The Fens, also known as the Fenland, is a geographical area in eastern England, lying inland around the coast of the Wash. It spreads across four counties, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and a small area of Suffolk and covers an approximate area of nearly 1,500 square miles, or about 1 million acres. The Fens are a primarily agricultural area, which is strongly characterised by both its very low elevation and its flatness. Most of Fenland lies within a few metres of sea-level. As with similar areas in the Netherlands, much of the Fens originally consisted of fresh or saltwater wetlands, which have been artificially drained. They continue to be protected from floods by pumps and hundreds of miles of drains and rivers criss-crossing the land. This reclaimed land is highly fertile and has become a major arable agricultural region in Britain for grains and vegetables... it's also become a rich vein of winter sport for thousands of anglers, particular where skimmers and roach are concerned.

When roach fishing on Fenland's rivers and drains for small fish, there are two methods that people tend to opt for... the 3 and 5 metre flick-tip whips... and a standard pole with short line, generally around five to seven metres out. Whilst many of us on the circuit may tend to combine both, there are still some die-hard factions, when it comes to supporting either method. Certain anglers rarely pick up a whip, including some of the contry's finest... Bob Nudd and Mark Pollard to name just two. I can understand why as 'Nuddy' has caught up to 500 roach on the short line, but that said, I believe there are certain merits to fishing a whip because on its day it can be devastating.

When I first spoke Dave Johnson about this article, it seemed quite a straightforward piece to write. In effect, the whip was for speed when presentation's not so critical. The short line represents control and improved presentation, but its downside is a loss of speed and theoretical catch rate! In fact, my own general rule-of-thumb is that if I'm waiting longer than 30 seconds for a bite on the whip, I’ll move onto the short line. However, on reflection, I believe even my own long standing rule-of-thumb could be modified!

The basics of whip fishing in the Fens
So what would constitute a suitable whip for Fenland roach fishing? Well, a fine flick-tip with some power in the middle sections, to allow decent fish to be swung-in when on a 'shed-full', would do nicely!. Personally, my original Daiwa Connoisseur 8m whip has a perfect action for this type of fishing. I also own a telescopic Browning Speedfire Aggressor 5m, which is an awesome piece of kit. You’ll see a quite a few anglers around our area using both the 4 and 5 metre models.

The difference between telescopic and take-apart whips, is that the telescopics are meant to be used at their specific lengths, whereas with a take-apart one tends to take off sections not required. However, a problem can arise with purpose built telescopics when you take a section off, from say a 5 metre model to fish at 4 metres. The butt end of the last section can then become damaged, as they are suppose to be used at full length of 5 metres! The advantage of using specialised take-apart 'system' whips, like the Connoisseur, is that each of the section butt ends are slightly re-inforced, making them an ideal solution for adapting the length. Therefore an 8m 'System' whip will give you options from 3m to 8m, a truly versatile route, which many follow.

Each angler has their own preferred methods of attaching the rig to the flick tip. Some add a small Stonfo connector (Left), although I tried this many years ago and found the weight/blob at the end most annoying. For about 15 years now, all I have used is two pieces of silicon, one slid onto the whip, and left in place some 150mm from the tip and the other about 15mm long threaded onto my rig. The rig has a 25mm loop on the top end and is looped behind the silicon attached to the whip, the line is then twisted around the whip towards the tip, were a second piece of silicon is then slid over secure it. I normally leave around 5mm overhanging the tip which helps avoid any unecessary tangles.

General Set Up
As a rule I'll not go below 0.105mm for my main line when fishing in this fashion, as we tend to fish quite aggressively, so anything lighter may let you down. Since Pro Micron line became scarce I've been using Browning Cenitan on both rigs and hooklengths for several seasons. Cenitan is proving most consistent and doesn't kink when shot are moved. It's also has a very accurately gauged diameter which gives excellent knot strength. My hooklengths tend to be 100mm long when using .083mm diameter. This may be changed for a 150mm length and .074mm when more finesse is required. Another hooklength I favour for this type of fishing is Sensas Feeling, in 0.07mm and 0.08mm diameters. I always sit a small shot or styl on the hooklength, which is generally a No.11 ZLT shot or No.7 styl. This helps the rig give a more positive register and is usually placed around 50mm from the hook.

Hooks are very much a personal choice and we all have our favourites. I use one particular pattern almost exclusively for all my roach fishing with squatt, pinkie and maggot hook baits, which is the Sensas 3530, in sizes 20 and 22. This is a tremendous hook and has a long shank which aids speed. When lots of fish are expected, I just nip down the barb to make unhooking easier, it also helps stop the shank from bending over due to any unnecessay pressure during unhooking.

If you use a float with a yellow tip and find during fishing that you need to change to a red one, it's much easier to convert it, as you simply paint over the yellow with red... it's more difficult to cover the darker red with a lighter yellow!

I’ll discuss rigs in a little more detail later, but generally they range between 4x14 and 1.5g, however, they may sometimes go below or above these sizes in certain extreme conditions. I tend to black-out my float tips, leaving just the top 3mm in a colour, with a similar band just above the body, to assist in reading the drop of the shots. Again, this is all down to personal choice. One other preference is that I prefer yellow tips on my floats as they are often more visible against some of the dark backgrounds that we often face on our venues.

I always set my whip rigs approximately 0.4m shorter than the length of the whip. This allows for swinging and lifting fish-to-hand easily, without the need to over-stretch. There is nothing worse than swinging fish in and then having to stretch down because your line is the same length as the whip!

One of the biggest advantages of the whip, is that fish from 14g to 120g (0.5oz to 4oz) can be swung into a sensible hand position, whereas when fishing short line with elastic, many around the 4oz mark may need to be netted. When doing this, it’s a question of getting into a smooth rhythm so that the fish don't kick too much around in the air. Don't try to catch the fish with your hand until you have practised and become more proficient. It's far easier to swing the fish into your chest and grasp it with your hand.

A whip set up should be geared around efficiency and speed, and its simplicity will assist this approach. Fish can be steered to the side and lifted towards you in a single motion, spending as little time in the water as possible. The longer they remain in the water, the more they become a tasty morsel for any marauding pike!

So there we have the basics of an efficient whip set up... but why use one in the first place? This is where the debate begins to gets interesting. After much thought, I've decided to cover several situations where I believe the whip holds an advantage over the short line. These generally apply to a speed increase, although it's not always necessarily the case!

Catching 'shedloads' of small roach on heavy rigs at close range
This is a classic Fenland scenario at places like Benwick and Whittlesey Dyke... 4 metres to hand with a 1.5g rig, incorporating a couple of heavy droppers, as all the fish come from near the bottom. There is an argument that this can be achieved with elastic and an almost identical rig set up. It's a valid point, but for sheer simplicity this set-up, when used with a nice crisp-actioned short whip, is hard to fault, as the direct contact of flick tip to float proves a distinct advantage with the heavier set-up.

After dropping a fish in the net, you cast back out underhand and, rather than hold the line tight to the float, you let the float follow the bulk down, therby giving the fastest possible descent into the catch zone. Several of our Mark One anglers have caught over 500 fish using this set-up and approach, it's incredibly efficient and devastating on its day.

Despite the apparent crude nature of the rig, should you wish to slow the drop slightly, you can vary the baits presentation by simply holding the float on a tight line. This effectively creates an arc to the droppers and presents a slightly slower fall. This can be slowed up even more by moving the bulk shot further from the hook, and then spreading out the droppers. Most of our fishing is in about 1.5m (5 feet) of water, and the bulk is no more than 30cm from the hook. Any deeper and there would be little advantage in setting the bulks' distance much more, as the whole principle of direct contact would be lost.

These rigs will usually be shotted with an appropriate bulk olivette and at least three No.11 droppers. On very good venues, these could be three No.10’s, however, three No.11's would be a good starting point. My own general rule is that I try and ensure I have at least four small droppers below my olivette, which increases my presentation options, allowing me to either double-up or string-out as required.

Generally, we fish the rigs over a large bed of groundbait and loose feed heavily in order to keep the roach down. Pinkie dominates both loose feed and hook bait, (up to 2 or 3 pints can be loosefeed some days!). Fish tend to be on the smaller size and average around 35/40 to the pound (1/2 kilo). A lot of your bites will be hold-ups, which is where the shot placed on your hooklength gives you the opportunity to see the bites really early as the rig falls through the water on a tight line.

This approach can be used as close as 3 metres when the waters coloured, but my inclination is to switch to a 1g rig at this range because 1.5g feels too 'numb' in my experience. The 1.5g optimum distance tends to be between 4 and 5 metres, although it can still be used effectively beyond, conditions however, especially wind, can tend to affect efficiency at longer distances, therefore a 2g rig could be a more viable option if the situation dictates.

The method is not really about precise presentation, it's more about speed and catching those small and not too fussy roach. Once a little more finesse is required, then we begin to see the real debate 'hot-up' between the whip and short line!

Catching big roach and skimmers on light bread rigs
This is where the advantage of the whip over the short line become a little more difficult to assess. There are nevertheless still benefits in my opinion, and having recently weighed 21-3-0 of roach and skimmers on the Old River Nene at March, I'm convinced that the whip assisted me early on.

My rig that day was a 4x14 Mick Basset London Squatt (above), and I fished bread punch. Bulk No.8 and 3-4 No.11 droppers. The use of a flick tip once again made laying out the rig in water very crisp, I also fished down from my tip, rather than straight out, due to the gentle downstream movement on the water.

The biggest advantage came when I hooked skimmers up to 300g (10oz) during the first hour. With a firm upstream movement, I was able to pull these fish out of my swim very quickly, as they gave up with virtually no resistance. I did catch some later on with a short line rig, but they proved far harder to get out. I also caught roach between 28g and 150g (1 and 6oz) and I only had to net the larger samples, anything less than 140g (5oz) was lifted out without any problem… who's an animal then!!!

With the lighter rig I've also caught double figures of roach on the River Glen on bread punch. On one day in particular this venue had all but stood still and was gin clear. I fished the 5m whip at full stretch, at least 30cm (1 foot) off bottom, in 2.2m (7.5 feet) of water. The conditions were ideal with a light wind coming off my back, blowing very slightly downstream. The whip made it much easier and crisper to cast the 4x14 rig with roach being plucked from the peg nice and quickly, as opposed to an elasticated top kit. The long line also proved a big advantage in the clear water as it kept the whips shadow off the water and away from the line being fished.

Feeding options
Feeding methods can vary quite significantly when fishing bread on fairly shallow venues, like March, where two approaches tend to prevail.
  1. Sometimes, especially when targeting numbers of small roach, the best strategy is to feed a small ball of punch crumb with gravel every a chuck. This can be particularly effective when the venue is flowing at a nice steady pace. I've found that once you get on some bigger roach or skimmers, which can dominate certain matches these days, it's better to cup in a large ball at the start and top-up once your bites start drying up.
  2. When using a 5m whip in difficult conditions, accurate feeding can be obtained by a using a pole cup. You will need to use 6.5 metres of pole to cup the correct 5m whip line, this will reduce to 5.5 metres for a 4m whip!
The effect of not feeding regularly often tends to allow the better quality fish to accumulate over your feed, therefore topping up too frequently can push these 'stampers' away, leaving just the smaller fish. This is typical of the roach in our area, therefore you need to make your feeding judgement as quickly as possible. I tend to go for the large ball of punch crumb at the start on nearly every venue, then assess the quality and frequency of bites in order to decide upon the most effective approach. Feeding for roach on Fenland venues really requires a whole new feature, so I don’t intend to put too much detail about it here, as it will detract from the main point of the article. One thing I always do is feed a line that can be fished with both a whip and short line rig, swapping between the two, as necessary, as the day progresses.

Fishing narrow clear flowing waters
Lighter rigs on long lines do need good conditions in order for them to be fished properly. As soon as the wind increases, the short line approach then becomes the only viable solution, unless of course, you have flow and can fish directly downstream of your flick tip. We fish a couple of small running venues throughout the winter and when they go clear and the flow eases this approach becomes ideal. Factory Bank at Ramsey is one such place which is fed by a small, but often heavily flowing brook. It's literally 8 to 9m wide and a 5m whip lets you fish all over your peg, in particular, well downstream in clear water conditions. Once it colours up and starts flowing hard, we tend to change to a short line with small Cralusso Torpedoes and catch at the top of our swims.

I generally fish 5m whips on this type of venue with approx. 0.75g rigs and favour the Drennan Pinkie float (above), which is one of only a few carbon stemmed roach floats that I use, unless I turn them upside down and use them as pole wagglers!!! I’ll discuss these a bit later.

I have a tendancy to use wire stem floats with a slight shoulder, like the Mick Bassett and the Sensas Guillaune models for most of my fishing. With the lighter rigs I figure the extra stability that wire gives may well allow better presentation in slightly less than favourable conditions. I also prefer the float to set correctly as soon as the rig hits the water and I have never experienced any major problems with tangles. It's important that the wire is not too heavy yet some of these float patterns just don’t work fishing a long line to hand. I've also found long stemmed floats, that take very little shot, also don’t work properly on a whip. The slight shoulder is a distinct advantage as it allows you to mend the line whilst keeping the rig 'on line'. These floats also contribute to minimal disturbance as you quickly pluck roach from the water, which is sometimes only a metre deep!

Fishing waggler and 'Skinner' rigs
One way of combating tricky conditions is to fish the whip with a waggler style rig and sunken line. You tend to have less actual control of your rig and presentation, but it's advantages become particularly useful when the wind increases on slightly flowing venues and bites are coming quickly. You can still allow the rig to follow the bulk down for speed, or hold onto a tight line to slow up the drop.

For fishing on or near the bottom, I tend to fish with 1gr waggler locked by a couple of No.8 shot and then a bulk positioned similar to that of a normal float rig. The float tends to stand right up in the water on entry, but soon settles once it hits the bulk. Droppers are again, usually a minimum of three No.11’s, with one on the hooklength for lift bites.

Another way of shotting the float is with the bulk around the floats base, as you would with a normal waggler, and then with as little as three or four No.7 styls for a very slow descent. The original balsa 'Image' floats are ideal for this application, usually taking perhaps 0.4g. These days I also use a Drake peacock and crow quill waggler, taking anything between 0.35 to 0.75g. I prefer this rig for bleak on a clear river, often in the larger size with a 6m whip to hand. This rig is particularly useful on shallow waters as it produces no noise on the strike, but once again strong wind or skim can play havoc with presentation.

One other waggler set up used on the Fens is the 'Skinner' rig (above), developed several years ago by the very successful bread angler Derek Skinner, particularly on the Old Nene at March. Unlike a conventional waggler, the Skinner is actually a modified standard 'Image' pole float, or a purpose built wire stemmed peacock dibber with a fibre bristle. Quite simply the float can be made by bending the stem of a small pole float back on itself to create an 'eye' at the base and attaching bottom end only. This rig is more stable in a skim, due to the wire stem and is best shotted lightly down the line as the previous rigs.

Making a 'Skinner' couldn't be easier follow the simple slideshow above. Our test model was an Image Punch float 6x12, but any similar 'sleek' shaped float will do. However, the float MUST be wire-stemmed as well.

The thing about all these waggler rigs is the simplicity of searching your peg. There's little loss in presentation and you don't worry about having to awkwardly ship back if you're short lining. As previously mentioned, whips are particularly useful on shallow venues where the fish tend to move about and you need to spread your feed to avoid catching too many fish in one small area. It’s a similar principle when bleak fishing. I recently 'framed' with 10lb+ on the tiny Fenland drain, Swan Bridge, during the local Bourne League, and the depth didn’t exceed 60cm (2 feet) anywhere in my peg! Try as I might I couldn't keep the fish coming long enough on the short line because they kept moving away. Once I changed to a small (0.35g) Drake waggler, set at dead depth, I picked up both quantity and stamp of roach steadily. As if to prove the wagglers effectiveness, my Sensas Mark One team-mate, Simon Godfrey, won the match with 12lb of roach on a 0.4g Skinner.

The whip approach is a much easier choice when faced with a very steep bank behind you, especially on drain venues where the flow can reverse or back up. This can be a real dis-advantage when shipping back with anything other than the shortest of poles, because you may have to bring the fish round and through your peg to your 'proper' landing side, leaving them unnecessarily exposed to predators!

So why fish short line?
As this article's developed, I appreciate that I may have made it sound as if the whip is the 'be all and end all' on our waters! In fact, believe it or not, I'm actually a whip sceptic, maintaining that a well presented bait on a short line will always guarantee improved quality of fish and therefore an improved weight at the end of the match.

However, we must all constantly re-assess our individual abilities if we wish to progress, yet whilst some anglers in our team have always been 'whipheads', I've tended to believe that the method was only a winner when a few precise criteria had been satisfied. Interestingly, writing this piece has corresponded with me gradually increasing my own use of the methods described here, and not without some success, therefore having reviewed my long held convictions, I'm willing to concede that I have in the past, tried to make the short line work, rather than opt for the far more obvious whip approach!

There are, of course, specific situations where I definitely won’t use a whip, these are generally when the average size of fish in front of me are simply just too big! I once caught nearly 9kg (20lb) of roach on the Town Welland in the first hour of an open match, then they moved and I had no more bites, these fish averaged between 180grams (six ounces) and nearly 450g (1lb). In these circumstances I used a Top 4 along with one and a half sections of pole, hooked my fish and then didn’t take any sections off. With No.3 Vespe elastic through the top two sections I just guided the decent fish to the net, or swung in any smaller samples. It was about the fastest I've ever caught roach in the UK. On this type of venue, I'd always look to start with the short line because of the potential of quality fish on hand. In comparison, should I be on a 'shedful' of small fish, then I would certainly consider a change to the whip for the reasons above.

There is no doubt that the whip is yet another method that we all need to be proficient at, if we are to be the 'complete' package. I've described that if conditions allow, then the method can prove devastatingly effective, however, it still needs to be perfected and I hope my views have given you something to take onboard. I believe I'm no different to many match anglers out there, in that we are all constantly trying to improve our presentation skills in order to catch more quality fish as fast as possible. I find that while the alternative of catching hundreds of small fish on the whip can sometimes be a mind-numbing experience, due to the huge levels of concentration required, I accept that it's important to keep asking yourself “could I put more weight in my net by considering alternative methods?”

As a team, Sensas Mark One often talk about 'earning' the time to put in a few minutes on the chopped worm, or alternate line, while not losing ground in the general fish-race. This means that the time spent catching small fish needs to be as quick and effective as possible, because you may need to use an alternative method to maximise your pegs full potential and move ahead of a chasing pack!

While 5kg (11lb) of small whip roach can still be beaten by 4kg (9lb) of fewer quality roach and a bonus 2kg (4lb) tench, lets not forget that we still need to keep in touch with the guy who's caught that 5kg and then make the correct decision, at the right time, to try an alternative, in order to add that bonus fish! In the same way as 400 small roach for 5kg (11lb) will be beaten by 200 better quality fish for 5.5kg (12lb). I know it’s obvious, but points per fish don't win prizes in UK matches, it's the biggest weight on the scales that count! Therefore, if you have to go the small fish route, then by being as efficient as possible you can gain 10 minutes each hour over your rivals, that means nearly 50 minutes over the 5 hours to try something different and secure a top position! However, you must be absolutely sure that if things don't work out intially, you are still within touching distance of the field, because it’s very hard to pull back up if you're all catching the same size fish.

When I first made my name with (perhaps) the 'Ultimate' Grand Union canal squad, Image Blackhorse, some 25 years ago, the main methods were 3 or 3.5m whip and waggler, fishing squatt... perhaps I'm beginning to return to those early and very successful days!

Right: Rob during in his lean, mean fighting weight days on the Grand Union!!!

If you have any questions for Rob about whip fishing, then drop him a line at and he will endeavour to answer your query.