Saturday 7 February 2015

One Man And His Carp Rods Part 2

If you haven't read the first part of this blog, you can find it here PART ONE. Continuing from where I left off, I must have had my TFG X2 carp rods for at least 8/9 years before I started to think about upgrading. During this time there were a lot of twists and turns in both my life and my angling, having moved to South London I could finally join some clubs, I'd become self-employed so that freed up a lot more time to get out on the bank. I'd made up my mind that I needed a good "all rounder", I wanted something that I could fish accurate with at range but also directly underneath my rod tips if required.

Free Spirit Carp Tamers

Subconsciously I'd clocked that Free Spirit had produced a new range of rods called 'X-Wrap Carp Tamers'. I'd always fancied a set of Free Spirits but I just couldn't justify spending the money, before the 'Carp Tamers', their budget rods where still nearly a couple of hundred pounds each. I'd had a play around with the X-Wraps a few times and every time I went to the tackle shop I found myself staring at them. 

They had a very slim blank, awesome green whipping and a very eye catching cross weave, of course they also had the classic Free Spirit graphics. After having a play with a few of the different 'test curves' I decided to get a set of three in 3 1/4, they had a hell of a lot of power, the tip action wasn't exactly how I liked it but I had to sacrifice something. These rods would allow me to punch a lead in to realms I was yet to reach, and get stuck in with PVA bag work at a fair distance, I didn't feel at all limited with the choice that I'd made.

X-Wraps Cross Weave

I remember my first session using them, it was pissing it down something rotten but the fish were feeding, I landed two commons knocking 20IB. At first the rods seemed a little stiff but after adjusting the clutch accordingly, I started to get use to them, I had to remember that I'd been using relatively light gear in the past and a 3 1/4 TC rod was a different experience. It's like a new car, it takes a while before you adapt, a few sessions down the line it felt like I'd been using the rods for years. 

I can safely say they were totally hammered and put through their paces in a big way, freezing conditions, rain, sun, heavy bags, the lot, the finish and action is still as good as the day I bought them. For some strange reason, four or so years in, I started to go off them. I remember the exact cast that this happened, I was fishing Wick Mere, I was out about 80 yards, I reeled in, re-baited and chucked the rig back out. As I did this, the rod just didn't feel right, I can't quite put my finger on what it was, in a space of seconds they'd become pretty soulless and I didn't feel like I was in touch with what I was doing anymore.

Having said that though, without a doubt, they were great rods for the money and they abled me to fish much larger waters, they'd kept me company through some pretty challenging sessions and helped me to land a lot of different sized carp. Despite going cold on them I will always have fond memories of my 'first set' of Free Spirit rods. They have since been discontinued but I have a feeling they might become a bit of a cult collectors piece. Again, if you see them second-hand, take my recommendation, they're a brilliant rod.

Taming The Wild
During this time my perspective on my angling as well as my life changed a great deal, all of which ended up shaping my decision on what set of rods I was going to go for next. "I have touched on this in a previous blog post and it's hard to explain so please bear with me". To make it easier to understand I will use an earthquake as my example. When a tectonic plate shifts in an extreme manor the effects can be felt half way around the world. Now imagine something of that magnitude rupturing inside of you, the medical world may refer to it as a "breakdown", "psychosis" and many other varying labels that in the scheme of things mean very little to you at the time. 

Every element of my existence fell away from me, life, love, all aspects of the human condition meant nothing anymore, it was an abyss that I very nearly didn't return from. Apart from being loaded up with medication there really wasn't anywhere to turn, you need to dig so deep inside your soul to find a way to get back up again. On reflection nothing shone a light that was bright enough to give me the strength to come home, apart from one thing, my carp angling. Other than my wife, it's been the one thing that I have truly loved forever and it was from this bleak period that the blog you are now reading was born.

Bruce Ashby Scorpios
It was around this time there had been another tectonic plate shift in the angling industry, Bruce Ashby passed away unexpectedly. This was such a huge loss to the carping world. Not only was Bruce an incredible angler he was also a visionary rod builder, without a doubt one of the best. He had a deep understanding and insight into what made a great fishing rod. To me, he has created some of the most unique carp rods ever made, not only in appearance but also in the way that they feel, they truly are the most "sensory' blanks that I've ever come across. Bruce built most of his rods on the old Harrison blanks, when you hold one it feels like a work of art. With classics such as the Lucifer, the Extacy and the Rocketeer, Bruce has left one hell of a legacy behind him and he will be sorely missed.

So, Bruce had passed, and here I was struggling to live again, it was some kind of twisted alchemy. This is where the 'Bruce Ashby' Skorpios fell into my life. Because my angling had been so pivotal in helping me pull myself up from the hell I'd been going through. I'd made up my mind that I wanted a set of rods that 'really' meant something, what's the best tribute you can pay to a man you've respected? ... you can buy his rods, and that's exactly what I did. To start with I got the Skorpios in a 2 1/2 'TC', they are one of the only rods out there with a real 'through-action', the minute I used them, suddenly everything made sense to me, this is what I'd been missing, proper carp rods that felt like an extension of my being.

Clarity In The Eye Of The Beholder

The Skorpios have chestnut coloured blanks, subtle graphics, clean whipping, a lovely big butt grip and all the rods are individually dated from when they were built. They handle fish like an absolute dream, you really feel everything that the carp is giving, it's like a strange energy exchange. When you cast with them, exactly what you give is exactly what you get. Being a light test curve, these specific rods are best suited to light leads, singles and stringers. You can't go casting a heavy PVA bag with them, doing that would almost be disrespectful. These are 'hands down' the ultimate "players rod". The thing that struck me the most was how much the rod did all the work for you, especially under the rod tip. They made me appreciate the cast, really feel for the drop, they emphasised 'the art' of angling in a way that I'd never experienced before.

Dated & Dusted

I was so taken with the Skorpios that I went and purchased the 2 3/4 versions. These have the same characteristics as the 2.5s but possess more muscle. You can cast heavier leads, small bags and just get that little bit further, too me they have all the traits of a perfect carp rod. It was weird but when I started using the Skorpios I started catching more fish, I'm not saying that the rod helped me to catch. I just think it was the 'ethers' way of telling me that I'd found the rods I'd been looking for, actually I think it was more the fact that the rods found me.

The only down side to both sets of Skorpios was the fact that neither of them could really punch a heavy lead at distance, you could try but in all fairness, due to both their light test curves, it's not really what they're designed for. This got me thinking, and following the Bruce Ashby theme I started to look at his range of heavier rods. Bruce himself used the Perimeter XPs for all his fishing, after having a feel of all his blanks in 3IB TC and above, I decided on the Perimeter XPs in 3 1/4. The XP stands for Xtra Power and the blank is treated so it wont lose its back-bone over time. Like the Skorpio range the Perimeters have a chestnut blank and are finished beautifully.

Perimeter XP Carp Rods

With the Perimeter you get the subtleness of the Skorpios but with a hell of a lot of power. These are seriously powerful rods and when I use them over on Wick mere I can now reach the island, that's be something that I haven't been able to do. I've had a few fish on them and even though they're stiffer, they still have a lovely forgiving action under the tip. They respond very well to both light and heavy leads, they're accurate at both short and long range and you can sling a bag a long way with ease. In my eyes the Perimeter XP is without a doubt one of the top carp rods ever made. They're not cheap and since Bruce passed, all his rods have become very limited, it's only a matter of time before they wont be available in the shops anymore.

Chestnut Blank
With three sets of rods that I truly loved, I felt that I'd finally collected the tools to cater for any angling situation that stood before me. Even though I haven't had them for very long they've already shared some great sessions with me and I've had a fair amount of fish on all three blanks. It's the most 'in touch' I've ever felt with the waters that I fish and the carp that live within them. They've added such a sense of clarity to my angling and I can honestly say that I have no desires to look at any other rods. But most important of all, they were made by the hands of "The Big Man" himself and for that reason alone they're very special indeed.

Moving on.......

As a lot of you will know who read my blogs, I love fishing all year round and I'd started to think how I could try to make my winter sessions more productive. After a great deal of thinking I'd decided that I was going to change my approach completely. I wanted to stay mobile, move and work for my bites, to do this I needed a set of rods that allowed me to up sticks and give me the freedom to adapt. I saw no sense in fishing the winter in the same way I'd done in previous years. Surely if I did this I'd get the same results, which weren't great.

Free Spirit Margin Creeper

I was after a rod that was shorter than 12ft, easy to pack down and had enough back bone to deal with any carp that might take my bait. There are so many great stalking rods on the market so I decided to get my head down and do some research. Most companies now produce dedicated stalking rods, they can be anything from 6ft to 10ft. After a lot of reading and searching I decided I'd take a look at the Free Spirit e-class gold 8.6ft margin creeper in 2 3/4 TC. These rods have the same spec and build quality as the 12ft e-class, the only difference is that the margin creeper is short, very light and compact.

Super Slim Blank

Don't be fooled by the appearance, these rods hold some serious back bone, I have had fish up to 20IB and they've dealt with them beautifully. They have a 'top to middle' action and are nice and 'tippy', obviously you can't reach great distances, but I would be happy using them on small to medium waters without a worry. Paired up with small bait-runners they balance perfectly and feel like the ultimate mobile bit of kit. 

I don't think anything shorter than 8.5ft would work very well, you still want a rod that feels nice to play fish on, anything shorter would be way to stiff. Along side using the margin creepers for mobile fishing, they're also going to make a perfect surface rod, I had the Greys 9ft stalker for this job but the action was way to aggressive, I'd had a lot of problems with hook-pulls, the margin creepers feel completely right to me and I am sure I'll get a load of use out of them. I will of course review these rods properly a year or so down the line when I've had the chance to use them more. First impressions, I am very impressed with them.

First Fish Landed On My 8.5ft Margin Creepers
This pretty much brings me to the end of my carp rod journey and the destination I've arrived at has put me in good stead. I had to go around the houses to really find the right rods that connected with me, as I mentioned in the first part of this blog, they're more than just carbon and lacquer. As we all know, your tackle doesn't make you catch more fish, the carp don't know that you're sitting behind a hand built rod. But having gear that feels right for you sure does make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. If you get your approach right, use your water craft and have the right tackle to allow you to put your thoughts in to practice. Then it's just a case of casting, sitting back, making a strong coffee and enjoying your time by the water.

Bruce Ashby 1944 - 2013

Friday 6 February 2015

One Man & His Carp Rods Part 1

In these next two posts I'd like to share with you my thoughts about the rods that I've owned through the years and what I've used/use them for today. This post isn't a series of rod reviews, it's more of a story about what I've owned, their significance in my life and what they've meant to me. For me my fishing rods are an extension of myself, they're more than just carbon and lacquer, they allow me to interact with my environment in a very sensory way. They're my life lines into depths that most people don't even know exist. 

My rods have threaded themselves throughout my life and whatever chaos the world has thrown at me, they've always been there, ready for the cast, willing to help me stand a chance at catching a scaly beauty. As my rigs fly through the air, so do my worries, they're a tool to put the world around me to rest so I can sit and soak up what being on the bank is all about. I look upon them the same way as I do my drums, they able me to communicate, our rods are an integral part of our angling lives.

We learn with them, we progress with them, sometimes we leave them behind and move on, but each rod that we've owned has played an important role in developing the angler that we are slowly becoming. It's a life long journey, you can't rush it and the tools we choose to use help to shape our ability and understanding of the "art" that has chosen us, angling chooses us, we don't choose it. My goal has always been to have a setup that communicates to me exactly what's happening under the surface. Every rod I've owned I have saved up for and bought myself, doing this allows me to appreciate its value, this is an important life skill, to understand the value of things.

There are so many different rods on the market nowadays and it can be slightly overwhelming when it comes to choosing the correct ones for you. I believe it's all personal preference and taking into consideration how much fishing tackle has developed through recent years, you don't have to be spending stupid money to get something of good quality. Whatever tackle you have, budget or high-end, be proud of it, just like the soldiers gun or the drummers kick pedal, look after them. Don't get hung up on what others think of your gear, any item you've worked hard to get makes it special. 

The Right Rod For The Job
As with all elements of tackle, there are fashions and trends that seem to come and go, nowadays the higher test curve rods seem to fall into favour with the majority, and having the latest 'cool' rods can sometimes take priority over suitability and functionality. I have no interest in fads, all the rods that I have built up through the years were purchased for a reason. I understand that many can't afford more than one set and they have to find a good "all-rounder", meaning that a slightly higher test curve is necessary, but I think it's important to have the right rods for your style of fishing and the waters you target. As you venture further and broaden your horizons a new set of tools might be required.

Focusing on the 'test curve' point a little more, I feel there can be a slight confusion, in the current climate it's easy to think you can only really land big carp on 3IB test curve rods or above. This of course isn't the case, high test curves are fundamentally for distance, I only use higher test curve rods 'solely' for when I'm fishing at long range, I have never gone over 3 1/4, if the blank is compressed correctly I find I can get the distance that I need most of the time, if not, I adapt. When I play a fish I want to feel every lunge and pull, I want to understand the carp and its movements, its strenghts and its weaknesses. Some of the best fights I've had with big carp have been on my light tackle. 

Basic Rod Actions

One of the beauties of fishing is the fight, we wait long enough for it and I want it to last, I find with a lighter rod it can be a very exhilarating experience, it makes the heart race and most important of all there's less pressure on the hook hold, thus preventing the chance of a hook pull. When I land a carp my main aim is to make sure it goes back in the same condition it came out in. If you're getting hook pulls on a regular basis then you seriously have to review your setup/rigs and playing style. There are no rewards for winching a carp in fast, I believe it increases stress and ups the chances of damage occurring, it's an anglers job to cherish the fish he catches.

Through the years I can safely say that I've gone through my apprenticeship with all my items of tackle. I first started off with £30 Sundridge carp rods, these were ideal to learn the trade on, I have fond memories of the cheap blank creaking when it was bent over double. In all honesty they were perfect rods to have at the time and they served me very well indeed. They allowed me to experience the cast, feel for the drop and land me my first ever double figured fish. It was magic and they set the foundations for my carping quest. It was only when I realised that carp angling was going to be a constant flame in my life, I started to look a little more seriously into purchasing my first proper set. This is a moment that a lot of us will never forget, the excitement and the feeling of getting your first 'proper' carp rod. I'm willing to bet that all of you remember your first fishing rods - hold on to those memories, that's where it all began.

Original Sportex

It was at the beginning of the 90's, I remember going to my local tackle shop and drawling over the Sportex range that were positioned on the top shelf. Owning a set of these was a dream to me but they were way out of my price range, I'd pick them up and hold them, they felt expensive and clean, secretly I thought to myself that I'd own a set one day. I'd spend ages looking at all the different makes of rod, picking them up, putting then down and repeating the procedure. After much deliberation and saving every penny I had, I ended up getting a set of the Daiwa Power-mesh in 2 1/2, they were tasty looking rods and I took great pride in looking after them. I remember them feeling solid and heavier than anything I'd used before. There were two ranges for Pike and Carp, I purchased the Pike rods, they seemed to have just that little bit more back bone, plus I thought the 'Esox' printed on the rod looked cool.

Early Daiwa Powermesh
At the time I was using the now legendary 'DAM Finesse Bait Runners', they balanced perfectly with the Power-mesh rods and it goes without saying I was proud of my first real carping kit. The action of the Power-mesh had an awesome "tip to middle" feel, it could throw a lead a good distance and was pretty forgiving under the tip. I landed a lot of good carp with them from all different types of waters and they stayed strong through years of abuse, to be honest they still look as new as the day they were purchased. I don't have many memories of really casting at distance with them. For the first few years I didn't venture on to waters where distance casting was required. But, thinking back, there was never a situation where I felt 'under gunned' and it was with the Power-mesh that I landed my first 30IB carp, so for that reason alone they will always remain high in my estimations.

I learnt a lot using them, they allowed me to progress and start to gain an understanding that would eventually shape my rod choices in the future. I still have them in my armoury, I may well dig them out to use every so often, "for old times sake". For me they're a highly recommend set of rods and still stand up proudly against today's tackle. They're perfect for short to medium range fishing, if you find a set on ebay, I'd suggest you snap-em up, they're old classics now.

TFG X2 Series 'Slim Blanks'
As time went by rod development advanced in leaps and bounds, I had my Power-mesh for well over a decade before I started to look around for a replacement. As you can imagine, this was a mammoth task and I didn't know where to start, I spent many an hour obsessing about what I wanted. I spent hours on the Internet researching all kinds of carp rod, I was after something a little slimmer that had just a fraction more back-bone, mainly because I was now looking to fish slightly larger lakes and started to use PVA bags a lot more. At the time it felt like a natural progression, as my angling broadened so did my understanding of what I required to do the job properly. 

Being one to always shy away from the mainstream I'd made up my mind that I wanted to avoid all the generic choices, it was a new chapter in my fishing so I wanted something entirely new to go at it with. I'd heard a whisper that Matt Hayes had teamed up with a guy from Shimano and they were developing a new set of carp rods, they were going to be TFG's first bite of "the carp rod pie". They were to be super slim, stylish and understated and from what I'd read and seen, the rods looked really good, it was a matter of weeks before they were released so I held tight until I could see them in the flesh.

To cut a long story short, the minute I laid eyes on the TFG X2 series I purchased three of them straight away. The second I picked them up they felt right, they were slim, sharp looking and had an awesome 'medium action'. They were forgiving in the tip but dished out some serious back bone when lent on. My set was in the 3IB test curve which was ideal for what I needed, they were slightly softer than your standard 3IB 'TC' rods. They handled fish beautifully, cast very well and were easy to compress, on the cast they whipped back nice and fast. They could manage small to medium sized bags well, they struggled on larger solid bags but to be honest I didn't really use them much at the time. 

The Eye Of The Storm

There was a murmur that the X2 series were built on 'Free Spirit" blanks, this wasn't the case though, the blank was good and from a distance looked similar to 'Free Spirit', but that was as far as the comparisons went. I became very fond of them and they got a huge amount of use for a lot of years. I did find that they seemed to get softer over time and it got to the point on a few occasions where I just couldn't get my baits to where I wanted them. With some rods it really is just a "swings and roundabouts" situation, what they lack in one area, they make up for it in other ways. 

It's hard to find a rod that has a perfect balance to fit every angling requirement. If the X2 series didn't slowly soften I think they would pretty much tick every box. But having said that, if you fish small to medium waters where you don't need to get distance, then you'd have to go a hell of a long way to find a better rod. They have since been discontinued, the only chance you will have to get any will be on the second hand market but I can assure you, they don't come up much. Like the first addition of most things, TFG had out done themselves with these rods and everything they produced afterwards just didn't seem to come close.

Perfect Symmetry