Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Guest blog post - Keith White - Learning to sew, part 2 of a needlefish series

My thanks as always to Keith White for so kindly taking the time to do these guest blog posts and of course for being so open with his knowledge, thoughts and experience. Here is Part 2 of this needlefish series, and make sure to check out Part 1 of this needlefish series here…………

Before we venture further, I hope part one of this insight series opened enough doorways to enthuse the few amongst you who may one day, take these concepts outside of their original context and come up with something new, wonderful and fresh.

Let’s be clear, rod length, line diameter, line materials, retrieve speeds, handle lengths, spool sizes etc ALL make a difference. If you recall, I always advise using ONE set of gear to learn the needlefish lure initially in it’s purest sense. You simply cannot hope to know or ‘guide your lure’ on the path to enlightenment (being eaten) without you and your tackle, being one. We’ll skip this stuff for now but we will cover, rod lengths, reel sizes, lines, lure sizes, casting, the works in the next article as, it does affect the way you can, in effect, present a needlefish. On of my reel favourites is useless at long elliptical swings because it has no backwind for example.

Right now, imagine I’m fishing a slow sink needle, or any lure in a lateral cross current, 13C water and I'm getting a 1 second per foot sink rate. This is not unusual at all and can be achieved easily in a home build lure. I cast, and retrieve. Doesn’t matter how fast, the lure will come back, on the surface or will want to rise to your angling position. Various weighting arrangements might mean the lure comes back level or nose slightly elevated but, the ‘tension’ imparted and your retrieved speed lifts the lure into the least path of resistance. To be blunt, you have created DRAG between the lure, and yourself. In fact, get on a plane and go throw the very same setup in Tokyo based upon what the last article pertained to and and bingo, the lure now wants to sink like a rock! Warmer water is less dense, you’ll have to wind faster to achieve what you saw happen in Jersey, or the UK. I was once roasted by the heathens who suggested anything you buy in a shop must be fit for purpose and yet, suspending lures I was lecturing, didn’t work! They couldn’t work for all the reasons we have covered regards specific gravity, water density and water temperature, drag and a whole other bunch of stuff whose variables alone are seemingly insignificant yet, combined do make an impact.

Specific gravity in any given water temp is what decides sink rate along with hydrodynamic resistance of falling through the medium. This latter effect is why slow jigs of 150g fall slower than knife jigs of the same, even lighter weights. Needlefish are no different in this regard and I have needlefish 2, even 3 and 4oz that will cast against the strongest winds yet, weight in this context doesn’t always mean faster sinking. Remember too, when we say ‘needlefish’ for the purposes of these articles, we mean generally, cross sectional profile of both hard and soft lures used as needlefish. You can potentially load a 7.5” sluggo to an ounce (28g).

You know most lure angling braid floats right? Well, it does. You cast a long cast with a slow sinking needlefish and do NOTHING else other than cast. Let’s suggest 1 foot, per second and our needlefish has a cross section of 1cm. You cast 70 meters…

Note:: Not braid but 10lb fluorocarbon mainline.

Note:: Not braid but 10lb fluorocarbon mainline.

Your line remember, if a mainstream braid, likely floats. Well, 60 or 70 meters of 0.20mm diameter line or whatever has a resistance to sinking all of it’s own and, if you would care to work it all out, actually exceeds by some margin, the hydrodynamics of the lure and it’s wanting to sink by design.

A level sinking lure cannot by the immutable fact it is tethered at the nose, sink level unless, everything in line from rod tip to lure, all sinks at the SAME RATE. Never gonna happen but we can try to achieve ‘best possible’.

Lets step back and examine some really simple concepts. I dropped a massive Easter egg in part one when I mentioned ‘free animation’. Achieving free animation in the context of bass lure fishing, or any lure fishing is as holy a grail as the drag free float in a dry fly or racing a plastic duck down a stream. You have influenced the lure, or the duck and sent it off, but then your every intervention would be as watching the pot boil, or not. Winds blow and leaves, cut grass etc all goes with the wind. We accept it as fact. If something holds, or flies against this wind, it’s either alive, or being manipulated in some way. Seagulls ride on the air currents just as easily as bass ride the ocean currents but how many sparrows do you see riding the same winds?

The leaves are free to blow and tumble and twirl but they are now dead and at the mercy of nature. How many times in autumn have you been driving along a leaf strewn and windswept road and suddenly, something happens to catch your eye? It’s happened to me in the headlights of my car and you realise that, the something odd was not so out of place but, on more than one occasion, turned out to be a mouse of similar size and colour crossing the road. Yet I saw it. Humans are indeed excellent at pattern recognition to the point that even subconsciously, you can pick needles from haystacks likely easier when not aware of the task, better than if your life depended upon it.

Bass and indeed, many fish are no different, just perhaps the fact they don’t need to process such vast amounts of information for something to stand out unlike us where new stuff is almost taken for granted and accepted before we investigate further unless it’s really odd.

Many people, asked a simple question of when is best to fish for bass, say night. Yet it’s taken decades and decades after the fact for lure fishing in the dark to be accepted and adopted by more than the very few. The same is true of free-lining big baits. It’s just accepted that free-lined baits, and live baits are ‘better’. People know, removing tension is good and night offers cover. They have for years and years and rightfully so.

So free animation, in its true sense, is something that moves, but at the will of it’s surroundings. So a drag free float in a dry fly, would be, despite the title, free animation even though, relative to the water’s surface, it clearly cannot move or, it may create the drag which is the bane of the dry fly fisherman.

A maggot under a float, trying to match the free offerings thrown into a river is indeed, borderline free animation as would be a piece of bread crust thrown onto a pond for an awaiting carp. However, tie a line and hook to the bread and, without careful manipulation, the bread is doomed to becoming a prisoner.

Remember that image in part one? You could make lots of mini swings, slowly covering the water like a wet fly angler but, with a needlefish (soft or hard). You could use a minnow too in fact or, simply let the lure follow the flow.

Remember that image in part one? You could make lots of mini swings, slowly covering the water like a wet fly angler but, with a needlefish (soft or hard). You could use a minnow too in fact or, simply let the lure follow the flow.


A senko, used a needlefish in the context utilised by most, is a prisoner. Led by its nose, kept in irons and made to work on the chain gang, it is trapped. It’s liberation however would see the humble senko, do stuff it cannot do, whilst you the warden, hinder it’s natural progress. Let us hypothetically catapult a 6” senko mid river, no into the waves crashing on a shoreline, maybe into the swells lapping the rocks at the base of a nearby cliff. What happens?

Well, look at freshwater bass fishing and senko’s. Most advocates of the senko, and other like bait styles will tell you to let the lure do it’s own thing. Most top pro’s do exactly that yet, go and watch the few in saltwater, like myself or Henry and you might imagine we are indeed, doing the SAME THING but, you’d likely be wrong.

I’m not picking on Henry but it’s his blog, my article and he can take this in the context it’s meant. Henry by admission will cast, usually a white senko and retrieve. This is soft needefishing. Nothing wrong with that, AT ALL. He seems concerned that many marks in the UK lack the currents of Jersey and this in some part, may be true but, as I have said, many places in the UK are faster, stronger regards current. The Menai Strait in particular and I’ve looked around at tidal flow charts, OS maps, Admiralty charts etc and trust me, no-one is a million miles from fairly strong flows anywhere on the British coastline. Even so, whilst current is a big factor, it’s not the whole story and certainly not a prerequisite for needlefish use.

If you cast and LIFT the rod high, feeding line as the lure transitions down flow, you can form short elliptical swings that are more akin to bait fish ‘ferry gliding’ across flows. With care and practice, you could extend this again, using both rod AND the backwind facility of your reel. When we do part 3, I’ll explain how to do all this stuff easily.

If you cast and LIFT the rod high, feeding line as the lure transitions down flow, you can form short elliptical swings that are more akin to bait fish ‘ferry gliding’ across flows. With care and practice, you could extend this again, using both rod AND the backwind facility of your reel. When we do part 3, I’ll explain how to do all this stuff easily.

I might fish where Henry is fishing and be forced to fish in a like for like fashion, you’d think but I’d do stuff different enough yet, subtle enough, the casual observer wouldn’t see it. I’d cast, plop the senko IN and lift the rod high. Henry likely, would not.


This is hypothetical, Henry ‘might do this’, but I doubt it and when I asked him, he said not. However::

Habits formed early on tend to stick but only if you achieve success doing X, Y or Z technique. Some are really lucky in that regard and I have advised a few locals in recent months and a few, dare I say, Welsh... lol and they have nailed it. I’m not there standing behind them but I can tell, from their descriptive recall, that they did indeed, experience what I was pertaining to in my brief. This is great as it shows, some people are having massive success using these passive techniques and they’ll only improve as time marches on. So, no, Henry might cast and crank in a chromatic

fashion and it clearly works, we do that too but, we have shorter, longer and smarter arrows in the quiver too that sometimes, mean the difference between nothing, mediocre or special. Not always easy to figure it all out but follow any craftsman, a joiner maybe and look at the toolkit. Some tools are hardly used but when a specific job arises, nothing else will replace that special chisel..

So, on my cast, into ANY water, that immediate action of lifting the rod top means I can lower it and, in a controlled manner that in turn gives the senko, or whatever, it’s head. We are, for the purposes of this scenario, not fishing strong cross currents but it matters little and my procedural approach is always pretty similar. It has worked so often, I’ve got to find something so much better to change this approach. Anyway, I digress and so I’m now lowering the rod. An 8ft rod, lifted this way, with line bow and distance can in effect, feed up to 15ft of very lightly tensioned braid to the lure. When said braid first contacts the water, it has little ‘grip’ and will slide somewhat until it becomes more ‘waterlogged’. Basically, though the line will arrest the falling of the senko somewhat, the feeding of the line should be enough, at low to medium ranges to allow said senko to fall in a near free-fall if lack of wind and / or currents allow.

A free falling senko, is FREE and in free animation. It’s is doing ‘something’, but you aren’t making it do something. Does that make sense. What you DID, allows it to do something not the fact you are doing nothing now. Wow, sorry... Mind bending right, almost time warped interstellar stuff. Throw in a free senko and watch it fall, it falls, leaf like. Add the right hook and once more, it falls, a bit more on ‘keel’, but again, leaf like. Bass LOVE THIS.

This is slow jigging 101 directly under a boat or kayak. All this animation and handle turning, rods that give to the jig for a few seconds of perfect, ON THE DROP time.

Yes, ON THE DROP, pure OTD ‘On The Drop’, now referred to forever more as ‘OTD’ is, against a non resistant line or rod top, FREE ANIMATION. What you did before, sets up the free time. It is the most likely time to get hit. Ask any jigger of freshwater or saltwater ilk. I can attest that fishing a maggot under float, a carp pellet falling, a suspended piece of bread flake, a float jigging rig for steelhead, a metal wobbling in a downward straight fall, a needlefish or a fly, moving WITH the currents, is far more likely, overall, to induce a bite OR, setup said lure to than do something that ‘induces a take’. This last line is important, remember it. There will be a test... LOL

A needlefish ‘drifting’ completely freely, isn’t dead. It’ll be sliding against the micro nuanced currents and flows. The surface winds create subsurface eddies, it might be slowly sinking for 2/3rds of the downward drift only to then HAVE to lift, or be forced to lift either by the human interaction or the need to flow around or over a boulder. However, the tension in the tackle has to be light, almost Zen like in contact to give the lure time and the will to follow it’s own path. A swing isn’t a free drift, it’s a controlled one yet, of course it works. A lure thrown in with a loose line might drift great, but you will neither see, nor feel the bite. Something in between, a slight contact, a low tension, an almost imperceivable tension and rod/reel control along with body and arm position will, with practice, allow you to detect and strike at takes and hits others will never feel ... EVER.

It’s how you use the natural world around you, to maintain and maximise this free lure time that can, really can, put bass on the shore or on the decks that before, would have gone bye the bye quite undetected.

This is the concept of ‘free animation’. The knowing something is working, without you over influencing it to do something in a unnatural fashion so it becomes the mouse in the road and not the high beam headlights from the oncoming car.

Let’s look at a few simple ideas and how they can in fact, be used to setup, fish and perhaps induce a bass, or whatever, to play our game. As I mentioned before, your personal end gear and rod length etc will ALL make a difference as to how you approach this and to what results are attained. After a period of learning, it won’t matter so much but to start, remove as many variables as possible and TRY to fish with the same gear until you can honestly say, my lure is A, doing B, at C depth, it’s turning now, a bass just looked at my lure... STRIKE!

I know many will laugh but there have been many, many times, I have sensed, yes even ‘smelled’ bass and / or I’ve said to guys, I’ve gotta get one this run through. It’s your brain doing pattern recognition again and even kicking olfactory memory into gear just like if you are hungry and want a steak bad enough, you might indeed ‘taste it’ when the nearest steak is 3 fields away and still eating grass! You will, over time, accumulate lots of experience, lots of hits and when you replicate said moves in likely, remembered or experienced before scenario’s, you will ‘expect’ a take. You just will, trust me on this. These senses are heightened at night, that much is certain.

Keith White