'Testing the water'
Having completed our tests in the tanks and seen a clear difference in the way the maggots were behaving as they fell, it was time to put all that theory into practise. With the help of my Matchangler.com partner, Dave Johnson, we spent a couple of days fishing for some very educated roach in difficult conditions. Dave was involved right from the start in carrying out this article and we both fished to the same rules, these were:
  1. We would feed only loose maggots
  2. We would only fish red maggot on the hook.
  3. Throughout each session we would change how we hooked the maggots and the pattern of hooks we used.
  4. We could fish for the roach on or off the bottom... depending on how they responded to the fed.

Our findings proved very interesting and enlightening. But first let me tell you a bit about where we fished:

Big Test venues
There are a lot of good winter roach fisheries in the South of England, but many of them are 'clay' waters where the water remains coloured all year. I did not want this because we had to be fishing in clear water where the fish would have a good view of the bait as it fell. So we  selected two fairly deep spring-fed lakes which, because of the spring water, were known for their clarity.

Twynersh, Pit 1
This is the smallest of the venues six lake complex. It contains a lot of roach running up to one kilo, with an average size of 100 grams. In winter the fish are often off the bottom, this is typical of many spring fed venues and if conditions are right they will feed right up in the water. Depths vary from 3 to 5 metres. Dave and I fished in about 3.5 metres of water.

MBK, St. Patrick’s Lane (big lake)
This is one of the best roach fisheries in Southern England. Provided the weather stays cold big bags of roach are always on the cards. Depths from 2.50 to 3.5 metres. Dave and I fished in about 3.0 metres of water. The only danger on this water is carp, which can feed freely if the weather warms up a little. As it turned out the carp were never likely to be a problem on either water as our February weather turned very cold at night and bright and sunny all day.

Test conditions
We fished both test days in very similar weather conditions, during a spell of glorious anticyclonic winter weather. Perfect conditions for being outside... but less perfect for easy fishing!

Temperature:    Around -2° early morning, rising to 10 degrees by mid-afternoon, but feeling much warmer in the sun.
Wind:    Intermittent, slight ripple.
Atmospheric pressure: Given the weather, not surprisingly, the pressure was high!

In many respects we couldn't have asked for better conditions for our test... cold and piercingly bright. Targeting good quality roach in clear water are not easy to catch by any means and presentation would have to be dead right if we were going to do well.

As expected the fishing on both lakes was technically challenging, but productive. In the morning the fish were sitting a few feet off the bottom and would follow a bait down and take it on or near the bottom. We both caught fish on a controlled drop in these bottom inches of water. Interestingly, they would only take a bait on a rig set to full depth! If you shallowed up, even by a couple of centimetres, the bites dried up on all methods.

During the afternoon sunshine the fish moved up higher in the water and on both days we caught well fishing at about a metre deep with a Cralusso Rocket Light wagglers and loosefeeding half a dozen or so maggots every cast. Here's how each of our hooking methods fared, when put in front of the fish.

Classic hooking (through the blunt-end)
We both caught this way, however, the fish seemed in a difficult mood and we both missed bites, especially when we moved up in the water. What was happening was that we were getting lightening fast bites, but at no point was the bait being actually damaged. The roach were proving finicky and just tentatively sucking and rejecting the maggot. This is typical of winter roach in the high pressure conditions, and not once on either visit did we get a proper sucked maggot. Dave spent longer fishing near the bottom than I did and he found that the fish he caught on a normal hooked maggot were all lightly hooked just around the lip area.

Ease of hooking:
Classic hooking was easy and quick... without doubt the fastest way to put a maggot on the hook in our test. Maybe this is just the years of practise Dave and I have had with hooking this way!

Number of bites: We got plenty of bites and the fish were not refusing to take the bait this way, though we rarely got a bite on the drop in the true sense of the word. We had to wait for the waggler to settle when fishing up in the water and then the bait has to hang at the same depth for at least 20 seconds before a bite resulted.

Missed bites: Although we got lots of bites on this classic hooking method, we missed loads of them! The fish were picking up the bait and quickly rejecting it. It was doing our proverbial 'brain's in'... missing three or four bites to every fish is frustrating in the least! I particularly tried all sorts of things, increasing and dropping hook sizes, but the problem remained the same... fast bites, bait untouched! It showed that fish would take the bait hooked this way, but not confidently.

Handle-bar hooking (side-hooked)
This proved to be the most interesting way of hooking maggots, certainly on the pole. Dave and I started to catch bigger roach dropping handle-barred maggots through at full depth. And the fish were not just bigger, they were also hooked much fuller in the mouth, indicating they were taking this bait much better than the more classically hooked ones. Another sign of better presentation was that the bait would come back damaged when hooked this way. But it is not all sunshine and light for the side hooked maggot. When using barbless hooks I bumped a fair few fish on the waggler.

The problem is that as the maggot wriggles on the hook it can move its body up to actually cover the point of the hook. A switch to a micro barb hook sorted this problem out. Although micro barbs are banned on many fisheries we had special permission to use these during our tests. If you are on a 'barbless only' venue, then be aware that a side hooked maggot needs to be hooked very lightly, or there is the potential for the maggot to wriggle round and cover your hookpoint!

Ease of hooking: Not the quickest way of hooking a maggot and a bit fiddly with cold fingers! One advantage of side hooking is you can use a bigger hook with seemingly no real impact on presentation. DJ (being a bit of an old-bandit) tried hooking his maggot using a PR26, size 16 and got a better bite to fish ratio. This larger and finer hook also made it easier to hook up the maggot. I was on a size 18 B511 and this was a bit tricky. However, when I saw what Dave was up to I followed suit. This size of  hook would be much too big for a single maggot hooked classically, but it seemed perfect for hooking handle-bar style!

Number of bites: We got as many, if not more, bites this way than on the classically hooked method. This was true for maggot fished both up and down in the water. The fish freely took baits fished this way and, as we explained, the fish were bigger and better hooked.

Missed bites: Both of us missed a few bites, even with this method. I think, especially up in the water, that the bait tended to fall and sit more naturally and with fish acting suspiciously, this hooking approach proved more positive and resulted in fewer missed bites. As I mentioned above, the difference between missed bites and bumped fish was mainly one of hooks and should not be taken under the 'missed bites' heading. Missed bites tend to be more to do with confident feeding patterns, rather than hooking ones.

Thickly hooked maggots (threaded)
I tried this way of hooking on both lakes, more perhaps than Dave. I found it worked well on the waggler in particular, as it gave a better bite to fish ratio than the other two methods. The fall of maggots hooked this way is less direct than through either end and therefore a little more natural looking to the fish... a sort of 'halfway house' between side and classic hooking. What made the difference for me on the waggler was the fact that the point was not being covered in the same way on barbless hooks so I bumped less fish.

Ease of hooking: This is a bit fiddly... threading the maggot round the shank is certainly harder than just nicking it through the end. Again a bigger hook makes the job easier and a size 16 would not be out of place for fishing a single maggot this way.

Number of bites: I got bites on both pole and waggler bites easily with this style and the fish didn't seem to shy away from the presentation. DJ was more focused on alternating handle-bar with classic hooking, as he continually compared the difference in roach size between the two methods.

Missed bites: I certainly favoured this way of hooking for the waggler because the point was showing well and I hit a greater proportion of bites compared to the other methods.

It is interesting how the side hooked maggot worked better on the pole and the thick hooked better on the waggler. I think it has to do with a couple of things. First, the fish on the pole were sitting above the bait watching it pass and following it down. Here the presentation had to be as natural as possible as the bait was being inspected! So we were holding the floats out of the water and easing through the last 30cm or so of the water. If we didn't get a bite within 10 seconds or so of hitting the deck it was time to lift and lay the rig out again.

With the waggler things were not the same. First, the feed is spread out over a much wider area... so fish tend to move around in search of it. Secondly, fishing up to two metres or so, off the bottom, fish are not always watching the fall but swimming into the bait... either from below or above... so the inspection time tends to be less critical. Provided the bait hung in the water correctly, they would normally take it. This, I believe, was the downfall of the classically hooked maggot. It was not sitting right in the water and the waggler fish were just sucking and then rejecting it.

... 'and now for something completely different'
I'd like to finish with an odd tale. On both venues we were getting bites and working out how fish were responding to our various hooking methods... until we hooked a maggot upside down! At one point at Twynersh, I was getting a bite every cast, so I decided to try something completely different so I hooked a maggot upside down, ie through the pointy-end!. I cast out and got no response... no bite... no nothing! I changed to the classic hooking style and missed a bite straight away. Back on the upside down maggot... nothing! I continued to alternate this approach for several minutes and got the same response. This seemed quite incredible, the fish were simply refusing, point blank, to take a maggot hanging upside!

Therefore if you want a day where missed bites don't frustrate you, fish a maggot upside down and sit back and relax... I joke of course! However, it's strange because I know of some anglers hooking this way as a change, in order to provoke a bite when nothing else works. But on our clear test venues, the fish quite simply refused to take a bait fished this way.

So there you have it. Our look at how the way a maggot is hooked does affect the speed and nature of the way the bait is presented to the fish. I'm convinced the link between natural bait presentation and water clarity is something we will see more evidence of over the next decade as our venues slowly change character. This is something we covered in the first part of the series, but in the mean time I would like to thank Jacopo Falsini for inspiring this test, which I certainly found absolutely fascinating.
Grazie Mille, Jacopo!