Saturday 28 June 2014

Shimano Medium Baitrunner XT-A Long Cast Review

Before I start this review I'd firstly like to point out that I am not connected with Shimano, secondly I would also like to state that I am in no way back tracking on my review and opinions on both the Diawa Crosscast S and X series reels. I stand by what I said about both reels in the crosscast range and they're brilliant value for money, I will no doubt dig them back out for the occasional session. I like to review some of the items I use hoping it will help people out when they're deciding what to purchase.

Although I initially got on very well with the front drag on the 'X series', it became apparent that I started to miss the bait-runner facility. Having grown up using the "bite & run" system on my old Shimano 6010's I really wanted to have a reel that had the same system. I like the way you can have both of the clutches set up correctly prior to the take. After months of thinking, I decided to purchase three 'Shimano Medium Bait-runner XT-A Long Casts. RRP £195.00

Before buying any item of tackle I painstakingly research various options. After talking to a number of people that have been in the 'reel development' sector, I started to get a great insight into the make up of certain reels and learnt a little bit in the process. The point that I found very interesting was the subject of spool size in relation to distance. There was a pretty solid conclusion that a slightly smaller spool can be more beneficial for fishing at range. It's a very simple concept - basically with a smaller spool, the line doesn't have such a large radius to peel off from.

Don't get me wrong with this theory, if you are fishing huge gravel pits where you have to fish at serious distance, then it makes sense to have a reel that can work for you. I don't fish massive waters so this model suits my style of fishing perfectly, all you big pit carpers out there would probably be better off with a big spool with a huge line capacity.

Spool Lengths
Spool Radius
As you can see by the measurements above, there isn't a great deal of difference between both the Diawa and Shimano spools regarding their size, taking into account that other reels on the market may have a larger spool than the Crosscast. It's clear that the Shimano spool is a little more compact and even though it's only a few CM's, the smallest of details can end up putting a few more yards on your cast.

The first point that struck me after closer inspection of the reel was how solid and sturdy it was, aesthetically it's perfect looking with nicely understated graphics. There was no wobble at all from the handle and the clutch is silky smooth, they handle like a dream off the rods so I was itching to get them spooled up to give them a go on the bank. 

The line went on the reels beautifully, because of the slow osculation the line is distributed evenly and gathers nice and tight, by far one of the best line lays I have come across. All these minor details can end up making a massive difference in the overall performance.

The line clip is nice and solid and both the front and back clutches are very easy to adjust, both give off that magically addictive 'ticking' noise. Spooled up with 12IB line the reel weights 1IB 7.7oz, at this weight it feels very balanced on the rod. When on the rod the reel is nice and compact and doesn't feel bulky at all, some other pit reels can have big protruding handles that can be tight to fit on a two rod buzzer, I have no problem at all fitting these on my carbon sticks.

An Object Of Beauty
Fits Nice And Snug On The Buzzers

The reels were really put through their paces on my first session using them, I was lucky enough to get into a few carp ranging from mid doubles to low 20's. I was amazed at how easy they cast, with a minor flick the line flew off the spool and the drag on the fight was solid and smooth. The bait-runner clicks on nice and quick and the front drag is sensitive, you don't need to turn it very much to find the sweet spot. For a smaller reel they feel bullet proof and so solid, I have no doubt if looked after they will last for years. 

Since using them I haven't experienced any problems with the line getting wrapped under the shaft of the spool, because of the anti-twist mechanism any problem with the line twisting or getting caught seem to be eliminated. 

Having recently joined a new club where I am required to hit greater distances than I've ever had to in the past, I am finding that I can hit the clip comfortably at around 100 yards. I am not a great distance caster, I know that a lot of it is down to your technique, but I have no doubt that the reel is helping me gain those few precious yards.

One specific point that I am very impressed with is the locking mechanism of the handle, as long as I can remember I have experienced a certain degree of wobble on the handles of reels I have owned in the past, this can be frustrating because your kit just doesn't feel solid, I can safely say this specific design is hands down the best I have come across.

Handle Locking Mechanism 'Open'

Handle Locking Mechanism 'Closed'

All in all I am very impressed with this series of Shimano reel, I have no doubt that it's built to last, it's pretty safe to say the internal parts are designed to take prolonged abuse. As we all know, Shimano have mastered the art of longevity and it feels "good to be home", sitting behind a bait-runner once again.

I know 'reel development' is constant and there is already a newer version of this specific model on the market. My advice would be that if you are in the running for a new reel with a bait-runner facility and it's within your price range. The Shimano Medium XT-A Long Cast is a strong contender and it's well worth a look at, go down your local tackle shop and have a play, I personally can't recommend it highly enough.


Features Include:

Baitrunner System: A feature that has proved so beneficial that it has become a standard on big fish reels. Bait-runner is a lever located on the rear of the reel that allows the reel to be set so that line is released in controlled free-spool.

Dyna Balance: Reduces reel wobble and allows produces ultra-smooth performance.

Super Stopper II: With the reel set in anti-reverse mode you’ll find zero free-play on the handle thanks to Super Stopper II. Unerringly positive every time, its practical benefits include micro increment settings of quiver tips or specialist bite indicators and faster hook setting.

Power Roller: The special design of the Shimano Power Roller significantly reduces line twist during the retrieve and is a big advantage when using thin mono and braid.

Floating Shaft II: The key friction area on most fixed spool reels is where the spool drive shaft meets the pinion. Shimano designers have overcome this by reducing a large percentage of surface area contact, and incorporating bearings on either side of the shaft. The resultant design leaves the shaft in a “floating” position, considerably improving efficiency and longevity.

Varispeed: Good quality line lay is the most important feature for precise, long and accurate casting. Shimanos revolutionary Varispeed System consists of two specially designed gears. One is oval and the other a remarkable square shape!

AR-C Spool: A spool design with a V-shape spool lip ensuring that the line comes off the reel in smaller loops for further and more accurate casting. The AR-C spool will minimise the risk of backlash.

Aero Wrap II: By improving the internal friction efficiency Shimano succeeded in bringing its line lay systems close to perfection. Close parallel coils in combination with 2 speed oscillation ensure smoother and further casting.

S-ARB: The original high corrosion resistant A-RB ball bearing with shielding for improved protection and sealed lubrication.
Specifications Are Listed Below:

Sunday 15 June 2014

Chelmsford Angling Association - Braxted Reservoir Part 1

In this blog I am going to be documenting my first two trips to the Braxted reservoir. For those of you that follow my writing you will know that I like to fish a series of different waters at the same time. I enjoy new challenges, there's nothing quite like arriving at a new water with no real knowledge of the place or its inhabitants. I find thinking about a number of waters at the same time allows a huge amount of productive thinking, it's kinda like getting into a groove.

Since joining Chelmsford my head has been spinning with the possibilities that are potentially ahead of me and to be honest my thoughts about the lakes have become marginally obsessive .... I think you know what I mean.

One aspect of the club that I really like is the fact they have a closed season, I feel there should really be a closed season on all waters, commercials included. This allows the fish to get on with, "just being fish", without the pressure of lines in the water. I personally believe this helps the fishing in the long term, I also believe the carp start to act and feed more naturally without constantly being on 'high alert'. 

The Braxted Complex

When I started to fish some of the waters it became very apparent that the closed season did the fish the world of good. The carp are very active, showing themselves, jumping about and nicely giving themselves away as they pummel through the silt on the feed. There is no comparison with the fish activity on my other club, 'Kingfishers' that allows fishing all year round. 

The waters I have chosen to target aren't easy but that's all part of this new process, I don't want easy, I want satisfaction in knowing that I have earned every bite, these waters are another step on the ever ascending angling ladder and I'm sure as hell going to keep on climbing it, no doubt slipping every so often in the process.

The Braxted Reservoir is part of three lakes on the Braxted complex. Along with it you also have both front and back lakes, the back lake holds the monsters with fish in excess of 40IB at the right time of the year, this is suppose to be a very hard water. Front lake holds a load of twenties with a good head of fish in the 30IB bracket.

The Res
Before I set foot on either of these I wanted to give the reservoir a go, it's meant to have some really nice fish in it. For me to fish any of the Chelmsford waters it works out around 100 miles there and back, I will travel anywhere if I feel it's worth it. Not only does the journey up give you a huge amount of thinking time, the journey back allows you to process what you've learnt throughout the day.

For my first session I arrived at the water for 11:30am, it was warm with a light breeze, as I pushed my barrow over the small narrow bridge leading up to the water I caught a glimpse of a few carp sitting just under the surface in a quiet little corner. I positioned myself in the nearest swim that I could to get to them, the angle from the bank along with the over hanging trees made it very tricky to get a bait out. Having just invested in some chest waders, getting the angle I needed wouldn't be a problem, I literally just had to step down into the water.

My chosen baits were Starmers Coconut fish combined with Halibut & Coconut, I used this combination on the back lake at chase with consistent success. With one being black and the other a light brown it adds an interesting visual effect. After having a lead about I found that along the margin of the dam wall there was a lovely load of silt, roughly about a rod lenght wide. I felt this was a perfect area to place my baits, I am not interested in the hard spots, that's all I hear people talk about, I want the soft stuff, it's full of natural food and doesn't pose any problems when it comes to presentation.

Coconut Fish And Halibut & Coconut Combination

In the past I have caught countless fish on bottom baits from silty areas, today I opted for a very low pop up, practically suspended off the eye of the hook and balanced perfectly so it sinks really slow. It's important with this presentation to take your time and really focus on getting the bait to drop through the water as slow as possible, I personally love this approach, I find it also works very well over clear bottoms.

Presentation From Above

   Presentation From The Side

The plan was to fish single pop ups and put a wide, dense spread of free offerings all around the area. I wasn't worried about accuracy, I wanted to get the fish moving about and getting into a rhythm of picking a bait up and then moving on to the next. If you can really get them going on the feed their defences drop and they're more liable to trip up on the hook bait. Before casting out I got a load of bait in, more than I usually use, it just felt like the right thing to do. Once done I cast both rods as close to the marginal features as possible, I was bang on the silt because when each lead landed a huge amount of bubbles were kicked up. I felt the lead down, there wasn't a 'donk', more of a 'splat'.

View From The Swim
To my surprise I started to get liners straight away, when I looked closely I could still see a few carp on the surface, my plan was to put enough bait out to hopefully pull them down to investigate. It must have been only thirty minutes or so before my right hand rod screamed off, as I lent in to the fish it had a lot weight behind it and was putting up one hell of a fight. The fish showed itself and it looked like a really nice common, I eventually netted her and was pleasantly surprised when the scales fell to 23.5IB.

First Blood From The Res
I gently slipped her back and got the rod straight back on the same spot, once the bobbin was on I put another four handfuls of bait out. During this process my right-hand rod was off again, this fight was frantic, it felt like a smaller fish but still gave a great account of itself. Once in the net I was staring at a perfect looking common, she maybe scraped a double, size was irrelevant, the fish was perfect looking.

What A Perfect Looking Fish
I got her back and repeated the process, rig was straight back out with another 3 to 4 handfuls of bait. I was feeling pleased, my location and approach was working a treated. After the first two fish things slowed up for a while, I made sure that the bait was being introduced, little and often. An hour passed and the left rod was away. The carp kited for the corner, I applied the pressure and steered her my way, after another spirited fight I banked my third fish, scales fell to 13IB, another perfect looking common.

13IB Common On The Coconut Fish
I slipped her back and decided to reel both rods in, I added a good few more handfuls of bait and decided to go for a wander around the rest of the lake, I wanted to rest the swim. On my walk I clocked a fair few spots that I'd like to give a go in the future, the res doesn't have a great deal of features but there are some nice marginal areas that I am sure the fish visit.

A Lovely Calm, Closing To The Day
As I walked the path along the dam wall I stopped and peered through the bushes to see if I could see any evidence of feeding over my spots. There was some real action going on, it was fizzing like crazy, it was time to get the rods back out. Once back in my swim both casts were on the money and I was expecting a quick take, five minutes later the right hand rod was away, this felt like a good fish, she surfaced, it was a nice golden looking common that was refusing to give up, eventually I netted her, she was bang on 17IB, what an awesome result and a great fish to end my first session with.

17IB Bar Of Gold
Once she was back in the water I packed up and prepared myself for the long drive home, I was pleased considering it was my first session. I decided I would pay the res another visit the following week. Depending on the conditions I might fish the same swim, it all depends on what the water is telling me when I arrive on the day. I feel there are some really nice fish to be had and I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds on this water.

Part Two Following Shortly 

Saturday 7 June 2014

The Main Lake Hoo, 'Short Range Fishing'

The main lake at Hoo has always been a bit of a grey area for me, I have never felt inclined to fully focus on it. I half heartily did a session a long time ago that resulted in a 17IB mirror but I felt it was more luck than judgement. I think one of the main reasons for my lack of enthusiasm is the fact that it sees a lot of pressure and an awful lot of bait, more times than not when I've walked passed, there are spods flying around left, right and centre. 

I happen to think that with loads of lines in the water a large majority of the time and piles of particles going in, it can not only change the behaviour of the carp, it can also effect the way they feed. On pressured waters I think that the bigger fish start to feel uncomfortable sitting on large beds of bait and opt for the quick 'mouthful' approach. 

Main Lake
Because of all the reasons stated above, I opted to spend my time on both the stock pond and the cut, I've always kept my eye on the main lake and studied it from a distance. I started to gain a little insight about the habits of the fish and the water every time I would walk passed it back to my car after fishing the cut for the day. A few times I'd pass anglers in mid battle with a hard fighting fish and I would nearly always spot a few shows in certain parts of the lake. This got me thinking that mid afternoon up until late evening could be a productive time. 

Yesterdays Sky 'Vast Spacious Vacuum'
Loving my margin fishing so much I started to hatch a plan on fishing the water but working on it at 'close range'. There are some lovely marginal spots that drop down to around 9ft and loads of reed-lines and overhanging trees to consider. If I was going to pursue my plan I decided I would use minimal bait, maybe even singles. Because there is a fair amount of weed scattered around I made the decision I was going to fish a slow sinking bottom bait, I was using the new Mexican Hemp boilies and the pop ups are still in the process of being made. 

I find with this presentation, the slower I can get the bait to sink, the better. The are a number of ways to achieve a 'slow sinking' boilie, I will explain below how I create mine, I use both slowing sinking and critically balanced baits a lot these days, especially if the lake bed is littered with debris. There's nothing worse than reeling your rod in at the end of the day to find the hook masked disabling the mechanics of the rig.

The materials I use for this specific presentation are not complicated, I use zig foam, usually coloured white or yellow, a bait drill and a PVA nugget, the nuggets are by "Carp Craze", they're far more dense than others and seem to be a lot more buoyant. Below are the steps I take to make sure the bait sinks nice and slow.

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

Stage 4

Stage 5

Finished Presentation

When attempting this presentation it's best to take your time, especially when using softer baits, if not you will end up with a lot of split boilies. The final touch which I add prior to casting out is the PVA nugget. I don't compress it around the hook, I don't want the bait suspended in any way because I use long hairs and when the nugget releases, there is a risk of it getting tangled. I simply hook the PVA nugget on, I find this slightly delays the landing and it tends to come off whilst the bait is falling through the water. This in turn slows the baits descent down and I find it doesn't get pulled down into the weed or debris that I might be fishing over.

My chosen swim for this session is called Willows, it's tucked out the way up the end of the lake furthest from the car park. There are lots of overhanging branches and reed-lines which on the right day can be good holding areas. Whenever I fish this swim I make sure I am very quiet on my approach and whilst I set up, the carp move very close in and I don't want to spook any that might be patrolling around. 

I have learnt that being almost silent is just as important as the spots you choose to fish, rigs, bait etc. It's almost an art that I feel really helps to give you a better chance of putting more fish on the bank. Every lake I fish I make a solid effort to be quiet, I want any fish nearby to stay as natural in their behaviour as possible. It only takes an unnatural sound or movement to put them on high alert.

View From The Swim
Left Rod Spot
I arrived at the water for about 1:45pm, this gave me time to sort my rods out and get on my spots fast. The plan was to sit on my hands and fish until 8:00pm, I knew this was a realistic window to get a bite in. The hours passed and it was starting to look real good for some action, a few fish were showing on the reed-line. 

As it approached 7:30pm my right rod tore off and I was on it like lightning, I knew the fish was going to try and ditch me in the reeds. With a fair bit of side strain and a touch of luck I steered her my way and it wasn't long before I was looking at a nice fat mirror in the net, scales fell to a touch under 24IB .... Result ! 

Caught At Close Range
I was very pleased, my hunch about the feeding time and minimal baiting was correct and I am going to make sure that I slot in these short sessions when I can, I feel they could be productive. The water holds some really nice fish and I am starting to get a feeling for the place. Once again it does go to show that one bait in the right place is better than 5kg in the wrong place. 

There are so many variables in carping and I want to make sure that I continue to cover as many of them as I can, it keeps it interesting and keeps you moving forward. I don't want to rest and I don't want to feel comfortable on any of my waters, I want to keep the fish guessing, keep myself guessing and really make a concerted effort to catch the carp on my own terms. All in all it was a solid result and a good start.