Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Weedless rigs for cod and pollack

Readers of this blog will know that last I tried some experimental rigs that replaced hokkais with small soft lures known sometimes as jelly worms or paddle tails.  We had already found that by replacing the traditional pirk with a big weighted shad, we caught more cod and bigger cod.  But the tackle losses continued to be heavy, despite the big shads only having a single hook and generally staying free of snags.
Another fat cod falls to a big 6" bottom shad.  
The problem was the hokkais.  These themselves are a more effective replacement for the traditional cod feathers, but essentially they are the same.  A single exposed hook surrounded with a bit of fluff and plastic!  And having three of these on a rig means that pot lines, kelp forests and even rough ground are a recipe for snags and tackle losses.  Now I don't like throwing money away as much as the rest of you.  Neither am I wildly keen about littering the sea bed with heavy lead weights and the rest of the rubbish that anglers use.  I thought there has to be a better way.  And so there was.
Last year we tried for the first time replacing hokkais with tiny jelly lures rigged weedlessly and the results were fantastic. I particularly like the Reins range of small paddletails called "Rockvibe Shad".  We favour the 2" and 3" sizes, but it might be possible to go bigger. Sometimes it is possible just to leave a rig of these in the current and watch your rod tip as fish try nibbling at them!  Of course if let them do that too long, you'll reel in a string of bare hooks!  But despite the success we had with these lures last year, we were still losing tackle to snags.  This time the culprit had to be the big bottom shad.  The search was on for a weedless version of the big bottom shad. Not as easy as you might imagine. Most large shads are not designed to be weedless, they're usually designed to go with a weighted head which is nearly always not weedless. Unfortunately, even so called "heavy" shads are often just not heavy enough for use on the kayak as they are not intended to be used with a string of jelly lures above them.  They might work ok on the their own, but when added to a rig of jellies the tide drag on a 100ft of water is considerable and means that shad needs to be at least around 100g / 4oz or more to fish the bottom effectively for cod.

Luckily my sea bass fishing had taken me down the route of soft lures several years previously. Many of these originally came over from the USA and Japan where they're widely used for black bass fishing, though they'll pretty much catch anything predatory.  In recent years there have been a whole slew of designs targeting European sea bass in particular.  Readers of this blog will know of my recommendations relating to Fiiish Black Minnows from a couple of years back, along with Savage Gear Sandeels and other paddle tail designs that I find are safer to fish with from a kayak (no stray trebles hooks) and catch just as many fish.
Early test rigged failed as the Black Minnow 160 heads
were just too lightweight. BTW, the gap between
the bottom shad and the next jelly should not be more
than about 10" (i.e bit less than shown).

The Fiiish Black Minnow as we all know has become incredibly popular, despite its relatively poor casting from the shore.  One of the main reasons for its popularity is the fact that it is rigged to be weedless, thus reducing snags amongst weed and rocks.  I had hoped to use the bigger versions as a weedless bottom shad for my cod rigs.  The larger size, the 160mm and above, do work as single lures (though the very largest 200mm is just a bit too big for close in cod jigging, IMHO).  But at 60g the 160mm just isn't heavy enough to get a rig of jelly lures down to the bottom when drifting against a strong tide.  We needed something about double that!

I thought about my early experiments fishing single 25g 4" shads weighted down with two 1oz bullets.  It looked awful, but the cod didn't seem to mind.  The answer surely had to be fish a big weedless soft lure using a decent lead weight.  After much internet searching, I finally found a lead mould that met all my requirements.  The Do-It Mold 'Inline trolling sinker' model D3139.  This mould casts 3, 4 and 5oz weights.  All you need are No. 2 brass or stainless steel loops for either end.

After an hour or so melting lead in the back garden, I had a dozen different inline sinkers to try out.  The next task was to find some big shads that could be rigged weedlessly.  To be honest, this has proven much harder than I thought it would be.  A decent sized shad for large cod is around 6" / 150mm.  You can go longer, particularly if you use a sandeel or launce imitation.  In that case, anything upto 200mm is probably OK, though there is an upper limit with regard to hook size.  If the lure gets too long, then you find that it's difficult to purchase the right shape and size offset hook.

Most offset hooks go up to about 5/0.  When what we need is about a 6/0.  Of course, you can use a smaller shad.  The market is flooded with small 4 or 5" shads that can be rigged to be weedless.  I found that two nice soft lures in this sort of range that can be rigged with offset hooks are the SavageGear 4play softlure and the Daiwa D’Swim.  Here they are shown rigged to 4oz inline sinkers.  The D'Swim has a Krog hook for the largest size Black Minnow (200), the SavageGear lure has a Krog 160 hook.  These hooks are fantastically strong, ideal for hauling up big cod:

You can see how streamlined the weights look.  The remainder of the rig is simply to attach the Reins Rockvibe Shads above the weight (you can click on these to enlarge them):
 A simple piece of hose cut lengthwise with a slit in either end make a simple rig holder and keeps everything neat and tidy.  You can tuck the little jelly lures into the piece of hose to stop the rig unravelling:
That's it! To my knowledge this is the first truly weedless cod rig I know of, specifically designed to be fished from a kayak for our waters.  It should cut down the tackle losses to a bare minimum as there are no hooks exposed.  Yes, the lead might still get caught up in a cleft between boulders or something, and I know there's no such thing as a completely snag free rig, but I think this is as close as it gets.  If you have any recommendations for big shads that can be rigged weedless with offset hooks around the 6" / 150mm mark, please let me know!  Until then...

Tight lines for the coming season!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

What can 3D printing do for anglers?

Well folks, I admit that I've been absent a long time from the blog.  In fact, I had been considering retiring / archiving the lot.  When I started blogging about sea kayak fishing, there was a great deal that was new, particularly for the UK.  There was a great deal that could be put up and easily found by anglers new to the sport that would be useful to them.  As time has gone on, the number of fishing blogs has naturally blossomed into the thousands, even amongst the kayak fishing fraternity.  There is no longer the need to help out the beginner, to constantly try out new tackle and report back as there are just so many more people out there doing exactly the same.

The other perhaps slightly worrying thing is that I feel at a point where there isn't much left to improve.  I'm not far off having what I would consider the perfect set up for me.  I have what I consider the best fishing kayak (Stealth ProFisha 575), I have a top end dry suit (Kokatat), I have found a way to weedlessly jig for cod and pollack with rigs that far outfish traditional hokkei and pirk rigs.  My seabass fishing is also much improved.  Gone are the lethal triple sets of treble hook infested plugs costing £25 a throw in favour of single hook soft plastics.  I've found reasonably reliable reels that can withstand the salt to a large degree.  I've found some nice kayak sized rods that allow the fish to give a good account of themselves but which can handle the odd monster. There's really not much left on the horizon that I can see which really gets me excited about future developments.

But, just when you're ready to let your blog die a natural death of neglect, along comes a game changer.  Something that could fundamentally change the relationship anglers have with top lure manufacturers permanently, and something that may well result in an explosion of home spun innovation from hobbyists anglers all over the world.

That game changer is 3D printing.  The ability to print objects from strong rigid plastics like ABS, the same plastic used by Duo, IMA and other top Japanese lure manufacturers, will change how people buy and design this type of hard lure.  But 3D printers are also printing in newer flexible materials that will let us print out soft lures.  It's hard to imagine, but I really think this is the future and it's not as far off as you might imagine.

3D printing and what does it mean for me?

Put simply, a 3D printer uses a 3D file format to print solid objects by adding very thin layers of melted plastic on top one another until the object is printed.  It's not fast, and the quality is often poor.  A fair way to compare it would be to try and recall the early dot matrix printers - do you remember how awful they were?  Yet within five years we would have relatively cheap laser printers rivalling professionally printed documents. Five years after that and we had cheap inkjet printers for everyone. And that's the kind of revolution in quality and speed I'm expecting to happen with 3D printing.
The CEL Robox 3D printer in its Kickstarter colours!
I recently backed the Robox project on Kickstarter by a small Bristol based company called CEL. You might have seen them on Dragon's Den, where they successfully pitched an idea for a battery powered multi-tool workshop. I'd wanted to explore a little about 3D printing, but the technology always promised more than it delivered, a little like the early attempts at smartphones by Nokia and the like.  They were horrible, rip-off phones with woeful usability, but it has to start somewhere. The Robox 3D printer cures some of the most annoying usability problems with 3D printers that have really held them back for the last few years and I think the technology looks mature enough for me to dip my toe in and experiment making a few things.  The quality is definitely starting to get good enough to fool fish:
3D printed at 50 microns and this will no doubt improve soon, but even this level of finish is perfectly acceptable for most fishing tackle!
Naturally, I wanted to start with some fishing tackle and the obvious target were the extremely expensive but beautifully made Japanese sea bass plugs.  We've all seen photos like this one of the internals of a top end Duo lure on Henry Gilbey's website:

It looks impossibly sleek, incredibly difficult to make, a thing of great beauty.  But is really that difficult to make?  It would be, if you had to carve out the shape in wood, create a mould, work out the interiors and weights. Duo estimate this process generally takes around 2 years from design concept to finished product.  That's an enormous investment of labour.  No wonder the end product is so darned expensive!

But let's try a little experiment. Using a simple, freely available 3D design program like TinkerCad, could you create two halves of plug that you could just print out, glue together and experiment with until you got the casting weight and action you wanted?  I don't see why not.  I spent one weekend having a go.  The results convinced me that I wanted to buy a 3D printer to find out:

Wow, just add tungsten ball bearings, stainless steel wire loops and plumber's glue! If I could do that in a weekend without any prior knowledge of 3D modelling software then I imagine a whole lot more sophisticated stuff is possible after a few years experience. I'm not saying that my rough design would work as it is, but it could form a simple prototype on which to refine. Don't forget, I can print this stuff out like printing out a receipt for just a few pence.  I can afford to experiment.  Now this is starting to get interesting!

I'm not the only one who's seen the potential for this.  New flexible materials will be coming to a 3D printer near you in the future - in fact it's already started:
3D printed soft lure using white Ninjaflex filament.
There are plastic filaments for 3D printing that glow, there are even plant-based plastics that biodegrade - why not?  If it costs peanuts to print them out, why not just chuck them into the sea when they break and let them degrade back into plant food with no damage to the environment? This could be great in so many ways!

Anglers are always making stuff, and anglers have been making their own tackle since the year dot. But there was always a gap between professional tackle makers and the gifted amatuer. In recent years, that gap has probably widened more than it ever has, but with 3D printing I see the pendulum start to swing the other way.  This is a very interesting development, and it's just enough to make me continue with the blog a bit longer!

Not saying that I won't still post my summer catch reports, or any developments that are particularly useful to me, but I think I might have found something that's got my mojo up and running again!  I'm downright excited by the prospect of 3D printers for fishing.  And you, dear reader, can expect the more than the odd report of my own experiments with printing out fishing tackle!

That's it for now - more in the coming months.  Don't forget to check your reels and rod rings over the winter months for signs of wear and damage.  It's amazing how that stuff catches up with everyone at the same time and then you find everywhere is out of stock of the stuff you need!

Happy new year and tight lines for 2014.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Duo photo competition

It's the start of the close season and Duo have started up their photo competitions.  This time they ask you to take picture of Duo lures in your city, which is a bit different.  Full details are here and the closing date is the 15th November.  There will be 5 prize packs to be won, so get clicking!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Grim east coast forecasts ending the sea kayak fishing season

Oh dear.  If you will go putting all your sea bass eggs in the end of season basket, prepare to lose half of them when Mother Nature dumps several weeks worth of autumnal storms on your favourite beaches.  In my last post I talked about leaving the bass fishing on the kayak until Sept / Oct can mean that you end up with the same catches overall as you would have had if you'd gone for more trips in the less productive summer months.

But of course for that calculation to work, you have to be able to get out in the kayak.  For the last few weeks the wind charts on windguru have looked like this:
There's far too much magenta on that chart for the next week!  And there's every chance that the week after will follow the same pattern.  Even if the winds subside, the sea will take a good few days to clear.

So was my last trip the final trip of the year?  Let's hope not.  It'll mean I ended up with very few sea bass this year, despite a bonanza year for cod and pollack.  I still hold out hope of one last trip while I can cycle to work without gloves, but every day more and more leaves are falling while each morning I wake up it's darker and colder...

and once the gloves come on, that's me done with sea kayak fishing for the winter!

Tight lines for those able to get out (you lucky south and west coast people!).

Monday, 23 September 2013

The joys and frustrations of trolling for bass

Start of the autumn bass fishing!

Well it's that time of year again when the 'cod goggles' finally get taken off and I start to focus on sea bass. My sea bass window is surprisingly short, just a few weeks, as bad weather can be a curse at this time of year. You might ask why I wait until now to target them as a species? The reason is that although you can pick up several fish over the course of session during July and August, you only really start to hit the good sessions later in the year.  Besides which, before that there's plenty of great fishing to be had with the cod, pollack and mackerel.

Anyhow, it's late September and now the chances of picking up decent bass starts to increase. I set out yesterday to try some of my favourite marks despite the unpromising forecast. Winds were predicted to be westerlies with gusts to 30mph! However, the average wind speed was meant to be around the 15mph max. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for.

If the winds were a tad on the big side, so was the tide. The two flowing in the same direction made fishing almost impossible in the morning session. With my apologies for the poor quality photographs, you can see the short steep chop making the sea messy and unpredictable. Couple that with the wind knocking off the tops of the waves and you had some pretty challenging conditions.  One factor of the Pro Fisha 575 which is usually a boon worked against me yesterday. The 575 is known to weathercock in strong winds so that you end up with your back to the wind while fishing (this behaviour is due to the classic Stealth yak design of low backside and nose being clear of the water). Generally this is what you want. But yesterday was a strong westerly and as the sun rose bright as a button in the east, I was forced to fish into the dazzle. Even with good sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat, staring into the choppy glitter for several hours was not much fun.
Short chop and strong winds made fishing difficult.
But the water looked good. Reasonably clear, but with a pronounced green, milky tinge to it. Perfect for bass fishing. If I could just get more than three casts in over a drift! It was a case of paddling 10 mins back up to the start of the mark, then hurtling down to the bottom of the mark in about 3 mins! After just a single fish over three hours, and battling almost continuous wind and wave spray, I called it a morning and went on shore to share a sandwich with some fellow kayak fishermen.

Fortified with food, the shifting position of the sun and noticing a slight drop in the wind, I set out again determined to find the bass. The tide had slowed a little as low tide was approaching, and all of a sudden the bass started to appear in numbers. The frustrating thing was that I just couldn't find them while casting! The only way I could catch any was to troll my lure behind the kayak. Inevitably this would result in an immediate hook up. I landed fish after fish, each starting to fish immediately in the area where the fish was hooked, but I couldn't entice a single fish. Eventually I'd give up, cast out and start trolling back up to the start of the mark and bang! Another fish on!

I don't have the explanation why trolling sometimes beats conventional fishing.  It must be something to do the speed, depth of the lure, etc. But it might also have something to do with the rocking action of the kayak imparting just the right movement to the lure. I tried everything I could think of to mimic the trolling action of the kayak, but I could not get a fish to bite. It's bizarre, but it's happened to me before. One of the problems when you try to recreate the action of trolling is that it's very difficult to judge the speed at which your kayak moves through the water when trolling and to then copy that using your reel while trying to counteract the effect of your drift speed. The rod too points upwards in the rod holder, meaning that the lure probably also rides higher up in the water than usual. Then there is the rocking motion of the kayak. Generally it's pretty slight, but yesterday the conditions were as rough as I'm prepared to paddle and the rod tip might have been moving more than usual.
Rare underwater shot that actually worked of a bass coming in!
Whatever the reason, thanks to being able to successfully troll I was soon getting a fish a drift and quickly got into double figures. As I went along I took some for the pot and returned the rest.  Some involuntary - one was just about to get clobbered with my priest when it gave one last wriggle for freedom, got out of my hands, over legs and into the water.  I had to laugh - bass are an aggressive fish with plenty of attitude, one of the reasons they give such good sport.
Black minnow 120 doing what was it was bought for.
Once again the soft lures proved their worth. I still meet with anglers who believe in the hard lure propaganda spread by obsessive tackle tarts on the forums. Most hard lures are an expensive rip off. Yes, I was sponsored by Duo last year. But if I can be converted to soft lures, and I got some of the best hard lures that money can buy for free, then anyone can.  Let's look at the main advantages:

  1. They're cheap and effective.  About three to one against hard lures in terms of their price.
  2. They use a single hook. This is so much safer in a kayak that there shouldn't really be any discussion about the matter. Why risk landing a flapping fish with three sets of trebles in between your legs?  It's bonkers! Stick with single hook lures and let's have no more horror stories of treble hooks embedded in thumbs while at sea and needing to paddle home. It's an accident waiting to happen.
Another slab-sided Yorkshire bass.  Cracking!
So despite the weather, I ended up with a bag of eight fish, with probably double that caught over the day. I've probably one or two more sessions left before the season closes for me personally. You might think that just three bass sessions per year barely counts as fishing, but it's all in the timing. I will catch more in those three sessions than I would have if I'd been ten times earlier in the year. Trust me, I've done it. Fingers crossed that the weather is kinder next time!

Tight lines.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Big cod and pollack still about!

Only had time for a quick trip to the back o' the Brigg after my hols and conditions proved tough.  After all that hot weather, you would have thought the water would have cleared nicely.  But to our dismay, not only were we to be paddling under clear blue skies, we soon discovered that the water was bright green and full algal growth, not too dissimilar to the May bloom of a month back.

And to add to our distress, we timed it terribly.  We got there bang on low tide.  Long walk out to the sea followed by paddling out to the end of the Brigg only to find that the tide was slack.  That meant basically a two hour wait before the tide would pick up speed and we could expect to see some fish.  In the meantime we paddled about, hoping for the odd early mackerel but surprisingly nothing could be found.  It seemed everywhere we looked it was the same story: people were trying half an hour here and there but not finding any fish.  It was very hot out there under the sun in a dry suit I can tell you!

Eventually the tide did pick up, the water cleared up a bit and we started to get a few small codling showing.  My mate was first to the cod with a nice fish to his bottom shad:
I followed this with another thumping pollack, not far off the beauty I'd had here a few weeks before.  Again this fell to the jellyworm fished just above a big bottom shad.  Pollack rarely tackle the big shads, not sure why.  If you know how big the Stealth Pro Fisha 575 hatch is, you can get an idea of the length of that pollack.
Shortly after this I was into a decent cod myself and finished the day like that:
All in all it wasn't a bad session, given our rotten timing, the ridiculously hot weather and the horrible green water when we first arrived!

Not long now before I move onto the bass.  Still hoping for one or two decent mackerel sessions and a few late cod.  You can never have too many cod in the freezer!

Tight lines to all those fishing.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Speed test of the Stealth Pro Fisha range

An excellent review and analysis by Brett Challenor using a Garmin GPS unit of the three Pro Fisha kayaks from Stealth.

As you would expect, the mighty 575 is the quickest, averaging 11km/h!  That's damn quick for a fishing kayak but I suspect it might not be so easy if you're not a top paddler like Brett...
But the "big guy yak" 525 isn't that far behind at 10km/h.  This yak has a lot more buoyancy and stability, as tested by the well-muscled chap above (a good 30kg heavier than Brett!).

The shortest yak in the range (but still respectable) 475 managed an average speed of equivalent to the 525.  So what you gain in length doesn't really offset the greater stability needs of the 525.  Very interesting read.  Very impressed with my 575, it's the quickest fishing kayak I've ever paddled and as a dedicated platform it's not really missing anything that I need.  I'm not in any way affiliated with Stealth, but I really think the Pro Fisha 575 is great product and I'm happy to spread the word!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Saltwater-proof spinning reel? First look at the Alcedo Hokkaido Marine Spin 5000

Some of you who know this blog will be wondering if I'm not a glutton for punishment, after previously having difficulty with another Alcedo reel that claimed to be waterproof.  Thing is, firstly their agent for the UK did replace the reel after it jammed, clearly having got saltwater inside. Secondly, the reel was pretty good otherwise.  When I got the replacement, I ignored the silly "you'll void your warranty if you open it up" warnings and applied plenty of good quality reel grease to anywhere I thought the brine could get it.  And so far, it's held up much better than its predecessor.  Not that difficult, I suppose, given the first lasted less than a season.

So why, you might ask, have I gone out and bought another reel from them?  Well, Bill (their agent) did say that they were working on making a saltwater resistant reel (notice the careful wording).  The new reel, the Marine Spin 5000 is pretty much the same reel as the Aluminium MTC, other than its supposed saltwater resistance.  Which means it could be a good thing, given that the Aluminium MTC failed in just a few weak places.  That reel was never waterproof, which is why when the salt got inside, it was doomed to fail as the materials weren't saltwater proof.  The spool jammed, the reel pretty much seized up solid.
Yeah, the handle's big, but it's not that big!  Sorry for the weird "phone camera" perspective!
Anyhow, here we are again.  The Marine Spin is a bigger reel than the Aluminium MTC, so it should handle the hard work of many hours plugging and soft lure work, particularly as some of the lures get up to an ounce  or two.  Surprisingly, the reel is only 100g heavier, which means it works as an ideal replacement for light jigging work where you would generally use a multiplier. Hence I guess the enormous power handle, which looks purpose made for jigging and was one of the reasons I bought it, having lost my previous set up over the side!  But I've also come to the conclusion that even with a spiral ring placement on your rod, using a fixed spool to jig rather than a multiplier is just a lot easier.  The problem to date has been the reliability of fixed spools is nowhere near that of multipliers, particularly in hard marine environments.
Weasel words or the genuine article? We'll see in a few months time.
The Marine Spin 5000 certainly looks the part, handsomely finished in orange and black.  It feels pretty beefy and it should be with a compromise gear ratio of 4.9, which isn't the fastest nor the slowest but should be low enough for winching those scaly beasts up from the depths.  The reel is perhaps not as smooth running as the smaller Aluminium MTC but is perfectly acceptable.  I might feel differently if this was going to be my main spinning reel, but it going to be mostly used for jigging for cod and pollack, so it won't get the huge number of hours of use that a spinning reel gets.  
The handle looks great for hanging on when those heart-stopping pollack-thumps strike without warning.  The clutch seems silky out of the box.  We'll see if starts to stick after a few months of being drenched in paddle and wave splashes.
The line lay with 33lb braid (15kg Power Pro Depth Hunter) is good, no evidence of bedding even when pressure is applied on the retrieve.  The drag seems particularly good, but they always do straight off the production line!  Let's see how smooth it is after a few dunkings in the brine...  :-)  

Although Alcedo, like all reel manufacturers, like to shout about how many bearings etc. the reel has (it has 8), the only thing that really counts for sea kayak fishermen is whether it can keep out the salt.  That remains to be seen.  My new Shimano boat rod has a long handle (so long I took 4" off it - see here), which keeps the reel pretty clear of stray waves.  Of course, when sea kayak fishing, reels always get splashed with sea water, particularly if you're doing a lot of trolling.  They have to be able to withstand that one basic requirement and I'm hopeful that the Alcedo Marine Spin 500 will do just that.  

Like always I'll be reporting back on the reel at the end of the season with an update on how the reel has performed.  

5 trips update!

So far, so good.  Reel has been dunked and splashed in saltwater and is still turning smoothly.  It gets rinsed with freshwater after each trip but I'm pleasantly surprised.  The drag remains pretty smooth (slight stickiness on higher kg loads, but hasn't failed me when getting hit hard by big pollack) and it's proved itself capable of winching up some big cod..  No visible signs of rust anywhere yet and the body coating has taken a far battering.  

The end of season update will follow in the winter months.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Cod bonanza!

The summer cod have well and truly arrived.  My latest session at the "back o' Brigg" resulted in cod after cod, ending up with seven for the bag with the best going on 7lb.  I also had two pollack, with one being even bigger than the best cod!  All in all, a cracking trip.

It started slow.  The weather seemed perfect (overcast and windless) and the water was clearer than I have seen for a long time, lovely to see it like that after the May bloom a few weeks back.  I thought I was going to "fill my boots", but I started with a few tentative drifts towards the end of the Brigg with very little to show for it.  I started with my weedless jigging rig using the 160 size Fiiish Black Minnow as the bottom shad and three Reins Rockvibe Shad 3" UV King Silver soft lures above it.

I was actually surprised and disappointed that my first drift didn't produce a fish!  The next only produced small stuff.  And the next after that.  Where were all the decent cod?  After an hour or so, it became clear that the perfect conditions were not producing perfect fishing conditions.  I had a couple of boats come past me to ask how things were going and it seemed slow for everybody.  The weather was just getting darker and darker, and in the humidity and heat I started to worry about thunderstorms forming.

I decided to change to a 6" bright orange shad for the bottom above the little Rockvibe shads.  It was nice and bright and might just attract fish.  Sure enough, almost immediately I was into a fish.  It slipped off and I reeled in to check the rig and noticed that one of the rockvibe shads was missing.  Replaced it, dropped it down and bang!  First decent cod of the day.  OK, there are fish about!  I paddled back up to the start of the drift.  The tide was really racing through now in the same direction as the breeze, which meant I was drifting at pace.  I'm not a fan of anchoring up, as I never fish bait and I believe that drifting lets you cover more ground.  Sure on occasion you can lose the fish if they're tightly clustered, but for most of the time covering more ground is what gets you the fish.

Whether that big orange shad really did draw fish in, or whether something changed in the tide or currents, I don't know.  But the fish started coming thick and fast.  Before I knew it, I was hitting (and losing) big fish.  I could feel some of them were pollack - no mistaking that initial run for cover!  But then I hit into something heavy, doing the typical "head nodding" fight of a cod, but then also trying to dive.  I couldn't work out what was going on, but it was something pretty large whatever it was...
Ah, cod as long my foreleg and a pollack to match.  Bring it on!
Nice coloured cod about 7lb, pollack about 4 or 5lb.
That's it, I was off!  Every drift resulted in a fish or me getting smashed or losing a fish. Before long, the pollack really started showing, resulting in some hefty specimens:
Biggest pollack ended up around the 8lb mark.  I lost a few that we're probably bigger...
What was strange though was that almost every fish, even the better cod, ignored the big orange shad instead going for the little Reins Rockvibe shads above.  That can only mean one thing - the sandeel have arrived and the fish were totally focused on them as a food source, something that was confirmed when I gutted the fish.  Sometimes using a big bottom shad works brilliantly as an attractor and that was what happened today.  I think the bright colour actually helped in that regard as when I later changed to a more natural looking shad the catches once again dropped off.  I went through a whole pack of the Rockvibe shads.  They are great fish catchers but robustness is not their first quality.  Still, they work out no more than hokkais, and in my opinion they outfish them by some margin.

I could have stayed all day catching cod like that.  I love seeing their fat white belly come spiralling up the through the water towards you.  Of course, the more you catch, the longer you have to spend gutting and filleting them and my cool bag was almost completely full.  I started the gutting out at sea with a group photo, unfortunately the foot wells of the Pro Fisha 575 only hold so much cod....
Real beast of a pollack, too big for my bag, with 8 other fish!
The back of the Brigg is great spot when it's fishable (from a kayak).  With the right tackle the fishing can be nothing short of fantastic.  But if you've never kayaked there before considering going with someone else for your first trip.  The Brigg has two very different sides.  One is all calm and tranquillity, the other can be horrendous.  Never get tempted to short cut as you go round, the waves can swell up and break from nowhere, even a hundred metres or so beyond the end.  Give it a wide berth and play safe.  Even so, you'll still have to cross the whirlpools and swirling currents that you can feel gripping and spinning your kayak as you go round.  Once you're round the other side, you've then got the clapotis (reflected waves) to deal with. They can be disarming as they come at you from unexpected angles. So play safe, only go when it's calm and if it's your first time go with someone.

Tight lines to all those going fishing!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Shimano Vengeance Slim Boat Rod 6-12lb: review

After losing both rod and reel over the side, it is time for a new rod.  There isn't a huge choice out there for sea kayak fishermen.  Most of the UK market is concerned with boat angling, which implies you're fishing 4 feet or more out of the water, hence the standard length of eight and half feet.  Rather oddly, the Japanese and French boat rods are often much shorter, between 7-8ft, which makes them a good length for a kayak.  Unfortunately, many of these are very expensive, in order of several hundred pounds and for kayak fishing that just spells madness, as it's (ahem!) always possible you might lose it over the side in a moment's carelessness or through no fault of your own.
Slim?  American slim you mean?!
Sea kayak fishermen ideally want cheap rods that can stand a good deal of rough treatment.  As we all know, there's no worse environment for tackle than on a sea kayak.  If the salt doesn't get them, then the sand and grit will!  The second requirement is length.  You can't use a long rod (i.e. 9ft or more) comfortably on a kayak, as you are so close to the water it can make trying to land a fish nigh on impossible except by grabbing the line and hauling it in by hand.  The maximum length you want is just enough to get the tip of the rod past the nose of your kayak, for those cases like when you're trying to free up a snag on a quick drift, when you quickly need to move the line over to the other side.  For my new kayak (Stealth 575), this unfortunately means I'll have to fish with something around the 8ft mark. Far longer than I would generally recommend.
The handle is far too long on this rod.  Think about it, for a 6-12lb rod, do you really need the extra length to stick in your belt so that you can winch fish up?  No, the handle need be no longer than your down to your elbow.  As you can see, the blank is anything but slim, particularly at the tip.
My final requirement was that the rod should be less that £70.  Even that is pushing it a bit. After all, we're talking about a stout stick to haul cod, pollack and mackerel out of the North Sea, not some state of the art carbon wand to flick feathers at an overfed trout in a chalkstream! Given all of these, there isn't much out there. Again, many rods are broken at the handle, rather than mid-length.  This is supposedly for reasons of action.  Please see my argument about winching cod up.  Most of us are just not that bothered.

So what did I end up with? Shimano Vengeance Slim Boat Rod 6-12lb from Gerry's (great service, BTW).  For £44 you get a bog standard parabolic action boat rod.  Surprisingly for a UK rod (well OK, a Japanese rod!), the rating is actually pretty close to what it says.  Most UK boat rods are way too stiff and strong.  Would I recommend this rod for sea kayak fishermen?  Yes.  It's not great, it's cheap and cheerful. You pays your money, you gets what you asked for, see?

  • Rated 6-12lb, and it actually is 6-12lb!
  • Duplon / EVA foam type handle
  • Cheap
  • Handle is way too long.  I had to cut 4" off mine to make it usable in the kayak.
  • Slim?  This rod blank is not much slimmer than any other boat rod.
  • Two piece?  Not really, one very long piece, one short piece.  Makes storing and fitting it into the boot of your car difficult.  In fact it won't go in my boot.
  • Soft parabolic action.  Why do manufacturers think this is what boat anglers want?  How does a soft through action help when you're trying to jig a cod lure 100ft down?  It doesn't.  Give us tip action rods, please!
You might think there are more cons than pros for this rod.  But as I say, it's about the best out there for the price.  There isn't much to choose from in all honesty, so until a rod manufacturer sits down with some experienced sea kayak anglers and asks them what they want, I guess we'll still be in this situation for the next few years.  Things will change I hope, but kayak fishing is still relatively young as a sport.  It's time will come!

 Tight lines to all those fishing.


Well after just several trips over a few months, the tip eye broke its lining.  Unbeknown to me, I lost three full rigs and about a hundred yards of expensive braid due to the broken tip eye lining having a sharp edge and cutting through the line.  Very unhappy, as you can imagine.  And I wasn't that happy with the rod to begin with!  Not impressed with the quality, but I guess you get what you won't pay for and it ending up costing me half the price of the rod in lost tackle.  I look over the rings shows that many of them have also started to rust.

Given the poor quality components, I'm changing my recommendation on this rod to "Don't buy".   It's just not tough enough for kayak fishing.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The cod are back!

It seems like a long time since I last hooked up with a decent cod, but I heard that a few had been taken on shads off Filey Brigg and that the May bloom was clearing at last.
Back of the Brigg with Filey in the distance
For those that don't know it, the Brigg is a daunting place. You don't need much of a swell to have huge breakers booming against the far side, sending up sheets of spray twenty foot or more, while the Bay side can be in perfect tranquility! It's a funny spot, one that had to be treated with caution. It's all too easy to assume it's calm on the Bay side, get close to the end of the Brigg and be suddenly faced waves that appear from nowhere.  And it's not just the size of the waves that can be a problem.  On a big tide the currents swirl around the end creating whirlpools and causing waves to come at you from all angles.  Indeed, even once you're safely past the end of the Brigg on a calm day you can find that the clapotis (reflected waves from a cliff) can throw you about in unexpected ways. It's a place you need to keep your wits about you.
Looking along the Brigg towards Scarborough.  This is where the roughest ground is found, and some of the best fishing.
That said, when conditions allow it, the fishing round the back of the Brigg can be nothing short of spectacular. It's a big cod and pollack ground, a tackle graveyard for the unwary, and of course in the summer months the mackerel descend in their thousands.

The weather had been hot and sunny, not generally good conditions, but with the water still a bit green I didn't think it would do any harm if as much light as possible could get down into the depths.  It's amazing what a difference a week makes, last Monday the sea was dead when I went out.  Nothing except the minutiae in the bloom was moving.  Today it was a different story.  It smelt different, I swear I could smell something that said fish are about!  Gannets were diving in the distance and cormorants, guillemots and puffins were bobbing up all around me.  Sure enough I started getting fish the first drift.  At first it was mostly small rubbish, a lot of which were getting foul hooked on the big shad or chasing the first jelly up.  
Lots of small rubbish about!
Sometimes this is a sign that there aren't many bigger fish about.  But then bang!
Finally a better stamp of fish.  Taken on a six inch shad on home cast lead head.
First of the better fish to come to the big bottom shad.  You can see here that a 150g six inch shad isn't any bother for a 5 or 6lb cod.  Yes, four inch shad might get you more fish, but the big shads get better fish.  Sure enough, I started hitting big fish every other drift.  As some of you may know, last Monday I lost my rod and reel over the side (aaaargh!) after experimenting with a shorter paddle.  Today I was forced to fish with a back up spinning reel loaded with 18lb braid.  Not really heavy enough for the Brigg.  I got broken twice by big fish heading for the depths.  The first was definitely a pollack.  I didn't have my drag screwed down tight enough and the fish just stormed away into the rough where it snagged up for a break.  The second time, I tightened the drag and guess what?  Yep, got broken after discovering that you really can't hope to hold a big fish back on 18lb braid!  Still, I tied on a new rig and I was back in business:
Doesn't look it, but this fish was not far off the first one.  A lot fatter to boot.
The Stealth 575 was well and truly blooded now, and I always like to check what the fish have been feeding on.  For those of sensitive disposition, look away now...
The Stealth 575 is well and truly blooded with it's first cod guts!
So that's three intact crabs, one flatfish (what was that doing in rough ground?) and a good fistfull of part digested other stuff, mostly crab from the feel of it.  But no small fry or sandeel. Early yet, but worth noting.

The other thing of note that happened was that a seal came up right behind me while I was fishing. I never mind seals - they generally indicate I'm about to catch a fish.  Sure enough, I hit one right as this one was bobbing about behind, about a yard or two off.  I didn't know what was best, as I was in pretty deep water, I lifted it clear of the rough and just left it there on the end of my line, waiting for the seal to bugger off.  I turned round to see where it had got to, and found the bugger trying to climb onto my yak!!  I shouted "Oi!!", at which point the seal suddenly seemed to twig there was a human on board this bit of flotsam, panicked and dived at the great rate of knots.  I waited a few minutes and then winched my fish up as fast as I could.  Amazingly I got past the seal, as he came back a bit later, swimming right under the yak.  Great sight and a great way to end the day.  

Bring on a few more days like today and I'll be a happy kayaker!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

That horrible moment...

So, despite the water still being green with the May bloom, off I went paddling in search of maybe the odd fish. I wanted a good paddle to see what a "distance" paddle felt like in my new Stealth 575. Unfortunately given the heat and bright sun, the distance I did (about 6 or 7 miles) was pretty uncomfortable as it was. I was soaked through with sweat by the end of it and got my first ever dry suit rash!
The puffins bobbed about, laughing at my fecklessness!
But all that pales into insignificance after what happened. I paddled out to the Head for a try for some pollack or codling. Foul hooked a little one, had a sandwich and a cup of coffee before getting ready for the big paddle over to Bempton. Turned round to look at a bird or someone on the cliffs or something (can't remember exactly), set off paddling and just as I started my raising my paddle out of the water I clipped the reel or or bottom ring on my rod, yanking it out of the rod holder.

One little splash, momentary glimpse of the rod and reel under a couple of feet of water and it was all over.  Too quick for me to jump in after it. I hopelessly stabbed at it with the paddle but it was gone.  Tried with my other rod to foul hook it on the bottom, but the ground off Flamborough is pretty rough and all I hooked was the bottom itself.

Absolutely gutted.  I'd had that Penn multiplier for about ten years.  The rod was one I'd spiral whipped myself to make it more suitable for jigging.  First time I've ever lost anything other than a set of pliers over the side.  So why did it happen?

The first reason is probably that I'd foolishly changed my paddle shaft to one that is shorter.  For me I think that meant I was raising the paddle blade closer to me on the back stroke - hence a slightly greater risk of clipping a rod in the trolling rod holders.  The second is that the rod holder on the Stealth 575 are much closer to you than they are on many kayaks, so that was also something I haven't got used to yet.  Annoyingly I had already clipped the rod while I was paddling, but stupidly didn't think anything of it.  Never thought for one moment I might catch it with enough force to pull it out.

Yes, I probably should have had it leashed.  But then a leash is nuisance, especially when you're landing fish and in all my years I've never come within a mile of losing a rod over the side.  But there has to be a first time, and if I'd thought about it carefully I might have predicted it would be with a new kayak and a shorter paddle.

Never mind. Time for a new rod and reel?  I'm on the case already!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

May bloom in full effect...

Well it's that time of year.  The sea gets green and gloopy, algae spawn or "bloom" and the fishing goes stone dead.  Or at least it does for lure fishermen.  For those fishing bait, there are fish still about to catch.  The May bloom is a curious and mysterious event.  No one's really sure why it seems to put the fish off (despite the obvious lack of water clarity - but I'm not convinced this is a huge issue when you're fishing a hundred feet down in dark water), but it definitely does.  There's nothing for it but bide your time and stay at home.  Unfortunately there's always that first trip when you realise it's arrived...

I paddled out from Runswick on Sunday with nothing to show for my efforts.  It looked bad from the moment I got on the water, the water was a bright, nearly opaque green.  There wasn't a bird to be seen anywhere and it all seemed lifeless, except for the billions of little critters that make up the bloom.  As got I further and further out, I realised the water was probably green for several miles and there was no realistic hope of getting beyond it.  You have to be careful at places like Runswick, where the majority of the rough ground is fairly close in.  If you go too far out you'll end up on a smooth bottom sea bed with no features.  Sure there are wrecks that are reachable in good weather, but they can be a bit hit and miss, not to mention the horrible feeling of nearly reaching it just as a charter boat steams past you full of anglers and hogs it for an hour or more!

When does the bloom go?  Again opinions vary.  It seems a bit later than usual this year - how far through its cycle it is I don't know.  Generally it lasts about two to three weeks, but there are probably quite few variables that might affect it, such as wind, weather and water temperature.  Without checking the forums continuously or speaking to the charter boats (who tend to go out beyond it anyway), it's hard to gauge when it's gone.  The best option is probably to head somewhere where there is the option of doing a bit of sea kayaking tourism in case the fishing turns out to be poor.  My favourite place for this is Bempton Cliffs to see the gannets, puffins, guillemots and razorbills.  The cliffs tower about 400 feet above you, and Mazy Shelves is one of the great views from the sea - fantastic metamorphic contortions of chalk sediments.  For those that don't know it, I've added a couple of photographs from a few years ago.
The gannet stack
They can be a bit flighty as you get close, but they resettle soon enough.
Clearly this is where the second class gannets have to stay: the sunless side!
Look closely and you can see the nests (click to enlarge).
More amazing folds in the cliffs.
 Tight lines to those fishing!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Stealth Pro Fisha 575: first impressions in the wet

So, the day finally arrived with almost no wind, bright sun and Bank holiday to boot, meaning I got the chance to dip my new Stealth Pro Fisha 575 in the sea for the first time.

Before I start this "wet first impressions", I must say that I'm constantly surprised at how light such a long SOT kayak is, the boat is over a metre longer than a Scupper Pro but weighs less. I can lift it on and off the car without a problem with regards to the weight, but its length is another thing. The yak is so light and long that when the wind catches it on your shoulder it can easily catch you off guard, and once something so long starts to swing it can take a bit of stopping!

I had spent weeks rehearsing how my various paraphernalia would fit in or on the Pro Fisha 575.  The 575 has a truly cavernous interior, accessed by a huge front hatch.  However, this is not quite as large as you first think.  For example, a C-Tug has to broken down to get it into the hatch.  But because the space in there is so big, I decided I could fit my C-Tug, my insulated fish bag and my tackle boxes all inside the hatch!  This does work, but it means that if you want to squeeze your rods in to go through the surf, you might find it difficult to get them past all the various bags.
Plastic bath tub vs. fibre-glass arrow!
First thing you are made aware of is the presence of the rudder. This means you can't easily put the kayak down on tarmac or any hard surface, or at least if you do then it has to rest on its side. You'll notice this most if you try and land on concrete slip ways or pebble beaches, as you have to drag it on its side to avoid the rudder.  Even on sand, you have to drag it on its side. Rods in their holders either fall out or go into the ground when it's on its side, the paddle will fall out of its clip and so on, and it doesn't somehow feel right to drag the yak up a concrete slip on its side...  The on-land aspect of having a permanent rudder is the one thing I don't really like about the yak, I wish Stealth had thought about a retractable system, such as that found on the Epic V6.

Once on the water though it's a different story: the rudder is great.  Almost no drag and very sensitive to careless adjustment by my unthinking feet!  Indeed, for the first hour or so I struggled to remember which foot did what and not to casually push forward in my footrests to stretch my legs, then veer alarmingly to one side! I generally dislike flip down rudders, they add a noticeable drag which means you don't tend to want to use them and when you do need them they can be a major hassle, often jamming in position.

The Stealth 575's rudder has none of these issues, there's no drag and it's always there. It doesn't seem to catch the bottom even on very shallow landing sites. For someone who's been used to constantly correcting their direction using paddle strokes, having a good rudder was something of a revelation. You can just concentrate on your paddle strokes and let your feet correct your course. Love that!

Despite the length of the 575, I found I could spin it round with the same ease as my Scupper Pro, possibly even easier. I was very relieved to discover how manoeuvrable it was.  It's quite impressive in that respect and it might have something to do with the boat having a more pronounced rocker than first meets the eye.

As a paddling vehicle, the 575 seems perhaps at the max about a third quicker than my Scupper Pro. That doesn't sound a lot, but it makes a massive difference when you want to get somewhere in a hurry. On several occasions I looked to see where my mate was before thinking "that'll take about ten minutes to get over there".  But the 575 just eats up the metres once you get the speed up. I found that whereas with the Scupper Pro I quickly reached a sense of the maximum speed of the kayak, beyond which paddling harder doesn't make much sense, with the 575 there seems to be smooth progression that doesn't seem to top out at a maximum. The harder you paddle, the faster it seemed to want to go. When I paddled back to the launch with my mate in his Ocean Kayak Big Game, I was literally taking two or three strokes then waiting 10-15 secs for him to catch up! I'm really looking forward to trying the Pro Fisha 575 out on some of the long distance marks to get a better sense of how much better it is, particularly in rougher conditions. The conditions we had were practically windless at times, and so I didn't get any chance to test paddling across the direction of the swell, or with a following sea.  I'll save those for a later report.

For me the biggest difference between the Pro Fisha 575 and my Scupper Pro was that the 575 is a far, far better fishing platform.  In fact there's no comparison really, the Scupper Pro is horribly designed in terms of fishing space and layout, whereas the 575 is pretty much perfect. I've always been something of a minimalist, but the Scupper Pro was frankly a pain to gut fish on and store tackle securely - my fish bag had to be right behind me and I have lost a couple of fish from them slipping out of my grasp as I reached behind me, missing the opening of the bag and then having them slide off into the depths! The Pro Fisha 575 has everything there within easy reach, secure and protected beneath a hatch. That's a big improvement, and I'm sure I'll appreciate it even more when I come into land with a bit of surf.  The only thing I didn't really like is the paddle clip, which barely holds the paddle in place.  Don't fancy trusting that in rough water...
Perfect fishing platform, shame about the lack of fish!
Fishing wise, it's still a bit early for clear water. The sea had that green murk we associate with the May Bloom, and generally it's a killer for the fishing. There was no sign of diving birds and everything looked pretty lifeless out there.  I tried my new weedless rig fitted with the Fiiish Black Minnow 160.  The rig worked pretty well, but on a fast drift 60g is just a bit on the light side and struggles to hold bottom.  But the big issue I had was that I didn't make sure all hook points on the lures were well inserted into their soft plastic bodies.  If you don't check this, they can work loose to expose the hook point and then snag up.  Ouch! Nearly a tenner's worth left on the bottom!  Didn't make that mistake twice and the rig managed to winkle out a couple of little coalies:
One thing you need to watch out even with a weedless rig is that flourocarbon is really pretty crap when it comes to abrasion resistance - I'm sure it's not as tough as something like Amnesia.  After an hour or so, I noticed the section close to the Black Minnow was within a whisker of breaking:
But today was not about the fishing, it was all about a practice paddle in my new yak. The final thing to do was to try out some self rescues.  We came right into the bay where the water was marginally warmer and shallower.  It's still bloody cold - this is the North Sea after all!  After watching Big Paddle's review and self rescue on the 575, I thought it looked pretty easy.  He certainly made it look easy in his video!  True, I had the Stealth Deluxe seat fitted, which does get in your way a little, but eventually I got the hang of it.  I definitely need more practice though!
In summary, the Stealth Pro Fisha 575 is a brilliant fishing platform.  It's a long, light, quick and responsive boat on the water.  It may not have the agility of a smaller boat in the surf, but that's not something I generally ever need.  It's eats up the kilometres with ease, and I've heard it actually performs better with a load of fish on board, so bring on those big catches of cod and mackerel in the summer months!

All in all, I'm really pleased with the kayak.  It's everything I hoped it would be and some things I didn't think it would be!
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