Johnny Moult: a waggler pioneer
Known as the man who turned the float world upside-down, Johnny Moult is the next waggler hero to be included in Jim Baxter's top 12.
It might be an overused word, but to sum up Nottingham’s Johnny Moult’s qualities as both a waggler pioneer and thinking angler I would have to call him unique.
Shy man with bankside cred
Moult didn’t gain the publicity that other Midland stars like Billy Lane and Ivan Marks could generate. He had a shy and retiring nature. Neither did he gain international honours. But for bankside ‘cred’ and the high esteem he held over his rivals, especially on his home River Trent, he had it all.
Early waggler pioneer
Sadly, I was a few years too young to ever see John perform at his peak, but I once saw him practising with legered tares on the Trent and did see him fish a peacock waggler a couple of times while walking the bank on bad days. I also had the pleasure of interviewing him in 1984 for Coarse Angler magazine.
His brainwave for an early form of a waggler float came to him in the centre-pin reel era. It was a bottom-only attached porcupine quill which he held back to slow the bait down and catch roach. Prior to him making winning catches on the Trent and other rivers, the winning style was virtually all top and bottom attached floats like the stick, balsa or various quills.
Now legered tares might sound a very odd method to try anywhere, but to put it in context Johnny was different to most anglers in many ways. He constantly experimented to refine his methods and bait presentation, and was an early exponent of what is today called ‘purposeful practice’ by sports coaches.
He’d often start a Trent match on maggot or pinkies, taking a few early fish before gradually switching to groundbait and caster, and then on warm summer days would later change again to tares. I have never known another angler mix baits so much as he did and be as successful doing so, and I have known him to win by a proverbial mile on tares at Burton Joyce.
Here’s a few other things that separated Johnny from the pack:
- He’d feed bait from a sweet jar on the theory that he could not take out too big a handful of bait and overfeed the swim or his hand would get stuck in the neck.
- His tackle was notoriously shabby. His rod had some rings only taped on, and his battered green wooden seat box had a large hole in the side plugged by a towel. His excuse for carrying it was it was the perfect height and so comfy to sit on. Friends claimed he had found it in the Trent.
- All his shot sizes were mixed up in one tobacco tin.
- He’d always arrive at the last minute to match draws.
- His tackle was rough to look at but he always said the "business end was right" (from float to hook).
- A great fan of tares, he’d experiment by adding ground cooked tares to his groundbait, and also ground up sweetcorn.
- He was secretive about his hooks, and after losing a trace in nettles after one match, he and some of his followers engaged in a mad dash to find the hook first without getting stung.
- I described his drab float collection as looking like "medieval weapons of torture".
An angler to fish for your life
In an article in Angling Star magazine (2004) the great Pete Warren named Johnny as the angler he’d nominate above all others to catch a fish to save his life. He reasoned that he could catch fish from anywhere and he had given so many top anglers some good hidings. "You could put him in any team and he’d come up with the goods every time," Pete added.
Conquering the Severn
Birmingham’s England international star Ken Giles paid tribute to how Johnny gave the West Midland anglers plenty to think about when he took his porky method onto their local Severn at Stourport as early as the 1960s, a match mecca back then. Ken said, "I suppose it was Johnny Moult who finally persuaded the Midland anglers that the waggler could be a match-winning method. He visited the River Severn and caught fish on the waggler on pegs where you couldn’t normally catch anything."
Holding back the float
But let’s return to consider the way Johnny originally found that holding the porcupine float back would catch fish. This improved my own waggler style enormously from 1984 onwards. This is what he told me, and why I think he was such a trailblazer for the time he discovered it.
"Something just happened one day, like things do in fishing, which was like striking gold. I had always dragged the tackle a yard back after casting to keep a tight line. Until the line is released (when fishing bottom-only) the float will stay submerged against the flow. On this occasion I delayed releasing the line and kept the float buried. When I finally gave line and the float reappeared it went under again and I had a fish on. I developed this delaying tactic into a countdown system. I couldn’t explain why it worked but it did and sometimes the float would never come up at all. Maybe it could be likened to holding back with a stick float."
From the moment I tried holding the waggler back this way myself, stopping the float at some point in the trot to change the hookbait’s movement, on the River Witham and tidal Trent matches in particular, I seemed to catch more of those big, lazy roach that seem to like the bait slowed down. I am certain the tactic will still work the same today on all rivers and silver fish generally.
Division 1 National triumph
One of the "hidings" Pete Warren referred to might well have been in the 1980 Division 1 National, when Johnny’s Notts Federation team broke the points record on their beloved Trent with an 883-point score, a massive 160 clear of nearest rivals Birmingham. Their top performer that day was the new superstar John Dean, with a section winning 80 points. But in a swansong performance, Moulty, by then a veteran of countless battles, came second in his section with 79 points and the team’s top weight of 17lb 15 1/2oz. He fished caster over groundbait, unlike the rest of his team who fished maggot, and absolutely slaughtered the opposition around him. Pegged nearby, Stan Piecha, talented as he was, had a match he’s long tried to forget but perhaps will never be able to do so entirely. Perhaps this day was this Johnny Moults finest hour?
Last date edited: 8 January 2021