Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Penn Spinfisher Fixed Spool Reel: SSV3500 Spin

So, another season and another new reel! What I hear you cry? Are you mad? What happened to all the others you've had?

Truth be told, is that the supposedly waterproof Alcedo lasted longer than most, but ultimately failed (twice). First time the spool jammed (and what else I don't know). Secondly the handle broke (rivet actually wore out, therefore unfixable). Italia fishing charmingly charged me £4 to send me my old handle back. Thirdly, the spool head lifting mechanism, that basically is a piece of metal with a groove in it for a pin on the main cog, shattered into pieces. This last one can only be down to poor quality alloy casting.  Quite a mess, as you can see:
The wrecked gears of a two year old Alcedo Aluminum MTC Match Reel
Now I could send good money after bad, thinking along the lines that having one wrecked reel will do for spares for the new one. But what if this is a design fault? Can't buy spares for them. To be fair to Alcedo, their Marine Spin reel (also reviewed on this site) has fared much better and is still going OK. But I felt it was time for a change.

Never really got on much with Penn fixed spools in the past. Always seemed a bit like dinosaurs from another (all metal) age; strong but too heavy, with a somewhat agricultural line lay and gearing.  But last year Penn released a new watertight version of their Spinfisher series.  The new spec has one or two nifty features, and I feel the time has come to have another look at their latest reel.

Penn SSV3500 Spin
The baby of the series is still a pretty hefty beast. Penn seem to think their sizing should be a size larger than everybody else's for some reason, so for most of us a 3000/3500 size reel might be around the 300g mark or less. Not the SSV3500, on my scales this reel comes in around 412g mark (without line), so around an extra 4oz will be in your hand all day when casting. But does this matter, if we get five years out of it?  Is the extra weight a sign of robustness? Only time can tell, and I must admit that I don't really notice the extra weight so far.
SSV3500 between the Abu Cardinal Saltwater 174i (left) and the Alcedo Marine Spin 5000 (right).  The Penn reel is heavier than both and just marginally smaller than the 5000 sized reel.
The Penn SSV3500 feels smoother than previous Spinfishers that I've owned. Annoyingly, there is still a bit of play on the reel handle, something that you don't tend to find with brand new reels around the £100 mark (admittedly the SSV3500 is just short of that) but overall the reel is smooth and feels hefty and strong. The reel has the usual number of bearings, though Penn do stress that these are sealed and corrosion resistant.  However, I've never had the bearings on a reel fail.  For me, it's always the internal gears that go first, and saltwater ingress is the problem there. Hopefully the 'watertight' construction of the Penn SSV3500 will stop that being the first point of failure.

The reel's drag is also sealed and seems smooth.  This is important, as the reel has no reverse, it's in permanent anti-reverse mode.  If you like to play fish using the reverse rather than the drag, this might not be the reel for you.  For me, I grew up trout fishing and have always played fish using the reverse gear of the reel. This was partly down to the poor quality of fixed spool drags 30 years ago. They were unreliable, sticking things that were best screwed down tight and forgotten. But modern sealed drags are different. They are reliable and smooth, and the arguments for maintaining a reverse gear on the reel are not as strong. Finally, it must be said that playing trout out on a mountain river using your reel's reverse is one thing. Trying to control the heart stopping plunge of a big pollack at sea using a reel's reverse gear is not going to happen.  What is certain to happen is a breakage of something!

There is one killer feature I love on this new reel (other than it being watertight): a friction stop on the spool head when the bail is open. This is such a simple idea, but it effectively stops any chance of the reel handle swinging round and triggering the bail arm to close during a cast.  For the vigorous casters out there, we've all had to suffer snap offs with expensive braid and watched our expensive Japanese plugs disappear into the distance. I reckon this should cure it. Yes, it's a friction stop. So you can force the handle to turn and it will trigger the bail arm to close as normal, but it encourages you to flick the bail arm over yourself after casting which I have always considered a good habit to get into.

The reel itself comes with a nice parts plan and helpful instructions on filling the spool / line lay (more below):
Ah yes, the line lay. This is probably the only weak point of the reel. Never been a strong point of Penn's in my opinion compared to the Japanese competition, and frankly it is a bit "rustic" if you get my drift. To be fair, Penn do supply some washers with instructions on how to fix the line lay if it tapers in either direction. But I'm mystified why they can't build it so that the line lay is straight? Most decent reels just work straight off, with no adjustment needed. I'm not sure what's going on here, and sure enough, I filled up my reel with 13lb Grauvell Teklon Gold Mono that has a diameter similar to most 8lb mono and the line lay ended up tapered with a slight gap under the top lip of the spool and narrow at the top than the bottom:
The less than stellar line lay of the Penn SSV3500.
I did as suggested and fitted a narrower washer to the base of the spool and we'll have to see if it rectifies the line lay over the course of the next trip. It might not be an issue, but it does seem a bit odd to have to do this on a brand new reel.

So do I recommend the Penn SSV3500 for sea kayak fishing? Not yet, it needs to last a couple of seasons first! But from the spec, the reel ticks most of my boxes for sea kayak fishing.  It needs to be watertight and saltwater proof. These are the absolute minimum requirements for sea kayak fishing, as our reels get splashed every minute or so when trolling, either by paddles or waves. There's no way to avoid this, so any reel has withstand this treatment. Then there's the price. True, the Penn isn't the cheapest reel out there. But it is the cheapest watertight (not waterproof) reel out there.  Penn do have a good reputation for making reliable, robust reels, albeit at a weight cost!  But if you're considering a new reel for sea kayak fishing, there are very few around that can do the job if you want one that you can use for more than just a season and I'd definitely check it out.

As always, I'll update the review at the end of the season (which is pretty soon now) to let you know how the reel has performed on the sea.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Personal best cod!

So, I've been fishing the Brigg for some time now, and I always knew it had the potential for big fish.  After all this place holds the British shore caught record for coalfish - a monster of 23lb.  I've never even seen one into double figures!

I noticed in my first season there how the general stamp of the fish is bigger than several local marks - I regularly catch 7-8lbers there.  But for some reason I never seemed to connect with anything much bigger.  That was until today.  OMG...  When I hauled up this beast from the depths, my first thoughts were "can I get that in the kayak?!".
The gnarled face of a 15lb cod - click on it to see the grim details!
Yes, my feet are in the water and that thing's tail is in the footwell.  Took about ten minutes to fetch it in, and made several powerful dives that initially made me think I'd tail hooked a big pollack or something.  To be honest, I didn't know what I had on the end of my line til I saw it circling below me like some biege coloured whale! When I finally got to shore, the fish nose was just above my waist while its tail was dragging on the ground.  What a big old, leathery beast!
Thank goodness for those big gill plates - I don't carry a gaff!
This was the start of a fantastic session.  Which to be fair, had started in a less auspicious fashion by me hooking a pout.  As this is a bit of rarity so close in, I thought I'd take a photo.  Clipped my pliers in my pocket as I reached for my camera, and flip, plop, and gone over the side!  Grrr! 

After the whale of Filey was landed, it was basically a fish every drop, with many of them decent cod around the 5lb mark.  All the cod bare a couple of the smaller ones were caught on the bottom SavageGear 4 Play soft lure (largest size, which is only just big enough).  The rest were all on the 30mm Sakura Split shads - cod love these.  Of course, there is always the odd nuisance fish, by which I mean inedible, even if they are often incredibly pretty:

Nice ballan wrasse, with those amazing turquoise tails.  Later in the year, the Brigg really starts to show some big pollack and coalfish.  This one barely counts!
 There was a surprising amount of swell out there.  Forecast was 2ft, which means round the back of the Brigg it will be anywhere from 4-8ft! 
now you don't!
Now you see it...
It's almost impossible to show swell on a photo, best obviously in a video, but I couldn't be arsed to do one.  Suffice to say, there was enough swell to make it very unpleasant coming back over the end o' the Brigg.

Sure enough, I realised that the swell was breaking in more or less a semi-circle in front of me and it was time to head back.  There was a parking meter running, after all!  But crossing that swell where it kicks up over the end the Brigg can be a bit of nightmare if you time it badly.  Waves that look as though they are big but rolling (so passable with care) can suddenly start to break if a big series of them come through.  I waited, and waited, and waited.  And then made a mad dash for it.  I have to confess I got lucky, I was very nearly tipped out twice when my rudder ended up out of the wave, leaving me only able to lean into the wave with the paddle.  It was all a bit too close and messy, but thankfully I made it back into the Bay and found a quiet patch to gut the fish.
Look back over the end o' the Brigg where I just came.  Not for the faint hearted (or sensible!).
Back on the beach, I was finally able to get the beast out of the front hatch and ready for gutting.  Little photo shoot beforehand:
That's not a toy paddle...
If you know the size of cavernous front hatch of the Stealth Profisha 575, then you can see the girth and size of that cod.  Gutting on the beach is not something I like doing, but unavoidable with this fish.  This didn't go unnoticed in the town, and sure enough I had plenty of questions on my way back up to the car.  Did chat with a chap who takes part in the local boat competitions, who said it was the biggest fish he's seen come from the behind the Brigg this year - his estimate was around the 15-16lb mark.
The gutted beast back home.
So with the other half dozen cod (and a random mackerel), the hairy crossing back into the Bay and my lost pliers, it was a pretty exciting trip. What a great sport this is!

Tight lines to all those fishing!

Friday, 13 June 2014

The return of the algal bloom?

That was the question on everyone's lips yesterday, as we fished round the back of Filey Brigg.  The area, which in the memorable phrase of one boat angler on channel 10, had "fished its tits off last week", with various claims of 30 stone of fish and more going to several boats.  A fellow kayaker (Phil) was also dismayed at how the fishing had gone from hero to zero in just a few days.  We ended up with a couple of fish, but nothing to write up about.

I guess no one really knows what kills the fishing when this happens.  It's true that the sea had turned that horrible green we all associate with the algal bloom that's often called the "May Bloom", as that's when it usually appears.  But my own theory is that the bloom is caused by excessive nitrates (fertilizer) being washed off the land into the rivers and then into the sea after periods of heavy rain.  Yes, it's most common in May, but if that lot gets washed off the farmers put a fresh lot on.  And the next time it rains (mid June in our case), back comes the algal bloom and bang, there goes the fishing!  At least that's one theory.  The truth is that there have been times when I've fished 12 hours after a fantastic session, same place, same tackle, same conditions and had no fish.  So you just can't tell.

So with the fishing not up to much, we pootled along the Brigg, looking at the nesting guillemots, razorbills and puffins.  From the water, the Brigg is pretty impressive.  While obviously not on the scale of its near neighbour Bempton, and apparently devoid of gannets nesting (plenty flying about), it's still a pretty site and seems particularly popular with guillemots for some reason.  There was a smudge of the lens for the first shot, but the others are reasonably clear (click to enlarge).

There is somewhere an old hand drawn map that gives names to every part of the Brigg and the fishing features nearby, and no doubt this bit has a name too, but I don't know it.  The water just below the cliffs had escaped the dreaded bloom, and was absolutely crystal clear, which is how it should be at this time of year.

Roll on clear water next time we go!

Tight lines.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The cod start in earnest...

So, after the misery of our May bloom trip to Runswick Bay, and despite all the recent rain, I took advantage of what were forecast to be several days of calm weather. Turned out we only got a couple, and the day I went the forecast was pretty well wide of the mark.

Last year I fished behind Filey Brigg systematically for the first time, trying to work out what makes it such a productive but frustrating mark. On its day it's hard to beat, but there can often be long patches where the tide doesn't seem to do much and the fishing is dead. Then all of sudden, you'll have half a dozen fish in the same number of drifts. It seems to be all about trying to work out the sweet spots, both in terms of depth (which varies quite a bit behind the Brigg), place and tide. I guess that's the same for every mark you fish anywhere, but the Brigg can be mystifying at times as to why the fish are not there.

The forecast on Windguru had the swell at a foot and wind speeds under 10mph. I should know by know that a) the Brigg seems to always generate its own little local weather spot, particularly for the wind that comes down the edge of the Brigg, and b) the back of the Brigg is always a tricky, sloppy, unpredictable sea state, even on the calmest of days. So it was on Saturday. I was out on the water for around 6am and the weather on the Bay side was quite nice. But as I rounded the corner of the Brigg, sure enough I started to see the waves kicking up ahead of me and even breaking beyond the bell buoy.  Going round the corner is always the "stomach in your mouth" moment of the trip, as the waves come in several directions at once.  If the tide is running at pace, there are generally standing waves to negotiate into the bargain, and the whole bit is one where you need to keep your wits about you as you paddle.
Dark and gloomy, but plenty of birds about this year.  Noticed quite a few puffins too.
That bit safely negotiated, the far side was pretty sloppy too with a far bigger swell than forecast making its presence felt via the usual clapotis off the back of the Brigg. Sure enough, I fished for a couple of hours with not much to show for my efforts. Then, as the tide really picked up pace, I started to catch cod. First up was the classic 'cod on the bottom with a pollack on the first'. Well, if not a pollack then its close cousin the coalfish. But it is remarkable how often that pattern is repeated.
All the fish were on my new weedless rigs, with a big bottom soft plastic weighted with an inline trolling sinker, topped by a string of smaller soft plastics.  Cod as always, fell to the big soft plastic on the bottom.
After that there followed a hectic period, with a fish every drift and many missed. The wind was gusting quite strongly by now, which meant if you came too far out from the lea of cliff then the full force of both the wind and tide would catch you and you would end up drifting too fast to hold bottom. I don't generally like going much heavier than 4 or 5oz, so I restricted my drifts to short bursts that went outwards from the cliff at the 45 degree angle due to the tide. While the tide was running, the fish kept coming. But as it reached low water, and the flow slowed, the fishing dropped dead once more.

I hung around for a bit, but by now I had 6 good cod and a coalfish, and I felt that was enough for the day. Plus I was desperate for a p*ss and there's nowhere easy to do that round the back of the Brigg on a kayak, especially when half the world and his dog seemed to be out either fishing or walking! So I ran the gauntlet past the end of the Brigg, which for once had decent waves in my favour and I had a bit of nervous laugh surfing them for a few minutes until I was safely back in the calm waters of the Bay. One thing I love about the Stealth Profisha models is the built in rudder, it really does make a huge difference when you have to surf waves and it's an absolute joy to paddle in cross winds, which used to be the bane of my life trying to keep a straight course in the Scupper Pro.

Rare shot of a cod bag for me, as the fish are still intact.  Generally parts of them are feeding the crabs before I come home.
Good first trip round the back o' the Brigg.  No tackle losses, which suggests my new weedless rigs are working on the rough ground.  The only downer for the trip was the fact I'd forgotten my knife, which meant I had to fetch all the fish back with their heads and guts intact!  Bit of a nightmare, and not very green either, but it did mean you get what is a very rare shot from me of a bag of fish that actually look like fish in the bag, and not just carcasses!   Fish stock anyone?  :-)

Good luck to all those fishing.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

100,000 visitors milestone!

Well, it doesn't seem that long ago that I was celebrating 10,000 visitors to the blog.  Fast forward a couple of years and the 100K mark passes in a blur.  The site now averages about 4-5K visitors a month.

But I think this may well be the last year I run it.  Just so busy I struggle to keep it up to date, add photos and reports and the like.  We'll see.  Hopefully I'll be able to add some stuff on 3D printed lures soon, and who knows what the coming months will bring.  There's always some new innovation, though I suspect my days of big purchases are over, now that I have my beloved Stealth Profisha 575!

Tight lines.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Alabama Rig for North Sea Cod?

Well, if it works for black bass, why not for cod?  They're just as greedy and stupid!  But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.  First off, what is an Alabama rig?  Well there seem to be various claims about who was the first to come up with the idea, but at its heart is an extremely simple representation of a shoal of baitfish. Essentially, the Alabama rig is a series of wires bound together with a lead head representing an even smaller fish. You push the wires outwards to make a star shape and attach a soft plastic to the end of each wire. The rig has had its share of controversy, some saying it's not sport fishing in any sense of the word, it's more of a commercial fisherman's rig.  Indeed, it has been banned in a few states and bass tournaments in the US.

Luckily we face no such issues at sea! After all, this is a place where commercial fishing still goes on with unabated lust and little care for fish stocks.  So let's have a look at the basic rig (you might need to click on the photos to get a better view):
This is how you get it.  First spread the wires out:
Then attach your hooks and put on some soft plastics of your choice.  The ones I've chosen here are probably a bit on the small size for this particular rig:
I think the better rigs out there have black swivels, these silver ones stand out too much in my opinion and I'm sure will attract mackerel.  But if mackerel become a problem you can always up the size of the soft plastics to around 4" or bigger, especially with wide bodied shads, and that seems to put most of them off. The rig can now be folded up as you got it with the split ring, keeping everything nice and tidy:
I attached mine to a 4oz inline trolling sinker or lead weight, so that it can get down to where the cod are despite strong tides or high drift speeds on the kayak. The idea is bump them off the bottom on the first drop and then fish on the drift, jigging the rig just within touching distance of the bottom. I have some of the 3'' Sakura Slit Shads which I really rate that I'm sure will work great on this Alabama rig.  So, there you have it. Simplicity itself, saves you tying up your own rigs, and gives a nice representation of a more natural group of baitfish than the 'string of lures' type rig we usually fish.  Yes it doesn't have the big bottom shad which we've found so effective at nailing the big cod, but I'm sure the smaller spring cod and pollack will hit this rig hard!

But as always, the proof is in the fishing.  Roll on good weather tomorrow at Runswick Bay!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Cod in the fog

So, first trip of the year.  Expectations high, weather forecast good, tackle primed and ready to go.  We left our homes at 6am to be on the water for 7.30am and paddled out from Runswick in lovely conditions.  There was a slight haze and the sun was weakly shining through a thin layer of cloud.  For the first hour not much happened.  We drifted. We jigged.  We drifted and jigged some more.  Then my mate radio'd in to say he'd had a whiting.  A little later near Kettleness he reported a small coalie.

Meantime I let the drift take me round the back of Port Mulgrove.  Don't tend to fish this side of the bay much, but there's no reason not too.  Had some good catches there in the past and sure enough, I started getting a few nips at the shads.  Something I noticed last year is that smaller fish love trying to bite soft plastics, and will often follow them along the sea bed nipping at their tails, somethimes biting the tails clean off!

Sure enough, as I held the rod up to lift the jellies off the sea bed, I started to get a few tentative nibbles.  Then a pull, and I struck back into a small codling. One for the pot, so at least the first trip wasn't a blank!  Few minutes later, another series of nibbles.  This time I gently kept increasing the pressure until suddenly a felt a good pull back and up came another little cod.

At this point my fishing buddy radio'd over to ask where I was, as he couldn't even see me... now, there was a little bit of haze around, so that didn't surprise me.  So I radio'd back and started paddling back against the drift to go and meet him half way.

And that's when it happened.  He gradually came into sight, and I noticed the haze was getting thicker.  But on reaching him, I literally turned back round realised the land had completely disappeared!  The fog just seemed to roll in from nowhere in seconds, and it was a total pea souper.  You could barely make out the sun and everything quickly became very disorientating.
Whoa, where'd everything go?  No sky, no land, no pot flags!
Luckily we are both equipped with GPS devices (though mine's on my phone, so not ideal) and we were able to navigate back in towards Runswick.  But the fog was so thick, and the tide so low, that even as we followed Mulgrove point round, we still weren't sure where we were.  In fact even after landing on the sand at Runswick, it was hard to know where abouts on the beach we were, as you couldn't see the start of the grass or any cliffs.  The fog literally gave us a little circle of about 50 metres around which you could make things out.
Looking up the beach, looking out to sea. Runswick Bay vanishes!
I'm not one for paddling in those conditions, GPS or not, it's just too unsettling.  You can hear boats around you but you can't see where they're heading.  So we packed up and headed home.  At least we shook off the winter cobwebs, tested the new weedless rigs and bagged a couple of fish:

Roll on the calm weather, the mackerel and the big cod that come following in behind!

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.

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