Preparation - The Gardener Way Pt3

A 'hook' is a thing of endless fascination for anglers of all levels. It is the physical and symbolic link between you and your quarry. Let’s face it, without a hook, angling is reduced to the basic level of just feeding the fish! A hook is the weapon of capture... that defining and tenuous link, which brings our quarry under your control and guides it to the waiting net.

I've noticed during my many years of working with top anglers, that the better an angler becomes, the more a hook becomes the single most interesting and fascinating piece of tackle to them. Release an angler into an unfamiliar tackle shop and they'll probably end up checking the array of hooks available and, provided the selection is good, almost certainly spend most of their time there. Patterns for specific venues, shapes, gauge of wire, will all occupy their thoughts as they imagine a bait on the hook and how a fish will pick it up!

Therefore, to conclude this Preparation the Gardener Way series, it seems fitting that we end on hooks and hooklengths. But before I go into how Steve ties and stores them, I'll explain his philosophy on them and the choices he makes.

As with all his angling, Steve has a direct and logical approach when it comes to hook selection. He believes that when choosing a hook for a venue, you need to consider three basic areas:
  1. BAIT: Obviously you need to ensure that the size and shape of each hook corresponds to the bait you’re using. This applies to both ends of the spectrum. With too large a hook, a fish is more than likely to ignore the bait, while too small a hook could potentially be more damaging, as it risks pricking the fish and thereby spooking it, as well as any surrounding shoal. This basic principle should be at the heart of all preparation. Just think of a caster and maggot hook and the reason for their difference shapes. A maggot hook needs to be short shanked with a slight bend leading up to the point, in order to hold the maggot on the bend and restrict it from traveling too far up the shank. A caster hook requires a longer shank as it needs to be turned and buried into the shell. But then we have the other issue of barbless or micro barbed hooks? Barbless create far less damage to a bait, so if you are fishing with perhaps a delicate joker on the hook, then it will give you a better chance of hooking the bait without ruining it.
  2. SPECIES: This is an interesting aspect of hook selection and one to which there are several views. First and foremost, fish have different mouths, which will obviously have a bearing on hook selection! For example, perch have hard bony mouths which require the hook to be sharp, wide-gaped and slightly turned off-centre. Carassio have soft mouths which need the security of a micro barb just to keep the hook in place. Also, think of soft-mouthed skimmers and bony mouthed gudgeon for a moment. As well as the nature of the fishes mouth, you also need to be aware of the different ways fish feed, in particular, that critical moment when a bait's picked up. Fish like roach will suck in and blow out a bait very quickly. If the hook wire is too heavy, the fish will sense or feel that and most likely refuse the bait. Barbel are also very sensitive to how a bait feels, therefore choosing a hooks wire-weight, to its strength, can become one of the most delicate balancing acts in angling.
  3. TACKLE: Again this comes down to a question of balance. Thick line, strong elastics and fine wire hooks are not a good combination, as the hook will always be the weakest link. The art of hook selection comes down to using the finest hook possible, in relation to the size of fish and the tackle being used.
This all seems common sense, yet many anglers simply don't consider these three key areas before a session. So always bear in mind... your hook will be determined by the bait your using, the size and species of fish you want to catch and the tackle you are using to catch them.

Steve tends to put his faith in a small number of patterns, which he trusts and knows well, rather than chase any latest hook on the market. Having confidence in your hooks is very important at all levels of the sport, and this can only come with familiarity. Steve then took us through a few of the hooks he uses.

For all-round big fish angling Steve likes the Gamakatsu Power. For specifically targeting carp on commercials, he uses the barbless Suehiro T213 or the Milo Series A.

For silver fish he favours either the Suehiro R305 for delicate presentation, or the Sensas 3405 for more general roach and skimmer work.

Finally, for canals or delicate bloodworm fishing, the Gamakatsu Green are perfect when conditions are hard and the Black series when conditions become easier.

This is not an exhaustive selection, but one which Steve's come to rely on over many years of competitive angling, both in the UK and abroad.

For most of his general hooklengths, he uses Milos' Ghost or Krepton, with Preston Power line on some of his commercial rigs. Again, he keeps it as simple as possible and remains with those famailiar lines that he trusts!

Tying hooks the Gardener way
So far, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is just another filler article giving a sponsored angler and his tackle a plug! In some respects you're probably correct, but lets face it, we all like to know what the 'Gods' above us are using! However, what we have covered so far is only the scene-setter. For me, the real 'meat' of this article is the preparation Steve employs when setting up his hooks. He describes below, in detail, how he ties and then stores them.

  • Drennan hook tyer
  • Large sea weight (half-kilo/1lb)... Honest!
  • Black box lid (to see the nylon against)
  • Pair of scissors
  • Daylight craft lamp with magnifying glass.
Steve pulls a length of line off the spool, enough to tie a hooklength. He then places the heavy sea weight on top of the spool to stop it moving!
  1. Securing the hook in the tyer, Steve places it quite deep, leaving only the top of the shank and the spade showing
  2. He then loops the line around the back of the hook tyer. NB: Various hook tyers can work in slightly different ways. What works on a Drennan/Stonfo will not be quite the same on a Matchman
  3. Starting to wind the line onto the shank of the hook, Steve always starts at the SPADE END of the hook and winds the line DOWN the shank. This gives him a much neater finish and more secure knot, which doesn't need to be slid back up the shank, to the spade, because you started at the spade end
  4. Having finished the line in the loop tyer, he gently pulls the line tight around the hook
  5. The loose tag is then trimmed back at the end of the hook. The advantage of this is that the tag is in line with the shank of the hook, and not sitting at an angle to the shank, as it would be when you tie the turns from the bottom of the shank towards the spade end.

Steve always ties his hooks onto the line first, then measures off an adequate amount of line prior to tying a loop (for those anglers who use systems like the Pierotti to tie hooks, this is the opposite way round)! When using a hook tyer, there is always a small percentage of give as you tighten the line. If you have already put a loop on the line before tying the hook, it means that you cannot necessarily get the measure of each hooklength the same every time, even if you whip from the top of the shank down, as Steve does. To get his hooklength measure identical time after time, Steve uses a Rive hook board and the ingenious Sensas Easy Loop tyer. The instructions for using this incredible loop tying 'gizmo', may seem complicated at first, but match them up with our special slideshow opposite and you'll be amazed at just how easy it is to tie perfect loops and lengths... just like Steve. But first you'll need a few items!
  • A rig storage tray, to get the exact length of rigs you need. Rive hook boards fits neatly into Steve's Milo trays
  • A Sensas Easy Loop tyer
  • The same lamp and black background used for tying hooks
  • A pair of small scissors

This is how Steve ties his loops
(We include once more, the slideshow produced in part two)

Authors note:
I've been using the Sensas Easy Loop tyer for years, but until I saw Steve using one, I didn't realise that there was a better and more accurate way of doing it. I'd previously followed the instructions from the tyers packaging... and while this seemed quick and easy, there was always a chance that the line could become kinked at the finish.

Steve’s method takes a little bit of practice to get right and it took me about 5 minutes to understand it properly. However, once you grasp how it works, it's a very accurate system for setting loops and hooklengths... and it doesn't twist the hooklengths like my original method!

If you’ve never used this tyer before, you could be forgiven for feeling an element of apprehension! Trust me, once you overcome the initial fear, the Easy Loop will prove INDISPENSABLE. Any angler serious about getting hooklengths standardised, with uniform lengths and neat loops, should get one as soon as possible, they're not that expensive! What sort of 'egg-head' worked out the shape of this plastic hook which is capable of tying perfect loops... EVERY TIME, is beyond my comprehension? Whoever this 'crackpot' angling genius is, I'm sure he must have hair like Einstein and cry out !!!EUREKA!!! every couple of hours when he thinks of something new!

Storing hooklengths
For all his pole rigs, Steve uses Rive hook boards, which come in three sizes; 19, 26  and 28mm and are a modular system which fit within his Milo trays. You can shorten or increase hooklengths by using the adjustable pegs provided on each board.

For stillwater and canal fishing, as well as for carp on commercials, Steve uses the smaller two hook boards. I've mentioned about this earlier in the series, but it's worth repeating it again while we are discussing hooklengths. Steve talked about how he is constantly trying to 'tighten' rigs by reducing the spaces between the dropper shots so he can maintain shorter hooklengths. What he wants is the bait to settle quickly and the dropper shot to be as close to the hook as the fish will accept it. This is so bites show up clearer and more positive. It is the fish who dictate how 'tight' Steve can set a rig... the more the fish respond, the tighter a shotting pattern will become. In general, there are no particular hard and fast rules regarding the exact measures of hooklengths required for any given venue. In any event, its good practice to carry the same pattern hooks in both short and longer hooklengths, and then see how the fish respond on the day. If they will take the short hooklength, say 16cm with the dropper shot close... then fine, if not... then switch to a longer length.

Small modular hook boards can have a number of advantages over the more traditional large wooden hook boxes. Given the variety of venues that Steve fishes, he can have a selection of hook boards ready at home and simply take what he needs for each particular venue. However, it should be noted that unlike many continental anglers who use their quiet winter months to prepare for a coming season, Steve fishes matches ALL YEAR round. He therefore tends to prepare for one match at a time, spending several hours prior to each match, tying hooks and getting the hook boards ready for that particular venue. Whatever Steve doesn't use, can be then re-cycled for any future match.

Another advantage of these small boards, is that all your hooks are not in one large wooden box. If a wooden box becomes wet, many hours of painstaking work will be ruined, not to mention the financial cost. However, these large hooklength boxes still have a place in Steves preparation system, but are confined to storing his slider and big waggler hooklengths (above). "They haven’t yet made seat box trays wide enough for these hooklengths yet!" Steve wryly comments.

Using hook boards
Here are a few helpful suggestions from Steve, to help you when setting up your own boards:
  • Always mark the diameter and hook size on stickers beside each board. This is important because you'll never remember what you’ve tied! It's also very difficult to tell a 0.07 line from 0.084 when you're on the bank. Steve doesn't bother noting the hook pattern, as he recognises it straight away
  • Place the loop on the peg board first and then the hook. Provided you had the line tight when measuring off the distance for your loop, each hook should sit quite tightly on the peg board
  • Store duplicate hooklengths on the same pegs. You should easily get 10 hooks on each peg
  • Finally, a minor but very useful tip.... Steve always puts a short length of silicone sleeving over the top of the pegs, just above the hooks. This is to stop any hooks pinging off, should you accidently drop the board.
In conclusion, over the course of this series, Steve has constantly displayed a pragmatic approach to tackle by placing his faith in products he is familiar with. However, this doesn't restrict him when it comes to experimenting and pushing the bounds of innovation further in the pursuit of success. Without doubt, Steve epitomises the whole principle of preparation, for without that, Steve Gardener would quite simply not be Steve Gardener!!!

Many years ago I asked Steve what it took to get to the top in angling, his answer was simply three words... Dedication, Talent and PREPARATION. He reckoned that for every 5 hour match, he'd put in 5 hours preparation. I hope our insight into one of the world's finest technicians has given you 'food for thought' and will, in some way, help improve your own journey through angling's competitive ranks.

Finally, would like to thank Steve for his time and frankness in preparing this series of articles. He is, without doubt, one of the most gifted and respected anglers this country has ever produced... a supreme ambassador for English angling across the world.