It feels strange having cancer

I’m not sure how I should be feeling having cancer, because I feel great. Sure, I might be getting older and bits of me creak a bit more than they used to, but it feels most strange having cancer when in fact I feel so well. I am feeling pretty positive, and if I am lucky they will get rid of this bastard disease via an operation, but at the end of the day I have to be realistic and accept that I have a disease which could kill me if lady luck ain’t with me. I bloody hope not, I really do, but try as I might I can’t stick my head in the sand and hope I wake up the next morning with all the bad stuff magically gone. My youngest girl so sweetly asks me every morning how my cancer is, to the point where we tend to giggle now about how it sadly doesn’t disappear like that!!

One thing I am categorically not doing is beating myself up with thinking about why on earth this is happening to me. It’s skin cancer, I’ve got it, and I can’t go back over my life and wonder if I did something wrong. I don’t live like that. Ironically perhaps I am probably the most careful out of anybody I fish with about sun protection, but life is what it is and I have been dealt this particular card. It was most likely due to the sun but it could just be the fact that I’ve got cancer and it happens to be of the skin variety - which is a pretty common and treatable form of cancer.

I will admit to a few rather early mornings where I imagine what it would be like to walk into a hospital room a few weeks after the operation to be told sorry Mr Gilbey but you’ve got so and so long to live because the cancer’s gone everywhere. This is not going to happen, or at least I am in with every chance of this not happening, but when you are faced with even a sniff that your life could in fact end before your allotted time (whatever that may be), well it doesn’t half get you thinking about stuff. At the same time though, I feel pretty positive and things are moving as regards for meeting surgeons, going for operations etc. I can’t pretend that the not knowing/waiting is any easier, but I’m getting on with things although there is this dark shadow that sits in the corner of my mind and won’t sod off. And yes, I have looked at the bit on my leg and considered getting my old Swiss Army penknife out and having a crack at getting the cancer out myself, here at my desk. A couple of plasters should sort it all out and then I could nip out fishing for a few hours.

A big reason for trying to stay so strong about all this is to do my absolute best to help my wife and girls through it all. We talk about it and we don’t shy away from what is happening, and every morning over breakfast I reassure my girls that dad is going to be just fine and life will carry on as normal, but try as I might I can’t give them a cast-iron guarantee and they pick up on this. They are bright girls and they know about what has happened to their grandfather this year with his own cancer battles and quite frankly being bloody lucky to still be here, but now their own dad’s got cancer it has given them the odd wobble. Life is busy and there’s stacks going on, but I just wish I could take this stuff away from them and deal with it on my own so that it didn’t cause them any pain at all. I can’t though, and I consider myself an incredibly lucky man with the family I have. And as for Storm our sheepdog, well as long as she gets her three walks a day she’s just fine.

I believe in being open about what is going on and I have been incredibly touched by so many kind messages of support. Thank you, thank you. Honestly, I can’t believe how so many people have kindly reached out, but I also recognise that by being open about my cancer I could perhaps make a few people feel a bit uncomfortable or awkward talking to me about things. Some people find it very hard to talk about this sort of stuff and that’s never a problem, but my way is to talk and also to find something somewhere to laugh about. I don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable, indeed I understand completely if many of you don’t want to read these cancer based blog posts and would rather come back when I am yapping about fishing, but if you have been in this sort of situation yourself then I wonder if communicating about it helped you as much as it helps me. None of this is my fault and I refuse to brush it under the carpet like it’s not really happening. I want to stick around for as long as I can and I will fight with all my strength against this bastard cancer. I am meeting the surgeon in a week and half and then he will give me a slot for an operation. In that meeting I shall of course be asking what the realistic timeframe is for getting back out fishing, and if it was blowing SW3 to 4 and the water was lovely and green the day after the operation, whether he could stitch/bind/whatever the wounds that little bit tighter so I could get out there fishing. You all have a good weekend. Tell your family how much you love them and draw strength from those around you. My profound thanks again for so many kind messages of support.

Major Craft N-One NSS-962ML 9’6’’ 10-30g lure rod review (around £220)

If this blog sometimes comes across as a Major Craft fan club then I make no apologies - bearing in mind that I can only mess around with the rods that certain kind people are good enough to help me get my hands on, then in my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, Major Craft are making the best value for money lure rods for how we tend to do our stuff here in the UK. There is quite possibly another very good “budget to medium high end” lure rod brand out there that offers such a wide range of rods as Major Craft, but I haven’t come across it yet. I am doing my best to try and find a Major Craft rod that I don’t actually enjoy fishing with, but it’s not easy - I did have a few chucks with the fairly cheap 9’6’’ 10-30g Crostage in Ireland in September and it’s not for me at all (too soft etc.) - so how about this new Major Craft N-One NSS-962ML 9’6’’ 10-30g lure rod?

Pretty simple really. This rod is an absolute disgrace how good it is. Sure, you can probably save a few quid by importing one from your second cousin’s pet rattlesnake in Outer Mongolia, but even at the full UK price it’s a steal, and if I am to buy a lure rod then I make no excuses for wanting an easy replacement deal if something were to go wrong with it (any rod can break, but of course it’s never the angler’s fault). So what does around the £220 mark get you?

A hell of a lot of rod for a start. I love the the slightly shorter 9’ 10-30g N-One (review here), and I am fast falling for this 9’6’’ model. The somewhat more expensive 9’6’’ 10-30g Truzer (review here) was my top lure rod of 2014, and it still blows me away how good it is, but the more I get to fish with this particular N-One, the more I am left wondering if Major Craft have got their marketing strategies a bit wrong here by making these new N-One rods this good. The Truzer hasn’t suddenly become a worse rod, just that this new N-One is that good I can’t help but question if it’s now worth spending the extra money to get the Truzer. Yes, the Truzer is a bit more rod overall (that bit “tighter”), as indeed it should be, but wow this 9’6’’ N-One is an impressive creature.

There’s not much point in me telling you how this 9’6’’ N-One performs with the various kinds of lures and techniques I might use for my bass fishing, because to put it bluntly I can’t get it to feel uncomfortable with anything. The chances are that you are fishing with lures and techniques that I may well not be and can therefore trip this N-One up, but I sure as hell can’t. I feel that I should be finding something wrong with it, but how can I when this rod suits me so well? It’s so light, responsive and downright easy to use that to be honest I find it just as wand-like to fish with as the shorter 9’ version, and because I find this longer N-One a touch more comfortable at blasting out the larger lures in bouncier conditions than the 9’ version, if I was looking to buy one I might end up frying my brain with which one to go for. Not a bad problem to have with rods costing a little over the £200 mark if you ask me.

OK, so in a perfect world I’d like a bit more duplon for the back of my right hand when it sits on the reelseat (I am right-handed, so it’s my forward hand on the rod if you like), but that’s nitpicking really because I can’t find anything else to complain about with this 9’6’’ N-One. The handle length is a little longer than on the shorter 9’ rod (36cms against about 30cms), and this feels quite right on the longer rod. The action on the rod works for me - nice and fast but not remotely a poker, and as with the 9’ version, there’s just something so damn easy about lure fishing with this rod. You just don’t need to lash into it to get the best out of it, although there’s a bit more “steel” overall in this 9’6’’ over the 9’, and I really like how this makes it feel like a natural progression via the length over the 9’ N-One. I’d still find choosing between the two a dilemma though.

I don’t know what more to tell you really. The 9’ Truzer (review here) is a faster, pokier rod than the comparable 9’ N-One, but when it gets to this longer length I’d find it hard to choose between the 9’6’’ Truzer, 9’6’’ X-Ride (review here) and this 9’6’’ N-One - the more expensive Truzer and X-Ride rods (same blanks anyway) are a touch faster and steelier, but this N-One is just so easy. Money no object and I am sucker for knowing that there’s a very expensive set of Fuji Torzite guides on a Truzer, but aesthetics aside and I am finding it remarkably hard to look much beyond this £220 Major Craft 9’6’’ 10-30g N-One. Rods are of course very personal things, but unless you are needing to fish with bass lures way over the 30g mark then I can’t really see how any angler couldn’t at least appreciate fishing with this 9’6’’ N-One. The spanner in the works is the remarkable and roughly £40 cheaper again Skyroad Surf 9’6’’ (review here), which is officially a joke it’s so cheap for what it is. Which one would I buy? Not easy, put it that way. If you are anywhere near Chesil Bait’n’Tackle or the Art of Fishing you should be able to see this rod in the flesh.

Dear Ultimate Fishing in France, please can you make a 20g/120-130mm version of the Patchinko

Distance isn’t everything of course, but having the ability to cover a huge amount of water with a lure is a pretty handy string to one’s bow if you ask me, and whilst I don’t actually use the regular sized Xorus Patchinko surface lure that much (140mm, 27g), there is no getting away from how in certain situations it’s a frigging killer surface lure, and of course it frigging flies. I am not personally aware of a surface lure of similar dimensions that casts so well, and I I tend to err towards surface lures that cast well. Bear in in mind that the bulk of my bass fishing is from the shore.

I have cast but not actually fished with the much smaller Patchinko 100 (100mm, 11g), and I was amazed at how well it cast for such a diminutive size. I don’t feel the need to turn to this smaller Patchinko because for a few years now the similar sized IMA Salt Skimmer (110mm, 14g) has been my go-to surface lure. I trust it implicitly and it’s one of the best casting surface lures I have ever come across. There are various surface lures around these kinds of dimensions, but I haven’t come across one that gets out there as well as the Salt Skimmer.

But what about when you want something slightly larger than the Salt Skimmer or Patchinko 100, but not quite as big and as noisy-landing as the regular Patchinko? I hear a bit about the Xorus Frosty (125mm, 16g) being a really good casting surface lure, but this must mean the one I own is faulty in some way - because mine casts like a bit of a dog. And yes, it could be me and my casting. The Lucky Craft Gunfish in the 115mm size (19g) is a bit of a flyer if you catch it right, and of course it’s a classic surface lure that I know slays bass for plenty of anglers, but it seems to be one of those lures that you have to catch exactly right for it to really get out there. When it does, it flies, but it seems prone to “fishtailing” on the way out if you’re not spot on all the time - I’d love to say my casting is perfect each and every time, but it’s not. I keep coming back to the Gunfish and wondering why on earth it ever left my box.

There is of course the Tackle House Vulture (120mm, 20g) which is one of those true missiles of a surface lure. Get this one right and without doubt it’s getting me a little more distance than my beloved Skimmer. It catches bass and I know of a few anglers who swear by the Vulture in a big way. I do carry one pretty regularly and I trust it to catch me fish and get me out there, but there’s sometimes this niggling feeling that I’d like a rattle in there to help draw bass in a bit more in rougher conditions. Does a rattle really help? Well I can’t prove either way, but a noisier surface lure sometimes gives me that extra bit of confidence. Horses for courses of course.

One surface lure I really liked the look of when I found it online was the Daiwa Morethan Scouter 110F (110mm, 18.8g), as per the photo above of the one I now own. I like the lure and it goes pretty well, but for some reason the fixed nature of the weight inside the lure seems to kill this thing into a headwind. I can quite easily live with there being no rattle, and whilst I like the lure, I admit that I was somewhat disappointed at how the shape and dimensions of the lure seemed to promise so much in the casting department yet in fact it’s nowhere close to the Salt Skimmer.

Pretty similar with the new and larger IMA Skimmer Grande that I was so excited about when I saw it at the iCast show the last couple of years. Well thanks to a very kind soul (with what I would suggest is a bit of a fishing tackle issue!!) I have a couple of them here, and whilst the specs say 135mm and 25g/1oz on the packet, I have weighed one of these bigger Skimmer Grande lures on the little scales I bought, and it says only 18.4g - some discrepancy. Anyway, I note that unlike many of the the regular IMA lures you or I might own which say “Made in Japan” on the boxes, it says “Made in China” on the Skimmer Grande box. Does this matter? Not in the slightest, but it’s a fact that much of the US fishing scene will simply not stand for the sort of lure prices that we might expect to be paying, hence I must guess the need to get lures like this made as cheaply as possible.

I would guess that Ultimate Fishing’s Xorus lures are made in China, indeed I would also guess that a lot of higher-end Japanese designed lures that you or I might own or lust after are also made in China. As I said, it matters not, but there’s no getting away from how my initial excitement at a larger Skimmer turned quickly to disappointment when I tried casting it into a headwind. Terrible, no other word to describe it. No worries downwind where the bulk of the lure gets it out there anyway, and ok in no wind, but into a wind and the Skimmer Grande casts like the proverbial dog. Does this matter? Not if you don’t fish into headwinds or from a boat, indeed the lad who so kindly sent them to me has smashed a bunch of serious bass later this year on his own Skimmer Grande. They obviously have an action that turns our bass on then, but I know this lad’s fishing calm, mainly gentle offshore conditions - due to his coastline’s characteristics - and as such he isn’t needing to punch a larger surface lure into headwinds as I might. Bear in mind also that the Skimmer Grande is a freshwater US bass fishing lure, and because so much of this fishing takes place from a boat I am guessing distance wasn’t a big consideration when making this larger Skimmer.

Nope, for all the surface lures I have tried over the last few years, there is no getting away from how the regular Xorus Patchinko is a missile, and via a few casts it’s interesting how they kept the great casting nature with the much smaller 100 model. This blog post ain’t going to change a thing, but it’s struck me for a long time now that there’s such a big gap between the regular Patchinko and the 100 models that it seems only natural that a roughly 120-130mm model should be in there somewhere, say around the 20g weight. Can you imagine how well this thing would get out there when you could move it so fast on these lighter lure rods that more and more anglers seem to be using? Keep the same sort of action, noise and castability and I reckon you’d end up with one of the ultimate surface lures for bass fishing. Pretty please Ultimate Fishing - I’d buy a bunch for starters……….

The Fiiish Crazy Sandeel - further thoughts/review after a lot more water time with the lure

Firstly, I wanted to say a massive thanks to so many of you here for your kind comments, emails, phone calls, Facebook comments/messages etc. I believe in being open about things and as per my blog post from Wednesday, I felt that getting my skin cancer thing out there was the best way forward. It doesn’t need to be a secret, it’s not my fault that I’ve got it, and a number of people kindly said thanks to me for blogging on the subject. Cancer is a bastard and I am going to do all I can to beat it - thank you all so much. I cannot tell you how much better I feel for kinda making it official if you like. Anyway, enough of that and on to some fishing stuff………

I was walking Storm in the woods yesterday morning and I got to thinking about the Fiiish Crazy Sandeel and what my thoughts on it were after fishing with it for a decent amount of time now. A post about the lure from earlier in the year got a lot of traffic (check here), and this really struck a chord with me that there is so little information on how to “properly” fish this lure. Have a read of that post if you want to know more about how you can fish the Crazy Sandeel from the shore especially, bearing in mind of course that there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat. Please also know that I do some work with Fiiish, and part of the reason I so like doing stuff with them is that they are so very French (that is very much a compliment by the way), and believe me when I say that they would consider it bad manners if I did nothing more than simply try and promote their products - they categorically do not pay me to do that anyway. I can tell you with complete honesty that when I sometimes rave about their lures, it’s because they often work well for me - plain and simple really, albeit conspiracy theories will continue to fly around just as surely as night follows day.

So what about the Crazy Sandeel then? Masses of lure anglers know all about the pretty easy to use Fiiish Black Minnow, but without a doubt their Crazy Sandeel hit the market with a general lack of information on how to fish it, and I think that this in turn caused a lot of anglers to try it out by fishing it like a Black Minnow and then dismissing Le Crazy because it wasn’t working - exactly like me if that’s any help, and it wasn’t really until I got to chase those bluefin tuna in Italy with Matt the lure’s designer that things started to click with me on the Crazy Sandeel front. Some photos from that trip are below.

On the one hand I think it’s an awesome lure, albeit I have not landed any particularly large bass on it yet, and on the other hand I have tended to find that Le Crazy is a lure that doesn’t seem to work that well over certain types of terrain and/or depths. Not all lures are going to work on certain types of marks, but again I think that the lack of information that is out there about how and where to fish the Crazy Sandeel harms its cause so to speak. The Black Minnow in its various guises is a more versatile lure (as indeed it’s meant to be), but then I have found on various occasions this year that the Crazy Sandeel ripped nice and fast went and produced some bass for me when nothing else did. Right place, right time, right lure?

A few suggestions on how to shore fish with the Fiiish Crazy sandeel soft plastic lure. Warning - very basic video of dubious quality!!

It really interests me that some Irish friends of mine don’t get on with the Crazy Sandeel around the Copper Coast area especially, and whilst there is an element of mistrust towards the lure and therefore it’s not been given a lot of water time that I am aware of, if there is one thing that has really struck home to me this year is that Le Crazy does not seem to work well over really shallow ground. Why? (and bear in mind that this could just be me). Well my reasoning is this - whilst you need to rip the Crazy Sandeel pretty fast to get that body undulating, I can’t actually remember a fish that didn’t then hit the lure on the drop, as in you’ve ripped it as far as the sweep of your rod can go - “Setting the lure” if you like - then when you’ve stopped ripping it the lure of course will drop back down as you then wind in to make contact before ripping it back again - and it’s when the lure drops that you seem to get hit. So often the lure simply stops dead for no reason - wind and strike and it’s a fish. Bloody exciting as well.

Now you can of course rip the lure over really shallow ground and get away with it, but because the ground is so shallow you have no choice other than to wind like the clappers to get back to contact with the lure - and it’s my belief that the Crazy Sandeel is not then getting enough “meaningful time” to properly fish on the drop. It’s not so bad fishing over shallowish sandy ground though, because you can get away with the lure hitting the bottom and not snagging that exposed hook up all the time, indeed a friend of mine has done well with Le Crazy fishing it in this manner. As for really rocky, reefy shallow ground? I can’t get the lure to work for me, but then to be fair it wasn’t designed to fish like that. And yes, the Crazy Sandeel is not weedless for a reason.

Go bass fishing over slightly deeper water and it’s a different story. Now it seems that you can get the lure to fish properly. By no means is the Crazy Sandeel some kind of wonder lure that will produce no matter what, but it is without doubt another string to my bow that I don’t like going fishing without - save for really rough shallow ground marks of course. A mate who I fish with a lot lost the biggest bass he has ever seen almost at his feet back in May - he just couldn’t get close enough to grab the fish on his own with the sea state - and that was via ripping the Crazy Sandeel over what I would term a medium depth of water and mainly sandy bottom with various lumps of rock spread about the place.

And as for pollack fishing? Holy cow it’s ridiculous. Pollack just love the lure, indeed watching one of our clients catch so many of them it was almost a joke on the pink 150mm Crazy Sandeel over in Ireland in August (boat fishing in Ballinskelligs Bay) was something else, and I managed to convince our Crazy Sandeel doubting Dutchman to clip one on from the Kerry rocks in October - “get ready for them to hit you on the drop Joran” was along the lines of what I said, and lo and behold a couple of pollack did just that when things had gone quiet on the last of the ebb. Doubting Dutchman no more!!

How about the quality of the lure itself? Well there is of course the argument that the lure body on Le Crazy could be made from a tougher soft plastic, but Matt was insistent with me that he just could not get the right action via the harder/tougher stuff - so sure, the lure can and does tear on fish, but carry a bottle of Mend-It and you’ll get longer out of a body. If this does you in then use a different lure, but the fact is that Fiiish are getting the action they want from their lures so far by using very specific, softer plastics, and whilst there’s no denying that their lures work, I quite understand anglers wanting their lures to last for ever. But they don’t, so it’s a choice we make. If lures catch me fish, I’m going to use them. Think of the price for a dozen peeler crabs for example.

Whilst I haven’t been using a rattle in the Crazy Sandeel, I like the fact that there is a chamber built in if you want to insert one, and although it’s easy to get a rattle into the Black Minnow, I sure would love to see a similar chamber in that lure as well. The ways in which I tend to fish the Black Minnow I think lends itself more to putting a rattle in that particular lure, albeit I am still unsure whether a rattle does indeed help or not. Have any of you had a noticeable rise in catches after putting a rattle into either lures? And have any of you noticed what I have heard a few times this year, that pollack are meant to shy away from a rattly lure? I can’t say either way because I don’t use rattles in my lures when pollack fishing as I can’t see the point, but I am open to suggestions here.

Decent striped bass taken on a regular Fiiish jig head with no issues at all.

Decent striped bass taken on a regular Fiiish jig head with no issues at all.

What about the jig heads designed for Le Crazy? No problems for me, although if you are targeting properly big and/or tough fish abroad then you will be looking for a stronger workaround. For the sort of fish we might encounter in our waters the hooks are more than strong enough, and although I have heard from some people that they think the hooks are perhaps too small in relation to the size of the lure body, and that the hook point needs to be on a longer shank and therefore exit the lure body further back, well I would offer this observation - if you are into catch and release but don’t crush your barbs, I would urge you to crush them when you are fishing with the Crazy Sandeel. Why? Well from my experience it seems that most fish just inhale the lure, to the point that I reckon I’d have been in trouble trying to safely remove a barbed hook from some of the bass that Le Crazy has caught for me this year, plus the pollack that some of our clients caught in Kerry. It amazes me how fish can hit a lure being fished this fast (and it does fall fast when it’s fishing on the drop) and so easily engulf it, but they do, and it’s so much easier to get your forefinger on the bend of the hook and just nudge it out of a fish when it’s deeply hooked if there’s no barn on it.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at with the Crazy Sandeel. I find myself bass fishing mostly with the 150mm in various colours (not sure of my favourite yet), rigged with the 10g and 20g jig heads - and I am pretty sure I end up using the 20g jig head a bit more than the 10g one. Bear in mind that a 150mm/20g Crazy Sandeel combination weighs around 30g. I have an inkling on some new body sizes and jig head weights that are in the works, and let’s just say that one particular combination I think is exactly what I am after. I love the lure and over a fair amount of mainly shore based water time with it this year I think that I have learnt a lot more about when to get it out or keep it in the box. It gives me a lot of confidence,  but I have plenty more to learn about the Crazy Sandeel. You all have a good weekend, and my profound thanks again.