If the breeze is strong and your fly casting weak, or you simply want to try to catch the biggest trout in the lake, rudder fishing has a lot going for it, says Robbie Winram.
WHAT IS RUDDER FISHING?
Fishing the rudder in its simplest form is wind-assisted boat fishing! Even if you couldn't cast a fly rod you could feed line out behind the boat as it drifted downwind and have as much chance of catching a fish as the best caster in the world.
The angler is in control of the boat’s direction at all times, using the rudder rather like a steering wheel. In this way he can fish directly over particular marks and features, slow the boat down by tacking across the wind in very windy conditions, and fish the flies for longer at a given depth.
Anglers can cover huge areas of the reservoir in a very short time, enabling them to pinpoint where the fish are feeding.
Competition anglers often use rudder sessions to find out roughly where the fish are and at what depth they are feeding, before going out to fine-tune their tactics for the actual competition when they will switch to loch-style tactics (rudder fishing not being allowed in international rules events).
In very strong winds, loch style fishing (casting broadside from a drifting boat) is problematic because the boat is trying to overtake the line and you have to speed up your retrieve to keep in touch with your flies.
The result is that the flies will spend hardly any time in the killing zone. With rudder fishing you don’t have these problems and the fly will be fishing at a constant depth (as long as the wind isn’t changing in direction or strength).
STANDARD RUDDER FISHING
LOCH-STYLE FISHING WITH SINKING FLY LINE
For the beginner/novice you don’t have to be an Olympic caster to succeed. You can cover large areas of water very quickly to try and find the fish. It's possible to fish the flies at a given depth and speed for as long as your run allows, unless the wind speed changes.
In windy conditions a rudder fisherman will be able to fish much deeper and for longer than when loch-style fishing, for example.
You are also targeting bigger overwintered fish and large resident browns, using big flies.
Finally, your line is nearly always taut, so you're in direct contact with the flies and can feel takes.
You need a good wind – there is no point rudder fishing in a flat calm as the boat won’t move.
Controlling the rudder well takes experience. If you do hit fish you have to be confident you can retrace your steps exactly on the next run, which is difficult if wind speed and direction keeps changing.
With such long lines out of the back of the boat you can often get indications that turn into nothing. Just leave the line where it is and wait for a more positive take.
THE RUN DOWNWIND
Motor out to your chosen location, position the boat so the wind is hitting the stern (engine end), cut the motor and lower the rudder into the water.
The rudder can be held in place by a fixing screw already attached to the rudder, or by pushing a large piece of foam between the rudder handle and the rim of the boat.
If there are two anglers in the boat and both are right-handed they now need to assume their positions – one sitting slightly to the left of the engine, facing the stern (he can also man the rudder).
The other can be on the next seat of the boat towards the bow and facing out to the right.
This positioning allows both anglers to cast without hitting each other, and for safety reasons you can also see each other.
Communication between the two anglers is vital – as one casts he must tell the other what he is doing.
Strip all the line off the reel into the bottom of the boat, then make your cast, shooting the line out.
Casts don’t have to be long but it's important that your leader is absolutely straight so the fly does not get fouled up.
As soon as the line is out, start feeding more line out by hand and by wiggling the tip of the rod. Once your required length of line is out, point the rod directly down the line. Don't hold it at an angle or you could quite easily miss any takes.
In any case, it puts an immense amount of strain on your rod arm.
There are many styles of fishing on the rudder, the most common being “cast out and hang on” and “cast out and retrieve”.
With the first, the line is simply pulled along by the boat's speed, and all the angler has to do is hang on and feel for any takes. Often these are quite positive, with a definite movement on the rod tip.
The second method involves the angler physically retrieving the line - medium or slow pulls, hand over hand or roly poly.
When all the line is back in the boat, recast and repeat. In strong winds, slow your run by setting the rudder at a slightly different angle so you are tacking across the wind.
Another successful method is to control the rudder so you run parallel to the bank, following features such as drop-offs and particular known marks.
At the end of a run don’t just pull up the rudder, pull the lines in and motor back upwind. Turn the rudder so the boat comes round in a big arc. One of the most productive times to take fish is as the lines come around this corner and the boat is broadside to the wind.
POSITIONS FOR TWO RIGHT-HANDED ANGLERS FISHING THE RUDDER METHOD
DEPTH IS CRITICAL
You may be extremely lucky and know the exact depth at which the fish are feeding. But if you only know the rough depths, each angler should fish a different density of line. If you don’t find the fish with these, keep trying different ones until you hit the fish.
FIND A MARKER
Before you start a run, look behind you and pick a marker point, either a tree or building on the bank, or a buoy on the water. Then look in front and pick an aiming point.
Once you set off on the run, keep on this line so that when you find fish you can go back to the beginning of the run, line up your front and back marker points and repeat it. But don’t forget that even the slightest change in wind speed or direction will throw you off course. That said, it's a great technique. Enjoy.
TYPES OF RUDDER
Commercially-made rudders are very few and far between and it is mostly custombuilt models made to the angler’s own specifications that are used. The materials involved in the construction vary from stainless steel, aluminium alloy and tubular steel for the shaft, handle and clamp assembly to marine ply and aluminium sheeting for the blade.
Sparton Tackle sell the Richard Holmesdesigned Universal Rudder at £100. This model has a long shaft, so it will fit most boats and can be moved out of the way when you are repositioning the boat.
The best advice is to talk to a rudder angler when you next visit a reservoir, and find out where he got his own from.
An alloy rudder is very lightweight, so for portability it can’t be faulted. When operating in the boat, there is not a lot of weight in the shaft so it can be manoeuvred very easily. This type of rudder would be fine for use in light to moderate winds.
However, many seasoned rudder anglers prefer something more robust with a good bit of weight behind it, such as a solid steel rod for the shaft, and galvanised plate for the blade. This does make it heavy to carry about and set up on the boat, but in medium to strong winds it offers more control and stability.
The best rudders are the ones that you can tilt up out of the water so they are out of the way when you want to motor round to a new position. The more basic designs only allow you to pull the rudder up to a new level, leaving it still sitting in the water.
Rudders either come with an integral clamp that attaches to the rear of the boat, or a face plate which you attach to the boat with two heavy-duty G-clamps.
Sparton Tackle rudder (left) which is attached with G-clamps (centre). On the right is a custom-made rudder with a clamp fixed to the rudder shaft.
ATTACHING THE RUDDER
Custom made rudder fixes onto a reinforced
back plate on the boat.
Slide rudder clamp over back plate and tighten
Sparton rudder has a separate clamp
which attaches with a G-clamp.
Slide rudder shaft down into place in
the clamp plate.
RODS FOR RUDDER FISHING
Rods will have to cope with a wide range of big lure patterns, heavyweight lead core lines and medium to strong wind conditions, so use 9ft-10ft rods in AFTM 9-13. There are specialist rods built for rudder fishing (Sparton Tackle do the General, £179; or Imperator and Beastmaster, both £189).
Alternatively, look at pike and saltwater rods that fit into this category. Suggestions are the Greys Platinum XD Saltwater (£270-£300); Snowbee Deep Blue series (£135-£150; and Fox Predator XS Fly (£60).
Some of the heavier rated rods have an extra cork handle (called a fighting handle) fitted to the blank to enable you to use more leverage.
If you are using a lead core line sheathed in braid it can be incredibly hard on your rod rings, so if you are getting a custom-built rod ask for fully-lined Seymo or Fuji guides.
Because of the size of lines and backing required, a large capacity reel is essential. For instance, a Kerplunk lead core line would just eat up the space on a 7-8 large arbor reel so I use one rated 9-11. Most fish will be played off the reel so it is not necessary to have the most technically advanced disc drag on the market. It's down to personal preference.
A cassette type reel is a good choice. The spare spools are relatively inexpensive so you can have a selection of lines already spooled to hand, and because they don’t have a handle attached you can store a lot of spools in a relatively small space.
A good quality hook hone, either whetstone or ceramic, is a must for sharpening hooks. If fishing deep you often catch bottom, which will blunt hooks. So check them frequently and hone to keep them sharp.
Use long-nosed forceps or long-nosed pliers to remove hooks from predators like pike or zander. A protective glove is useful for protection from pike teeth!
Don’t even think about trying to bite through 12lb-15lb leaders with your teeth! Make sure you have a good pair of snips in your pocket.
This is where it does get technical! You can use intermediate, slow sinking, medium sinking and fast sinking lines for rudder fishing but often they would be in heavier AFTM ratings than for loch-style fishing, so look at 9 weights and heavier.
But what you wouldn’t use for loch-style fishing are lead core lines – which are ideal for rudder fishing when the fish are lying very deep, or in a strong wind when the boat is being pushed along really quickly.
The lines I carry to cover various depths and wind conditions are:
Slow intermediate 0.5 IPS (inches per second)
Fast intermediate 1.5 IPS
Strato Neutral (Sparton Tackle)
WetCel II, medium sink, dark green, sink rate of 2-3.25 IPS
Strato Medium (Sparton Tackle)
Di-3, medium sink, brown, sink rate of 3 IPS
Di-3 Forty Plus Expert, medium sink, brown head, grey intermediate running line, sink rate of 3 IPS
Strato Quick (Sparton Tackle)
Di-5, fast sink, charcoal grey, 5 IPS
WetCel IV (Hi-speed Hi-D), fast sink, dark green, 3.25 to 6.5 IPS
Strato Booby (Sparton Tackle)
Di-7, extra fast sink, black, 7 IPS
Tungsten Terror (Sparton Tackle)
Di-8, super fast, black 8 IPS
Two WetCel IV (Hi-D) fast sink lines joined back to back (pictured right). Link with braid loop and whipped. Two Di-7, extra fast sink lines joined back to back.
● All the above are full lines and mainly weight forward profiles. But if you don’t want the expense of buying a full line you could use a shooting head instead.
Cortland Kerplunk lead core (100yds, 27lb), braided nylon sheath, different colour every 10 yards
Cortland lead core, vinyl coated 13 grain/ft
Four of the best
This a huge number of lines that I have collected over a number of years. For anyone starting out in rudder fishing I would narrow the selection down to four – Fast intermediate, WetCel II or Di-3, WetCel IV Hi-D or Di-7, and a lead core.
Probably the most used is braided nylon, as it is thicker than most and fairly easy to handle when retrieving. Because it is hollow, lines can be attached by pushing them down the centre of the braid and then whipping over the top and glueing in place for a very neat join.
Big flies call for heavy leaders to turn them over on the cast, and you could also be connecting with some big fish – not always rainbows and browns. Zander and pike are also a possibility! There is no reason to go for the more expensive fluorocarbons. I would use standard 10lb- 15lb monofilament.
I would have no problem in being restricted to just three styles of fly when rudder fishing. In different colours and sizes these could cover all eventualities.
First in the box would be a selection of threeinch or larger Rutland Sparklers fitted with either size 8 Partridge Big Mouth double hooks or a size 2-4 TMC 811S stainless steel single hook. Take note, many waters do not allow trebles.
Second choice would be a slight variation on the Rutland Sparkler - the Friendly’s Tube – that incorporates Ethafoam tied in and around the tube. This gives it a certain amount of buoyancy and changes the way it swims, especially on the retrieve.
Another Sparkler variation, and my third choice, is the Waggle Tube.
Each fly has a small section of silicone rubber tubing pushed over the back of the tube. Once the leader material is threaded down through the tube, the hook is tied on and the leader pulled back so the hook fits snugly into the soft silicone tubing, almost hidden by the dressing.
A selection of Rutland Sparkler tubes and multi-hooked tandems ranging in size from 3-6in.
THREE GENTLE REMINDERS...
At most fisheries catch and release is not allowed with rudder, trolling, or side oar fishing, mainly because the fish are being caught at great depths and are unlikely to survive if returned.
Check the fishery rules that rudder fishing is allowed. At the stern of the boat, to one side of the outboard motor, there should either be a reinforced fibreglass, alloy or marine ply panel that the rudder clamps on to. If there isn’t, check with fishery staff.
Most fishery rules do not allow fishing while the engine is running, so motor to your desired position, set the rudder and then cut the engine. Only then can you pay your line out into the water. Before you start your engine at the end of the drift make sure all your lines are retrieved into the boat.