Best wrassing on plastics/HRF lure rod 2012 - Major Craft Crostage CRS-726M/S. A new category for me and please bear in mind that I don't have a huge amount of experience with these sort of rods (but then who does ? It's not as if chasing these fish on lures in the way we now do has been around for a long time) - but I know what I like. I have a serious thing for my Graphiteleader Tiro 832M-MR rod (see my initial "findings" here), but for sheer value for money the winner has to be the Major Craft Crostage CRS-726M/S, and especially due to its "relatively budget" price (check here for example) - if you are looking for an out and out proper wrassing on plastics/HRF rod at an affordable price then check out the winning Major Craft, but if you want a step up then make sure to check out that Graphiteleader because it's an incredible rod. I know of no better lure fishing for wrasse than over on the Isles of Scilly, and I note that the two anglers I know there who hammer silly numbers of wrasse both happen to use and seriously abuse the Major Craft Crostage CRS-726M/S. What more needs to be said about it ?
Best hard lure 2012 - I am going to cheat slightly here and pick two hard lures - the Daiwa Shoreline Shiner R50+ SSR and the IMA Hound 125F Glide. The long-casting, ultra-shallow diving Daiwa lure is one that I have really switched on to this year and although I have done well on it myself, it's very much also the bass I have both seen and heard about being caught on it that has put it up there. In Ireland especially I think it's fair to say that this Daiwa is becoming a cult lure. It's a flier to compare with the IMA Komomo SF125 and bass just smash it, and for some reason I can't fathom, the above colour slays. Whack it out and wind it in, nothing more complicated than that. The equal first IMA Hound 125F Glide caught bass for me from the off, but it's the options this lure gives that really does it for me. It casts better than any other lure of this size that I have ever used, it bites into any seas I have fished with it, it catches bass and it seems to work in all kinds of conditions - and because it covers so many avenues for me it then means that I can carry more of other lures if that makes sense. I can use the same lure now in all manner of conditions instead of having to change things around when say the sea kicks up. Oh, and I came close to choosing the IMA Salt Skimmer once again - still my out and out favourite surface lure for bass.
Best fishing clothing 2012 at a sensible price - Once again the Under Armour gear, and more specifically the Under Armour Cold Gear. The Heat Gear works great in warmer weather, but the stuff that continues to amaze me the most is without doubt what Under Armour call their Cold Gear. How does it work so well ? I have no idea, but it's just amazing stuff, and if you look around you can find the compression-style tops and leggings pretty cheap. If you are going to be standing around fairly motionless in cold water for long periods then look for something thicker (fleece leggings etc.), but for nearly all the colder weather fishing and photography I do I wear this Cold Gear and it's just awesome. The leggings work perfectly under waders or waterproof trousers etc. and the tops just wear like they are not even there yet they are doing so much good stuff.
Best braid 2012 - Varivas Avani Sea Bass Max Power PE. I continue to love that bright green Daiwa Tournament 8-braid in the 25lb breaking strain especially and it has continued to go great guns for me this year, but if you tied me down and allowed me to use only one braid for my bass lure fishing then it would still be the Varivas Avani Sea Bass Max Power PE in the 20lb breaking strain (sorry, not very new I know, but in my opinion it's just a great line) - although I notice now that the 1.5PE 20lb stuff I have been using seems to have been re-rated at "Max 28.6lb with an average of 24.8lb". I knew it was strong stuff !! Yes, it's an expensive line, but it is seriously good. For 2013 though I am going back to some of the cheaper braids to see how they might do for me - I love some of the 8-strands that I have fished with, but £40 plus a spool for many of them is a serious amount of wedge to drop on one fill of mainline and I want to see what I might or might not be missing by going back to some of the cheaper braids.
Best little thing no.2 2012 - Teko Socks. OK, so socks are about as exciting as lure clips, but a very kind person sent me a few pairs of Teko socks to see how they might do for my fishing and they turned out to be by far and away the best socks I have ever used for fishing - and strange as it may also sound, I have tried a lot of different ones now (Bridgedale, Simms etc.). These Teko ones are on a different planet though. They just work. My favourite ones to wear under my waders are the Midweight Hiking ones, but surprisingly the Heavyweight Trekking ones work great as well when I was not sure if they would - I did wear the same pair of Teko socks on an Ireland trip for six days running and they never smelt at all, or at least I couldn't smell anything !! Sounds a bit grim I know, but they are just incredibly comfortable to wear for long days on end. Your feet are always going to sweat a bit inside that neoprene sock on the bottom of waders, but these Teko socks seem to dry out almost instantly. Exciting eh ??!!
Best way to carry lures 2012 - HPA lure bag. I have used and abused mine for most of the year and I did kind of expect the bag to perhaps show some serious signs of wear and tear, but it continues to go great guns - see my review here. Not that exciting I know, but this little bag allows me to easily carry my hard and soft lures in a way that works for me and I can't really ask for more than that. I also take mine wrasse fishing and stuff it full of all manner of lures, hooks, line and weights etc. It now feels completely natural for me to carry my lures like this and I'll keep at it until I stumble upon something that does it for me more efficiently.
Item I simply can't do without now - Vac-Rac rod racks to carry lure rods on my car. For the life of me I can't work out how I used to survive without these things. So simple, so completely brilliant and they just work. Fly fisherman use them all the time, so why don't we ? I have driven countless thousands of miles now with lure rods strapped to these Vac-Rac rod racks.
And last but not least - Album of the year - "Our Cold Days are Still Here when the Lights are Out" by Sauroctonos. One of those obscure metal bands that I stumbled upon earlier in the year and it continues to amaze me how this is their debut album. There's been loads of good metal released this year and of course the mighty Enslaved had a new album out recently that came very, very close to taking the top spot, but Sauroctonos from the Ukraine just edged it for me. It's one of those albums that throws up something different every time I listen to it, and over the course of the year I dread to think how many times I have played it. Have a listen to some of the tracks on their Bandcamp page here - you can also buy the album dirt cheap here. I would describe their music as a kind of spaced out, progressive black metal, and I can hear influences from bands such as Enslaved, Agalloch, Drudkh and Khors (who also released a pretty awesome album this year). But Sauroctonos manage to stand on their own feet and their debut album just floats my metal boat in a huge way. If you are into your metal then there are some awesome bands that come from the Ukraine and I can't wait to see what these guys do next. I also note that one of my favourite ever metal bands will be releasing a new album in March next year - the mighty Rotting Christ of course. I am simply not worthy.