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Below the Surface: Steve Spurgeon
Enter Steve Spurgeon and take a bow...

“Spurge”, as he is known to his friends, has been around for a while. Long time angling partner of Chris Rose, the lads were known as ‘The Dangerous Brothers’ when they fished on the match circuit and they were certainly that. Retired from competition now, Steve is a jovial sort of “geezer” with a broad Essex accent and a grin to match it. If there’s the chance of a practical joke he’s at the front of the queue but don’t let that apparently light-hearted attitude fool you. His attention to detail is second-to-none and his results prove that his fishing is taken nothing less than deadly serious. One of the sales team for tackle giant Fox International, he works in the business but that doesn’t mean he gets to fish a lot. In fact, he probably fishes less than most and the odd weekend and overnighters after work are his main angling fix. With that in mind, we decided to wheel him off to the little known Holme Fen in Cambs, a 30-acre gravel pit he’s never seen before and which receives only a light amount of angling pressure.

“Where do you start on a place like this?” announced our hero having watched the water for a while. It’s just after 4pm on a late October afternoon. The light is starting to fade, the leaves are dropping from the trees and the water in front of us is as crystal clear as I’ve seen in the UK. It’s a big chunk of water and it looks very carpy but with a minimum amount of time to get the rods out before dark it’s vital to get it right. Most of the swims offer open water fishing and there is a light breeze blowing across the pond.

“Fortunately you can drive to most of the swims which helps a lot ‘cos I fancy an area on the far side of the lake,” says Steve. “I’ve been watching the water from a vantage point on the bank nearest the gate but nothing appeals over here. I can’t say why exactly, but I fancy a swim on the far bank. The breeze is lightly blowing across it and it gives me a bit of a chuck to a margin at the entrance to a bay which is a pinch point and is somewhere the carp might visit.”

Job sorted and around to the swim. Once there, the first thing to come out was the marker float. “I ain’t having all that rubbish about carp scarers” comes the Essex response to my usual question about feature finding equipment. “I need to know what’s out there and this is the best and easiest way of doing that. Time’s short so I need to find a feature and get a bait on it. Chucking and chancing is a waste of a night, and I haven’t got time to waste.”

Marker float out and slowly feel the bottom. Keeping it slow is the key to successful feature finding
“There ain’t a lot out there, geez.”
No stem allows the float to be held up in heavy weed but rise in light stuff… a great indicator in its own right
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There’s more to it than that. Spurge is a man who, like all the top anglers out there, pays a lot of attention to detail particularly with rigs, which we will come to later. He flicks the float around pulling a few faces as he does so. “The open water is pretty heavily weeded and I haven’t got a drop anywhere yet. I’m sure there will be spots but I’ve only got an hour or so before it starts to get dark so I need to get cracking and find somewhere.” Methodically working the swim from right to left he ends up with a margin spot by a tree. “It’s about 8ft deep dropping off quite steeply to 16ft and I’m getting a cushioned donk. It feels like there’s weed there but not much and it’s certainly presentable.”

At this point we look at the marker float set-up as he is not using a stem. “Without a stem the float gets trapped in weed easier and I want that. Basically if the float comes up the weed is light enough for me to present bait over it. It if doesn’t, it isn’t. A stem is great for keeping the float out of silt, but I want the float to get caught in heavier weed so I get a good reading of what’s on the bottom.”

With the float in position he trots round to the far bank with a mixed bag of Cell and Hybrid boilies in different sizes and a few IBs and Salty Squid to add a different colour to the mix. “I like to give ‘em a mix of all types of bait, and also sizes and colours too just to mix it up a bit. A couple of handfuls of bait around the float and he’s off further up the edge line looking for more spots. An excited Spurge arrives back at base camp with a grin on his face. “A bit further up that margin there’s a glowing gravel spot that doesn’t look too wide but is mega clear. I can see the sand as it drops off into weed. If I can get a rod on that it’s a great looking spot.”

Casting Rig One out to the marker float with a lead clip set-up he feels it down, accepts the donk and tightens up the line to what I would class as “semi tight”. It’s not bow-string but there’s no drop on the bobbin. He’s using fluorocarbon all the way through and I’m interested in hearing his thought process on this as I feel that the benefit in fluoro is having a leader not a full length.

Neat, tidy and deadly. This is the business end
Foamie Tuip. As the water cools, don’t stick one on the hook, wrap the nugget in PVA mesh and hook the mesh, that way it doesn’t hang around the hook
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“There’s three reasons. Firstly, because the fluoro is pretty invisible and this water is crystal clear. The Trans Khaki is a lot less visible than line or normal fluoro off the bottom. Secondly, there’s the abrasion resistance. It’s tough as old boots and I’d heard that Holme Fen has a fair bit of weed and some sunken snags so I want something that will cope with that, and the third is for indication. The 19lb fluoro gives me great contact with my rig for indication and excellent control over the fish should I hook one so that’s why I use it all the way through.”

With Rig One now in place at 16 wraps to the margin spot, Steve’s attention is drawn to spot two. “It’s a narrow gravel strip and the angle we are casting at will make it more difficult to hit. I reckon it’s only a few feet wide and I’m casting sort of along and into it rather than directly at it. It’s that clear though that I will know when I’m on it.” A few casts with the float and a clip at 21 wraps shows he’s happy and the second rig sails out to the spot (after a couple of attempts to be fair).

It’s now dark, so the third rod is a bit of a tricky one as he hasn’t found a spot in open water yet. A few more chucks with the float and it was a case of finding the odd drop here and there but when he re-cast he couldn’t find it again. “I’ve got two rods fishing spots that I’m happy with and there’s a lot of open water out there that I would like to try and explore so I’ll fish a Naked Chod over the top of some of the weed as a single bait. It’s a cast anywhere sort of method and is a little bit “chuck and chance”. However, I don’t have many other options really as I’m out of time and a Chod over weed often produces the goods.

Semi-tight fluoro lines with the bobbin at the top were the key to great indication

Steve's rig

Rig-wise, the Chod is pretty straightforward and has been explored before in this series. The two other rods were fishing a more or less identical rig which is a Hinged Stiff Rig without the stiff boom and is one of Steve’s all time favourite rigs. “It’s deadly and I know that I can take it anywhere, fish it over virtually anything and it will catch me fish. I’m a big fan of pop-ups and use them for most of my boilie fishing. To me, this is the best and most efficient pop-up rig out there and is great for fishing over weed.”

He basically makes up a short Choddy or hooklink section in the same way that he would for a Hinged Stiff Rig but keeps the distance between swivel and hook quite short. The hook is an ArmaPoint SR size 5 which is whipped on with a Whipping Knot leaving a loop for a swivel to attach the bait. A One-Turn Grinner attaches the size 10 ring swivel to the rig material, which is Trans Khaki Rigidity, an incredibly stiff material designed specifically for this purpose. For the boom, instead of using a stiff material as per the Hinged Stiff Rig or a strippable braid as per the usual combi, he’s opted for Camotex Soft in 20lb BS as this is strong enough for the place he’s fishing, but supple enough to allow the rig to sink properly. The hookbait has to be critically balanced and he also uses a ‘foamie’ on the hook to keep it off the bottom. Some tungsten putty along the length of the supple boom (which is about 12-inches long) completes the rig and that’s job done. We’re angling.

A 24lb 6oz mirror started off proceedings from the weedy spot
Well done, Spurge. Not only a multiple capture but the biggest fish ever for BTS… and what a peach
Trotting round the far side to bait up allows Steve to see so much more
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Hughesy's back to front bit

With the rigs in the water it’s usually now that I get into the drink and check everything out. However, as we arrived late and it was now dark it was a case of watching what he did and checking everything out the next day. It would be interesting to see if he had any action through the night and, if so, what the spots would look like when I went back in the following morning. If he didn’t, everything should look the same.

At about midnight, literally just after we’d turned in (isn’t that always the case?!) the left-hander which was on the steeper softer drop rattled off. In fact, it dropped back and rattled off as the fish came off the marginal shelf and Steve had it in open water and apparent safety in no time. Then he felt a bit of grating on the line. Then a bit more! Then it pinged free and he managed to pop the net under a cracking looking 24lb 6oz mirror.

Job sorted, the rod was re-wrapped and popped back out onto the spot for the rest of the night. No more bait was put in as we wanted to see the swim “fresh” in the morning.

A couple of hours later and the middle rod bounced into action. Again, a tussle occurred and the fish got caught up in something a few yards out. It was a case of leave it be for a while and it eventually freed itself after about 10 minutes. Steve walked up the bank with the rod not giving it any opportunity for escape and I slipped the net under a cracking looking carp for him. In the torch light it looked impressive but when we got it on the mat and looked at it properly it was clearly an absolute stunner. I have to say that there was a bit of cheering as this was clearly a decent fish, and at 34lb 1oz it was the biggest ever caught on one of these features. She was ‘slinged-up’ for daylight and I’m sure you agree that the pictures do the fish justice.

With two in the bag, the feature was already successful but Steve still made the effort to get the tricky rod back out onto the gravel spot in case there was another fish around. There wasn’t any, but that didn’t stop him trying. What there was, was coots… and plenty of them. The left-hand rod was picked up and dropped Lord knows how many times in the hours of darkness and the first hour of light. It certainly meant that Steve’s left-hand rig was well presented, but we were interested to see what the bait would look like after that much coot action.

Just in front of the swim were some awkward sunken trees which have since been removed
Steve’s left-hand “firm spot” was in fact a bed of dense low-lying weed
The scattering of baits sat nicely on top of it
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One of the things that was of particular interest was the way Steve attaches his pop-ups. Rather than using a conventional Hair, he uses a bit of old stiff Rigidity and runs it through the eye of the swivel doubling it back and blobbing it to hold the bait on. “It’s loads easier and more secure than tying up a Hair or flossing one on. It also means that you have exactly the correct length, and blobbing with a lighter ensures that it is very secure.” The amount of coot action on the one rod would be a proper test and we would see if his tactics would hold strong.

Morning saw the pictures being taken and me popping into the pond for the first time to see what was left. Dropping into the water it was incredibly clear but still quite tricky to follow the fluoro line even though it was off the bottom in bright light. Just in front of the swim were some bushes that had grown up in the pit before it was flooded and this is what had caused him the trouble the night before. Being close in he hadn’t found them with the float but the line lay and also a fish would certainly find them. (N.B. At the time of going to print these have now been removed).

The water then dropped down into weedsville before coming back up to the marginal slope. At the bottom of the slope it was clear but higher up there was no clear area at all. It was weedy everywhere, but not Canadian. It was a more compact and hard ground covering type of weed that the rigs would land on but not pick-up when they were reeled in, hence why Steve felt a cushioned drop but wasn’t getting snagged. Although it looked a little scary, the weed was a great place to present a bait as it stopped the freebies rolling down the shelf. Speaking of which there was in fact nothing left… anywhere… other than the rig.

Whether the fish had cleared out the bait before the bites had occurred or whether they had carried on feeding afterwards we will never know but there wasn’t a scrap of food anywhere. It may even have been the coots as the left-hand rod was “damaged” by all the coot activity and had score marks all over it. However, it was still popped up and was also well presented.

The second rod on the clear sandy gravel spot had fallen into weed on the re-chuck so that might be why it hadn’t produced another fish. Once again though, there was no bait there and nothing to see but the water in the area was clearly a little cloudier than the rest of the area indicating fish had been visiting fairly recently. This was certainly not coots as we hadn’t seen any in this vicinity.

Using a foamie to hold the rig off the weed was exactly the right thing to do
When it landed it came to rest perfectly on top of the weed looking like the other freebies
This close up of the business end shows how deadly the hooking arrangement is
The morning after the night before. The coots had given the bait a battering but it remained intact
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Reset the game

Having been out and examined the spots I still didn’t tell Steve what they were like. I wanted him to re-create what he had done the previous day without the knowledge of the swim that I had gained so we effectively re-wound the clock by 20hrs and he re-cast both rigs back out, walked round, re-baited and tightened the lines up.

Using a pop-up ‘foamie’ on the hook to hold the rig off the weed was definitely a good move, especially on the left-hand rod. Keeping the critically balanced bait off the deck was vital as the lead could have pulled it into the weed but as the water cools the foamies take a bit longer to dissolve and they can also leave residue on the hook. The freebies were dotted around the spot, some hanging in the weed, some having dropped through the gaps, the hookbait was perfectly positioned in amongst them and despite the clear water, was not really distinguishable as a hookbait.

The second rod on the clear spot was also looking half decent. Walking around to bait up was a master stroke as it meant a lighter spread of bait in exactly the right place as opposed to a more heavier but less accurate clump that you would have got with a Spomb or a spod. Some of the freebies rolled down the clean sandy gravel patch which was actually quite a lot wider than Steve had originally thought. He could see it was a patch from outside the water but couldn’t see the incline of the slope, definitely a common occurrence as I’ve seen this happen before.

As you can see from the shots, the rigs were well presented and also the spots good ones. They both produced a fish so location and presentation were both bang-on.

The gravel spot for Rig 2. There was nothing left. Not a sausage
Once again, a foamie was used, but as the water cools down they do take a little longer to dissolve
On the deck it looked brilliant once again and the putty on the hooklink meant that it laid itself out nicely
Close-up again and you can see how well the rig sits. Once they pick this up they have no chance
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Superb indication

Indication was something that would be interesting to see. I picked the rod at 21 wraps to test as it was a bit further out. Fishing a tight-ish line should make the indication better but to be honest I was amazed how good it was. I don’t think we have ever tested anyone who fishes fluorocarbon tight all the way through before. We’ve certainly done it with tight nylon and also very slack fluoro, but not tight fluoro. It came out the best that I have seen, certainly this year for sure, at just less than elbow to palm, or a little over a foot. If indication is important to you, and it certainly should be as the water cools down, then it may well be worth while looking at fishing fluoro tight. It’s certainly not something that you see people do very often, and it might just be the edge you need for a bumper winter.

With the spot re-baited you couldn’t tell the difference between the hookbait and the freebies
The water above the gravel spot was cloudy showing that something had been there in the not too distant past murking up the water

Steve's thoughts

High point: “Catching fish for a feature always makes you feel good but to catch two, especially that stunning scaly creature, is a real high. The other thing has to be how well the rig was sitting, especially as it’s being fished over two very different areas. It goes to show that it works well and is also very adaptable, which is what I thought but it’s nice to have it proven.”

Low point: “Underestimating the weed was a low point for me. I like to think that I’m pretty good at reading a swim and whilst I knew that something wasn’t quite right, I didn’t think there was that much weed down there. As it happened, it didn’t make a difference, but that’s not the point. It definitely caught me out. Fortunately a good choice of rig made up for it.”

Biggest eye-opener: “How good the indication was from the fluorocarbon. I expected it to be good but even I was shocked with how good it was (…me too, Rob). I will definitely be fishing with this through the winter as now more than ever is the time for good indication.”

Biggest lesson learned: “I’ll have to come back to the weed. Don’t underestimate how much there is down there. I thought there was a bit but seeing the pictures really shocked me. Even if I didn’t bring any back on the hook, if I think there’s a bit of weed on the bottom from now on I shall treat it as being more than I think.”

He’s done it! Top work, Spurge
Rob Hughes
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