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Crack The Hemp Code

Although it causes some anglers a world of pain, hemp is undoubtedly one of the most prolific roach-catching baits available. Here, Lee Wright explains how he has made the bait his own…


Sat on the bank in the peaceful tranquillity of the countryside, the fresh air filling your lungs with every breath, the majestic sound of birds tweeting filling your ears and mind, pushing aside the thoughts of the working week you’ve left behind… this is obviously the image most non-anglers have of us crazy fisher folk! 

The truth, though, can be very different. In fact, for any natural-water anglers out there we’re sure there have been times on the bank that have left your blood pressure soaring, the veins in your head pumping and a wave of anger running through your body as the stress of hooking a fish all becomes just a little overwhelming. And how do we know this? Because the chances are at some point you’ve tried to fish hemp! 

Hemp pic 07 pf may 16 hemp
Hemp has a habit of sorting out the better roach.

On the outside hemp looks quite sweet and innocent: it doesn’t wriggle, it doesn’t escape all over the kitchen and the chances are you even get away with cooking it in the house. But the fact is these small, dark, seemingly innocent seeds have caused more bankside misery than all other baits and items of tackle put together! But why?

The reason hemp fishing can be so frustrating is because we all know just how good it can be. We know catching on hemp will produce bigger roach than on any other bait; if it’s a match we know catching on hemp will catapult us up our sections and possibly into the main frame, and it’s this expectation that can be the catalyst for the ultimate headache! 

There is hope, though, and it comes in the shape of Matrix-backed Lee Wright. He’s one of the rare breed who have managed to crack the code, understand the dark art and actually manage to hit a few bites on the stuff. 

We joined him on the Stainforth & Keadby Canal to find out just how he makes something so frustrating, so simple…

I’ve been lucky to have been involved with a great bunch of anglers over the years who’ve taught me a lot about hemp fishing. My team-mate Adrian ‘Higgy’ Higginbottom is possibly one of the best hemp anglers in the country, and has taught me a huge amount about fishing hemp. The two biggest aspects to understanding hemp fishing are feeding and presentation; get these two right and you’ll be well on your way to some huge catches of roach. 


The Rig

The first big choice when it comes to presentation is where you fish your hemp swim. I’ll always fish it as long as I can, so today that’s 16 metres. Big roach are notoriously shy and easily spooked, so by feeding your hemp swim well away from bankside disturbance you give yourself an immediate advantage. 

Hemp pic 23 PF May 16 hemp
You don't have a fish too light, even when the canal is clear.


With swim choice decided on it’s then down to rig choice. Now rig choice for hemp fishing is a massively debated topic and everyone has their own opinion; some favour really light 4x10 and 4x12 rigs while others favour a heavier, slightly more positive rig. I’m 100 per cent in the heavier rig camp, but with a slightly more delicate shotting pattern than most. 

Hemp pic 21 pf may 16 hemp
Don't be afraid to cut down a float to make it right for the job.

Today I’ve set up a 4x16 float that I’ve doctored slightly by cutting down the stem and the tip, which helps it to settle and fish quicker than a longer float. It’s the shotting, though, that makes this rig so effective. I shot it with 21 No11s, all set at a measured 1½in spacing above my hooklength. This then gives my bait a very controlled and natural fall in much the same way as a lighter rig would, but gives me much more control and enables me to always be in control of the rig, something we’ll come onto later. 

Hemp pic 17 pf may 16 hemp
Time-consuming but perfect presentation.

My main line for this rig is 0.10mm Matrix Power Micron to a 0.08mm hooklength and a fine-wire size 16 hook finishes off the rig.



Hemp pic 05 pf may 16 hemp
Switching to hemp immediately brought a better stamp of fish.


Catching on hemp is all about preparation; it’s like a game of chess in that you need to be thinking 10 moves ahead. I never try fishing my hemp swim until at least halfway through a match, but it’s the two to three hours of careful feeding that’ll put you in a position where you can hopefully drop on it and catch straightaway. 

I always put a bed of hemp (around 150ml) down at the start, as I feel this then gives the fish an area to settle over and creates a main catching area. The hemp I feed is the Dynamite Baits tinned variety and I really don’t think it can be bettered due to the amount of oil and attractants it gives off. I do, however, always cook my own for hooking to ensure it’s perfect for the hook. 

With the hemp fed I will always then move onto my other swims for the next couple of hours; these could be with bread, worm, caster or bloodworm, but it’s always important to have somewhere else to fish to stop you making one of the biggest mistakes in hemp fishing – going onto it too soon. 

While fishing these other swims it’s vitally important that you NEVER neglect your hemp swim; it’s the commitment to feeding it for the first couple of hours that will lay the foundation to catch on it later. For the first hour I will hardly put the catapult down; I think that in much the same way as pellet fishing it’s the noise that attracts the roach and for this reason, I like to double feed while I’m not actually fishing the swim. By this I mean I’ll feed eight to 12 grains of hemp then straightaway feed the same again – twice the noise, twice the attraction. 

What you’re trying to achieve in those first couple of hours is to attract as many roach as possible into your swim; you want a lot of feed to attract a lot of fish and draw them in from those around you who aren’t feeding as regularly. This does create a problem, though, with lots of fish competing and darting around all over trying to grab the falling hemp. As I said, getting the feeding right is really important so for 10 to 15 minutes before I go on the hemp for the first time I’ll start to cut my feedback, feeding just once and with slightly less hemp. This is my way of calming the fish down and hopefully making them less erratic. 

Hemp pic 09 pf may 16 hemp
Starting on bread gave Lee time to prep his hemp swim.

The first time I drop my rig in the swim I’m looking for it to settle, wait a second or two and the float just slip away and I’m into a fish. If I’m getting little touches and no proper bites the chances are the fish aren’t quite ready and it’s always best to leave it another 20 to 30 minutes before you go on it again, to give the fish time to settle. 


Going Shallow

When you do finally start to get a few positive bites it’s important to catch them at the right depth. The biggest reason most anglers miss so many bites is that they’re fishing too deep; I can only liken it to fishing shallow for carp – fish too deep and you’ll struggle to catch properly, get it right and you’ll get one a put. Hemp fishing is no different. 

If I’m missing bites I’ll keep shallowing up three to four inches at a time until I’m hitting bites and hooking the fish neatly in the top lip. If you stop getting bites you’ve come too shallow and the roach just aren’t willing to come that high. 

What I’m looking for is a big shoal of roach sat just off the bottom and my hook bait just above them; that way the confidently feeding fish will come up and take my bait, giving a positive and hittable bite.

It sounds simple and it really is. The only two things that can affect your catch rate are the feeding and the presentation; all the work with the feeding is done before you go on the swim, so all you have to worry about is getting the presentation right. 


The Session

Today I’ve started on bread and caught a few small roach and a switch to caster has brought a couple of small skimmers and a few rudd, but I’ve been constantly feeding the hemp line and after two-and-a-half hours I’ve started to cut my feed right back in preparation of going on it. 

The first look produces three small roach but also a couple of missed bites, which gives me the impression the fish aren’t quite ready. Twenty minutes later, though, and it’s a different story – the float is settling nicely and slipping away giving a confident bite and I’m missing very few. 

After every few fish on my main feed, I’m flicking my rig well past this area and fishing what is effect 17 metres. This is the benefit of having the heavier rig with a long line above the float, as I’d struggle to do this with a lighter setup. It’s the bigger fish that often hang back away from the main feeding area, and as long as you don’t try this trick too often it nearly always produces a net fish. 

I manage a great run for 30 minutes before a few missed bites are the signal to shallow up. I’m now fishing 18 inches off the bottom and getting positive bites again and my catch rate soars, so much so that I switch from a No5 to a No6 elastic, enabling me to swing more fish and really catch quicker. 

I have a brilliant couple of hours catching a lot of roach and by constantly altering my depth – sometimes being as much as nearly three feet off the bottom – I continue to catch and miss very few bites. I’ve kept my feeding regular at around 10 grains every couple of minutes and just altered the depth to keep in touch with the fish

In five hours I’ve managed to put over 15lb of roach in the net, and had this been a match I’m sure that a catch like that would have won me a bit of money today.

As frustrating as hemp fishing can be, the rewards really can be brilliant and hopefully, by following some of the advice in this feature you can not only put a few extra fish in your net but also lower your blood pressure – just what the doctor ordered. 


Hooking Hemp 

Hemp pic 11 PF May 16 hemp
1. Insert the hook into the slit of a slightly open grain of hemp


Hemp pic 13 pf may 16 hemp
2. Roll the hemp onto the hook so the hook point pops back out, in a much the same way you'd hook a pellet.


Hemp pic 15 pf may 16 hemp
3. The size 16 hook is well hidden but still with plenty of hook point showing!

The best way to hook the hemp and be confident that it won’t fall off is to insert the hook into the slit and then roll the hemp onto the hook so the hook points pops back out, in much the same way you’d hook a pellet. The size 16 hook is well hidden but still with plenty of hook point showing. 


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