My friend and myself have used leadheads for many years, catching a surprising variety of fish. The following description is how we use them. Hope it is of interest and a help.
History of how we arrived at Leadheads
As with most things in life, it wasn’t a sudden flash of inspiration, but a gradual progression of watching others, modifying, then experimenting. I suppose the “development” started with the competitions we fished around the North and Northwest of Scotland. At that time, the main quarry was Cod and Pollack found on the relatively shallow rocky ledges and reefs. The usual tackle was an 6 oz to 8 oz “Scrabster” pirk worked on 30lb nylon, matched to an uptider rod and small to medium multiplier. We also started regularly fishing the Isle of Skye for the reef Pollack found around the island. The “Scrabster” pirk worked there, but was serious overkill, as there was no need for such a heavy lure. At that time there were few pirks available commercially. You either made your own, or took out a second mortgage and bought some Abu imports. We ended up making our own moulds to make pirks from 2 oz up to 6 oz. Of course the Pollack were not just found under the boat. It was common practice to cast the pirk away from the boat, and then to retrieve it back, covering as much of the water as possible. The catch rate was good, but we felt that it could be better, and we were still losing too many pirks on the bottom. As someone else said, a pirk with a treble attached makes a good anchor. We wanted a lure that would “work” better in the water column, and one that we could retrieve slower. To get the pirk to work, we had to retrieve it pretty fast, and it would pass through the area that the fish were frequenting far too fast for our liking. Then I saw an old American TV program, I think on an early SKY channel, where our American cousins were fishing for large mouth bass or something similar. It showed them fishing tiny leadheads with rubber worms fitted. An underwater shot showed the lures action and it looked a lot better than what we were doing. The question now was how to adapt these to our sea fishing and to actually get some. A business friend was able to import for us some leadheads and rubber worms from “Cabelas” in the States. The worms were fine but the leadheads were far too light. The only option was once more to make our own. In fact the leadhead mould was easier to make than the standard pirk moulds. From the first try, the leadheads have really improved our catches.
As I have already explained above, our leadhead was really developed for our Isle of Skye Pollack fishing. Several years ago, we decided that we would also like to go back and try some conventional cod fishing again. We had experimented at Whitby with conventional pirks a few years earlier with mixed success. We didn’t want to go back to Whitby again for the travel times (5 hours), so ended up at Amble with Dave Builth on the Upholder.
I was always personally dubious about pirking. Too much hard work for me, having to continuously work the lure vertically up and down. The pirk they say is supposed to represent an injured fish. What the cod thinks of an “injured fish” that is flashing up and down six to eight feet at a rapid rate of knots, only they can tell. “Bloody Hell” must be close to the top of the list along with “What the hell was that”. From our experience at Whitby, a lot of fish caught were foul hooked, and many fish that “came off” halfway up, in hindsight, were probably foul hooked in the body, with the hooks tearing out. We didn’t really want to go back to that again.
What was needed was a lure that could realistically simulate a small fish injured or not, and one that could be fished relatively slowly close to the bottom without excessive losses. We already had the leadhead we used for Pollack, but we had always fished it mid-water. We had never considered bumping it along the bottom for cod. However, we gave it a go. From the first it has proven to be a really effective way of taking cod, and the expected heavy losses in the rocks didn’t materialize.
What is a Leadhead?
Excuse me if I am telling you something you already know. This is really for the guys who may not have come across a leadhead before.
It’s basically a moulded lead slug into which is fitted a single upward mounted hook. To attach the line, a wire loop is fitted into the body forward of the hook. You can either tie the line direct to the loop or fit a swivel via a split ring. How you “decorate” the leadhead is up to yourself. I usually Plasticote mine in the colours shown, but I am sure they are probably just as effective left as bare metal.
Nowadays, there are companies in the UK from where you can buy moulds to make your own leadheads. (http://www.fishingweightmolds.com) They are expensive, but seem to look ok. As I said above, we made our own. One main reason was to be able to choose the size and type of hook fitted. We personally use “Gerry’s Own” 6/0 Aberdeen’s from Gerry’s of Morcombe. They are cheap and cheerful with the advantage of being quite “soft”. If you snag the bottom with the hook point, you can often break out with the hook springing free. Retrieve back to the boat, re-bend the hook, touch up the hook point with a hone if blunt, check the nylon link, and away you go again.
The head is usually fitted with some kind or rubber lure. The photo shows a 4” grub worm. The colours are meant to imitate a small fish that forms part of the cod’s normal diet such as blennies, butterfish, etc. If I was fishing specifically for Pollack I would probably use an 8” black/orange firetail worm. You could try twintails, muppets, or even artificial eels. You are limited only by your imagination, but bear in mind that it is the movement in the “tail” that attracts the fish. You can even use bait with the leadhead, doing away with the rubber worm. I will explain this a little later.
Limitations of leadheads
Before I go any further, I must emphasize that the leadhead is not the all conquering panacea that will replace all other fishing methods. It does have many limitations.
- It is a lure, and lures require the fish to see them. Coloured water makes them useless when fitted with rubber worms.
- It is a fairly lightweight lure. The ones we use are slightly under 3 oz. If you want to fish them hard on the bottom, you need relatively shallow water, a slow drift, or a compatible combination of both. Casting may become essential.
- Being lightweight, it needs the use of lightweight tackle to use them effectively. Some may see this as a disadvantage, but I love it when a good fish starts tearing line off the reel.
- Because the tackle tends to be lightweight, reel drags must be set correctly and the last 2 feet of line has to be checked constantly for nicks and wear.
- Leadheads, because of the upward mounted hook, surprisingly snag very little on the usual rocky bottom that is fished. However, if you fish around kelp, prepare to lose a lot. In rocks you can often spring the lure out, but when the point embeds into a kelp stalk, you invariably lose it.
Tackle used & Tactics of use
The light weight of the leadhead ideally requires lightweight tackle. It can be used as a straight “up and down” lure similar to a pirk, but casting opens up more possibilities.
There are several reasons for casting. I am sure we have all been on a boat with little wind, no current, resulting in next to no drift. The only fish we see are the ones which swim up to the boat. If there are ten anglers on the boat then you can expect a tenth of what comes along. Being totally selfish, I like to improve my chances. If you are casting away from the boat, then you are covering a great deal more water improving your chances greatly. Likewise, consider what is happening down on the seabed. Your fellow anglers, most of whom are likely to be using bait, are providing a nice scent trail for the fish to follow back to the boat. If you are casting in front of your fellow anglers, then you get the first pickings of what they have unwittingly attracted. As I said, I am a little selfish.
The other main reason for casting is to combat excess drift of the boat. Sometimes it is necessary to be able to cast uptide so that the lure can get down to the bottom in the fish holding zone. Simply dropping it straight down will only cause it to stream away on the tide, never getting near to the seabed. Bear in mind, however, that fish are not always caught hard on the bottom. Streaming can also be effective.
I personally use a six foot light boat rod rated 15lb to 20lb. On the rod I have a Penn fixed spool reel loaded with 14 lb nylon. The reason for the six foot rod is safety. When casting, the lure should always remain outside of the gunwales, and if you are fishing the middle of the boat, the six foot length will allow you an underhand cast without inconveniencing your fellow anglers too much.
Recent trips have resulted in a few “dropped” fish. I am reasonably convinced that the fish have not taken the hook point. The stretch in 50 yards of light mono is quite appreciable. I will be experimenting with a light spinning multiplier (Abu 5000) filled with 16lb braid to see if I can reduce these escapees. I might even consider loading the fixed spool reel with braid.
How to fish a Leadhead
Like any kind of fishing, for any type of fish, you need to get your hook where the fish are. We have caught Pollack hard on the bottom and also when about to lift the lure out of the water at the side of the boat. Likewise, when there were fry about, we have caught Cod in mid-water, and not just on the bottom. The first thing to appreciate, is, that if the lure is in the water, you have a chance of catching a fish. This includes the outwards drop/cast of the lure, plus the return retrieve back to the boat. It’s not just down on the bottom that you catch fish. The following comments assume you are using a rubber worm, shad, etc on the leadhead.
1. Fishing on the downwards drop
If you are lucky enough to be fishing a reef or “peaky” rock mark, there can often be Pollack about. If you are looking for Cod on the bottom, why not see if you can tempt a Pollack on the way down. The way I personally do it, is by casting the leadhead away from the boat, where possible, at right angles to the drift. When the lure hits the water, I let the reel free-spool paying out line. After releasing 10-15 yards, I close the reel bale-arm. The lure is still dropping but the current has now pulled the released line round in a curve. The drag of this line curve slows down the rate of sink of the lure. The current has also pulled the lure around “head on”, and its curl tail starts to flutter. You now have to watch the line as it drops to the bottom. If the line suddenly tightens or suddenly slackens before you expect it to hit the bottom, you may have contacted a fish. Tighten up and see.
2. Fishing on the bottom
As they say, there’s more than one way of skinning a cat. How you work the leadhead on the bottom is up to you. Bear in mind it is the action of the rubber tail which attracts the fish, so if it is sitting on the bottom, it’s not catching fish. If I have cast the lure away from the boat, I work if back again using a sink and draw motion, bouncing it off the bottom. I reel in the lure lifting it off the bottom. The amount of retrieve governs how high off the bottom it comes. Note that the higher up you go, the better the chance of a Pollack. I then let the lure drop back down to the bottom under it’s own weight. I often jerk the rod tip a few inches during this time to give the lure little jerky movements. When the lure hits bottom again, I repeat the reel-in and drop until the lure is under the boat.
If you haven’t cast, but dropped it down vertically, you are now in the same position as above after retrieving the lure back to the boat. If the drift is not too bad, and you can do so without tangling with your fellow anglers, you can work the leadhead from this position as well. The main thing to remember is that the fitted rubber worm works in the lightest of currents with minimum rod movement. It’s not a pirk. You can lift the rod tip gently up and down moving the lure in your targeted depth. If you want to impart a little extra movement, then SMALL jerky movement of the rod tip will do this. Don’t overdo it. If the current is a little stronger, then you can sink-and-draw the lure away from the boat. It’s simply the reverse of sink-and-draw towards the boat.
3. Fishing on the way up
The simple rule is don’t retrieve too fast. Give a fish a chance if there’s one out there. Vary the retrieve rate, even stopping the retrieve occasionally. Let out a little line every so often if you want. It’s easy as that.
Other ways to use a Leadhead
Although leadheads are normally used with a rubber worm, shad, etc, it can be used with bait instead. Think of it like a baited pirk. We’ve caught ling on a leadhead baited with fish strip, as well as cod. If you cast a baited leadhead, its worth wrapping a couple of turns of elastic around the bait to keep it in place. Work the baited leadhead on or near the bottom.
Important things to remember
When you bump leadheads along the bottom you end up occasionally snagging. I already mentioned checking the hook point and the first two feet of nylon from the lure. This really is important. It’s not funny when you know you’ve a good fish on and the nylon snaps.
IMPORTANT. Your reel has an adjustable drag. Make sure it’s set correctly. Light line and tight drags means only lost fish.
We really hope this helps those who would like to try fishing leadheads from a boat. They really do work and give a lot of fun (and panic at times). And there’s always the satisfaction from catching fish using a lure that you’ve made yourself.
Ps. If you fish the shore where there is deep water close in, try the leadhead for shore Pollack. It works there too. Lastly, if you want mackerel, don’t use it. For some reason mackerel are just not interested.
Tight lines to all.
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