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An intro to urfes, by Tom Bagnall

We love to over complicate. It’s a natural course of action that comes with an obsession, and as I’m sure we can all agree, fishing is an obsession!

Fishing tends to offer us a lot of time away from, strangely enough, fishing. Be it bad weather, a hectic work calendar, or simply family life, we spend a fair bit of our lives not fishing, and yet we constantly think about it. We’re always thinking about it, stop trying to convince yourself you don’t, you’re obsessed, go see a doctor (or tackle dealer, preferably the latter).

We’ve all been there, sat on a hard wooden pew at a family christening of a child you’re not entirely sure the name of, and bam, a stroke of genius, a cogitation of sheer brilliance, a murmuring of magnificence… pineapple boilies on a fly rod in the gutter for tope! It can’t fail!

Ok, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but you all know where I’m coming from. It’s healthy to think about the thing you love, and it’s also healthy to put these thoughts into action, in fact it’s a lot of fun sometimes. Dreaming up new rigs and tackle and putting them into action is a part of our sport and is the reason we’re not all using tank aerials and Bakelite centre pins.

However (ok, we all saw that coming), it’s seriously refreshing, and very often rewarding, to strip things back to basics. Using rigs that are apologetically simple and take a few seconds to make is a real bonus. Deciding not to grab that opportunity to go fishing because you haven’t had time to make a host of complicated rigs is a crying shame, and one that really can be avoided.

Urfe rigs have been around for years now, one of the many things we’ve adopted from our continental friends, and yet many of us are unfamiliar with what they are. Urfe rigs are often called Portuguese rigs, three below (or two!) or long flappy snood type things. Whatever you chose to call them, they are so simple even Diane Abbot could explain their many uses, just don’t ask her to count how many are in a pack.

Urfes are a short piece of wire with a swivel freely rotating around the middle. Simply attach your shock leader to one end, clip your chosen weight to the other and tie your snood to the middle swivel. Your snood can be as long as you wish, in fact the key is to be adventurous. Short 2 or 3 foot snoods have no place here, stick to anything between 6 and 12 foot and you’ll start to see the results.

Extra hooks can be added as “droppers” by simply tying a stop knot onto the snood, leaving one of the tags around 8” long and attaching a secondary hook. There are financial benefits to urfe rigs too; no swivels, clips, beads, crimps, glue, stop knots etc etc.  They’re as simple and cheap as it gets!

They are of course fantastic rigs for “continental” style fishing; fine lines and small hooks offering delicate presentations for our summer visitors. However, on a recent trip in search of sole, we proved that the Urfe is worthy of a place in your armoury for more conventional “British” fishing.

Method in the madness, by Wayne Hand

Liam and I met Tom in Christchurch Angling Centre, our aim was to target sole along Southbourne. It’s no secret there has been some good numbers coming off the beach in the previous few weeks and it seems that the sole fishing has been very good all over the UK in 2019.

To trial out the urfe rig, we decided we would all use 2 rods, 1 with a standard 6ft 3 hook flapper, which is very time consuming to build and the other set up with the urfe rig fishing 3 below the lead, this should give us a true indication if this simple cheap rig would hold up. The fundamental difference in presentation to the fish is that one rod would offer up 3 baits above the lead and the other 3 below. The first thought to many with this is that the 3 below will be closer to the seabed and thus where the sole will be feeding, though with a rod positioned correctly, enough line laid and and rig set against the tide, a standard flapper with 3 above the lead will lay all baits on the bottom too. In reality, the 3 above is anchored both ends, one by the lead and one by the rod, so the movement range is more limited. A 3 below long snood on an urfe is only anchored at one end, offering far more natural movement of the bait!

Our bait of choice is a large rag, tipped with blacks as seen in the photo. Sole fishing up and down the country is very peculiar in that some marks they favour lug, some blacks, some small bunches of rag and others massive king rag! A bit of trial and error will soon yield what works for you locally, but the rag and black combo is a good place to start. One thing with the bigger specimen sole is not to be afraid of larger baits, just be aware to always pair the bait to a suitable hook size so that the point and gape is not masked.

It’s that time of year when the evenings draw in, so first cast was just into darkness, which is key for sole fishing in clear water. Those in the Bristol channel will be lucky enough to catch sole at all hours, but generally they are seen as a darkness fish in most waters. The tide was just at low, so we were all looking forward to the first hour of the flood, which seems to the best time on Southbourne to get a few bites. A first flood of water is often very fruitful for many species, as if it triggers the ringing of a dinner bell!

Tom had his first sole within minutes of casting out on the urfe! It was looking good and sure enough he added to it with a double shot on the urfe. Both being a lovely size for the pot, great stuff! Sole is certainly an excellent eating fish and perfectly sustainable to take a few when rod and line caught. As with anything, just be sensible on the numbers retained and if catching a good number, focus on any that are deep hooked. There’s always bound to be a few when catching multiple fish. 

The next hour unfortunately didn’t produce any sole, but that’s not unusual as we still had plenty of eels, pout and the odd small bass which can simply prove quicker to the baits than the sole. Persistence is key as the likelihood is they are still there. On this occasion we all had work in the morning, so planned to pack up at midnight. High was at 2am, so we didn’t fancy the long one but in the back of your head you’re always thinking if the fishing picks up you’ll no doubt find yourself there a bit longer anyway! I was thinking of dropping down to one rod when I noticed a lovely pull down on my flapper rod. As always I had to quickly remind myself that we were only fishing at 30 yards with a 3 oz lead, so all the bites tend to look brilliant whether using braided mainline or low diameter low stretch mono.

The bite soon manifested itself as a fish and the target one too, a sole on the flapper rig, which clawed a result back against the urge. It was now 3-1 to the urfe rig. Like all sessions, we gave it that one last cast. Liam then landed his PB sole on the urfe. Having only been fishing for two years it was great to see Liam improve his best on the sole. Tom has taken Liam under his wing, so naturally he is coming along quite nicely with a few very nice fish already accomplished in a short space of time. Well done Liam.

Our evening proved to be a successful one, not counting all the other species also landed on the urfe, we recorded 4 Sole on the urfe to the 1 on the flapper, we kept the 4 better ones for the dinner table. This was a comprehensive if not wholly statistically proven victory for the urfe; a confidence booster in it’s use and potential in any event.

Other species the urfe can prove popular on include flounder and gilt head bream, though golden grey mullet, bass, thick lip mullet, gurnards and black bream also often fall prey to it. Mackerel, scad and gars love it with popped up snoods, and a float can even be added at the end to bring the whole rig up in the water for such species, true zig rig style to steal a term from our fellow anglers in the carp world. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed!

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