Sunday 15 January 2017

The Gardner TLB Bite Alarm Review

"As in all my reviews I'd like to start by stating that I'm in no way connected to Gardner Tackle. This is an independent write up that I hope might help you out if you've been thinking about purchasing the Gardner TLB bite alarm."

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

Thursday 12 January 2017

Braxted Front Lake 'The Process'

A fair amount of time has evaporated since my last blog, here we are a few weeks into 2017 and I find myself asking, 'where the hell did 2016 go?'. It feels the older I get the days, weeks and months seem to go careering past me at a rate of knots. I understand that time is a precious thing but I must admit, I have no real desire to hold onto it, it simply comes and goes, I think it has a tendency to pass us by faster when we're making correct use of it. I find the days tend to drag badly if you feel you have no real sense of purpose. Angling, however, is the anglers purpose.

I always look forward to a new angling year, it's an exciting prospect, and with it, comes yet another set of new possibilities. As usual, I have no real targets, no PB's to beat. I just want to continue to get out there and do the best I can, consistency is the key. If I can continue to catch a few from all my chosen waters, eventually a monster might just find itself staring up at me from the depths of my net mesh. Many moons ago when my angling life was in its infancy I made the mistake of giving myself too many targets and goals. I got wrapped up in all the aspects that seemed to pull me away from what I thought angling should really be about.

I remember when '18' was my magic number, back then that was a mythical size fish for me and I wanted to catch one so badly. The problem was the only lakes that were available didn't have a great deal of 'bigger carp' living in them, but I carried on regardless. As time went by my need for 'the number' turned into an uncontrollable obsession, I found myself spending an unhealthy amount of my life camped up on my local club water, longing for the next bite to be what I so desperately needed. The weeks morphed into months, the outside world became, almost obsolete, I was on a path that only had one route and I wasn't going to deviate from it until my desire had been pacified. 

It was on one very warm night back in the early 90's, I was laying on my old Fox Supa bed chair looking up at the cosmos overhead, contemplating the possibility of alien life .. when out of the darkness, my optonic lit up like a beacon of hope, followed by a screaming buzzer and the beautiful whirring of my old Shimano 6010 bait runners. I lifted the rod high into the darkness and as I stood there, man against beast on my own, I went on to finally land 'my number'. Sitting here now I can still see it so clear and it will, no doubt, be a moment that will stay with me forever.

I was so happy, my mission was accomplished, but only for a short time, it was crazy how quick my next number became '20'. I started to think, "where do you stop", maybe at '30', '40', '50' .. I think you get my point. It was years later when I realised exactly what I'd missed in the lead up to that original 'target'I'd missed the journey, my mind was so fixed on the destination that I'd pretty much disregarded both the adventure and the carp I'd caught along the way. I'd been wearing 'blinkers', I might have finally caught 'the number' I was aiming for, but I really hadn't learnt a great deal. I felt that I'd become very one dimensional, my fishing had turned, almost mechanical. 

That's when my outlook on my angling changed, for me it became apparent that it's not about the numbers or the 'named fish', it's not about the 'PBs' or the size, it's about the process. It's something I've written about so much, and it goes for everything you do in life, from building a house to learning an instrument, it's what you learn in the process of doing anything that eventually allows you to understand why and how you got the result. Personally I've found angling without any targets has allowed me to appreciate everything to do with carp fishing as a whole, you just take it as it comes. I find approaching it in this way keeps my enthusiasm primed and I rarely get a sense of burn-out. 

On the flip-side to what I'm saying, I understand that we all fish for different reasons, and as individuals we all have different motivations for doing what we do. I know guys that are highly driven to catch the biggest residents of the lakes they fish and then move on, others like to sit it out on the pits for the potential unknown beasts that could be lurking. The explanation I've given above is simply putting across what viewpoint works best for me, whatever way you're going at it, don't let 'the chase' blind you of the process, stop and smell the roses/carp once in a while.

The 20IB Obsession 'Winter 1994'

This now brings me on to my latest blog post, it's accounting for a session up on Braxted front lake back in the winter of 2015. It's a strange water for me, as much as I love the place I can only fish it when I really get the urge to do so. Opening my eyes on the morning of my trip, I instantly got a fire in my belly and the 'the front' was calling me to come and pay it a visit. Over the past few seasons I've been rewarded with some pretty special fish from the place and some of the commons have been the best I've caught. Through time I've sussed out around five spots that I know, 'if the fish are feeding', I stand a good chance at getting a pick up.

Front Lake Common 2014
I was up and out quick and my enthusiasm to get the rods out was barely controllable. Whizzing up the motorway with London becoming an 'ant sized speck' in my rear view mirror, all sights where set on getting to the water in quick time. I visualised being pumped out the industrial heart of the capital, to continue my journey into the veins and arteries of the Essex countryside. I was escaping the concrete prison and off to find my own piece of paradise. Off the A12 I went, my destination was less than a mile away, I weaved myself through the country lanes and farm tracks, as I pulled into the car park, 'front lake' was peering at me through the trees, it looked perfect.

Exiting the van, my mental enthusiasm had actually distorted the fact that the weather was very dull. The life around the lake was so still and murky, there was a gentle breeze pushing down towards the car park which made the front section of the water look very inviting. One quick lap revealed nothing of any significance, as always the Braxted carp were keeping their cards close to their chest. I was going to have to go on instinct and past experience, so I chose to setup down the car park end, I was certain that the odd fish might be ghosting around, if not now, later.

View From The Swim

Whilst I was meticulously setting up my swim, a few sun beams started to break through the clouds above, this instantly changed the whole feel of the water. All the dead colours from the surrounding trees lit up so bright, all of a sudden the prospect of catching a carp became an obtainable prospect. I decided I'd be shooting for my usual spots, the left rod would go half way down the slope that gently drops down from the car park bank. The right rod would be placed in the deep marginal run directly opposite. Once the baits were placed I was going to leave them, I didn't see any point in recasting, patience was going to be my faithful ally.

Combi Materials

Regarding my rigs for this session, I'd adjusted them slightly, this time of the year front lake goes really clear. Instead of using my standard 'trigga-link combi', I'd opted for an 'amnesia combi'. The supple section was tied with Krystons Silkworm, this gave the rig a lovely hinge and allowed plenty of free movement for the hook-bait. The white Amnesia in 15IB literally disappears when its in the water, thinking about it, I've been using it on and off for the past 20 or so years and I still rate it highly. It's easy to work with, abrasion resistant, knots well and once steamed holds it shape. Along with this I'd upped my lead size to 3.5oz, from 2.5oz, I wanted to magnify the shock effect.

Amnesia Combi

Honey Nectar was my bait of choice, I wasn't going to use anything other than a single hook-bait. I sensed that the carp might not be up for much, out of all the waters I fish, front lake is a place where I feel 100% confident in keeping my baiting to a minimum. Working on the basis that carp like to check items that they come across, I was hoping that even if they weren't up for the grub, the bright orange colour of the bait might just attract them to investigate. With all these little tweaks and details covered, I could sit comfortably knowing that I was fishing effectively. 

A couple of casts saw my rigs land exactly where I wanted them to, back-leads were slipped on and now with the bobbins and alarms 'set to stun', I scrambled to get my brew kit unpacked. With the kettle gently bubbling and the smell of fresh coffee emanating from the bottom of my cafetiere I felt pretty dam rich, if I could just go and land myself a carp, I'd feel like the wealthiest man alive. It's these simple pleasures that really mean the most to me, forget the big house and expensive car, give me a good coffee and a carp any day of the week. 

Sitting there looking out over the water everything felt pretty desolate, there were no signs or signals that any fish were in the vicinity. It always seems to go this way though, bites just seem to come out of the blue, I sat tight, hours started to pass, I'd overdosed on coffee so now I was on the 'Yorkshire' tea. The day was passing and with it came many moods, the lake went from welcoming me to literally giving every reason that I should up and leave. But I wasn't going to be beaten that easily, and as afternoon started to yawn the rain came .. hard, I got the brolly up, I'd made up my mind that I was going to stay a few hours after dark. 

The light started to fade fast and before I knew it I was staring into the darkness. I sat hunched underneath my brolly hoping that at any moment the LED from one of my bite alarms would shine, signalling that a carp had been fooled by my carefully placed trap. The rain eased off, the clouds cleared revealing the fullest moon I'd seen in a very long time, everything felt perfect. The atmosphere was sliced like a knife when I suddenly received a short sharp liner off my right hand rod. I now sat on the edge of my seat, eyes fixed on the vivid blue light from my ATT. As soon as the LED latched off I got a few more knocks, now with my head torch on, I was poised ready for some action. BANG... the rod was away.

Both the alarm and reel drag were screaming, it felt like I'd waited an eternity for this bite. I was met with a dead weight and as my rod bent double trying to cushion the run, it became apparent that I was hooked into 'what felt' like a lump of a fish. It powered hard to the right stripping line as it went, my 3IB test curve 'Ballistas' where translating every tug, thrust and pull, it was a spiritual experience. As the fished edged ever closer I was dying to get just a tiny glimpse of the potential beast that I'd been wrestling with. Slowly it began to tire, out of the darkness and into the light of my head-torch beam I caught sight of a very wide and deep bodied common. I teased her slowly over the net .. result!

The Perfect Prize

I took a minute to catch my breath, lifting the carp out and placing it safe into my cradle, it was pretty clear that I'd caught one of the bigger residence. On closer inspection it had a fair amount of damage around its mouth and some heavy abrasions on its body. This was a shame, it's always sad to see, I applied both 'wound seal' and 'propolis' to the effected areas, got a quick shot, and then sent her home. I was really happy that I'd managed to get a bite, I stuck it out and it paid off. I must admit though, I felt a little deflated, the condition of the fish really wasn't great. 

A Bruised Braxted Beauty

Carp angling is a beautiful thing but I'm under no illusion that for the carp the capture must be a very stressful situation. Every fish I catch I handle with great care, they're all fleeting visitors that we greet, respect and send home. I want them to go back the same way they came out, to look as untouched as possible, not only for the fishes sake but for the next angler who's lucky enough to catch them. Of course the odd mishap can happen, it's just the nature of the sport but it's important to make the whole 'catch & release' process as seamless as possible. I drove home from the session in a strangely reflective mood, that was going to be my last visit to a CAA water for the rest of the season. The journey flew by fast and as I saw London shining majestically on the horizon, I was already planning my next escape.

On a side note -

"In regards to the subject of bad mouth damage, I think there are measures that can be taken to help reduce this from happening. I understand completely that some bad hook holds are unavoidable, but I personally think that if you're careful with how you play the fish and thoughtful in regards to the type of tackle you're using, then the chances of bad damage can be minimised. I personally feel the 'test curve' is a grey area for some and I wish it was written about more in the major angling press. For me a high test curve rod is only needed if I'm fishing at range, using solid bags or fishing a weedy venue. In my mind a 3.5 test curve and above is a 'distance' tool, 'playability' is secondary.

If I'm using a rod of this power I'm very conscious on how my drag is set as to not exert to much direct pressure. I still want to be in control but I want line to come off my spool before the rod locks up. Most of my fishing is done on a 2.5 or 2 3/4 test curve, they're a joy to play fish on and due to the 'give' in the blank, less pressure is put directly on the hook hold, which in turn reduces the risk of tearing. I believe yanking fish in fast on a stiff rod, and/or striking hard 'when in reality we're using self hooking rigs' is what contributes to this damage. Let us all remember that the carp doesn't, simply stop existing, when we release it back into the water. Bad damage caused by bad angling practice can hinder the quality of that carps existence. As anglers it's our job to preserve these creatures."