Thursday, July 08, 2021

Everything merges with the night

 
 
After my last blog post I thought the rot had set in when I blanked on yet another evening into night session after eels. I had runs and missed them all. 
 
A couple of days later and it was back to the familiar sessions of old. Lots of twitchy bites and some runs, this time some I connected with. During this session I was getting far more positive runs than I had on earlier sessions for some reason even though the eels were no bigger. In total five were landed, but nothing over a pound and a quarter. I weighed that one because it had felt double the weight when I was bringing it in and I wanted to get a gauge for future guestimates. It didn't look the heavier weight though. I'd been fooled by teh lad link of the running paternoster dragging a load of weed.

Each time I've gone eeling I've fished a different swim. A week later I was in a swim I'd forgotten had an ant nest in it last time I fished it. Luckily the ants weren't making themseleves known if they were still at home. The eels weren't either. It was a slow session resulting in one more sub-pound eel to the off bottom worms. I got more bites from the mozzies. The following morning my hands and back of my neck were covered in itchy red lumps.

Two days after that, when the itching was easing off, I fished a swim I like a lot, but which has never matched it's initial promise. It did produce though. Four more eels not worth netting, never mind  photographing, fell to worm baits with one bumped to a deadbait. Most of my action has been coming to worms, but I've been putting that down to me fishing two rods with them as bait and only one with a deadbait chunk.
 

Fancying a change of approach I picked up a packet of squid and settled into a swim I've never fished before for my first session of July. There was a glorious sunset casting a red glow on everything, including the moorhen which seemed to want to join me. I was wondering if I had taken up it's night time resting place, and if it was a young bird because of it's lack of fear of the big ugly creature on the bank.

My landing net must have been propped up in its usual hauling out spot as it  clambered on the bank and tried to walk under the mesh. After drifting about in front of me for ages it got out at the other side of the swim. It wasn't keen there so ambled back to the water, where it eventually gave up, after squawking loudly at me from within the reed beds and making me jump!



The moorhen interlude was the highlight of the session. When I checked the weather forecast before setting off it had looked set fair. However, when I spoke to another angler near the car park he said there was rain forecast to arrive around dusk. The sky did look slightly threatening and it felt muggy. I always have a set of waterproofs in the back of the car so I stuffed them in my folded low chair. It was around ten thirty when the drizzle started. Five minutes later I missed a run to the squid chunk.

That didn't herald the start of a mad feeding spell. At eleven fifteen yet another bootlace snaffled my off bottom worms. With the rain getting heavier I packed up shortly after that. One benefit of finishing early was that I didn't need an afternoon nap the next day!

All these short eel session are starting to merge into one fuzzy session of missed runs and small, slimy knot-tying eels. Without my diary notes I'd never remember what happened on which session, or how many sessions there were! Still, I was back again last night but this time in the first swim I'd fished this year.


This turned out to be another slow session. Proper runs were few and twitchy takes the norm when there was action. The only take I connected with came to a piece of squid fished close in to the edge of a reed bad. It was yet another bootlace which somehow managed to tie the rig and itself in a great slimy tangle when I foolishly netted it. Things were so bad I had to cut the line and the hooklink to get the eel free. I did get the hook out of the eel - somehow. If eels weren't supposedly endangered (there seem to be plenty round here!) I think I'd be sticking these bootlace tangle-masters in the freezer for pike bait!

 

Despite the frustration having returned I'm sure I'll be back again soon. At least for one more try. If it's another bootlace-fest I might give the eels a break for a week or two and try for something else.

I had intended posting a rod advert on here, but no sooner had I listed it on The Pikers Pit than it sold. Which surprised me as it was an 11ft 1.75lb Torrix more suited to small river barbel or stalking carp.

I'd ordered the blank for myself during my summer of carp fishing but it arrived after the short-lived interest in carp had faded away. Hence I only got round to building it recently. Actually I started it during lockdown one but gave up when paying work started coming in again. As I'm in a lull at present waiting for blanks ordered months ago to turn up I passed a day finishing it off.

It's a shame that Harrison's aren't supplying brown blanks any longer because built up whipped in sand tipped brown they look rather nice. The newish Vortex rings also look good on slim blanks like the lighter Torrixes.

As I spent some time trying to take some vaguely professional looking photos of the rod (shiny things are tricky to photograph) I'll post them anyway - despite the fact I can't replicate the build.


Saturday, June 19, 2021

Downhill all the way

Full of new-found enthusiasm I couldn't wait to get back after the eels. Two nights later I was walking round looking for a swim to fish. one problem with this particular place is that most of the swims are made to accommodate someone sat on a seat box fishing a single rod. If set up to fish 'carp style' with self hooking rigs and rods on pods this isn't an issue as the fish hang themselves and sat up on the bank you can still get to the rods without fish dropping the bait. Same for piking really when even an 'instant' strike doesn't have to be as instant as striking  a quick dip on a float from a shy biting rudd.

Eel fishing for me is all about striking takes quickly. I don't seem to get the non-stop runs that I used to. even when I did a smart strike might be required to hook an eel before it found sanctuary. when I first fished the canal for eels I was casting baits tight to far bank reed beds. By the time I could grab a rod the eel would be deep in the reeds and everything was solid. I switched to fishing my baits under the rod tops to give me time to strike before sanctuary could be reached. Even sitting close to the rods some eels still made it all the way over the far side!

 
As the pegs here are all nicely stoned getting individual banksticks in, my preferred way of fishing, it has to be a pod. Some of the pegs aren't even wide enough for that, let alone have room to put up a chair. This all limits my choices. I didn't want to fish the same swim as my first session so ended up dithering between one I've never fished for eels and one I have caught from. The one with previous got the nod.

Conditions were similar to two nights before and I was soon having to replace missing worms. The eels were active again. As predicted my initial success was not to be matched and the average size of the four I landed was well down. I was catching though, which was encouraging. Despite some activity to the deadbait it was the worms getting the majority of the action, both on and off the bottom. By half twelve my stock of worms was getting down to the regs so I packed up satisfied and planning to restock at the earliest opportunity.

That opportunity came on Friday. Get worms in the morning, fish in the evening. Sorted. That was the plan until my car packed up on the way to the tackle shop. Bugger. I was going to change the motor last year but when Covid arrived there wasn't much point as I wouldn't be using it much. Anyway, long story short the car was fixable but the garage had one in that suited my needs and budget. Rather than spend money fixing the Zafira I chopped it in. problem was I couldn't get my hands on the replacement until this Thursday.

A whole week later than planned I was heading back to the lake. Normally I'm not keen on Friday night sessions as it can see carpers setting up for the weekend but as there was a football match of some sort being mentioned all over the internet and news media I thought I might have the place to myself. As it turned out there was one carp angler setting up near a swim I really fancied. I fished my second choice instead.

It was a few degrees cooler than the previous week, but still plenty warm enough as I arranged my gear in one of the more accommodating swims. This one gave me a good choice of features from pads to marginal rush and open water. All easily fishable from a pod.

Baits out by quarter to nine and the bleeps and twitches started soon after. This time it was a night of frustration as even the steady runs were missed. Fishing the off bottom bait close in my strikes almost saw the rig flying out of the water at me a couple of times! Plenty of takes from twitches to runs but no eels landed.

After my first session I'd been rethinking my rigs. In particular my hooklinks. While I like the Kevlar catfish braid I've been using for worm baits it is a bit tangle prone. Rooting in my eel/catfish box I thought it might be worth tying up a couple of hooklinks with the 20lb Mason's Hard Mono I used to use for making pike fly leaders (the bit before the wire leader the flies are attached to before you get the wrong idea...). It's tough, abrasion resistant and stiff. Not easy to knot though. While I was at it I had a change of hook pattern to a shorter shanked more round bend hook. Owner C-5X in fact. Using this hooklink on my leger rig caught me a couple of the small ones on my second session and damage to the mono was negligible. Certainly an option worth persisting with to see if it does significantly reduce tangles.

This is the rig I use for fishing off bottom. The boom is glued into a drilled out John Roberts Paternoster Boom, the end of the boom being flared over after heating to stop it pulling right through. The lead link is heavy and stiff mono for a couple of feet ending in a loop to which I tie a weaker link to take the lead. The length of the hooklink is shorter than the boom to go some way to reducing tangles on the cast. I've been using 70lb Kevlar catfish braid for the hooklinks when using worm baits, but when this does tangle it can be a real bad tangle. I'll be giving 20lb Mason's Hard Mono a try next time out.

 

Whether the blank session was a result of some change in conditions, the presence of only small eels in the swim or a new tackle curse I'm not sure. Does a 'new' car count as tackle? if not maybe it was the new box I'd got to keep my spare batteries in. It's a neater solution than the box I used to use. takes up less room and stops the batteries rattling about. Although it's designed to hold four PP3 batteries the slots in the rubber insert will take two AAs for my radio and just about three AAAs for my head torch. I was glad of the PP3s when the sounder for my Delkims started making the low battery noise.

Now I'm stocked up with worms I'll be out eeling again soon. I have two swims in mind which I have yet to fish which I think might produce. At least they'll be a change of scenery!

On the rod building front I've had a few unusual builds to keep my interest up and which are options for future consideration.

White painted rod tops are not my thing but I get requests for them on a fairly regular basis. After many years I've got a technique sorted for doing them which I am happy with. It's time consuming but gives a good looking result. I still can't decide if white tips look better with white thread on any rings that go on it or with the same thread colour/s as used on the rest of the rod. This one has two small isotopes added. The customer went with the black/copper thread option.

At he other end of a rod, in this case a lure rod for bass fishing, I came up with a way to fit a full shrink tube handle to a slim blank and make a Fuji butt cap fit and look good. Again a bit of a faff but worth it. Putting the shrink over a hard Duplon cone at the back of the reel seat is another neat and functional touch, I think. If I ever rebuild my trusty P-5s I'll be going for something like this for the handles, only with plain rather than X-weave shrink tube.


Finally, don't ask me to build float rods. Not only do I hate fitting all the fiddly little rings while trying not to break the delicate tip sections I can't find a set of rings which meet my aesthetic preferences. Thankfully I only get asked to build one or two a year, so reducing this to none at all, ever, won't be much of a loss!




Tuesday, June 08, 2021

My garage smells of eels

There's no doubt about it. These days I am very much a fair weather angler. If May hadn't been so bloody wet I might have made a start on my eel fishing a while ago, although an early start can see me burned out before the slimy things are really active. With the temperatures risen and settled I made the trip to the tackle shop for a tub of worms on Friday. Even so my long lay off saw me reluctant to make the small effort to fish after the close of play in the first test match of the summer. Monday was different. It was an easy job to load the car, once I'd remembered to swap my pike boxes for my eel box in my rucksack. At the last minute I remembered the pack of deadbaits I'd bought and I was on my way.

Although there's almost a week of June gone by already there are still some hawthorn blossoms to be seen. Most of those remaining are turning pink and ready to carpet the ground below like a sprinkling of untimely snow. A bitter cold April and the wet May has put everything back, but things are catching up fast with the sudden rise to summer temperatures. Other umbellifers are joining the fading cow parsley along the sides of the path round the lake and at its edge, the guelder rose is out too. Would the eels be stirring from their torpor?

A wander round the almost deserted lake didn't offer much in the way of inspiration when it came to swim selection. So after returning to the car for my gear I settled for comfort and previous track record as my starting point for this summer's eel campaign. Although snags and margins are often cited as the places to fish for eels I feel as if I've had more success fishing my baits in open water on this particular venue. When using three rods one bait gets fished close in, close to reeds, pads or overhanging bushes if there are any. But the open water baits are the ones that seem to get picked up more regularly.

My approach was the usual one. An off bottom worm bait, a legered bunch of worms and a legered deadbait. The dead went to my left on the end of a reed spit, the legered worms into no-man's-land, and the off bottom worms towards a lily bed which has thrown up a few eels for me in the past. All three rods were fishing by quarter to nine. I thought it would be an hour or so before I'd get any action. Plenty of time to relax and take in the world.

I'd seen a whitehroat as I left the car park and the chifchaffs were singing their repetitive song. A grebe was cruising and mallards skulking. Small fish topped in the edge as a carp cruised by. while it was bright the sun was mostly behind cloud and the wind from the north west was cool in my face but hardly rippling the water's surface.

After just half an hour chilling out the right hand Delkim went mad. To my utter amazement when I struck I could feel an eel wriggling it's way to my left. Not for long though. Never mind. It was still daylight and that was one more take than I'd had on the last eel session I put in last year. The off bottom bait had worked again.

It wasn't long before I had twitches to the same bait, and a strikeable (but missed) run to the legered worms. All this in daylight. It was still light at ten o'clock when the off bottom bait was off again. Another good run which I connected with. This didn't feel as heavy as the one that had dropped off at first. The closer it came the heavier it seemed and the first sight of it on the surface had me hoping it stayed attached. Which it did. Making a 50 inch landing net has been one of the best eeling moves I've made! Had the girth of the eel's belly carried on to its vent it would have merited a self take, as it was I was happy to record it laid alongside my rod and scales. With an eel like this as the first of the year it can only be downhill from now on!


 For the next hour it was the traditional experience of small twitches to various baits. At eleven fifteen I connected with one to the off bottom bait to find a bootlace eel foul hooked near its tail. Baffling. Ten minutes later things got hectic.

The off bottom rod produced a pounder. Five minutes later, before I had the off bottom bait back out, I was unhooking a smaller eel which had taken the legered worms when line tore off the reel with the deadbait on the hook. I forgot I'd rested the worm rod across the rod pod when I struck and it went flying as I struck. The run was  missed... With the mess of rods sorted out and all three baits back in the water it went quiet again.

At midnight it was decision time. Give it an hour or wrap up for an 'early' night? A trace tangling bootlace to the off bottom worms at half past made the decision for me. I couldn't be bothered making up a new hooklink in the dark. There were other things which needed sorting out before my next session too, so I packed up pondering as I walked back to the car if eels are crepuscular rather than nocturnal. There does often seem to be a peak of activity either side of nightfall tailing off as the night grows darker.


Thursday, April 29, 2021

New skool/Old school

For the first time in ages I've felt like going fishing. It took me a while to get some lure gear sorted but eventually it was all ready. I don't know why but I'd got this idea in my head that I ought to move with the times and use more modern reels than Ambassadeurs. The current generation of low profile baitcasters look more ergonomic and practical when considered objectively.

Years ago I used one or two low profile reels and liked them. Apart from the thumbars... The new designs look to have better placed thumbars. The biggest stumbling block is being out of touch with what's what and then there's the price. Larger ones can run to two or three times the price of a 6501!

Luck was on my side because I know someone who works for whatever the empire which owns Fox International and a load of other brands is called this week. There were some Lew's reels which looked like they might be worth a chuck. I managed to borrow one of the larger reels and once I'd sorted the birdsnest out that it came with I was raring to go.

Having a roughly 5501 Ambassadeur sized spool I put it on a Trickster L and threw some smaller lures in a box. Lures I used to use on the canal. Old school lures - six inch Jakes and Grandmas, L'il Ernies, 1oz spinnerbaits. I thought these might give me a better chance of connecting with a pike of any size.


When I travel light with lures these days I use my old Korum bait and bits bag, fondly known as The Shopping Bag.Side pockets hold sling, scale and unhooking tools, everything else gets dropped in the main compartment for easy access. The everything else being lure box, camera, drink bottle and lead bag containing notebook, permits and some other bits and bats. An unhooking mat is clipped to the bag and with net in one hand and rod in the other I'm mobile for a couple or three hours.

Spring was definitely in the air. Chiffchaff's making their monotonous but cheery sounds, blackthorn blossom on the fade being replaced bu fruit tree buds bursting open. Lilly pads were up, but not fully. A pair of great crested grebes were patrolling the open water. With a light ripple on the surface things looked promising.

To be honest this was more a try out for the reel than a serious fishing session. I still found myself thinking about where to cast and how to work the lures though. That rhythm of cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve was soon fallen into with each cast following automatically after a retrieve was completed. Time flew by as I worked my way round the pit.

Playing with the reel at home gave me three concerns. There was obviously the thumbar, then there was the high 7.1:1 gear ratio and finally the fact that the levelwind disengages during the cast. on other reels I've found that a disengaging levelwind can bunch the line up. Not a major issue but a possible cause of overruns and other line lay problems.

In practice none of these concerns proved justified. Thumbars on Ambassadeurs are an afterthought and so not in the optimal position. On a reel designed from scratch to have a thumbar it can be positioned where it doesn't get in the way during the retrieve. The high ratio and disengaging levelwind appear to work together to prevent bunching as the levelwind 'catches up' with the line position very quickly.

It only took a couple of casts to stop trying to push a spool release button and use the thumbar automatically. The reel felt nice in the hand, although a little small, and the gear ratio worked fine when twitching lures and cranking small bladed spinnerbaits. It was less happy when I put on a lure with a bigger blade which offered more resistance.

What I did like was the handle. The hard EVA, round, grips were really comfy and the longer throw probably made the gear ratio 'feel' lower than it is.

One thing I noticed was how quickly the line level dropped, being loaded with just 65lb Power Pro an easy cast saw it drop considerably. Another reason for the fast retrieve speed I guess.

I couldn't fault the reel in any practical way, although despite two hours flogging the water I didn't get the chance to test it properly with a pike, and would be happy enough to use this reel or one like it.

There is one thing about it which would worry me in the long run though. The sides of the reel have the dreaded 'soft touch' finish. Unless this is some magic new formula it will turn into a 'sticky touch' finish sooner or later!

As my short session came to an end I swapped the Lew's for one of my ancient C3s to fish the last couple of spots. After one cast trying to use the non-existent thumbar I was straight back in the swing. OK, so the reel needed some oil and was making a bit of a racket but it cast like a dream, felt just right in my hand and more like using a tool to do a job than playing with a pice of fine engineering. Agricultural Ambassadeurs might be, they still 'just work'. It was like coming home!


So I can hand the low profile reel back and save myself a couple of hundred quid by not buying a similar but bigger reel for myself. Maybe if there was a 6501 size low profile reel with no thumbar I might be tempted, but for now I'm sticking with the round reels. I will be looking out for a handle with hard EVA grips though!

In other news blank supplies are picking up. I'm getting on with some long outstanding builds at present. I've also done a bit of an odd build on a blank I had in stock for unknown reasons. I was surprised to be asked if I could build a 2.5lb test curve Torrix float rod. Very much a one-off the result is below. It took a bit of thinking and juggling of fittings but the customer was happy with the build.


 

It's jobs like this which relieve the boredom of building dozens of identical rods. Not something that happens a lot for me but the way blanks have been arriving in large batches recently it has been pretty monotonous. Last week it was X-1s, next week it's going to be Baitblasters.


Monday, March 08, 2021

Up or down?


Lumbland appears to be turning into a rod nerd blog! never mind, this is something I've had in mind for many years. Which is the 'correct' way to fit a screw locking reel seat?

Old timers will tell you that the thread should go at the top, towards the rings - down-locking. Some time in the 1990s this lead to Berkley bringing out a range of carp rods with DNPS reel seats which were fitted down-locking. I believe on teh advice of Terry Eustace who was connected with Berkley at the time.

However, DNPS reel seats are intended to be fitted up-locking, with the thread towards the butt end!

The up v down debate has raged in fly-fishing circles as long as I can remember, with both sides having their reasons. It's less of a burning issue in coarse angling but it does crop up now and then. This is my take on it.

Back in the mists of time when all reels were centrepins rods were held behind the reel to allow finger or thumb control of the rotating spool. If a screw reel seat was use then it made sense to have the thread at the top so the angler's hand rested on cork. This gives a more comfortable and firmer grip on the rod. Today the same reasoning applies for use with multiplier reels if a trigger reel seat isn't used.

As fixed spool reels are held with fingers either side of the reel stem, to my mind, it  doesn't matter which way round the reel seat goes as at least some of the hand will be resting on the reel seat. With a down-locking seat this will mean the thumb rests on the seat's thread, while with an up-locking seat the thumb will rest on cork. Having the thumb rest on a smooth surface is part of the design thinking behind DNPS reel seats, I think.

That's why, for me it's up-locking for fixed spool use, down-locking for multiplier use.
 
There are two other considerations. One is, as can be seen from the accompanying picture of two 10 foot pike rods, that up-locking reel seats reduce the overall length of a rod handle to position the reel in the same place. It might only be just over an inch difference, but aesthetically preferable to my eyes. 
DNPS
 
The second benefit of an up-locking reel seat for use with fixed spool reels only comes into play when using some form of line clip on the rod and an open bale arm on the reel. It allows the clip to be placed more directly over the reel's spool. In the 1980s when it was almost universal that pike anglers tucked the line into a rubber band or piece of cycle inner tube on the rod handle these fitted neatly onto the cork in front of an up-locking reel seat. Gardner could be taped in place there and John Roberts line clips were designed to fit onto cork handles.
 
It might seem that the best all round solution would be a down-locking seat with a hood which covered the thread. In small sizes I find these an acceptably comfortable and aesthetic fitting. I have them on my Interceptors. The trouble is that when the tube bore increases so does the diameter of the material covering the threads, particularly with cork. I don't like the look, or the feel when used with a fixed spool reel. But maybe that's just me.

Occasionally it doesn't look too bad. I quite like this lure rod example on a rod I must get round to finishing off for myself sometime!


There is another drawback to these reel seats in that when the covering is cork it can crack and split when the fitting repeatedly overtightened. No matter how the cork is attached, if it is made up of rings/shives there will be some unsupported cork forward of the underlying hood. This is a weak spot.
 
Some manufacturers and rod builders have tried to overcome this by using rubberised or reconstituted cork. If Drennan rods are anything to go by it's not a great solution. I had to replace the grip on the Drennan float rod I use for bait snatching because it had started to come apart. This is why I much prefer to fit Duplon on this sort of reel seat. It might not be as pretty as cork but it's far more practical.
 
Up or down, there's no right answer!


Sunday, February 28, 2021

The transition continues

That's the last of the black reel seats gone. I've now built a few rods with the 'all new' look to both reel seats and rings and I have to say it's a pretty good look. The liners on the new rings are slightly slimmer than of old. Just enough for a rod nerd like me to notice!



As well as building what few rods I can to get thin down my backlog of orders I've had some rebuild jobs for people I know. A set of four Free Spirit carp rods gave me the chance to see what Vortex rings look like on rods. Not as bad as I thought they might. The frames aren't as nicely finished as Fujis but they're on a par with most other brands, including the ones they replaced. The reason for the replacement was the rods' owner being fed up of centres popping out or cracking. That won't happen with the Vortex rings as (with the exception of the tip rings) they don't have ceramic liners but swaged  black steel liners. A pity they only go as small as a size 10 or they'd go well on light specimen rods.

The other rebuilds have been a bit oddball! First off was making two push in butt grips for a fly rod. One short the other long to allow double handled casting. I forgot to take a photo of the short handle but it looks just like the long handle but with a shorter cork section! I fitted the Duplon at the front of the push-in handle to take up wear over time. Should the carbon wear with repeated use the Duplon will compress if the handle has to be shoved in further and further.


As my customer friend was happy with this job he asked me to do something similar to a couple of other rods, but this time with permanent long back grips. That made life easier, although finding cork to use for the fighting grip on one of the rods was a bit of a hassle. That rod originally had a full length 'float rod' cork handle which luckily came off cleanly leaving the exposed section of blank looking pretty untouched. This is a real one-off rod built this way, with a lot of small rings, for a specific non-flyfishing use.

The other rod is an old Daiwa Whisker fly rod which had no butt grip and revealed a strange build method under the reel seat when I removed it. Only about half the reel seat actually covered the blank. The rest hung off the end with no blank inside it! To maintain the rod's overall length I glued in a short extension before fitting the new handle.

Jobs like these are what stop me going nuts from building the same rods over and over. They provide a bit of mental stimulation trying to work out how best to approach them. Unfortunately the idea of going fishing still isn't getting my grey cells fired up, even though the weather has picked up. Mind you, this warmer weather will probably have got the pike thinking about spawning, and it's not warm enough yet to make me think about eels. Hey ho. Until the mojo returns this might become a very sporadic rod building blog!