Monday, 27 March 2017

What do you expect for twenty quid?

I can't help it, I love messing about in the workshop. Over the past few months I have been exploring the noble art of fly fishing. No, I am not going to join the country set and trade the Transit in for a Range Rover! I am not contemplating game fishing, I am interested in the idea of catching coarse fish on the fly.

Fly fishing is about as far away from the 'standard' coarse fishing, I am used to, as chalk is to cheese. What's more it has a language of its own too. What with tippets and leaders on the line and don't ask about the fly tying, it is all a  foreign tongue to me! I can't see me doing any fly fishing for a while. Apart from the fact that I don't even have a rod yet, we are in the process of packing up our house ready for a move out of London, after living here all my life and the best part of forty years in this house.

That said, it will give me some time to study the art and to have a go at a spot of fly tying. It is the entomology that interests me, matching fly to the time of year and to the species is fascinating to me. Once I have worked out what insects are about and what the fish will eat, the job of making a fly replica and then convincing the fish to feed on it is what it is all about to me.

Renzetti Master Vice, several hundred pounds of pure class
First of all I will need some tools and top of that list has to be a fly tying vice. Have you seen the price of these things? What! six, seven, eight hundred pounds or more for a top end vice AND if you want something like a Law vice, now no longer made, two grand (£2,000) is not unheard of. Now, I am not adverse to spending money on a well made piece of kit but there is a limit. A fly tying vice is not a complicated thing it is just a clamp to hold the hook a fly is tied on. There are several types but in the main there are two basic types; fixed and swivel head. There is also the choice of clamp on and free standing on a sold base. Over and above these, there are specialist tube tying vices, but that is all a bit above my knowledge pay grade at the moment. It is all about the functionality and quality of manufacture, combined with superb finishing, like the Renzzeti vice pictured above.

Looking to the other end of the scale, there are the cheap so called 'beginner's' vices. These can be as low as a few pounds for a fixed vice and not much more for a rotary model.Most of these appear to be cheap copies of the classic style. Mostly of eastern origins, poorly made and really not fit for purpose. I am sure they will have put more people off than they have inspired. With my eyes wide open, it occurred to me that with a bit of thought and application, I might be able to modify and improve one of these cheap vices into something that is at least serviceable. I will invest in a decent vice in the future but for now I plan to make do with something a bit cheaper. A hunt through the on-line auction listings found a likely candidate, a "Fully Rotatable fly tying vice with bobbin cradle" priced at £19.99 including postage. This I had to see. A few mouse clicks and the deed was done, one vice bought, paid for on its way to be inspected.

It all looks a bit cheap and nasty in its tatty box
That was last Friday, it arrived today, Monday. Well, for twenty quid you don't expect much, or at least I was not expecting much. My thought was I could always put it back on eBay and get some if not all of my money back. As it turned out yes, straight out of the box my suspicions were confirmed it is useless, or at the very least second to useless. However, locked up solid, I suspect you could tie a fly with it at a push.

The finish is crude and the plating on the rotary knob is has blackened. The jaws are rough and set far too hight to rotate the shank of the hook in line and coaxially with the head, making it pointless even if the rotating mechanism was journalled well enough to perform so.

Even after assembly it looks cheap and nasty. The best bit is the bobbin cradle that does not look too bad. As you can see the jaws are mounted far to high to allow the shaft of the hook to rotate in line and coaxlually with the head 
Nothing is smooth or firm the whole thing is flimsy and very badly made, but it has potential. With a little bit of time spent on it, I am sure it can be improved. It will never be anywhere near as good as a high end vice, but I reckon I can make it serviceable as a rotary vice.

The jaws have a very thin coating of black paint that is already scratched and worn
The first thing to look at is the way the jaws are mounted. They are far too high. This can be rectified by boring a few more holes and tapping them to accept the fixing screw. It may also be possible to adjust the angle of the mounting bar but that will need looking at on the bench. The jaws themselves are thinly painted and very poorly finished off both cosmetically and functionally. A lot can be done by stripping the original paint and refinishing them by either polishing them or repainting and varnishing. The mating faces of the jaws can be honed and finished to a much higher standard without much effort. The two thumb screws are a bit coarse, as is the thread, but I will live with that on this vice. The rubber ring that keeps the jaws in line (sort of!) will stay too.

The bearings need looking at and replacing, a roughly cut off lump of plastic tube wit a bore that is not even central is not helping. The coarse thread used to join the brass bearing housing to the vertical support will not lock tight and will need some 'assistance' to prevent it from coming lose. The pin on the rotating wheel suffers from the same problem.

Other minor irritations include a clamp that will not grip a smooth surface and thumb wheels that are just uncomfortable to use and almost impossible to tighten enough to grip the vertical support.

I am sure I will be able to rectify most of these faults. I will not be able to turn it into a Renzetti, but I should be able to make it usable while I save the pennies for a better made vice. I will let you know how I get on...


Saturday, 25 March 2017


Nothing, not even a line bite
Well, what a let down. First time out since the beginning of November and I was home by three o'clock!

I had been so looking forward to today. I had all my gear ready, bait organised and ready to go in plenty of time. All I had to do, apart from the normal ablutions, was to get up, load the van and go. I needed to get some fuel so I left in plenty of time. It was getting light as I left, which always makes the drive more palatable.

Just around the corner is a petrol station but I never use it because it is much dearer then the others on the A20 way out to the M25. Sue will not go in there either, but that is because a few years ago, someone stole the numberplates from her car and used them on a car they filled with petrol and then drove off. Even though the police and the filling station know what happened, and the latter has changed hands several times since, she is still convinced the numberplate will be recognised and something bad will happen. Anyway, my point in mentioning this is that my usual filling station was selling fuel, both petrol and diesel at the same price as was every other filling station on the way - even the ones out in the countryside that are usually a few coppers dearer. Very strange. The only exception to this was the motorway services who were selling fuel at 14p per litre dearer! How on earth can they justify that? I am sure I don't know.

Still musing on the seemingly suspicious uniform pricing structure of the fuel, I pulled into the drive at Beaver Fishery a good twenty minutes before the gate was due to open. There was a queue! I sat there until the gate swung open, observing the fishery's cat making his way to the gate to inspect the assembled visitors.

The cars in front of me parked up and I pulled up alongside the office. As I made my way to the front door I was suddenly aware that the occupants of the car in front of me at the gate were falling over themselves, and the cat, to get into the office before me! I am amazed how petty people can be. The cat stood there watching the proceedings and when the commotion had settled down came over and said hello, he seems to recognise me now even though I have not been there for a few months.

Over the winter, the two specimen lakes have been refurbished and emptied of 'nuisance' species. Part of this meant that over 600lbs of bream were relocated into Maze Lake. I have a soft spot for this lake as it was the first lake I ever fished at Beaver. I also had a really good day last July on Maze with just a single float rod and not much else. Today was not a patch on that day.

Looked like it might hod the odd fish - but nothing
Maze lake was originally dug as a match lake but other than the odd club match it is only used by the odd pleasure angler. For some reason it has not been fishing well for a while. I think the design of it is too complicated and there are plenty of places for the fish to go to get away from a lone angler. All this I knew before I left, but I still decided to give it a go. I set up on the far side of the lake and put a flat-backed method feeder out just short of the far bank. I had decided to buy a two rod ticket so I could fish the feeder for long periods while I was doing something more energetic with another rod. After about fifteen minutes of inactivity on the feeder rod, I went for a retrieve. As I wound the handle of the reel, I witnessed the feeder rise out of the water. Although I had seen the feeder plop into the water, what I had not realised was the hook had caught an overhanding piece of vegetation. My line was now taught with the feeder appearing to hover above the water as the hook was holding fast...

There I was contemplating walking around and retrieve it 'manually' when the hook let go and the feeder plopped back into the water. Result! Several more casts, and a bit of playing around with my elasticated whip/pole thingie, was absolutely fruitless. What's more I had not seen any signs of fish. After a couple of hours I decided to move.

Now on the other side of the lake, still nothing...
There are times when having the van really pays off. Open the back doors and put the chair, rods and bait waiter (still on its tripod) in the back and drive around to the next destination. It is a bit of a convoluted journey via Moat Pond and the southern side of The Major's lake only to get back to the other side of Maze Lake. I set up on my favoured peg, on this side of the water, and started to fish. another couple of hours went by and I was now starting to think I was wasting my time. Andy the bailiff arrived on his son's old mountain bike. He is on his own on Saturdays an is constantly getting call back to the office by new arrivals to the fishery. Just as I was telling him my stories of woe and bleating about the lack of fish, the rod tip swung around and I had a fish. It turned out to be a nice roach of a few ounces, caught on a cage feeder packed with maggots and groundbait. I did not bother to photograph it as I suspected I would now start to catch. Sure enough, as Andy rode away the rod tip started to flicker and then bent double as I picked up the rod.

"That's not a roach!" Said Andy and I agreed as the small 8½ft picker rod bent almost double. My reluctance to hold the fish meant that it had now parked itself in the lily pads that were only just showing a few tatty looking leaves. Try as I might, I could not get it out and eventually the hook straightened and the fish was gone.

Oh well, things were looking up, maybe it was not going to be so bad. A few minutes later and my second rod's top was showing some signs of life and sure enough There was one very lively common carp tugging at my line. I landed it but it was still thrashing about too much to get a picture so to be kind to the fish I returned it to the lake, again thinking this was only the start and I would get some fish pictures later. By now it was about 11:30AM.

Two and a half hours later, after trying different baits and methods I gave up. I suspect that because Maze is a strange layout that fish can avoid a lone angler and hid in other parts of the lake. I gave up as it did not look as if I was going to get any other people joining me and scaring the fish over to my side of the lake, so the kit went into the back of the van again and I decided to find another lake. By this time it as approaching 2:00PM and as I cruised the complex looking for somewhere to fish, I realised that all the decent pegs were full and even the not so good pegs were occupied. I hate going to commercials on a Saturday, they are always packed with families enjoying a day out in the sunshine and that is great, but I prefer to go during the week when it is a bit quieter - I must be getting old and grumpy.

Time to call it a day.


Monday, 20 March 2017

Back to the lake - At last!

After more than three months (yes it is that long!) of fishing famine I am actually getting back out there on Saturday, at least that is what I intend to do. I did say I was going last week but it never happened even though the middle of the week was perfect fishing weather for me. Over the past couple of months, the weather has been much colder down here in the south than we have experienced for a few years. Although I am not that keen on the cold, that was not the only reason I have not been wetting the line. We are trying to get our house packed up ready for a move, but after nearly forty years, this is proving a long job!

With the weather just on the turn and the temperature forecast to rise again, Saturday looks like it will suit me. I am not a great lover of setting up in the wet or sitting there on a damp overcast day for hours on end. My problem is I don't have anywhere really local to fish, even my nearest water is a good three-quarters of an hour away in London traffic and when I get there I have to pay for a day ticket (£10). It is just not practical to fish for a few hours, it has to be a day trip. So it is off to a commercial fishery for the day. I have no idea what the fishing will be like so I will talk to the bailiffs when I get there and take their advice.

I have not been idol over the past few months. While I could not get out to the bank, I have been doing my homework, fiddling about with loops, hook lengths and tying my own spade hooks.

Sensas loop 'tyer'
Until now, I have mostly been using eyed hooks as method feeder fishing has featured heavily in my experience to date and a hair rigged punched piece of bacon grill has been my favoured hook-bait. Tying stops and bands into a loop and then forming a hair tied to the hook using a knot-less knot is now a simple hand operation, for me, down to the smallest of hooks, using the lightest of lines. Yes, I do need some visual aid when it gets really small but I am happy with that. Constant practise has paid off and that milestone has been passed successfully. It was always the tying of spade hooks that defeated me. In the end I gave up trying to tie them by hand alone and bought a Matchman Hook Tyer. I could then tie my own spade hooks with moderate success.

A genuine Matchman spade hook tyer
The Matchman does work but I found it a bit awkward when tying small hooks. Although possible, it was not that easy for me. I then bought a couple of the Stonfo Hook Tyers. One small and one large.  These are like 'posh' Matchman Hook Tyers and are very well made with a rotating handle and rubbery grip, making them much nicer to use. The smaller one of the two holds smaller hooks easily with plenty of 'room' around the tip to see what is going on. To be honest, there is no real difference between the Matchman and the Stonfo but the latter is just made with a bit more fineness than the original Matchman. 

Stonfo hook tyers
I have been writing another page about how I tackle all these basic tasks, a beginner's guide written by a beginner. Not intended to be the ultimate guide, the page is simply a copulation of what I have discovered so far. I will publish it soon.

I have also started a collection of independent reviews starting with the ZT-Pro and its hair rig attachment, which has shone a whole new light oh tying hook lengths and some controversy too. It got me thinking, why would I want to tie a hair on a spade hook, just because I can? I an still thinking about that one.

Something new to me 

I can't help it, I get fascinated by things and once the idea is set in my head I have to find out what is what. During this fishing famine, I have been investigating fly fishing. My late father-in-law was a keen salmon angler making two trips a year from his farm in the depths of Kent. on in the winter to the Scottish boarders and once in June to a place called Mungasdale in the highlands. We accompanied him on these journeys a couple of times. In those days I had no interest in fishing and especially not fly fishing which was a shame an I missed a real opportunity to learn something, looking back on it now. He and his friends and neighbours who owned the farm next door, so to speak, rented a house, employed a cook and a ghillie for the week and we lived like lords. The deal was we would 'help' with the driving (do!) and supply the drink (as in alcohol). I think it would have been cheaper to rent the house, fly fishing farmers can get through a lot of whiskey while going over the events of the day, well into the early hours.

A couple of interesting books...
Until recently I thought that fly fishing was all about game fish. I had seen the odd video or television programme showing a spot of fly fishing for grayling and other fish I was not used to catching in the stillwaters I tend to frequent. To be honest, at the time, I had not looked any further as I was not that interested in fly fishing.

I have always been interested in wildlife but never really followed it up in any depth. If you look back over the pages of this blog you will find the odd reference to the wildlife that has been around while fishing. I have also been interested in fly tying but again, not really given it much thought. There are some very well produced videos on YouTube and my favourites are by Davie McPhail. You can find his channel HERE.  

I joined a fly fishing forum to get some pointers. I am as interested in the entomology as I am in the fishing. That coupled with the thought of catching coarse fish has got me thinking. There is far too much going on in my life at the moment to get too deeply involved in this too deeply. I have no intention of rushing out and buying rods and tackle just yet. However, a recommendation of a book from one of the guys on the fly fishing forum has got me more enthusiastic. The book, Fly Fishing for Coarse Fish, has been purchased, thanks to an Amazon 'token' given to my by my godson and his wife. I also bought a brilliant little pocket book title "Match The Hatch" that shows not only the insects in their various forms but their imitation selves as tied flies. The little book is stuffed full of all the things I want to know.

Thank you!
Just to get the juices running even quicker, one of the members of the Fly Fishing forum kindly sent me a box of flies to get me going. I am now going through them and attempting to identify them from my burgeoning fly fishing library. I have a way to go yet, and I must get this house-move behind me before I can even think about buying any tackle, but I could be tempted to start tying a few flies of my own...

Back to the hear and now

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am off to do a spot of fishing at the weekend. This will be my first time out since the beginning of November and I can't wait. Nothing too exciting just a bit of float and feeder fishing, just to 'test the water' and see how the fish are behaving. I have some new floats I want to try on my cheap elasticated pole/whip thing that I now refer to as a Hippo (don't ask, I have explained why several times before) as nobody could tell me if it should be described as a pole or a whip. I think it will be a bit windy for the long pole, and besides I am only travelling light, I will be taking my chair. I know some people will say they are happy fishing a pole from a chair, it is not for me. I much prefer to be on my box while pole fishing.