Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Out with the old

2020 must have been the year I've done the least fishing since 1980, certainly the year I had the least enthusiasm to wet a line. This started out from a lack of pike action, compounded by Covid-19 Lockdown 1.0 coinciding with cracking early season tench weather and fishing prohibited. By the time fishing was allowed I'd lost the urge generated by reading my tench fishing books. Never mind there were eels to look forward to. The hot weather was sure to carry on for a baking summer. Wrong.

When the weather was fit to get out for some evening eeling the bloody things had disappeared. One half decent fish then nowt. Sometimes not even a bite. Had they all headed to the Sargasso while I'd been away? Oh well, there'd be plenty of pike to be had. Three blanks after one jack and I gave up faced with endless rain to top it off. There's nothing like catching fish to keep the enthusiasm up, and the older I get there's nothing like a couple of blanks for putting me right off - especially if the weather is cold or wet. On the bright side 2021 can't be any worse. Can it?

It was a strange year for rod building too. When the lockdown kicked in orders dried up. Not surprising really. It was surprising how they picked up once fishing was back on the agenda. A big thank you to all my customers for keeping me busy last year. A big thank you also to everyone who had a long wait, or is still waiting, for their rods to be built for their patience and understanding. The first hold up was staff isolating and being furloughed at Harrison's. Then they had supply problems which haven't abated even now. There's nothing I can do about speeding things up. I get what blanks I get when I get them.

On top of that Fuji have now discontinued all their shiny black finishes and some ring patterns. This means that my standard BSVOG rings and BPOT tips are no more.I posted sometime back about the replacement for the BSVOG here. At the time I didn't know the tips would be changing, but they are. For the better too.

The new tip pattern is on the left, in the new black chrome (BC) finish which is much like the old gunsmoke used on SiC rings. Gunsmoke is also going in the glossy finish to be replaced by a lighter 'black' - although this BC finish looks a good match to me. As can be seen the new tip ring (actually an existing frame design) is an 'anti-frap' type. I doubt it makes any difference in practice, but it does look nice and might protect the liner a bit better.

I have a reasonable stock of BSVOG rings and will be using those up for the time being, holding back the dregs for matching existing rods if possible and for repairs.

It came as a bit of a surprise to me that the Alconites I use are also getting the new BC finish, although it shouldn't have done. Again the BC is on the left in the picture below.


It was no shock to find that reel seats have also had the facelift. I prefer a black hood on reel seats, but that's no longer an option from Fuji. I'll be fitting the BC seats when my stock has run out - which it already has done in the 17mm size I use on specialist rods. The only black option now is the American Tackle seat in 18mm which I'm not all that keen on. It's there for anyone who must have a black reel seat in the DPS style though. BC on the lower seat in the following pic.

As I write this we have just entered Lockdown 3.0 and angling is banned once more.* It's saved me from more blanking I suppose.

Maybe this time I'll use lockdown to actually get that book idea off the ground. I've been scanning more slides with that in mind this week. Here are a few from the early 1980s. Those were the days. Days when a few (or even a lot of) blanks didn't curb my enthusiasm. Younger and dafter, or keen as mustard? You decide!

* 07/01/21 - Another U-turn sees angling allowed again. I'm still not going to bother until the weather warms up!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Creaking rods

Hips and haws are darkening red, leaves which long lost their shine are fading to brown, lily pads breaking up, phragmites stems turning shades of ochre. With branches baring and fieldfare flocks passing over high hints of winter to come with meteorological autumn less than three weeks old. A little early for this water on past evidence but it felt like time to get the pike rods out on a mild day of light wind and overcast sky.

And so it came to pass that I was closing the car park gate behind me just before two in the afternoon. I'd been spurred into action through a combination of boredom and a desire to test a pair of rods. The boredom resulting form the usual frustration of having orders to fulfil but no materials to fulfil them with and the other frustration of a photographic project having hit a brick wall.

The rod testing was not to be the kind I like best - seeing how a new blank design performs, rather it was to be a test to see if the rods would explode! Some time back I sent these two rods out to a customer and the tube they were in got damaged. While a close inspection of the rods showed no damage I built a replacement pair to be safe. 

When one of the rods was waggled it made a disconcerting creaking noise. Maybe there was some damage to the blank after all. Or it could just be an example of the mysterious 'varnish creak' which sometimes happens. Running braid through the rings and giving the rod a bend with the line tied to my garage door didn't end in splinters of carbon, so I rigged the rods up for pike. I've been thinking of going back to ten footers for pike after enjoying using them for eels, but the 3.25lb Torrix I tried felt like the carp rod it is when I gave it a whirl.

One of my idiosyncrasies is not being a fan of cork handles on bank fishing pike rods. I've no idea why as I prefer them on boat rods and barbel rods, but not tench rods. Just one of those things. Still, it doesn't affect how the rods behave. Swinging a herring head to my left and a bluey head to my right the rods weren't put to any great casting test in the first swim I settled in. Nor were they tested by any pike.

The next swim saw a similar casting effort required. My intention, as usual, was to move every hour or so and I was getting geared up to head for swim three when I saw the left hand rod top start to twitch. Sure enough the float was dithering. I positioned the landing net as I crept to the rod and when the float was moving off I wound down to the fish. With with less than a rod length of line beyond the tip ring this is always a bit of a tense experience. Fail to hook the pike and the bait and rig might come flying straight at you, if it's a big, hard-running fish you might get flat-rodded so have to be preparred to give line.

As it was neither of those outcomes occurred. I still wasn't sure how big the pike was once it was attached to my hooks, it was staying low and out of sight, not doing much. The rod was hooped round well enough, a proper pike rod curve not a tippy carp rod apology for a rod action, and got the pike moving upwards. Only a rooter of two or three pounds I let it swim around a bit to calm down before sliding it over the net. It still tried to spin itself up in the mesh as I went to unhook it.  Although small it was in good condition, and a pike is a pike of the first session. It's a start.

The air temperature was around 15 as I made the third move. Ripples were reducing as the wind dropped, and soon the temperature was dropping too. Swim three produced nothing despite me moving the baits around to try a few likely looking spots. It's one of those swims where a third rod would have been useful and not just there for the sake of it. More than three places can be cast to from it which produce pike.

The final move was made early. if it had been sixth sense which made me up sticks sooner than planned it let me down. Nothing came of the move. By the time I wound the rods in the air temperature was in single figures. Before I left I gave the herring head two or three good long casts. The rod creaked again, but remained whole. I'll stick with these rods until one of them blows up on me or pike season finishes.

PS - These rods are P-4s, but they are NOT the rods I have in stock ready to go on my website!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

More nostalgia

I found some old negatives the other day, so I scanned a few. The Pitsters have suggested I do a book using my old photos - with some stories to go with them. I've got an idea how to organise it into a book, but whether I can be bothered doing it is another matter! In the meantime here are a few more old photos.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Recent rod thoughts

I'm not a fan of ALPS reel seats, although I do think they look nice and are well made. What I dislike is them being cold and heavy. They're not cheap either.

When a customer asked if I'd build a set of Bait Blasters with ALPS ARD wave form seats (which he would supply) I said I would if they'd fit the blanks.

Well, they did fit but not with as large a gap as I like between blank and the inside of the seat. Although it's perfectly sufficient I like a little more 'wiggle room'. The inside diameter is a bit less than that of an 18mm Fuji pipe seat.

While the inside is slim the outside front of these reel seats is much wider than a comparable Fuji seat. or indeed other ALPS designs. This posed me a problem of how to make anaesthetically pleasing cork handle to go with the seats.

My solution was to use slightly wider diameter cork for the rear portion with a chunky 'cone' at the front.  The butt was finished parallel with a large stainless button, while I fitted an black anodised aluminium winding check at the other end. The final result looked pretty good, the burgundy (garnet) thread and Union Flag pairing well.

I was surprised how noticeable the extra weight of these particular reel seats was. By the way, the hint of red by the hood is a rubber band which is supplied with the seats to prevent them rattling in transit, not a part of the design.

An earlier build was much simpler. The only changes from a near standard build on these two P-5s were the Ultra Matt finish to the blanks, Alconite rings, olive thread, stainless winding checks and American Tackle reel seats. I'm undecided about the reel seats. They seem to be asimilar quality to Fujis but they are sized slightly differently. The outside diameter at the front is a tad larger. I'll not be making a permanent changeover, but for those times when the Fujis are unavailable for an indeterminate period I'll be happy to fit them as an alternative.


Monday, September 14, 2020

No eels

When this blog goes quiet it means one of three things: I'm catching loads but don't want to give away any clues; I'm fishing lots and catching little; I'm not fishing much. This latest silence is down to the third reason brought about by the second. Eels have been frustrating me this summer for a brand new reason. They aren't playing.

It's gone from a few twitchy takes down to the unheard of no takes at all on one recent session. I have no answer for it. Worms on or off the bottom have always been an eel magnet everywhere I've fished when the light begins to fade. Not this summer on this water. I'm now regretting starting late. The idea is to hold back from eel fishing until July so I don't get burnt out before the usual peak of activity in August and the hope of a big eel as late as September. These best laid plans have indeed 'gang a-gley'.

With the dismal returns to the pike rods over the last two or three winters I'm not looking forward to more waterside inactivity. I suppose I should have a change and try for something else during the autumn. Get myself on a river somewhere perhaps, or look for some perch fishing not too far from home. Maybe have another try for that sturgeon if it's still around. If only I could get myself motivated...

My mater Nige phoned me the other week to ask if I had any pictures of his brace of thirty pound pike in my files. This prompted me to drag my slides out and root through them. Inevitably it became a descent into nostalgic memories and I ended up scanning a load of pictures of other fish and scenes. Those golden days came flooding back. Travelling all over the place at daft hours of the day and night. Long walks, boat trips in precarious little boats, weather fair and foul. And what looked like pike galore.

Something struck me from a photographic angle. The quality of the scanned pictures was often pretty dire. At least when compared to what I expect to see from a modern digital camera. This reflects what the late James Holgate told me about how digital cameras had improved the quality of pictures submitted to accompany articles in Pike and Predators. Film shots had often been dodgy in the extreme. My slides being more than acceptable at the time makes it obvious how bad the bad pictures were! Compact digital cameras not only made taking pictures easier, the technology was better than in cheap film cameras, but even the jpeg files were more easily corrected/improved for publication.

Judging by the photos I see on fishing forums these days, however, things have gone full circle. Most anglers appear to be using their phones to take fishing pictures now. While the results look great on a phone screen, when blown up (either on a larger screen or for print) they can look worse than pictures from film. Strangely enough Nige said that he was looking for a new camera as the one he has is getting on a bit. The reason he wants a camera is that it makes better prints than his phone.

Here are some of the photos I scanned. I might scan some more during the long winter nights.


Friday, August 07, 2020

New boots and anties

The weather forecast lived up to itself. Thursday was warm and humid promising to stay that way into dark. It had to be worth a shot at eels again. If that wasn't enough I also had a new pair of boots to try out.
I arrived with great expectations about half an hour earlier than I needed to as I had nothing else to do. A short walk saw me pretty much decided on fishing a swim I've fancied for a while but always shied away from at the last minute because it's a bit tight to fish. Less overgrown at one side. Back to the car for the gear and I was ready to get settled in.

The rod quiver was dropped handily on the bank above where I'd set the pod up while I got my chair and rucksack in place. Reaching for the quiver to get my pod out I saw it was crawling with ants! hundreds of the busy little buggers. I brushed a load of them off and put the quiver on the other side of the swim. Then I moved my bag and seat out of ants way.

By the time I had the pod up and the rods out the ants had disappeared. They must have been disturbed by the quiver landing on top of their nest. At least I wouldn't have to spend the session sweeping ants off myself and my gear. Even so I had the itches for a while!
Once more I stuck to the usual two rigs. The off-bottom worms went to the pads on my right and the legered squid section straight out on a decent cast. Once more I found myself surrounded by those daft mallards. I'm sure they weren't in the swim when I had a look at it on my inspection walk.

By nine thirty it was getting dark and I hadn't had a single sign of an eel taking a fancy to either of my baits. Time to refresh and recast them. Still nothing by ten when it was properly dark. It was twenty past when I had my first tentative take to squid. That didn't signal the start of activity. The moon had risen by now so I got my camera out and started playing around with it to keep my occupied.

This meant a take would be imminent. It was. At 11.20 line was taken from the reel with the squid on the end of the line. This take was met by a strike which removed the bait from the hook. No eel hooked, of course. A brief flurry of two runs to the same bait followed over the next half hour. All frustratingly missed.
There didn't feel to be any wind yet the clouds were moving fairly quickly across the moon as it slowly rose and swung to my right. I put the camera away and waited for more action.It wasn't forthcoming though. Midnight came and went. Another half hour. If there was action before half past I'd stop on until one, or longer if the action continued. If there were no more indications I'd give up.

Sure enough I gave up. Conditions seemed ideal, although maybe the moon was too bright (he said clutching at straws) but again there was not much eel activity, and again nothing to speak of to the worm bait. In some way this is good because it means I'm not up and down wasting bait all the time. I'm wondering if the bootlaces have done a disappearing act. Daft as it sounds I'm contemplating an afternoon eel session. When I was a kid we always fancied our chances of catching eels on lobworms from the canal on red hot summer days.

The new boots didn't get much of a testing. They'd been comfortable worn round the house for a couple of hours. I didn't walk far enough to find out if they'd rub my feet but I wasn't aware of them while I was fishing. This morning I went for a walk of over three miles in them and the result was the same. They felt like I'd had them for ages. 
Looking back it was only December 2018 that I bought my previous pair of boots. I'd have expected them to last a bit longer before leaking, even given my lack of care given to them. That said the tread is almost worn out in places too, so they've put in a good few miles I suppose. They were Harkilas. A brand I'd had before and found wanting after twelve months. I guess I should have known better but it was a case of needs must and a local supplier.

This time I did some research by asking the combined wisdom of  The Pikers Pit what they'd suggest. Two people (who I know in the real world as well as virtually) and one cyber-aquaintance  recommended Alt-Berg boots. I surfed on over and browsed their website. I knew what features I wanted in a boot and the Warrior Aqua looked like it met them almost perfectly. For some reason the idea of buying military boots struck some Pitsters as amusing. I don't know why, these boots miht have a militaristic name but they look much like the stalking boots I usually wear which I prefer to those marketed for hiking. I like a higher boot than walkers as there's less chance of rain running down overtrousers and into the boot.
Alt-Berg offer a fitting service, either at their factory or at approved stockists, but with the current Covid situation and the distance involved I decided to take a punt and order on-line. As the boots are handmade in Yorkshire (spit...) they aren't all available in all sizes off the shelf. There'd be a wait of a few weeks. I'd have to suffer wet feet for a while longer.

As there is a discount code provided if you sign up for the Alt-Berg newsletter I did just that. I also ordered a boot care kit. It remains to be seen how much use the care kit gets...

For British made footwear the prices are remarkable, and for people who can keep the uppers in good repair they offer a resoling service.
The new boots are a little higher than the ones they're replacing, but a smidgen shorter than the Le Chameau's which preceded them I liked the Mouflon's a lot so these Warrior's should suit me. And they are considerably cheaper than the Le Chameau's.
As already stated, they've been comfortable from the off. One thing worth noting is that I took the advice of one Pitser and ordered larger than my usual size. He suggested a whole size larger for wearing with thick socks. Alt-Berg recommend a half size extra for the same. As I've stopped wearing thick socks in boots I went for the half size extra and I'm glad I did. those are my initial impressions. How long they last before succumbing to the Lumb Lack of Boot Care regime remains to be seen. I'm full of good intentions to lovingly wax them whenever they need it. But...