I love carp tackle of all kinds, for me, bite alarms are like snare drums and cymbals, you can never have too many of them. I own a fair amount of different alarms, the most current being the Gardner ATT's, the rest are a mix of the older Fox micron series, most notably, and still my favourite to this day the DXR. In carp angling more than any other style of fishing you get trends, fashions and 'buzz' items. I can happily say that I take no notice of any of this. I simply buy what appeals to me, I don't buy what I'm told I 'should' like.
New alarms are coming out onto the market so fast these days that it's hard to keep up. So many are cram packed with the latest features and tricks that it can all get a little confusing. To be honest I feel they're just a variation of a theme. I started to think about how many of these features I really needed, and in reality it's very few. I think the more something has, the higher chance there is of something malfunctioning. Don't get me wrong, I love a gadget as much as the next man but reliability and functionality are the main priorities for me. I want something that simply does its job. In regards to the TLB alarms, along with the ATTs, it's pretty much the most featureless alarm that you'll find. But it makes up for it in other ways. The long & short is, its stood the test of time.
I had my eyes on these for so long and I finally bit the bullet and purchased two. During the winter months I stay really mobile, even with the rain beating on my back and I'm up to my eyeballs in clay. I'll move if I feel I'm not on the fish, I wanted an alarm that could cope with being mistreated. I was looking for something I didn't have to concern myself with and I knew, however messy things got, I didn't have to worry about not being alerted to a bite. As we know, during winter you don't want to be missing anything. So far my TLBs have been my faithful companion and I sense they're going to be keeping me company whilst out on the bank for many years to come. So ... where do we start?
They come in two finishes, one is an understated matte black, the other is a 'bling' looking silver, I opted for the black ones, the silver is a little too shiny for me. The overall design is pretty retro and compact, I think it's either 'your kind of thing' or it isn't, I personally really love the look, it's very reminiscent of the first generation of bite alarms that came on the market. There's definitely a thorough 'nod' to the old skool and I can safely say that there isn't another alarm out there that looks even close to the TLB.
The build quality is second to none, and best of all they're made here in the UK. The face plate and roller wheel cover are made of polished steel. You have two handy little slots for isotopes. All of its electronic components are safely sealed within a compartment that's separate to the battery and output socket. There have been tests that show its still fully operational underwater, so if you do accidentally drop it in the lake, you needn't worry if it's going to work or not, it will. I think it's safe to say that it's as close to 'bomb proof' as you're going to get. I've used mine a lot this winter in very wet conditions and the alarm hasn't missed a single bleep. In fact I don't even dry them off, I just turn them off and chuck them in my tackle bag. Come the next session I simply turn them back on and they're good to go.
I know there's always a continuous debate that seems to go on amongst many carp anglers in regards to alarms with a roller wheel system. For the twenty plus years I've been carp fishing I've never once had a roller wheel freeze up on me. And that's when I've been out on three night sessions in winter where literally everything, including most of the lake I was fishing had frozen. I feel some roller wheel alarms have too much of the actual wheel mechanism exposed, thus making it easier for it to jam/or freeze up. Due to the design of the TLB, the roller wheel is nicely tucked away in its own housing. I think this greatly reduces the chance of any issues occurring.
Moving onto the speaker, this is seriously loud, its output is 93db, the upside to this is, you'll clearly hear when you've got a bite. The downside is, so will the rest of the lake. You can however buy 'buzzer plugs' that reduce the volume considerably. The guys at Matrix Innovations have produced one that fits into the Steve Neville alarm speaker. I can confirm that they also fit into the TLBs perfectly. I recommend them if you're camped up close to your alarms.
The alarm has a 2.5mm mini jack socket on its bottom side edge, this enables it to work perfectly with the ATT V2 dongles and wireless receiver. This means you get all the benefits of a wireless system with the added benefit of the TLB's rugged design. What I tend to do nowadays is mute all my alarms and use a wireless receiver on low volume. The only person that needs to know I've got a run is me. Gardner have made special 120 degree angled adaptors that allow the dongles to sit nice and straight. Due to the angle of the built in mini jack input, without the adaptors your dongle sits at an awkward angle. It will still work fine, but if you want that 'OCD' symmetry look I recommend the angled adaptors.
One point that I really like about the overall design is the LED, it's protruding slightly and super bright in both daylight and darkness. It stays on 10 seconds after an indication and mimics perfectly what's coming out of the speaker. If you get a solid 'one toner' it stays static. If you get a finicky bite it will flicker in unison with what you're hearing. It was the brightness of the LED that let the ATTs down, in sunlight you'd have difficulty seeing them. It's a shame they didn't carry the TLB LED design over to the ATT range.
120 Degree Adaptor Jack
Moving onto the sensitivity, this is where I feel a lot of modern alarms go way over the top. Having loads of different settings is all very well but I've found I usually end up turning everything right down. The TLB is more than capable of picking up the slightest of tweaks and liners, I'm guessing that it's probably a 4 mag wheel, which is the same as the ATT. Having acute sensitivity can be a pain if it's a windy day or if you've got a lot of undertow in the water. I feel to get the best results from any 'roller wheel' system you have to use a heavy bobbin. I'm currently using one that weighs 17g. Reason being, because it pins the line down nice and tight over the roller wheel.
Roller Wheel Housing
Last but not least, to power the alarm you will need a single 23a/12v battery, this can be purchased from most tackle shops. Mine are still going strong and if it's anything like the ATT battery life I wont be changing them for a very longtime, even with regular use. I have to say that I love these alarms and I have 100% confidence that when I flick the on switch they're going to be ready to go. The only point that might bother some people is the volume, "why not buy an alarm with a volume control". The TLB has been specifically designed so there's nothing that can go wrong. It's a quirky little piece and the fixed volume is simply one of its quirks.
I think that bite alarms are a very personal item and it's all down to what the individual feels they require. Some swear by Delkims, others love FOX, it all really depends on what you're looking for. If you're after an alarm with all the 'bells & whistles', then the TLB is probably not for you. If, however you're looking for a simple, unique, well built work horse that continues to stand the test of time. Then the Gardner TLB bite alarm might just be the one you're looking for. There's not much left to say, I hope you've found this review helpful, whatever alarms you have, or choose in the future, best of luck and be lucky out there on the bank.
Out On The Water With The TLBs