Saturday 25 July 2015

Braxted Front Lake 'Turning The Page'

Winter is now well and truly behind us and I can safely say that it was very productive for me, so with no time wasted I found myself looking towards spring and summer, and as usual my expectations were realistic, taking into account we have the "pre-spawning - spawning - post spawning" periods to get through. Once the warmer weather comes it's very easy to think that the carp will be on the feed instantly, but from past experience I know that this is not always the case. 

It's all so very weather dependent, if the heat comes quickly I find it can really kill the fishing outright, and if the temperatures climb fast over a short period of time the carps inner system starts to sense reproduction. Taking all this into account I felt that I needed to still be subtle with my approach, especially when it comes to my bait application.

I was now treading water until I could get back onto my Chelmsford waters, I participated in an out of season work party up on the Braxted complex, this would allow me to start fishing from the 1st May. It felt great to be back on the banks of Braxted, replacing the rods with a set of secateurs and a rake. I spent a few hours trimming back the swims and raking the paths, the water looked rested and very inviting. 

Spiritually I felt great, I was giving back to a venue that had provided me with so much adventure and some pretty special carp over the previous season. I talk so much about connecting with the waters that you fish, helping to maintain them connects you in a completely different way, "respect the waters that you fish and they'll reward you in more ways than one"

Braxted Front Lake, Resting Out Of Season
During this time I was still doing the odd session on Burrows but fishing was terribly slow, I wanted to use my time wisely so I'd made the decision that I was going to focus solely on 'adjustable zigs', at least until my Chelmsford ticket started. It's an approach that I'm desperate to understand and like everything in life, you have to commit and dedicate a vast amount of time to something that you have little understanding about. I knew that if I didn't do this now, it would be a style of angling that would always take a back seat. 

I look upon zig fishing as a "discipline within a discipline", I compare it to jazz drumming, jazz is a completely different style  of playing, it involves a completely different mindset and series of techniques to master it. Zigs are exactly the same, in my mind fishing for carp on the bottom and the top are two 'main stay' approaches. Zigs can be a grey area for a lot of anglers, mainly because they've never really committed to them. 

There will be many future blogs dedicated solely to zig sessions so I won't go into anymore detail just yet, but whilst giving them a good go down on Burrows, I managed a lovely mid-double mirror, proving that they do work, and in the period before writing this blog entry I've had a great deal of success on them, I look forward to sharing what I've learnt with you in the not too distant future.

A Mid-Double Mirror Caught On A 7ft Zig
So here we go.... the page has turned, a new season, new dreams and a sense of expectation glimmers on the horizon line, there's fish to be caught, waters to be conquered and many more blogs are yet to be written, my journey is infinite and with each month that passes in my life, my quest to catch carp is forever prominent, there's no time to rest, it's an itch that's always there to scratch and in my mind it's forever open ended. 

As usual I have no real targets or desires to catch 'big carp', I just want to continue to maintain consistency everywhere that I go. Any fish that graces my net, no matter what size, is all part of a vast angling portrait, catching is what it's all about and I know that, once in a while a special fish will pay me a visit and each will be respected, admired and sent back home safely. All my waters are like unfinished stories, I've had a modest introduction on all of them but I'm eager to explore new chapters. 

Because of how 'modern carp fishing' has progressed in recent years I seem to feel inclined to periodically mention that 'bounty hunting' type angling is as far away from what it's all about for me. I must admit that I do find myself somewhat stumbling when I'm surrounded by 'the catch at any cost mentality' and I find that I have to keep on separating myself from it. The challenge that I find hard at times is to keep away from the ever growing conflict and stupidity that seems to be steadily plaguing our sport. 

Opening Day

The start of May finally arrived, with my tackle cleaned, fresh rigs tied and a knot of nervous excitement in my stomach, I loaded the car and journeyed on up to Braxted front lake. This session was going to be relaxed, I knew on opening day there was going to be a high chance that the complex could be packed out with eager anglers wetting their expectant lines. I had no set plans, on arrival I would scope out the situation and fish accordingly. My main motivation on how I would be approaching the session would be based solely on my past experiences.

As I arrived at the water the car park was rammed, back lake was full, obviously the reservoir was busy, front lake seemed to be fairly quiet. Most of the anglers were on the nearside bank, I opted to fish the far bank well away from the crowds and made the decision that I was going to fish only a few yards out from the rod tips. The water was surprisingly clear and the usual marginal cover was just starting its process of growing back.

It's Good To Be Back
I walked up the margin of the bank I was planning to fish, staying off the sky line and being as quiet as possible, I looked to see if I could spot any fish close in. Just over half way up I saw a small shoal of about three carp cruising within yards of the bank. They were three good looking commons, this was enough evidence for me and witnessing them was more than enough to light the flame of excitement. Rushing back to get my gear, I felt inspired, it still never ceases to amaze me how excited I still get at the prospect of casting out.

With the barrow now loaded I stumbled back to the nearest swim to where I saw the cruising fish, I ended up setting up where the 'life buoy' was. This put me directly in the middle of the water, my plan was to move if I was lucky enough to get a bite. Today wasn't going to be a 'heavy' session, I just wanted a relaxed afternoon reintroducing myself to place. There was going to be plenty of time in the future to really knuckle down to things. 

The bait I'd chosen to use was a mix of Honey Nectar and Raspberry Ripple, they've both worked really well on front lake in the past so I decided to combine them. I was going to be fishing mesh bags with 4 freebies in, 5 baits on each rod in total including my hook bait. I was going to be fishing semi-fixed rigs on both rods. Looking closely in the margins, a lot of the dying weed had turned black, there were strands scattered all over the place. Because of this, I decided that I would use all black components, leads, tubing etc. Aesthetically I wanted my traps to sit as natural as possible in their environment.

Dark Components
PVA Tape On The Hair To Stop Tangles

Finished Presentation

Thinking back, I've never been one to over-complicate my rigs, I have about four that pretty much cover any angling situation and I wouldn't class any of them as being particularly "modern". It's been said thousands of times but it still rings true, "rigs don't have to be complicated". On review, the times that I have tried to get over technical, it's nearly always resulted in tangles and hook pulls. Developing your understanding of both the waters you fish and the carp that live within them is a far more productive outlet to expel your mental energy, if you're not careful, too much focus on rigs can detract from your watercraft, as we know, it doesn't matter what rig you're using if there's no fish out in front of you.

Back To The Session

With both rods rigged up and ready for the cast, two sly underarm swings saw both my baits enter the water with not so much as a faint splash. I felt both rigs down, each communicating to me a nice soft thud, I was on clay, which was exactly where I wanted to be. With back leads applied and lines now semi-slack, this gave me the chance to sit back, spark the kettle up and once again soak up the reasons why I love the Braxted complex so much. 

Everything looked clearer and richer than what I remember, as I focused my eyes through the trees over on back lake I could just about make out a few bodies fidgeting from swim to swim. Every so often a slight murmur could be heard from the adjacent anglers, it was busy but everyone seemed to morph into the environment really well, it was clear that all of us were very happy to be fishing the 'CAA' waters once more.

View From The Swim 'Right Rod'
View From The Swim 'Left Rod'
As you can see in the images above, I wasn't fishing very far out, this is because most of the margin drops down really close in. You're in 10ft of water a couple of rod lengths out, fishing a bait near the top of the slope and another towards the bottom can be very effective, the slope itself is very steep.

A few hours ticked by and I sat content knowing that I was in with a good chance of a bite, as the afternoon passed, the anglers on front lake thinned out until I was the only one left. It was perfect, quiet and approaching "the magic hour", bite time was upon me and my focus was concentrated on both my rod tips, I didn't take my eyes off them. 

Before I knew it the left rod arced round and the clutch was whizzing, I grabbed it, as I applied the pressure the fish took off tight down the margin to the left of me, I held on, let it tire and steadily eased it my way. As it approached my landing net mesh I could see two fish, the one that I'd hooked and another just behind it, pretty much following it into the net. It was bizarre, I'd heard of this happening but had never actually witnessed it myself. Maybe they were best mates sharing a bit of grub together? once my fish was in the net the other one soon bolted. I found myself gazing at a common carp that screamed perfection, scales fell to 13IB.

First Of The Season From Front Lake
The fish was scale perfect and yet again another prime example of why I'm prepared to whittle away my days on front lake. After a few shots I got her back and upped sticks to a swim two spaces down to my left. My reason for this was, because I'm fishing so close in I knew that I'd most probably spooked any other carp that might be mooching around. Moving swims gives me a clean slate and rejuvenated confidence that I could steal another bite.

I adopted the exact same tactics, the only aspect I changed was my rig positioning, it was clear that the fish were moving around in small groups so I decided to fish both baits close to each other, doing this might get me more than one bite, especially if more than one fish comes across the bait at the same time.

View From The Second Swim
Again, both rigs entered the water with little disturbance, bobbins were set and I sat back feeling confident that another carp might come my way. Afternoon had now melted into evening, it was 6:30pm, I was going to give it another hour and then call it a day. Shortly before I was just about to reel in, the right bobbin twitched, there were a few bleeps then the rod was off. 

The minute I lifted into it I knew it wasn't a carp, it felt frantic but there was no real power to the fight. As the fish got closer I could see through the clear water a bright orange eye, I'd caught one of the resident tench, and by the looks of it, it was a pretty good size, it gave a good account of itself and as I slid the net under its smooth green frame, I felt it was the perfect way to end my first session. Scales sunk to 7IB.

A Welcome Tench 

What a tidy little result, I've always had a soft spot for Tench ever since I caught my first big one from Piltdown pond when I was about 15, it was the first proper fish that I had on my feeder rod, I have so many great angling memories and with each session that passes, a set of new memories will be created and drawn upon many years down the line. Like I've mentioned before, our angling journey never stops, it's constant, mine will end when my last breath leaves me - that's a pretty poignant thought.

All in all I was really pleased with my first session back, I had a lovely carp and a bonus tench underneath my belt and its put me in good stead for my future sessions. I feel so optimistic about the coming months, I don't want to rush anything, I'm going to take it all in my stride, keep my expectations realistic and continue to aim for consistency, and as we all know, consistency can bring with it a few larger surprises.   

Saturday 18 July 2015

Fox Stalker Pod Plus Review

Before I start this review I'd like to point out that I am in no way associated with Fox International, there seems to be a lack of reviews about certain tackle items and I hope this will help you out if you are considering a new rod pod. I had been on the look out for a new pod for quite sometime before I stumbled upon the 'Fox Stalker Plus'. Some of the lakes that I fish just don't have suitable banks or swims for my carbon sticks, my Matrix patriot pod is a majestic bit of kit but can be a pain in certain situations. There are days when I just want something that is simply setup, and away you go.

My love for 'the rod pod' goes way back to the early 90's, I have fond memories of my 'Fox Compact', it was the first pod I owned. Then came the 'Fox Euro', they lasted me for years, and for their time, both were pretty much cutting edge bits of kit. The downfall to both their designs was the locking mechanism, everything was solid when straight takes occurred but if you were fishing tight to either the right or the left, then the front support would collapse in whichever direction the fish bolted. Both have now been retired to the loft after providing me with years of trusted service, collapsing or not. 

The Stalker Pod In Action
There came a point in time when it appeared that the humble pod fell out of fashion, along came carbon and stainless steel sticks, crossbars, stage stands etc. Rod support took on a new image, it all became very 'BLING'. For me, it's about getting the right tackle for the job, be it in or out of vogue, every tackle item I own serves its purpose, I was never one to purchase something because "it was the latest or trendiest buzz item".

So this brings me on to the 'Fox Stalker Plus Pod', so far I'm really impressed with what Fox have pulled out the bag with this one. It retails for around £84.99 but I'm sure that if you shop about you'll be able to pick it up cheaper, either way, you get a hell of a lot for the money. It comes in a handy little carry bag that has tidy velcro and elastic straps, these house all the vital parts. Once the carry case is opened you are presented with a very organised storage system, it reminds me of the footage I've seen when a sniper rifle is being constructed, but instead of targeting people we are targeting the carp.

Handy Carry Case

The Main Shaft

The Other Components

The first thing that struck me was how robust everything looked, especially taking in to account how light it all felt. Assembly is very straight forward and it all fits together in super quick time. It has a nice jet black finish - gone are the days of Fox using a layer of paint on their pods that seemed to start to flake off straight away. One of the main selling points for me is the fact that it contains a set of both two and three buzz bar setups. After extensive research, there aren't a great deal of pods on the market that give you these two options.

All Four Legs Are On Heavy Duty Threads

Once the legs are up they screw down nice and tight, you have an option to change the height and the angle of each leg separately. The first setting is very low profile and streamline, the second setting is far more traditional allowing the legs to spread out to a wider angle, this helps with the overall stability and I believe this leg positioning would really come in to play when you are using three rods. Again, the locking system design floors of the Fox pods from years gone by have well and truly been rectified. 

Main Shaft

Leg Setting One

Leg Setting Two

The buzz bars themselves slot into two 'heavy duty' locking joints that are positioned on the front and the back of the main shaft, this mimics a 'goal post' setup. Because of this design, there's no chance of the pod tipping, when everything is locked down in place it's rock solid. Because of the plastic locking mechanism, it takes away the worry of over tightening small diameter threads. Some might argue that the plastic parts of the pod are a weak point and slightly cheap looking, but, I'd rather have this than lots of fiddly screws that could possibly get 'cross threaded' or lost. The plastic itself is very hard wearing and I don't see it posing any real problems over the long term.

Heavy Duty Plastic Locking Mechanism

Once the buzz bars are screwed on to their legs you simply slot them into the locks and you're done. Once again the buzzers can be set at different heights depending on your angling situation. Which ever way you choose to set them up, the overall adjustments you can make on the pod as a whole gives you a huge amount of versatility. This was another one of the main selling points for me, I wanted something that could adapt, be it a super steep bank, rock etc, I wanted rod support that I knew was 'good to go' where ever I took it.

Goal-Post Style Buzz Bar Legs

Lock The Legs In

Low-Profile Complete Setup 2x Rods

All four legs have sharp pointed tips, for extra stability, you can push them tightly in to the ground by simply extending the legs to your desired lenght. Once I'd done this I gave the pod a good shake and there was no real movement, it all felt pretty spot on too me. I'd like to add that back rests don't come supplied so it's your choice what you want to use. I've gone for a slightly 'retro' look using some old Fox back rests that I've had for years, the alarms in the picture are my old Micron SX's, the swingers are from the new black label series. 

Looking at it whilst waiting for a bite makes me feel rather nostalgic, thinking back to my early days of carp fishing. Don't get me wrong, I love my carbon and stainless setups a lot but I really like the ease that the 'stalker' provides and, as mentioned before, on swims that are awkward for standard sticks, it really does the job brilliantly.

Maximum Height 3x Rods

The above image gives you an idea of how high up the pod can go, this is with the legs fully extended. It passed the 'wobble test' with flying colours, the middle shaft is also extended to its maximum limit. There are many angles and variations that you can mess about with. The image below shows another example which would be perfect if you want your rods tips low in windy conditions, the main shaft is as short as it can go.

Tips Down

Tips To The Skies

There really isn't a great deal more that I can say, it's a great bit of kit and a fair price, taking into account everything that you get. The only minor negative point I have is the fact that it will scratch, it's just the nature of the finish and being black, marks will show, but we are talking about rod support here, not a Ferrari. There aren't any other negative points, it's simple, light, versatile and destine to be a fine work horse. If you're a self-confessed 'tackle tart', this might not be the choice for you. But if you're the kind of angler that wants good, practical gear without the "BLING" price tag, then the 'Fox Stalker Pod' might just be the bit of kit you're looking for.

Rating : 10/10