Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Let there be light

I'm a great believer in getting my money's worth out of stuff, but there comes a time when putting up with a failing headtorch gets too much for me. That time came last week when trying to unhook an eel in the dark and the constant flickering of the light did nothing to make the job easier. It isn't a case of old batteries either.  Looking back through this blog's archives it seems like it's eight years since I got the headtorch that was letting me down so a replacement was in order. The old one will do as a spare.

I would have taken a chance on a fancy new design, one of the Fox ones, but the tackle shop only had the cheaper model, with fewer features, that takes two batteries rather than three. So it was another Petzl ordered on-line for me. I remember my first LED headtorch being a revelation compared to the ones I'd had with a bulb. The light was more even and a better colour, the batteries lasted longer and the whole thing was tiny compared to the bulky light unit and battery pack.

Things moved on with number two which had a flip up red screen to keep insects away. The latest one has three power settings in white light and one in red plus a flashing red light, all arrived at by pressing a button. And it's still very little larger than the headtorch it's replacing. Naturally enough this new toy was a good excuse to have another short eel session on Sunday.

I'd got there before six on Friday and nothing happened. Nothing at all. I'd packed up without a sniff. A change of swim was called for this time, and a later start was made. It's the last hour of light that seems to be producing at the moment. The usual baits went out and I sat back to watch the sun set noticeably further south than last week. With the hawthorns red with berries and a late evening brown hawker zipping about it's starting to feel like Autumn.

Right on cue, at twenty to nine, the legered worm was taken. At first I thought I'd hooked  small skimmer until the tell-tale wriggling started. Just as I got the small eel close to the net, as it was spinning splashily on the surface the water boiled and the rod was pulled briefly to my left. A jack had shot out from the reeds and grabbed the eel. The eel didn't seem too concerned by this!

There was just time to put another worm out. This time I cast it further out, dropping the deadbait where I'd had the take. All that happened was that it got dark and I was able to try my new headtorch out as I packed up. It worked great. On the middle brightness setting I could see what I was doing, on red I could get to the rods without tripping over, and on the lowest it was fine for walking back to the car.

For these short sessions the Korum Multi Mat is proving good. I gave up on putting the banksticks in the bankstick pocket after very few trips. They were banging against my side, and it's quicker to throw them in the mat itself. Having a two piece landing net pole works well as that all rolls up in the net and also goes in the main mat part. Three rods get banded using the built in bands and away I go. Ruckbag on my back with worm bucket clipped on to a caribiner, deadbait/squid coolbag folded up in my low chair and I'm good to go. I might try the mat for piking this winter - when a brolly isn't required.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Time flies

Amazingly it's ten years since I started this blog! I just jumped in to see what would happen. A bit like starting DLST when I took Geoff Parkinson's suggestion and put an advert for rods in Pikelines and took a stand at the PAC conference in Loughborough - 25 years ago next month. It's a year for anniversaries because I wrote and published Pike Fishing with Lures 20 years ago, and  www.dlst.co.uk went live fifteen years ago. I wrote the book for something to do and the website started when I found some free software on a computer and played around with it. I reckon if I've ever had a plan it's been to not have a plan!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What day is it?

For some unaccountable reason I've been a day ahead all week. Monday felt like Tuesday and I'm still not convinced it isn't Saturday tomorrow! August continues to be warm, but not always sunny. Quite good for eel fishing to my mind. Except that the idea of eel-wrestling in the rain doesn't appeal to me. That's why I've picked dry evenings to carry on chasing Anguilla anguilla. A combination of rainy forecasts and work related restrictions on my time have prevented overnight sessions. So it's been just a couple of short evening sessions. Not requiring waterproofs or bunny suits makes grabbing a couple or three hours more of a pleasure than a chore too.

Last week I got sidetracked on a website that sells tape. I'd gone looking for masking tape and found bright orange (and Realtree) Gaffer tape. When all you have to do is click a mouse it's all too easy to buy more than you really need. My worm bucket is now so well camouflaged I might have to use some of the orange tape on it's lid to stop me leaving it behind. Which is what I've done to my landing net pole and some banksticks. There was a reason for buying the tape. Having almost forgotten my net a time or two recently I'm hoping it'll make these things stand out when I shine my headtorch around a swim as I pack up in the dark.

My approach to the eels has continued in the same manner as before. A couple of worms, on suspended one legered, and either a deadbait or piece of squid legered on the third rod. Two rods are back on braid with one fishing mono. Traces are wire for the fishy baits and Quicksilver or Amnesia for the worms. The Amnesia is a bit of an experiment. reading the old Pike and Predators magazines I saw someone recommend it, and catfish anglers use it to avoid tangles. In 25lb or heavier it should resist an eel's teeth.

The first session was one of those frustrating ones with dropped runs and pinched baits to both sorts of bait. One steady run to a roach head produced a small eel from close in. I've been packing up shortly after dark for a couple of reasons. If I stop any longer I'll be tempted to stay later still, and also because runs seem to become less frequent the further into dark it gets. It's as if there's a feeding window from half an hour or so before proper dark until an hour after. That's my excuse. Mostly I just want to get back home for a brew!

I arrived earlier for my second session for no good reason other than it was better sitting looking at water than a computer screen. I didn't expect anything to occur until the light faded, and I wasn't wrong. It was very nearly dark enough to put the headtorch on, with my hopes fading, when the legered lob was picked up by something that had no intention of stopping.

These fast runs are often missed in my experience. Not this one. Even on mono and a fair distance I connected immediately with the eel which promptly began to writhe on the surface. That was what it did all the way in to the net. I think that its writhing made it easier to net as it wasn't stretched out. This one looked worth a weigh.

Worms can often get swallowed by eels but this one was hooked neatly in the bottom lip. The Amnesia didn't get tested by the eel's teeth, but I did manage to mangle it with the forceps. After slipping the eel back I chopped the hooklink back and retied the hook, put on another worm behind the inner tube bait retainer and cast back out.

I'd hardly set the indicator and hadn't got sat down again when the sounder box was blaring again. This time it was the fishy bait that was steaming off in no uncertain manner. This time my strike failed to connect, but winding and winding I made contact with something that was staying deep and trying to pretend not to be an eel. At times I got the feeling I was connected to a pike. I wasn't. Again a writhing eel was easily netted. This one looked bigger than the first one. Certainly around the head and shoulders. The scales proved that it was bigger. By an ounce! This one was also neatly hooked. They say eels are enigmatic. They certainly are. One day they are impossible to hook, the next they swallow your baits out of sight, the next they are easy to hook tidily. Enigmatic or annoying? You decide. They're certainly a challenge.

Friday, August 19, 2016


I've been messing about with my eel rigs these last few days. As ever when it comes to rigs my aim is to simplify them. For the last few years I've been using quick change swivels at the end of the mainline, with a rig sleeve on the trace covering the open eye of the swivel. Although the swivels are strong enough they are a bit long, and rig sleeves never seem as tangle proof as they should be. Is a swivel really necessary? I'm not sure that any other than ball bearing swivels actually snivel very much in use. As I wanted to retain the quick change facility (eels manage to trash traces!) I tried out a Q Link (other brands are available...). I swapped my previous rig sleeve for a stiffish tail rubber and covered the rest of the link with a buffer bead.

The lead link is made from 20lb Mason Hard Type Mono, which I've found is far more tangle free than standard mono. A large eye swivel has taken the place of a leger ring as braid grooves plastic and I've used these swivels on my barbel rigs for years. The tail rubber over this swivel is optional. Even without it the rig has proved tangle resistant. A small polyball or cork ball could also be used to cover the knot if weed is present.

The other end of the link has a paper clip for the lead as a weak link. One word of caution with paper clips. They can snag in micro-mesh landing nets. I'd never had this problem with my wide mesh barbel net, but my eel net has caused me problems. I'm concerned that sleeving the paper clip might prevent it opening out on a snag, so for the time being I'm putting up with the occasional net tangle.

Hard mono is more difficult to knot than ordinary nylon or copolymer, simply because it is so stiff. When using it as a hooklink or on a John Sidley rig (which I'm still unsure about the need for) I take the trouble to carefully tie a Uni Knot for strength, but for lead links I use a knot that I have recently stumbled upon on the web. The Davy Knot is untidy, and possibly not very strong, but it is simple and quick to tie. Ideal for weak links.

Back when my friends and I started using big jerkbaits the braided lines in use today weren't available, so we used mono of 25lb or more. Because of the repeated force of casting heavy lures the trace knot needed to be retied a few times each day to prevent unexpected crack-offs. I carried a pair of clippers for trimming the knots in this line as they made a better job of it than scissors. Scissors struggle a bit on hard mono too, and I worry that it could blunt them. You can buy line clippers, but they can cost a tenner. Nail clippers from the chemist's at under two quid do just as good a job. The ones I have also incorporate a file - so I can give myself a manicure between runs!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tailwalk of the unexpected

 A change of venue was in order yesterday. One guaranteed to provide action of some sort to worms. I arrived late, not having planned to set out at all until I could think of nothing better to do with my evening. The full moon rising made me wonder if eels fed best at this phase or if they'd prefer the darker nights. I didn't ponder on it for long though as having a bait or three in the water is a more reliable of finding out than watching the sky.

One reason for turning out had been the impending end of the dry season. Rain is on its way for the weekend. It was still t-shirt warm by the time I got two worms out, one legered out from the bank, the other suspended  by the right margin. The third rod fished a roach head close in on the bottom to my left. All was set. Sure enough I had a couple of single bleeps in no time at all. I'd only been sat down for ten miutes when the roach head was away. A quick strike and I was pulling back at an eel. That was promising. Not a big fish by anyone's standards, but a start.

 The tail section of the roach went out to the same spot just over the marginal weed and I settled back again. Something pinched half the worm that was fishing off bottom. I rehooked that bit and added another lob.

At nine o'clock that bunch of worms was away. I did the hand over the spool thing to strike and immediately whatever it was shot off taking line from the still disengaged spool. By the time I got the reel into gear I had a pretty good idea that what I'd hooked was lean, mean and green. When it tail waked I knew I was right!

The worm rigs I've been fishing with Quicksilver hooklinks so I was doubtful that the pike would be landed. However, the hook proved to be lodged in the corner of the fish's mouth and the braid was in the clear.

A skinny fish showing signs of either disease or previous poor handling it had the head and length to make double figures in a few months. Another success for my suspended worm rig, even if not the intended quarry.

I didn't realise it immediately but the pike had been landed using one of my ten foot Torrix stalkers. The more fish I catch on these rods the more I'm coming to like them. So much so that I think they might become my eel rods of choice for the rest of this season. With a 3500B baitrunner on they feel just right.

The light was going now, and as I rebaited the size ten hook a barn owl made a silent and ghostly fly by a few feet behind me. With the air still hot and the moon casting shadows it was an evocative sight in a mystical Paul Nash way.

Twitches and pinched baits carried on. Nothing positive, though, and I called it a night early.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Buoyed by my eeling success I've made three more evening trips to the same water. When I first cast a worm into the place a few years ago it was bootlace city. As darkness descended the bobbins were hardly still. When I did connect with a bite it was invariably an eel under a pound.

These three sessions, admittedly short but at the right time (I think) have resulted in one dropped take and two or three single bleeps. I've fished two worm rods, one off bottom, and a piece of squid each time. Elsewhere these two baits have always attracted eel attention. It's perplexing. But that's eels for you.

Has something changed? Well the lake has been successfully treated to reduce the weed. Perhaps that has reduced the invertebrate population and the small eels have skedaddled. Maybe I shouldn't have fished a different swim each time. Maybe it's the moon. The only thing keeping me going is that the one eel I have landed has been a decent one. But given my three blanks and out 'rule' it's time for a change of venue or species next time. There were plenty of fish bubbling in front of me yesterday evening. I could try for them, whatever they were. The problem is I'm in predator mode. I'm almost itching to do a bit of piking!

Sunday, August 07, 2016


That trip to the river didn't manage to enthuse me but somewhere along the line I got a belated burst of enthusiasm for some summer predator fishing. I think the heatwave a couple of weeks ago must have given me a fever.

First of all I got the urge to catch a catfish after a break of nigh on twenty four years! This lead to a frantic search through my tackle museum (the mess of rig stuff I keep in various boxes around the place) looking for suitable hooks and hooklink materials. A search which proved fruitless on the hook front. I'm sure I must still have the original Cox and Rawle Uptide Extras I used to use. Somewhere... At least the Quicksilver doesn't appear to have rotted.

Next I embarked on a period of research. Thanks to the interwebs finding out about catfish waters and catfish tackle is a lot easier than back in the old days. What became obvious is that there are lots more waters available to catfish anglers than there used to be, and the size of catfish in them is much larger. Along with my cyber-searching I looked back through some early Pike and Predator magazines in which my old catting partner, Geoff Parkinson, wrote about venues where a thirty pound cat was a possibility. Nowadays a would-be cat angler wouldn't entertain a water that doesn't hold forties or bigger!!

While there is certainly more readily available catfish tackle there isn't much choice. When it comes to hooks, the things I lacked most, I couldn't find any that I really liked the look of. I ordered some on-line which had been recommended to me on The Pikers Pit, but when they turned up I thought they looked a bit on the small side for what it said on the packet. A rummage around in the remains of my pike-fly tying gear found me some sea hooks I'd bought but which proved to be a bit on the heavy side. They looked bob on as catfish hooks. The barbs were a bit rank though. Checking out current prices I wasn't surprised to find that sea fishing hooks similar to catfishing hooks are considerably cheaper.

Despite the passage of almost a quarter of a century catfish rigs haven't altered much. Mind you pike rigs haven't changed much in even longer. I thought I detected the hand of the carp angler in a lot of them, though. The needless addition of bells and whistles to what should be really simple rigs. I thought I'd stick with what I know and make up a version of my popped up livebait rig which I'd originally developed for perch fishing.

The only change I made to it from the past was to use Amnesia for the hooklink and Mason Hard Type Mono for the polyball link instead of Quicksilver and light mono respectively. This, I hoped, would eliminate tangles. Two other changes I made were to use a tiny swivel instead of a Drennan ring to slide on the hooklink, and to finish the link in a loop to allow the changing of polyballs (to suit varying bait sizes) with a pellet stop to hold them in place. The weight, instead of being attached directly to the run ring, was tied to another hard mono link. This can be altered though if the bait is to be kept closer to the bottom. For safety's sake a paper clip was used as a weak link for the lead.

My deadbait rig is the same leger set up but with a Quicksilver hooklink without a polyball link. A third rig would be used to fish the dreaded halibut pellet. Actually four of them on a hair, 'snake' style like I use with smaller pellets for barbel, also using Quicksilver as the hooklink. The dumbbell rig was new to me as the idea of fishing subsurface baits for cats hadn't really caught on when I last fished for them. It should go without saying that I made my own dumbbell rather than buying one in case I fancy giving it a go.

If I get round to actually fishing for catfish this year rods won't be a problem. I have plenty to choose from, rods which customers have landed cats over 80lb on. So I should be okay on that score! Likewise I have reels which are up to the task. I might need a bigger net and mat though. It'll all depend on where I end up fishing. Then again it might have to wait until next summer. At the moment finding time to get away is the main problem as there are no prolific catfish waters within short session range. And I'd like to ease myself in with a few chances at least. In the meantime I can scale things down and get some eeling done.

Doing more reading up it was apparent that quite a few of the commercial catfish waters don't allow livebaits. The next best, easy, option would be a bunch of worms presented off bottom. The worm rigs I Googled all looked arse about face to me and tangle disasters waiting to happen. A variation on a Dyson or Bellars rig seemed a more sensible option. Eel anglers like these rigs, more than the pike anglers for whom they were developed seem to, and eels share more behaviour traits with cats than do carp or pike to my way of thinking. I can't see a reason catfish anglers haven't taken to these rigs. Or maybe they have. More likely those coming from a carpy background have never heard of them.

Playing about with rigs is always fun but the temptation is to get carried away. The more time you spend fiddling the more bits get added to them. I reckon that's why carp rigs are so complimacated - too much time spent fiddling and not enough spent catching. It's easy to get lured into thinking that the reason you aren't catching is because your rig is rubbish. More likely it simply isn't in the right place at the right time.

All I wanted was a rig that wouldn't tangle which presents a free running bait. Over the last few summers I've tried Dyson/Bellars variations for eels and had trouble with tangles on the cast. The Dyson can also be a pig to cast accurately. Analysing how the rigs worked it seemed to me that the key is making the hooklink dangle away from the lead link. Paternoster booms do that. I use them for paternostering deadbaits and on a long casting rig when pike fishing. After much messing about I thought I'd extend the tube of the boom a little and slip a polyball on the 'leg'. The tail rubber neatens things, holds the polyball in place and slightly extends the leg. Once more I used hard mono for the link. The hard mono terminated in a tiny swivel to allow me to add either a paper clip or a length of weaker standard mono should I want to present a bait further off bottom.

I found a hot, muggy evening irresistible and decided to try the off-bottom worm rig locally for eels. If it catches eels it'll catch catfish. I was also interested to find out if fishing worms off bottom might avoid the attentions of the tiny eels which have plagued me in the past on the water I had in mind.

The baits were out and being ignored by twenty to eight as the sky clouded over keeping the temperature up as the sun set. It felt like it would be a good night for eels - if I didn't have to leave when it got dark. No bad thing in the circumstances as I had to be up early the next morning and being tempted to stop 'one more hour' might have proved irresistible.  The lack of twitchy bootlace takes to the worm rod was encouraging. The piece of squid (this time on a hair rig type set-up I'd come across when looking up catfish rigs) on the other rod was also being left alone. Around nine thirty I missed a run to the worm rod. The rig was working. Not quite half an hour later the worm was taken again. This time I connected and the 10ft Torrix stalker I was using was hooped over. Looking down on the eel as I laid the net in the margins it was clearly my biggest from the pit. One of those thickset eels, and pleasingly long.

As this was only a short session I'd taken my Korum Multi-Mat to carry the rods, net and bait bag. With its raised sides it proved useful as a retainer for unhooking the eel which was free to writhe around without being able to escape while I grabbed my camera. The fold in the padding also proved useful for laying the eel on it's back. The scales didn't lie and my biggest eel for a couple or three years was soon returned.

The Multi-Mat, I now discovered, has one fatal flaw. While it is handy to throw a jumper and fleece in when walking to a swim on a hot evening, it's not so good for holding those items after an eel has slimed it up! I kept the fleece on and sweated my way back to the car.

One eel on a rig doesn't prove much, but it has given me the urge to try it some more. So while the weather remains summery I'll be sneaking a few short evening sessions in, I think. There are a couple more eel/catfish tricks I want to try out. And the eels will have to be the guinea pigs for the time being.

Monday, August 01, 2016

It's all white

It's not that I'm a perfectionist, in the usual sense of wanting everything to look perfect, but I do like things to be functional and will fiddle about with them until they are. Things that are designed to be functional usually look right. There's a design adage that says form must follow function and it's one I try to follow when rod building. Certainly when it comes to my own rods. The less fittings I can have on them the better.

I like to think my Isotube is a functional solution to a small problem.  The ones on my own barbel rods have only the section of tip where the tube is painted white, but some customers like to have their rod tips painted down to the first ring. In the past I have whipped both ends of the tube in whatever colour thread the rings where whipped in. That was until I bought some white thread on a whim. I also bought some dayglo orange thread at the same time, but so far I haven't plucked up the courage to use it on a rod!

The white thread, to my eyes, gives a more functional look to an Isotube when used to whip over the bottom end. It also makes nice distance markers on a plumbing rod. In time I might well find other uses for it - and maybe even for the fluoro orange!

In other news, I recently got handed an ancient fibreglass Milbro float rod to fettle. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to match the thread colours, so I surprised myself when one of the shades of red I have in my box of threads came pretty close. I was doubly surprised to find a shade of green to match the tipping colour. I think the rod had more sentimental value for its owner than anything, and he was a happy chappy to have it looking improved. Given that the Dural butt is bent I doubt that the rod will be fished with in anger. Although it might be handy for fishing round corners!