The Fall of the Maggot P2

The 'Tank' test

Welcome back to the second of our articles on hooking maggots. In part one I looked at the changing nature of our rivers across Europe. As water quality improves so paradoxically fishing gets harder. With clearer, cleaner rivers, fish become much more picky about bait presentation. In this second article I conducted a series of tests in a water tank, looking at certain things that may affect the fall of a maggot through water. In particular, I focussed on whether the way we hook maggots has any effect on their descent. My inspiration for this article came from a picture of Jacopo Falsini fishing crystal clear rivers in Italy were presentation was critical. I needed to find out more about what effected hooked maggots as they fell and therefore the 'naturalness' of their presentation.

Which brings me directly to our tank test. I had a large tank of water 45cm deep and a stopwatch set up. With the aid of my daughter, Ruth, I then dropped our various test maggots and test hooks into the tank. Each drop we tested was measured three times and we then took an average, the results of which were absolutely fascinating.

The natural fall of a maggot
First we needed to establish how long it took for a maggot to fall through the 45 centimetres of water without a hook in them. These were our 'control' baits as they represented their unrestricted natural fall. If you were asked off the top of your head to guess how long it took a maggot to fall through 45cm of water, how long would you think it was ... 5 seconds? ... More? ... Less? Well the answer is... IT DEPENDS! We quickly discovered that the rate of descent was governed by a number of factors.

In the first of our test I used old against fresh maggots. I'd kept some maggots in the fridge for 10 days prior and compared them against maggots that had come off the bone two days earlier. I then used fresh uncleaned maggots against fresh maggots that I'd cleaned, using maize flour. Again there was quite a difference. Our testing was done in February, with the tank set-up in my back garden, and all the maggots came straight from the fridge. I suspect that with warmer maggots and water, you'll find that the maggot will slow the drop even more. However, due to the time of year, this was one aspect I couldn't confirm, but I'm confident that it would be relative and proportional to colder conditions.

Here are our findings. The maggot that reaches the bottom of the chart first, is the fastest sinking, with the maggot furthest from the bottom the slowest.

I was surprised at just how long it took our maggots to drop the 45 centimetres. What was fascinating was the way they dropped. All the maggots dropped on their side and sort of 'see-sawed' on the way down. The older maggots were slightly smaller, tougher skinned and a little less lively. Looking at how they dropped, the older maggots moved less on the way down, so sank straighter. Being slightly smaller, they also offered less resistance as they sank. This 'see-saw' sideways motion fascinated me. I don’t know why but I always though maggots would fall straighter but when you examine it in a tank every maggot fell on its side. Finally the effect of maize flour is as expected. Cleaning off the grease on a maggot actually makes it fall faster because it goes cleaner through the water. As a maize flour treated maggot drops it sends of little traces of flour all the way down, which I had never noticed before doing this test.

Consider the following
We are lucky in the UK to be able to buy good quality maggots of a generally uniform size. I was not able to find too many smaller maggots in my bait boxes, but I did test a couple of smaller ones and, interestingly, they sank quicker than the larger maggots. To make sure of consistency in the test I always picked a test maggot out from the bottom of the bait tub where the heaviest maggots will always end up. So why should a heavier, bigger maggot sink slower? Well, it seems to me that a maggot is filled mostly with water and this has neutral buoyancy in water. Just think, that to get a maggot to float you only need the maggot to absorb a little more water and it won’t sink at all. So the larger the maggot. the more it's filled with liquid therefore the slower it drops!

Testing the different hooking styles
We then went on to test how the maggots fell when hooked differently. For this part of the test all maggots were hooked using Kamasan B511 size 18 hooks. The B511 is a good all round maggot hook made from fairly fine wire. Once again the timings are averaged over three drops. The test cost me a few packets of hooks because to concentrate on nothing other than falling maggots, I could tie the hooks to line. I was worried that trying to hang on to the line, may interfere with how the maggot dropped so there was NO shot and NO line, just the maggot hooked in different ways and dropped through a tank. We tested four different styles of hooking. These were:
  1. Classic or traditional style: Here the maggot was pricked as lightly as possible through the rough skin at the back of the blunt end. Interestingly, the two spots at the blunt end become the flies eyes, I suppose we all know that, but there's a third small hole, which is, it seems, its anus!!!
  2. Handlebar style: The maggot is hooked lightly in the side. The easiest way to do this was to bend the maggot back trapped between forefinger and thumb and hook it through the skin.
  3. Threaded style: This particular way of hooking maggots is much loved by bleak anglers, where you can catch several fish on a maggot without any chance of the skin being pulled off the hook. Hold the head firmly between forefinger and thumb and thread the hook straight through the top of the bait. Then thread the maggot along the shank of the hook and slide the point through the skin, so the bait is hooked on the shank of the hook,
  4. Upside down style: The maggot is hooked through the pointed end, rather than the blunt end.
Once again, remember that the maggot which reaches the bottom of the tank FIRST, is the fastest sinking (and least natural). Our control maggots took between 12 and 15 seconds to drop!

As you can see there is quite a difference in the drop rates. The Handle bar style is well over TWO seconds slower on the drop, than a classically hooked maggot, and we found this was still the same when we used different weights of hooks. It really did slow the rate of descent. It was still, 6 to 7 seconds slower than a free falling maggot, but better than any other hooking method by a long shot. The threaded maggot was a big surprise. I was expecting it to fall the fastest, but it didn't because of the slight sideways angle that the hooking gave to its fall.

It is not just the speed of the drop that was interesting to watch... it was the way the maggots moved as they dropped. A maggot falling freely through the water will fall on its side, doing that 'see-saw' action I described earlier. Hook a maggot through either its head or tail and it drops straight down. The weight of the hook just turns the maggot straight and it falls in a very unnatural way. Handle-bar, or side-hooked, maggots don't just have the slowest drop, they also have the most NATURAL one, as they drop on their sides. Thickly hooked, or threaded, maggots again fall more naturally than those hooked through either end. Maggots falling as loose-feed, or breaking off groundbait, will always fall sideways. Jacopo, it seems, was on to something when he started hooking his maggots through the side for a more natural presentation... it wasn't just for the SLOWNESS of the drop!

Testing different weights of hook
The next thing to be tested was how much the hook weight affected the fall of a maggot. The results here were quite staggering. I knew that a lighter hook would give a more natural drop, but I was amazed by how much slower it was!

I tested four hooks, a Kamasan B511 and B611, both the same hook pattern but a different gauge of wire. A lighter wire hook than the B511, in this case a Preston PR26 and finally a proper strong hook, a Mustad wide gape power hook. All were micro barbed and all size 18's. All maggots were traditionally hooked for this test.

Not many surprises here. The heavier the hook the faster the bait fell. But the speeds are incredible. A free falling degreased maggot was taking 14 seconds or so to fall 45 centimetres... a strong wired hook was doing the same drop in FOUR seconds! This is an enormous difference. Multiply this over a two metre fishing swim and you get some idea of how unnatural this sort of drop is! Doing this test I was also amazed at the effect a heavy hook had on the way a maggot drops. Hooked classically, a maggot simply turns up on its end and nosedives through the water with the hook leading the way. Never mind the speed, the way the maggot drops this way must look totally wrong to a fish!

We did test several types of hooks in this part of the operation. The lightest hook I had was a size 24 Gamakatsu Green barbless hook which took 11 seconds to drop through the tank. However, a size 24 is not a particularly practical maggot hook, but it did show the effect that  the amount of wire in a hook had on a baits descent!

Barbless vs. Micro barbed
I did one more test using barbless hooks as I believed it would give a slower drop rate because the bait was less damaged. Due to the cleaner hooking point, it meant that less liquid would escape from the maggot, compared to when using a barbed hook. This proved to be correct. I was able to use a B611, a heavy wire hook, in size 18 micro barbed and barbless versions. The differences between them were 1.5 seconds on each drop and cannot be contributed solely to the wire used in making a micro barb. The bait was simply less damaged by a barbless hook and therefore dropped better.

So there you have it. It took a bit of time with the stopwatch, and I got through a fair few hooks in the process, but I found the testing personally fascinating. I think the biggest lesson for me which these tests highlighted, was that there were two aspects to natural maggot presentation. One was the speed of the drop, which was affected by the way you hook the bait and the amount of wire in the hook. This is logical and although most of us will never have measured it before, I'm sure we can all easily understand the logic. The second, and more revealing aspect, was the way the bait fell. The sideways motion when maggots fall naturally is impossible to achieve with a maggot hooked through the ends. I wonder just how many years we've all spent hooking maggots this way, through the blunt end, without ever thinking of what happens next!

In the final part of this test series, we go and try out these different ways of hooking maggots on some finicky winter roach, in cold and clear water. So look out for the conclusion to the series, when we put the theory of the tank test into the practical realities of day-to-day fishing... and see just what bearing it has on our actual catch rates!