. To combat this Steve applies a coat of quick drying nail varnish called 'Hard as Nails'. In particular, he ensures the area around the eye, and where the float meets the stem, is well coated in varnish. This provides a hard protective finish which stops the line cutting in the body itself.

International choice
Here floats patterns/styles are much more venue specific. Steve prepares meticulously for every international event. Every year he will gather information from his English and international contacts to obtain the specific floats needed for each specific venue. He can then travel to an international match with all the possible float permutations required. Selecting float patterns and shotting them up, will be finalised during the fortnights practise prior to these events. As you can imagine these floats are much bigger than the floats used at home. There's large 6 to 12 gram models for running through as well as Milo and Cralusso lollipop floats up to the size of a CD, for nailing bait to the deck. Steve has trays of these rigs, which are a sort of a float record of his long and distinguished international career.

I was shown some of the big lollipops he used in the 2001 World Champs in Paris on the River Seine. These had proper hooks to 0.19mm hooklengths. Steve explained that they had found in practise that they could catch big eels and bream in B, C and D section using plenty of chopped worms in heavy leam as groundbait with big worm baits on the hook. "You had to get the bait still and be confident that big fish would come." Steve said, and then described how he lost his first large fish on the second day, but was confident that more would come. He was proved right and ended up with a section second, thanks to three big eels. These particular rigs used, have not seen much service since then, as they were developed for that one specific venue, using that one tactic... which worked supremely, well as England's team gold testifys!

A year in the life...
Steve’s match fishing year can be divided into two parts, which is then reflected in his float selection. We have the international part which focuses on just two or three big matches. Then there is the English part, were Steve's fishing between two to four matches a week, all year round, on a circuit of mainly well-stocked commercial waters, either as an individual, or team member for mighty Daiwa Dorking squad.

Unlike any other major angling nation in the world, there are no individual national championships in the UK, so anglers do not have to spend many months practising  the same venue in order to maintain a place in their country's angling elite! In Italy and France, the top anglers will revolve their season around these major individual championships. Also add to this the fact that the match season in France, Italy and Hungary is only 6 or 7 months long, and you quickly come to the realise that their English counterparts fish more matches per year than they do! It's debateable whether the continental style is the most productive, in terms of 'qudos' and results in international events. Ask any european management on the bank of any major event, who they fear the most, they'll all probably say England! Considering the disadvantage English rods have, regarding venues and rules, it's quite remarkable that they have the best record over the past 25 years in world and european team events. Steve himself has the most team gold medals of any angler in history!

Because many UK matches are on fish-filled commercial fisheries, where you can catch big nets of fish, any time of the year, you quickly realise how the English catch more fish every year, under match conditions (albeit non-CIPS), than any other anglers in Europe. This is one of the main reasons why they are so versatile and confident on fish, because they spend most of their year catching plenty of them!

Steve however, does point to some worrying trends in todays UK match scene. With the arrival of commercial fisheries, more potential stars are choosing to concentrate their season on just two or three venues. With short distances being preferred and anglers banking on becoming more venue specialised, Steve fears that the new generation of UK match talent may not get the same varied grounding as he, and his contempories, did. There seems less interest amongst UK anglers, about what is happening abroad these day.

Steve remembers when he first got the call up for the England squad. He was picked for the team because of his waggler abilities. The then manager, Dick Clegg, made it clear that he would not get in the squad the following year as it was all pole and bloodworm. Sure enough, Dick picked a team of bloodworm experts such as Dave Vincent and left out the running line specialists like Steve and Ian Heaps. However, Dick decided for the first time, to take a seventh angler and invited Steve to join the team. Dick only picked Steve because he'd spent a year deliberately fishing pole and bloodworm venues... and doing well at it. Are our young anglers today as motivated enough to try and break into the international scene?

Rig lines
Surprisingly, Steve is not a great fan of high-tech, pre-stretched lines. He sets more store on accurate diameters and a fair amount of stretch. As he explained, a degree of stretch will always give you some extra insurance against a big fish lunging under the net. This is more important to him than the stated high breaking strain. If a line is too stiff and will not stretch, it will cost you a fish at sometime or another. Steve explained that if you balance line strength to the elastic you are using, then there will always be an element of give, to help you hold that bigger fish. Provided you have some stretch still left in your elastic and line, then it's unlikely that a fish will break you.

Steve uses Milo Krepton for his standard rigs lines, anything up to 0.20mm. For anything stronger he uses Preston Power Line. Once again he keeps things simple and focuses on products he knows and trusts. One thing that Steve does religiously, is to remark every rig once used, just in case there is some minute damage to the line. Once he's used them on a session, he replaces them back on winders and returns them to his winder tray, upside down! When he gets home he quickly looks through his trays, and every upside down winder will be re-made.

Steve does have a Micrometer (he was keen to point out that we’d missed this on part one, that was my fault, sorry Steve!) and does check his lines but he only uses the Micrometer for comparative purposes, explaining that once you hold line in a vice to measure it, you are placing some pressure on it and it slightly flattens, so the reading you get will never be totally 100% accurate. Steve explained that years ago, tackle companies used a what was called a shadow graph. This was where a line was magnified then projected onto a screen. The magnified line could then be measured and that measurement divided by the factor of magnification to get an extremely accurate diameter. Today, no doubt, digital and laser technology has taken over, but Steve remains sceptical about any hand-held micrometer reading giving a 'true' measure of line diameter.

Steve's Top Tip
Steve stressed the importance of using familiar lines because you get to know just how far you can push them. Having used Krypton over many years, he knows exactly how much pressure he can give a rig, in any situation. He drew a parallel with match rods as years ago, anglers used to use the same float rod for a number of different venues. They got to know just how much pressure you could put on a fish, I'm sure we can all remember landing the odd dog chub, barbel or carp on surprisingly light lines. This came with the balance familiarity of rod to line, gained over a period of time. However, if you simply changed your rod, the action would be different and you would likely break up on fish. Steve looks at line in the same way. To start with, go for a high quality line with some stretch, and get to know its limits beforehand. There is no substitute for familiarity!

Here again there are two different match approaches to shot and olivettes. One is for the UK and the other for international.

In the UK, lead shot is banned on sizes larger than No.8’s, so Steve uses this size shot for bulks on floats up to 0.75g and then switches to olivettes for larger patterns.

However, once abroad, there are no lead restrictions and Steve prefers to use shot for his rigs, of which he has a huge stock of, along with drilled bullets to cover all possible weight combinations. He explained that when using large drilled bullets, he uses a small piece of silicone to act as a buffer between the bullet and the shot on the line. On the very biggest rigs, where he may have over four 10 gram drilled bullets together in a bulk, he also puts a tiny bit of silicone between each bullet, again to act as a cushion.

Whether at home or abroad Steve's preference is for high quality hard shot. He uses Milo Krepton shot for all his fishing, with the exception of small No.8 locking shot on waggler rigs, placed either end of the main shot. These are ZLT soft shot because he wants to be able to change depth, without too much damage to the line.

All Steve's shot is pinched firmly onto the line as he believes that when you shot-up a rig you want that shot to stay in place whilst you're fishing. If your shot is loose and consequently comes off, you waist valuable match time re-shotting. You also risk getting your rig tangled up, because shot have moved. Steve has no time for Stotz or any other styl type leads for the same reason. "If the shot can slide, then the rig won't fish right, and this is the last thing I want" he says.

He also explains why shot needs to be on the line firmly. "What many anglers forget is that when you start catching fish, the line begins to stretches and get thinner. If your shot is not pinched hard enough onto the line, then they will start to become loose as that stretch increases."

To attach his shot, Steve uses a pair of small flat nosed pliers which he got from a model shop. And because they had grooves inside the tips, he simply filed them down to make them smooth. He would then pinch each shot in position on taught line with his fingers, before finally squeezing the shot on fairly hard. Steve is of the opinion that good quality hard shot does not damage the line when you squeeze it on properly. His reason for this had a dazzling simplicity to it. “How often do you snap a rig on the shot?" he asked. When I thought about it he was right. Providing you have not been stupidly sliding shot up and down the line, most rigs will snap on a knot, or even in between shot, but rarely on the shot itself.

When making up a bulk of shot, Steve leaves a space about the width of a fingernail between each shot. This makes the bulk less rigid and reduces the chance of dropper shot tangling around the bulk when shipping out, or laying the rig in the water, particularly in very windy conditions.

Assembling a rig
Steve showed us how he actually puts his rigs together and here's a blow-by-blow account of how he does it. All rigs are made up at his rig bench, where he has a ruler marked off in centimetres along the edge of the bench.

It's numbered clearly from 0cm to 40cm, in 10cm increments with intermediate markers of 5, 15, 25 and 35cm. This bench ruler is vital to Steve’s rig tying system as it ensures very accurate shot distribution, which can be repeated, rig after rig. What follows is the procedure used to make each pole rig:
  1. First slide your silicones onto the line. Steve uses three silicones on most rigs and makes sure that the last silicone is cut long so that it can sit over both the end of the stem and the line. It's amazing just how many anglers don't cut this end silicone long enough, but rather have the stem protruding out of the silicone.
    Assuming you are using a separate hooklength, tie as small a loop as possible at the end of your main line. Steve uses the Sensas loop tier, which takes a little practice. It does however, tie the perfect small loop! Follow our slideshow demonstration right.
  3. Lay your rig over the benches' ruler, with the loop placed on the 0cm marker.
  4. Decide where you want you want your bulk shot to be. Steve will normally have his bulk 30cm above the loop for use on commercial silver fish waters and 40cm above the loop on deeper, more natural venues. But this is just a rough guide.
  5. Place the float up to where you want the bulk to be and by using the end of float stem as an accurate marker, position the first of the bulk shot directly below the end of the float stem.
  6. Now decide how many droppers you want and at where to place them. Steve normally has one dropper above the loop and decides the position of the rest between the bulk, depending on what he wants the bait to do. He showed us a typical commercial rig which had a bulk at 30cm with one dropper on the loop and another at exactly 15cm away.
  7. Now add the rest of the bulk shot above that first marker shot.
  8. Check the shotting in a large shotting tube.
  9. Once correctly shotted you can place the rigs on a winder. Steve has counted the number of turns you need to get the rigs on the winders. For example he uses short yellow winders for most of his commercial rigs in the UK, and knows that 16 turns on a winder is a top three kit. The longer floats need pink winders and 12 turns.
  10. Tie a loop in the end and fix the rig with a pole anchor

The various shotting patterns are fairly straightforward and logical. Steve balances dropper shots to the size of the float, so he might use No.11's on a 4x12 rig and No.8 or 9’s on a 1 grammer. Once he has the shotting clearly worked out, he can concentrate on simply replicating it several times over. The advantage of Steve’s system of laying out and measuring each rig against his ruler is he gets every rig 'spot-on' in same in terms of shot placement, and this is vital to making sure each rig performs exactly the same way.

Steve's Top Tip
Steve told me how he and Will Raison approached setting up various rigs for venues. Because they were trying to catch good weights of fish quicker, they'd spend a lot of time seeing just how much they could tighten up the rigs in order to do this. Steve explained that he'd start with hooklengths and see how short a hooklength he could get away with, while still keeping positive bites coming. Then he'd look at shot spacing by trying the bulk a bit closer. The idea was to have rigs that look similar, ie, same float ,same basic shotting pattern, but with the availablility of tighter shotting, should the situation demand. It's all getting the presentation right by having options readily available, in order to catch fish quicker than the anglers around you.

Flexibility in rigs
Steve shots his rigs down to the bristle in the shot tank, but what he's faced with on the bank can be quite a different matter. A rig dotted down in a shot tank may not sit quite right once in open water. Some factors are obvious. Wind will break up surface tension, light conditions might make a dotted down bristle impossible to see. Other factors are more subtle. Water temperature can also have an effect on the water density itself. If the water in your shotting tank is cold then the water will be denser than hot summer lake water so a float might sit perfect in your tank but just sink on the bank in warm water. This is a small, but not insignificant factor. Steve has a couple of ways of coping with fine tuning rigs on the bank.
  1. A fine tuning shot. Steve will often put one or two No.13 shot above his bulk or olivette. These shot can be nipped off if he wants to show a bit more bristle easily. Some anglers will use small styls in place of shot.
  2. Silicone on the bristle. Steve often puts a small section of black silicone on his finer bristles just to hold the bristle up better in the water. This helps, in particular, with bloodworm and pinkie rigs, and also adds better visibility if conditions are difficult.
Steve’s tackle preparation is precise and functional. I believe his rig table and ruler is so simple, any angler can adapt and use it. His use of a limited range of floats, shot and line, which he knows and trusts, is a simple and logical approach. So there's a pointer to all you 'tackle tarts' out there! When you look at Steve's international record, you'll realise that this man is perhaps the most successful team angler of all time, there can be no one better to imitate in your own approach to preparation.

Look out for PART THREE and more from 'God's Country'.