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The Boat Tope Rig

This rig is designed around a basic sliding leger, but encourages early hook-up of the tope to minimise any chance of deep hooking. It is also ultra-strong, plus it presents bait naturally on the sea bed where the Tope spend the majority of their time hunting. It was initially developed in Cardigan Bay, Wales, where much of the tope fishing is done in ultra-shallow water, often just a few feet deep, where the tope will take bait then run fast and far before slowing down to turn and eat it.

How it works

This rig is extremely effective and has, without doubt, landed Tope well in excess of the current UK record, but the fish have been released alive for conservation purposes. The rig is designed to flow out in the tide and present the bait with some movement, with the long trace allowing the bait to wander freely over the sea bed. More importantly, the length and strength of the long trace gives enough length that, if a big tope should be hooked, any line coming into contact with the tope’s body will have the strength to combat any potential abrasion through contact with the tope’s rough skin.

Bolt-Rig Principle

Having the zip slider running freely between the two swivels means that the tope can turn, run off a few feet and build up speed before it comes up against the lead’s dead weight. As the lead weight lifts up off the sea bed and the line tightens, this has the same effect as a carp angler’s ‘bolt rig’ and self-strikes the tope early on its first run. With a sensibly set drag on the reel, the angler only needs to hold the rod until it comes into its full compression curve for the hook to fully sink home – invariably in the scissors or front jaw of the fish. Deep hooking is minimised due to this ‘bolt-rig’ principle. The short section of 200lb mono is there purely to combat the Tope’s teeth. Even so, really big Tope can, and will, chew through this during a longish fight. Some experienced anglers, therefore, still prefer to use 18 inches of 50lb wire crimped to the lower rolling swivel, which even big Tope struggle to bite through this or 300lb-plus mono.


It’s also interesting to note that in very shallow water tope will often pick up and drop bait fi shed on the heavy mono to the hook whereas they rarely do this with the wire. You can often improve your catch rate if you change to a wire biting trace when the Tope are continuously hitting and dropping the baits.

Coloured Up

Another good tip when using this rig is that when fishing over shallow rougher ground in gin-clear water, the heavy mono stands out like a sore thumb. Try colouring the heavy mono with a black permanent marker and you’ll see that the bite ratio to hook-ups improves dramatically. It also pays to use black-coloured swivels and crimps when fishing in very shallow, clear water because tope can be spooked by light glinting off a swivel that’s adjacent to the bait. If you haven’t fished for tope in gin-clear water of less than 10 feet deep, then you won’t be aware of this.


It’s also a fact that too many anglers still use ridiculously big hooks when tope fishing. A 6/0 is easily big enough and strong enough to land the biggest Tope swimming. There is no need for huge 8/0 and 10/0 hooks. These will cost you fish because tope generally like smaller baits – not whole fish – and hiding a 10/0 in a mackerel tail section with just the hook point showing is impossible. Also, the bigger hooks take too much pressure to sink in the hard mouth of a tope, especially if you’re light-line fishing.


Even with the long trace length, experienced anglers still choose to use short, 15ft leaders of 60lb mono. This gives added insurance against abrasion should a Tope run when being fought. If this happens it’s usually a sign that the angler is playing the fish way too hard anyway. If you want to cast this rig uptide, then simply hang the baited hook on the wires of the grip lead and cast. Air pressure will pull the hook off the wire during the initial stage of the cast to give perfect presentation on the sea bed.