The final piece of the jigsaw...
Phil Buckley gives us a fascinating insight into the evolution of rigs, and how a new hook helped him solve the puzzle...
JACK REID: We’re going to talk in-depth about a rig that you use for nearly all your angling these days, but the story of how you arrived at this point unfolded over a long period of time, is that right?
PHIL BUCKLEY: “Yeah, it started back on Burghfield in 2004. That was the first time I recall thinking a lot more about rigs and the role they play in our angling. Up until then I was using a very basic Knotless Knot set-up with Kryston Snakeskin, and later Snakebite. I was 24 at the time, and about to take on one of the biggest challenges in carp fishing. I’d been inspired by the writings of Terry Hearn and wanted to become a proper big-fish angler.
“I didn’t appreciate just what it would entail to catch from a lake like that with my limited experience, but the sense of adventure was incredible. I’d never walked around a water of anywhere near that size and to be honest, at that age, it was hard to imagine that people even fished for carp in lakes like Burghfield. The only other water I knew of similar size and make-up was Wraysbury, where I later did a bit one winter. Burghfield though, was just sprawling… an overgrown giant which I instantly fell in love with.”
I can imagine it was a pretty steep learning curve…
“Absolutely. It’s still a difficult water even now, despite us being able to use bait boats and with all the information available, but back then it was very quiet; it was off the grid, as a lot of similar waters were. I just started at the beginning, and bit by bit it comes together. After several months I’d got to know a few of the guys who fished there regularly, like Alan Welch and Jon Holt who were very good to me. I think they could see that I was a little out of my depth, but I had the right attitude and they’d try and nudge me towards certain things, rather than lay them on a plate. They were both very private anglers, but after a period of time they started to open up more and show me the rigs they were using. It was an eye-opener to say the least… huge hooks, thick hooklengths and chunky swivels. They were using the 360º Rig with a stiff-bristle filament boom for their pop-ups, and this ‘caveman’ rig, tied with coated braid and a big, Withy Pool-style shrink-tube kicker for bottom baits. It was the hook that was key to the performance of both rigs they explained: the original Fox Series 5 hooks in size 4. That’s a serious piece of steel, even by today’s standards with us finally appreciating the benefits of using large hooks, but at the time it all looked like shark tackle!”
Presumably you began to incorporate these set-ups in your own angling…
“Yeah, I ordered all the bits over the phone from the Tackle Box in Kent after looking through their catalogue - there were no online shops back then as I recall. Once they all arrived, I tied up these rigs and began using them over there straight away. I remember thinking, I’m going to smoke ‘em now… I’ve got these magic rigs you know!
“I quickly learned though, that it was about more than just that, but it was a big step in the right direction. The young fish that had escaped from Blue Pool next-door were mostly twenties at the time and these were the first carp I caught from Burghfield - early March the following year if my memory serves me correctly - all on the 360º Rig.
“It was in the autumn of 2005 that I had my first proper one, and it was one of the treasured big Leney mirrors: Three Up Five Down. I was fishing a lot where a mass of small bays are separated by little islands and peninsulas and I had this drop-back at range. By the time I got to the rod, he’d swum towards me and through a gap between two of the islands into a completely different bay! Slowly though, I managed to tease him back round. I had 20lb Sensor main line and a long length of leadcore which was all frayed, but the hook hadn’t budged a bit… incredible really.
“I never lost one fish on that pattern during my time on Burghfield. My only losses came on Chod Rigs. I was still getting to grips with the bead arrangement and silicone buffers, but that 360 with the stiff-bristle boom and large Fox hook never once failed me.
“By the time my ticket for Yateley’s Car Park came in 2007, concern was mounting about the 360 and that style of long-shank, curved hook causing mouth damage. It wasn’t something I ever experienced at Burghfield, but it did start to play on my mind. I knew most of my fishing over on Car Park would be hard on the deck, so I intended to use the other set-up that Al had shown me. I knew how effective it was, and that it was unlikely to have been used before. In the end though, I decided it just wasn’t worth the risk. That was the point when I started to play around with replicating a safe way of creating that big sweeping curve that the hook had.”
We were talking earlier about this; it was the early stages of what’s now commonly referred to as the Soft Hinge…
“That’s right. I wasn’t keen on just using the shrink tube with a different hook, as it just wasn’t stiff enough in my eyes. I remember thinking, I need that bit of Stiff Bristle in the mix. It was proving so effective with the Chod Rigs and as soon as I folded a piece over and whipped that Albright Knot, it was like a Eureka moment. It initially started as a bottom-bait set-up, with a supple Hair trapped on the bend of the hook. That’s how I first used it, with coated braid attached by an Albright Knot to the bristle and a size 2 Stiff Rigger - basically the biggest hook I could use. I remember John Claridge catching The Brute from Pingewood on that version of it a couple of years later. At the time, naturally I realised I’d stumbled on something special for pop-ups too, by using the ‘D’ arrangement instead of whipping on a Hair. As I say though, I was fishing polished hard spots, so although the pop-up version came at the same time, I didn’t start using it until the winter. I held onto it for a while, showing just a couple of close mates, but eventually I did a video for CC Moore on it around 2008/2009, showing my pop-up version. Then, within a few months, the rig started to appear in magazines as the new version of the Hinged Stiff Rig and people started to claim that they’d been using it for years!” (Laughing)
Did that bother you?
“No, not at all; you expect that kind of thing. I made the call to publicise it and I wasn’t pressured in any way. Some were advocating the use of Back-To-Back Grinners for joining the two materials together, but to me, that was completely missing the point. The Albright Knot allowed you to be ultra-precise on the length of the upright section. You simply folded the Bristle exactly where you wanted the hinge point and the length of boom, tying off the swivel end first and then stripping the coated braid to the desired length. The Grinner, although slightly stronger, has that slippage as the knot contracts. Also, tying 25lb Bristle Filament is a little fiddly and leaves a bulky knot. Nowadays I only ever see it done with an Albright, so people obviously got there in the end! Even now I get the odd message from my mates advising that a good ’un has come out on ‘my’ rig. To be honest, I’m quite proud that it’s so widely used and that it catches plenty every year.”
Did you continue to use it on the Car Park?
“I used it the first year as a bottom-bait set-up with the Hair whipped on, but I never had a bite other than from the odd tench. They were all perfectly hooked mind, but I was still on the fence as to whether it was the way to go. Obviously, those Car Park fish had been pressured for years, and early the next season I wavered and started to use more conventional set-ups. It didn’t stop me getting the Yateley nickname of ‘Big Hook’ though, which some people use to this day!
“The year after I started fishing Pingewood. It was then that I started to put it through its paces properly and yeah, it worked well, but I knew deep down that it wasn’t as good as the 360º Rig. With a soft boom it was occasionally prone to tangles - unlike the original Hinge Stiff - and it’s quite blatant. I still think that upright section tied off at a couple of inches is unbeatable on less-pressured waters, but by 2009 lakes were becoming a lot busier. I started to play around with similar mechanics to those of the 360, by using a stiff, coated braid that could be crimped with just a very short bit exposed. The braid though, just didn’t have that flexibility and the rig lacked the true rotational qualities of the 360, so I just stuck with the Soft Hinge, or a Chod for particularly ‘sketchy’ bottoms. It wasn’t until I first saw the Ronnie Rig in print, that I began to revisit it again.”
What were your initial thoughts on the Ronnie Rig, because it’s very similar in terms of mechanics?
“I could see instantly, that the free rotation and the ease by which the hook could be switched by mounting it on a small, quick-change swivel were a bit of a game-changer. It just looked a little ‘clunky’ compared to the Soft Hinge which has no metalware at that hinge point. I must admit, I wasn’t an instant convert like some of my friends, but the fact that it was clearly proving effective wasn’t lost on me.
“Around a year later, I saw a new version that Tom Dove was enthusing about and straight away my interest returned. Tom was constructing a Spinner Rig by crimping a small loop in a stiff boom material to house the quick-change swivel, rather than knotting it directly to the larger ring - which he’d removed - and I just thought it looked the one.”
Very similar to the 360º Rig you were originally using then…
“Exactly. It just looked much more streamlined and obviously the crimped, stiff-boom section was an attraction. I took it over to a large, private estate lake I have a ticket for and where you can use a boat. I spent a whole morning casting it out at all different ranges and over various bottoms, before each time, going out to see from the boat, how it was sitting. The water was shallow and crystal clear, and every time I looked over the side it was laying perfectly… I just couldn’t get it to tangle. On the softer spots, the lead would penetrate the silt, but with the extra travel on the helicopter, the rig was still sitting perfectly. I’d performed these same tests with various coated braids a few years before and there were plenty of occasions where the link looked awful having looped up or spun around the leader.
“I had this new version then, which was ticking all the boxes, and like any new rig, once you start getting a few bites, your confidence builds. I was using it exclusively on the estate lake and had some lovely ones on it, including a couple of really rare ones; those are the sort of captures that take your confidence to another level. You look in the net and think, Blimey, that one hasn’t been out in years! For a while it seemed faultless.”
I sense a ‘but’ coming…
“I did have a couple of doubts about things that I hadn’t initially considered. During the spring, with bright, single pop-ups and the top stop of the helicopter arrangement moved up a few inches, it was working perfectly. I wanted though, to use a corkball pop-up and fish over bait. I would have to pierce the pop-up all the way through to attach it to the hook ring swivel, which I’ve never really liked doing. I’m not bothered about piercing an airball or cork dust hookbait, as both are much more durable. I’ve never liked doing it with my corkball pop-ups though, and have used bait screws for years now. Aside from being incredibly convenient, they also reduce the swelling of the bait as they seal the hole they create… all simple stuff, but with a hook ring swivel now sliding on the shank of the hook, it was basically a non-starter.
“The thing is, the choice of using a pop-up isn’t always dictated by the type of lakebed I’m fishing on. There are times when I use one simply because I know it’s more selective with big fish. We all understand that, and it’s always been my mindset to sacrifice numbers of bites for better ones - I think that ethos has served me well. With the Soft Hinge, I caught very few small ones. In fact, on Pingewood for example, apart from one small common early on, the rest were all big mirrors. The bigger fish were probably outnumbered three to one by the commons at the time and some of the other lads would catch a couple of these every trip. To me, my captures of better fish were driven mostly by my presentation. On the estate lake I mentioned earlier, I was predominantly using a wafter, because I could see exactly what I was fishing over and most of the fish are big anyway, so for a while this wasn’t such an issue.
“When I headed over to Dinton last year though, the limitations with the rig were beginning to surface again. I started off fishing with the wafters again, thinking that with pressured carp, I’d probably need to be hard on the deck. With a big head of small carp though, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t the way to go. I managed seven bites in an autumn campaign of around 20 nights, which felt like a decent return considering it was a new lake for me, but none of the better ones turned up. Initially I thought this might have been down to location, the bigger residents perhaps holding up in other areas of the lake. On one occasion though, the Twin showed twice, right over my spot, yet the next bite was still one of the small stockies. In some ways I thought the rig was too effective - as crazy as it sounds. I really needed a bigger hook and a slightly cruder presentation to ward off the ravenous stockies, but I couldn’t find a pattern that I liked.
“The following spring, I was back fishing the estate lake with the small, bright pop-ups and I started having problems with the hook bead slipping on the cast. Admittedly, this was at really long-range and on casts of 130-yards-plus, but you can imagine that the doubts were starting to creep in. As the weather warmed up and the carp moved within more convenient ranges, the problem went, but I’d realised I still had a few niggles with it in terms of its all-round versatility. Thankfully though, they didn’t last long.”
This was when Dave first contacted you?
“Yeah, it was mid-February I think. He texted me saying, ‘We’re working on this new hook which I think you’ll really like.’
“I’ve done various testing for quite a few companies over the years, so I’d heard that kind of thing a lot, and often the results aren’t what you’d hoped, but with Dave it’s different. We go way back, and I knew he wouldn’t have contacted me unless he thought genuinely, that he was on to something. The last samples he sent me were the Tungsten Loaded Hooklink range which are awesome, aren’t they? I was interested straight away, saying something along the lines of, ‘Cool! Send me some and I’ll let you know what I think.’
“At the time, he didn’t have any actual samples, so he sent me a screenshot of a CAD drawing from his computer screen. As soon as I opened that text and saw the image I thought back to those Burghfield years and the Fox hooks; I just knew there was potential there and I asked him to send me the hooks as soon as he had them. A couple of months passed and I’d finished up on the estate lake which shuts at the end of April. Although I’d had a good spring, I’d also suffered a few losses. I headed over to a large boating lake and during the week before my first weekend session, the hooks arrived. To say I was impressed was an understatement!”
What was it that impressed you so much?
“Everything… the shape, the wire gauge… the points were so sharp straight out of the packet, and they were nice and strong. They really had ticked all the boxes. … they were just perfect. I honestly wouldn’t have changed anything. I contacted Dave straight away and said, ‘I love ’em. Send me all the 4s you’ve got!’
“I used them right from the off, but instead of a hook bead, I used those rubber D sleeves. When I first tried the sleeves on a traditional curve-shank hook, I wasn’t that keen on them. The dimensions just didn’t seem right and the ‘D’ was either too close to the bend of the hook, or too near the eye, depending on what size you used. On the new prototype hook which had a longer shank, the large size sat perfectly and this little tweak brought the bore rig and cork ball pop-ups back into play. A couple of trips to the boating lake later I had my first bite on that final set-up, and despite a pretty hairy battle through a lot of weed, I landed my first one on it… things were looking promising!
“I headed back to Dinton later on in August, and within a couple of bites I had one of the really nice ones, an old original called the Tench Fish. To cut a long story short, the weed was horrendous. I ended up standing waist-deep in the lake holding the leadcore leader, unable to wind any more line onto the reel as the rod rings were jammed with silkweed. I had this big, angry mirror thrashing around, but eventually I managed to bundle him into the net. When I checked the hook-hold after, it was absolutely solid! From that point on, I felt like it was done. Every bit of the puzzle was complete… I just knew I’d got there with it at last.”
That must have been a very satisfying moment?
“Yeah, it was. It probably sounds overstated to a lot of people reading this, just how much emphasis I’ve put on it all, but the type of fishing I do means I’m always trying to maintain confidence levels, because there can be long periods between bites… that’s just the nature of the fishing. With limited time on difficult waters, it only takes a few doubts to creep in with one area of your approach and before you know it, your mindset isn’t right and everything starts to feel forced again as a result. This can then cause bad habits and it’s like a vicious circle then. I see lots of people end up in this position. They change rigs constantly, switch bait companies… one minute it’s all about braided main line and then it’s fluorocarbon! That all takes your focus away from finding the fish and getting hookbaits in front of them. I honestly don’t want to be thinking about rigs or bait. I never tie rigs on the bank. I’m there to find them, not to spend time looking down into my lap… everything’s done in advance.”
Is that why you’re such a fan of this version of the Spinner Rig… it’s versatility?
“It’s a big plus definitely, but the mechanics are just undeniable. Being able to change the hook quickly or adapt it from a slow-sinking bottom bait to a pop-up with just a couple of tweaks means I have a rig that basically does it all and with the stiff boom, I never have to worry about tangles. The components are all strong and reliable and when used with a pop-up, the rig is performing in the same way as the 360 did all those years ago, with full rotation that allows the hook to spin and take hold. The stiff boom leads a very difficult rig for them to eject once they’re pricked. End tackle in general has come on in leaps and bounds over the years… quick-change swivels, booms that can be crimped, rubber Ds etc., but the Cryogen Trig-Hammer was the missing piece!”