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. 
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!

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!