First bass on the Fiiish Crazy Sandeel, fished exactly the way its designer told me to by Henry Gilbey

I couldn’t have cared whether the bass was a minnow or a monster, because I did exactly what I set out to do and nailed one on the Fiiish Crazy Sandeel which I was fishing in exactly the way that Matt the lure’s designer had advised me to do. It’s a lure that I like the look of but to be honest I’ve been struggling to really understand it - and I get the impression that a lot of other anglers who swear by the effectiveness of the Black Minnow are in a similar boat. What’s this sandeel looking thing that isn’t weedless and doesn’t have some kind of paddle shaped tail? I know how much planning, thought and testing Matt from Fiiish has put into the Crazy Sandeel, and it really struck home to me before Xmas last year when he told me that he was catching at least double the amount of bass on “Le Crazy” as they call it over the Black Minnow.

I really got the chance to talk at length with Matt last week in Italy when we there tuna fishing/photographing, and obviously because the killer lure was the Fiiish Crazy Sandeel, we spent a fair bit of time yapping about it - why Matt designed it the way he did, why it’s not weedless, and how one might go about fishing it in different situations etc. It does help to see bluefin tuna smashing into these lures, but tuna of course ain’t our bass, and whilst Matt is a very unassuming guy who does not remotely shout about what he has achieved in the lure fishing world, he happens to catch a lot of fish on “his” lures (and also his various prototypes). He fishes mainly from the boat, but we spoke about a number of potential shore fishing situations and how one might go about fishing the Crazy Sandeel when presented with them.

I got back from Italy about 7pm on Friday evening, and on the drive from the airport I had hatched a plan with Mark to meet up early the next morning and head out fishing very local to us, and the conditions that greeted us were about as perfect as you could hope to see - what is it about bass and fog/mist? Mark landed three small bass on his new DUO Tide Minnow Slim 140 Flyer in that stunning chartreuse back/white sides and belly colour, and for a while all I got was a couple of hits on an XLayer bumped along the bottom in some increasing surf that was getting up with the flood.

The evening before I had rummaged around and managed to find a 150mm size Fiiish Crazy Sandeel in the green colour, rigged on the 20g Off Shore head. I made sure to put it in my lure box for the morning, with every intention of giving it a go, but of course after Mark had landed a couple of fish and I hadn’t connected with one, it’s far easier to turn to a tried and trusted lure. But no, I was going to give the lure a proper go and fish it in the way that Matt had said would get the lure doing its thing, and holy cow if a bass around the 3.5lbs mark didn’t go and smash Le Crazy, and I mean absolutely frigging nail it. The conditions were really bouncing by now - we were fishing a rocky platform that gives way to mainly sand, a medium kind of depth around the tide state I hit the fish, and the water clarity was really good.

Hell, I caught tuna last week that weighed perhaps twenty times more than that single bass did, but ask Mark how excited I was at catching that bass on Saturday morning. Sure, we all want to catch great big bass, but I get such a thrill at something like this happening. One fish is all I needed to now feel the confidence flooding through me that the Fiiish Crazy Sandeel is in fact a lure that I should continue to fish with, and as I thought, I had been missing a number of things about this lure. Yes, I accept completely I may well have caught that particular bass if I had been using some other lure fished in some other way, but the fact is that I was determined to try and do something different to what I might have usually done, and it went and worked - and I get a huge kick out of that. Lure fishing is so much about confidence, and that one fish have given me another string to my bow, and who knows what fish might come to me via this new string? I don’t like sitting still and I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again, indeed lure fishing does it for me so much because there is so much to explore.

There is not remotely anything secret of complicated about how I caught that bass, but it required an understanding I suppose of how the lure works. It is very much meant to be different to the Black Minnow, and it doesn’t have an obvious kind of paddletail that say the much loved Savage Gear Sandeel does - so what does it have? It’s about getting the Crazy Sandeel moving at the right speed to kick that body of the lure into life. There are most likely a load of different ways in which anglers may be fishing this thing, but Mark and I happened to be fishing the sort of location and the kind of conditions that Matt and I had spoken about fishing Le Crazy when we were over in Italy. Get that lure moving - rip it through the water and feel that body come to life via the vibrations in the rod tip, and have the confidence that fishing it at a fairly fast speed Is firstly how it was designed, and secondly that bass are going to smash it. When I was asking Matt questions about the lure, he did say that with the (very successful) Black Minnow, why would Fiiish then go and launch something similar as their next product?

I am not saying that the Crazy Sandeel swims exactly like a real sandeel, but rip it through the water at a speed that gets the body almost “rippling” and tell me that it doesn’t look pretty damn impressive. But why isn’t it weedless? Well Matt couldn’t get the lure to swim properly on a weedless or indeed articulated setup, and also there is the argument that it doesn’t need to be weedless anyway because it isn’t designed to be fished like the (weedless) Black Minnow.

All I was doing was blasting the 150mm Crazy Sandeel out, snapping the bale arm over on the reel and then fishing it with a kind of long and fairly fast pull or strip (point the rod at the lure and strip the rod back, you’ll know if the speed is right because you will feel the lure working properly via your rod tip, you can’t miss it), then reel back to the lure and strip it again. I was using the 20g Off Shore jig head mainly because that was the one I had managed to find, and whilst Matt said that the 10g Shore head works really fished like this, I liked the heavier head in the heavy conditions we had on Saturday morning. The bass actually hit me right at the end of a strip back towards me on the rod, and I wasn’t fishing it with a sink and draw angle on the rod, rather a sideways angle to keep the lure up in the water - in deeper water though, really work through the water column.

It does in fact make absolutely no difference to me whether you take any notice of any of this or not. I get genuinely very excited when stuff like this happens in my fishing, and my feeling is that if I blog about it and could possibly help a few of you out or get your brains whirring like mine does about fishing so much, then that’s enough for me - and conversely, if you want to believe in conspiracy theories then feel free. I really admire the innovation shown of the French company Fiiish and I happen to think they are a thoroughly decent bunch of people who are passionate about their products. It would be beyond foolish of me to have spent a few days with such an intelligent fishing lure designer and not pick his brains and try to further my fishing knowledge, and for the life of me I will never understand people who don’t ask questions. Of course I need a heap more time with the Crazy Sandeel to see how it might or might not continue to catch me fish in various situations, but that Saturday morning bass just about made my year so far!!

Early tomorrow morning I start the long drive over to Kerry in south west Ireland for my first co-guiding trip with John Quinlan of Thatch Cottage Ireland. I will do my best to keep this blog updated with how we are getting on, but please bear with me and the very long hours that we will be putting in with our clients. I don’t like getting my hopes up too much, but the Irish bass season as such seems to have kicked off this year with a real bang. We shall see what happens, but I can’t wait to get back over there. More to come……

Lure fishing for bluefin tuna off the coast of Italy - this is my kind of boat fishing by Henry Gilbey

I can’t believe that I knew so little about this rather awesome sport fishery, and the fact that it’s so relatively close to home just amazes me. I must admit that I had my doubts that we would actually see any bluefin tuna, let alone go and catch some, but holy cow if this isn’t some of the most impressive fishing I have come across in Europe - and my flight from London was a shade under two hours. If you like the kind of boat fishing that is all about spotting feeding fish and then casting lures at the boiling tuna that have driven shoals of baitfish close to the surface, then this might well be for you - and when you hook one of these tuna, well let’s just say that pound for pound they fight so hard it’s almost a joke, although it’s not that much of a joke when these tuna work you over and your back’s starting to creak………

The main aim of this short trip was for Matt from Fiiish to test out some ways of rigging their Crazy Sandeel especially with larger and stronger hooks for fish like these tuna. Fiiish’s thoroughly nice Italian distributor Giuseppe Castiglioni set this whole jaunt up together with a skipper he works with in Ancona, Diego Bedetti of Hot Spot Fishing Adventure. For a while now they have been smashing these bluefin tuna on the 220 size Crazy Sandeel in the pink colour especially, but because these soft lures have of course been designed mainly for species such as bass and pollack, the hooks are not really up to the savagery of a bluefin tuna - hence some customised rigging that these Italians have been doing. Matt brought a bunch of different prototype jig heads etc. down, and of course it’s a great way to test stuff out by actually catching the target species, as indeed we did. The prototype jig heads work!!

My first time in Italy, my first time chasing bluefin tuna with my cameras, and what an incredible experience. As I said, I had my doubts that fishing like this really did exist out here in Italy, but when we got out to the tuna grounds as such, Matt and I could not believe just how many tuna we were seeing. All over the place are the telltale signs of birds dropping in on the sardine shoals that have been driven up to the surface by feeding bluefin tuna below them, and when you see the fish themselves boiling, it’s just incredible. I think we released four or five tuna the first day and three the second, with a few fish lost, and I even managed to catch a few myself - in between taking photos of course!!

You see a stack of tuna, but they are no pushover to hook up - they are moving so fast, and almost as you are casting at feeding fish they are on the move and away from your lure. You’re watching and waiting and almost trying to predict where they are heading for, and then you try to put the Crazy Sandeel in front of them and fish it shallow with a fast kind of jerk-style retrieve. Most hits are out as far as you can cast, but I did see a couple of tuna slashing at my lure on one retrieve, and then I cast at a single fish at one point, and the tuna hooked up and just snorted away just under the surface and went on a long run. As I always say, I love the fishing we’ve got at home, but we don’t have any fish that fight anywhere close to as hard as these tuna do, indeed I like the fact these bluefin out here in Italy aren’t too ridiculously big - they’ve landed them to about 120lbs, and most fish we had were around the 40-70lb mark. Whilst they pull serious string and put you through a proper workout, they are manageable at this size, and unless you fight them very lightly you won’t be there for hours and hours like you might be on those monster bluefin that I am not sure I ever want to actually hook!! Nope, these bluefin out here do me just fine, and their power to weight ratio is just insane.

I reckon this is some world class fishing, and as much as say chucking poppers at big GTs etc. is of course on a lot of lure anglers’ bucket lists, to get at that stuff doesn’t come remotely cheap. How about this tuna fishing then? I love the fact that I can get on a short flight from London to Ancona and take only some fishing clothing, sun cream, my camera gear of course, then there are plenty of hotels and good restaurants, and you can jump on the boat in the morning and there’s Smith Japan (boat) lure casting rods, Quantum Cabo spinning reels and all the necessary lures for you to use. OK, so you’re going to have to pay for lost lures and smashed soft plastics (hard lures are rarely lost, but tuna do go through soft plastics - speak to the guys at Hot Spot Fishing Adventure and they can advise you on soft lures to take, with the 220 size Fiiish Crazy Sandeel being at the top of the list, and then pack a bottle of Mend-It to repair torn lures). Autumn is when the tuna really switch on to poppers, and the overall season is a long one. I will be back!! I get back home this evening and then on Tuesday I am heading over to Kerry in Ireland for my first co-guiding trip with John Quinlan (check here). Very, very excited.

Out in Italy to photograph lure fishing for bluefin tuna by Henry Gilbey

I have no idea if we are going to see any bluefin tuna, but from the reports this is some pretty insane fishing when it fires, and with what I am told are some pretty strict regulations in place, the fishing for them out here off the coast of Ancona (Italy, Adriatic Sea) is apparently getting better each year and the average size of fish is on the up as well. I flew out of Heathrow early on Tuesday morning, then a thoroughly nice guy by the name of Giuseppe picked me up from Bologna (he is the Italian distributor for Fiiish), and we drove on down to Ancona to pick Matt from Fiiish up. I have travelled a fair bit for my work over the years, but this is my first time in Italy.

By the time you read this blog post we will be out at sea and on the hunt for these bluefin tuna. Matt is the designer of the Fiiish Black Minnow and Crazy Sandeel, and he’s got a bunch of prototype lures that he wants to try out on the tuna and see how they do - so I am out here as the photographer for a couple of days. The weather was stunning yesterday, so here’s to hoping that we get calm seas, good light, and a bunch of bluefin tuna coming up on the surface and smashing bait - this is the time of year for these scary-powerful fish to behave like that out there, so let’s see what happens.

I found a video on YouTube that shows a bit of this tuna fishing from last year. Holy frigging cow what little I have seen and know of tuna fishing is that they are horribly powerful, with stamina levels that simply aren’t normal, and if we see these fish busting on bait I think I might just pass straight out on the boat deck!! And of course I am looking forward to seeing these Fiiish prototypes, as well as finding out more about all the other ideas that Matt is working on as regards new lures for the kind of fishing that many of us here tend to do. I will do my best to report back to you on Friday morning before I head for home, hopefully with a few photos of the fish and fishing out here in Italy……

Major Craft X-Ride XRS-962ML 9'6'' 10-30g lure rod review - around £250.00 by Henry Gilbey

If you read my fishing tackle reviews on this blog then you have most likely figured out that I am head over heels in love with what for me is just about the most perfect lure fishing rod I have ever had the pleasure of using - the Major Craft Truzer 9’6’’ 10-30g (review here). I am sure that in due course I will come across a lure rod that freaks me out even more, but in the meantime this thing continues to amaze me how awesome it is, whilst at the same time leaving me wondering how a lure rod could actually suit me any better. However good I think the 9’6’’ Truzer is though, there’s the small matter of it costing a little north of £350, and whilst I happen to think that at £500+ it would still represent value for money, £350+ is not exactly small change….....

What if I told you though that there is another Major Craft rod out there that to me feels essentially identical to cast and fish with as the 9’6’’ Truzer, yet it costs over £100 less to buy? I accept that around the £250 mark is also not exactly small change either, but for this amount of money you are getting what I feel is just about the perfect sort of lure rod for how so many of us go about our bass fishing - the Major Craft X-Ride XRS-962ML 9'6'' 10-30g. There’s not much point me writing about how this 9’6’’ 10-30g X-Ride performs all over again when to me it seems to fish the same as the Truzer, so I would urge you to read my review of the 9’6’’ 10-30g Truzer here, and below I will detail a few of the (mainly fixtures and fittings) differences between the rods.

I must admit I had no idea that Fuji Torzite rod guides were quite so expensive when the 9’ Truzer first turned up here last year (review here). I had heard a bit about these new guides and I was interested to fish with them on a lure rod, but I got one hell of a shock when I went looking at the prices of these newish guides - they ain’t remotely cheap, indeed there may well be an argument that the difference in price between the X-Ride and the Truzer is mostly due to Major Craft’s use of these Fuji Torzite rod guides on the Truzers and the more regular Fuji K-Guides on the X-Rides. There’s a bunch of info about Torzite guides here.

Am I seeing a massive advantage from having Torzite guides on a lure rods? Well I really like the guides, they are working just fine, and they do seem to be both light and tough, but I can’t tell you that by having them on a rod it’s suddenly performing that much better. Same with those Daiwa AGS guides on their 9’3’’ Morethan rod that I reviewed here - lovely rod, those carbon fibre AGS guides seem to be great, but are there a load of performance benefits to be had? There may well be and I am simply not good enough to pick up on them, but what I am getting at here is that the Major Craft X-Ride is over £100 cheaper than the Truzer, and as much as I am in love with the Truzer, it would be remiss of me to say to you that I am noticing a performance jump via the Torzite guides.

The X-Ride has Fuji K-guides on the rod, with some very small guides towards the tip, and whilst I know this might worry a few of you out who are more used to seeing slightly larger guides on a rod, I still have yet to catch a single FC/GT leader knot (see here) in any single ring on any single rod that I have fished with - and that’s a fair few rods now since I first started using this particular leader knot only, including a rod such as the Skyroad Wind (review here) that has some truly tiny tip section guides on it. I see no point in worrying about small rod guides when lures go out there so well and knots don’t catch, and my basic understanding is that smaller guides affect the action less. This X-Ride is one hell of a lure rod, indeed it’s the sort of rod that I pick up and waggle and it just “speaks” to me - please, please take me out fishing.

The other main difference between the two rods is the handles. The length from butt to reel foot on the 9’6’’ Truzer is as perfect as it can be for me (30cms), and I love the cork grips. The handle is a little bit longer on the X-Ride (38cms from butt to reel-foot) and the grips are regular duplon which of course are great to fish with. In a perfect world I would prefer a slightly shorter handle on the X-Ride, but I also know how quickly I got used to fishing with it and I am not remotely bothered.

So which one would I go for, the Truzer or the X-Ride? I am working on the assumption here that both rods are built on either the same or at least remarkably similar blanks, so I guess it comes down to how much the angler wants to spend, and how much those Torzite guides and handle characteristics mean to you. Either way this Major Craft X-Ride XRS-962ML 9'6'' 10-30g lure rod is one serious bit of kit, indeed I can’t believe that such a high-performance rod can be had for around the £250 mark here in the UK. I am going to sit on the fence and say to you that I’d be more than happy owning either rod, because I truly would.