I could have sworn that only the other day it was the start of 2014 and we were hoping that the near continuous storms might one day abate. Another year nearly done and dusted, and whilst I can't imagine that many bass anglers had their most incredible season ever, one must also put into the mix of who knows how many factors that the fishing conditions just weren't up to much a lot of the time - and for all that we want a heap more decent fish to catch, you still need the right conditions to get them close inshore. Here's to 2015, and as per usual near the end of a year, here's my Gear of the Year - I hope that you might find yourself a last minute Xmas present somewhere here, or if not, something to think about for next year.............
A great example of why I stay behind the camera nearly 100% of the time!!
Biggest thrill of the year 2014 - Guiding, or to be more exact, working with the outstandingly professional Irish bass guide John Quinlan and helping to put clients onto fish. What a rush. We might well have been lucky in that we managed to attract some good people who wanted to come fishing with John and I over in Kerry, south west Ireland (heaven on earth?), and I had an inkling that it would be a huge thrill to help people out with their fishing - and it was. In spades. John and I have worked out a bunch of co-guiding dates for 2015 and I so hope we fill the spaces so that I can do more of this - info to come. I love it, and a big thanks to our 2014 clients for coming along and giving me the chance to work like this.
I love to see a fly angler who is just as comfortable fishing with non-fly gear
Best value for money lure rod 2014 - I still haven't come across a sub-£200 lure rod that impresses me as much as either the 8'6'' or 9' 10-30g Major Craft Skyroad (9' review here), so for the second year running these awesome rods take the prize. I have not fished with the longer 9'6'' Skyroad yet, and hopefully I will get to someday, but for the moment I can't see how anybody with around the £180-190 mark to spend on a (shore bass) lure fishing rod can go wrong with the Skyroads.
Best braid mainline 2014 - I was really impressed with the very good value for money Duel Hardcore X8 8-strand braid (review here), and I am going share first place between that braid and the awesome Varivas Avani Sea Bass Max Power Tracer 8-strand braid (review here). I have a huge amount of confidence in Varivas lines already, and especially their grey coloured Avani Sea Bass Max Power PE 8-strand braid - so the fact that they have brought out a bright green version of this line that has performed perfectly for me whenever I have fished with it, well I couldn't help but be drawn to the stuff. Not cheap, but holy cow it's a good mainline. If you want a really good 8-strand and don't want to spend this kind of dosh, look for that Duel hardcore X8 or the bright green Daiwa Tournament 8 braid in the 25lb breaking strain that just continues to work flawlessly. I still love the Sufix 832 braid, but it's essentially impossible to get hold of in the UK. Why? I gave up asking, put it that way.
Biggest disappointment 2014 no.1 - The Simms Vapor wading boots. Simms wading boots have done me proud for years now, and especially their tough as nails, long-lasting Rivershed ones - but sadly not their new Vapor wading boots. Nope, mine fell apart within three weeks I think it was. They are just not remotely up to the sort of fishing I was doing with them, and I also found them very uncomfortable to stand around in for long periods on hard rocks. I had high hopes for these things, but they certainly ain't designed for what I was putting them through.
I tried hard to love it but I can't quite 2014 no.1 - The YGK G-soul Upgrade PE XB "budget" 8-strand braid. I love the colour, I love how thin it is, and I really wanted to love fishing with it. I gave it a good workout early in the year but kept on getting the stuff wrapping around my rod tip whenever I used that snapback cast as I call it. I left the braid alone and came back to it later in the year, because at the price it could be the steal of the century. I have fished with it plenty now, but for casting lures I just can't get on with it that well. It might well be me and the way I cast or fish, but try as I might this Upgrade PE just won't behave impeccably for me. Other YGK lines that I have used are consistently excellent, so I have a suspicion that my failings with this line are down to me - but you have to have confidence with the gear you use, and I just don't trust this mainline.
Best hard lure 2014 - I am going to pick two lures here - boring I know, but I still can't find a surface lure that works better for me than the ridiculously long casting IMA Salt Skimmer. Check the (very ordinary) photo above - four of us were fishing one morning in Ireland, and I noticed that when the rods were strapped onto the Vac-Rac rod racks, all four of us had quite independently been fishing and catching with Skimmers. As with anything that is remotely popular and talked about in the UK, conspiracy theories have to start flying around, but this is simple for me - the Skimmer is my go-to surface lure and I trust it above all others. An Irish lad put me onto the Duel Hardcore 130F minnow, and from the off I really liked it because it reminded me of a slightly larger version of the killer MegaBass X120. I like slim profile minnows, and this Duel Hardcore 130F casts great, bass love it, the colours are fantastic, and they don't cost a fortune. What's not to like?
One of the best and most simple ideas that was suggested to me 2014 - If I added up the amount of dosh I have spent over the years on buying replacement laces for any number of hiking and wading boots, well I wouldn't exactly be retiring - but you know what I mean, and those Simms Rivershed wading boots especially just chow through regular laces. Well not anymore!! Some kind souls on Facebook suggested that I buy some paracord, so I did - I bought this dirt cheap stuff here and it's just awesome to use as laces. Blob the ends with a lighter after you have cut the stuff to length, and so far I can't even find a mark on the pararcord laces on my Rivershed boots. Thank you kind souls!!
Best accessory 2014 - The Fish Grip fish grip - so simple, but so effective. Cheap as chips (check here), doesn't rust, very light, it works perfectly, and as much as I love my Boga grip, I have been carrying this fish grip for much of the year and I feel lost without it now. If you are going to spend serious money on a fish grip, then it's either the Boga or one of the Japanese ones that cost a bomb - any other metal Boga imitations I have come across tend to rust and fall apart, so why not go for something light and plastic that can't rust? Such a simple product, but something that to me makes a whole heap of sense.
Battered but unbowed
Best wading boots 2014 - I got the new Simms Guide boots to replace those rubbish Simms Vapor boots, and whilst these new Guide boots are pretty light and extremely comfortable, I have a small problem with the sole and what seems to be a wading stud having driven something sharp up into where the ball of my foot sits. I have sent them back and I am waiting to hear what on earth happened, so yet again for me it's back to the tried, tested and completely trusted Simms Rivershed wading boots. For me and a number of people I fish with, these (not cheap) wading boots just keep on going and going. Either I am one unlucky sod this year with my waders and wading boots or Simms just ain't making stuff as good as they once were - but whatever the case, Riversheds keep on going.
Other stuff I use that I haven't found any reason to change 2014 - I am aware of a few anglers having issues this year with the 29lb size Delalande Agrafe Rapide lure clips, but it's never happened to me, and to be honest I have started using more of the slightly larger 35lb size because they are better with the larger hooks I am using on some of the soft plastics etc. Still can't find a lure clip that I prefer to this. I took a £40 punt and bought a pair of Patagonia leggings that are designed to be worn under waders, but they don't come close to how well the Under Armour Heat and Cold gear works for me. Those washable lure boxes from the likes of Sakura, Snowbee etc. are still going strong for me. PowerPro braid for wrasse fishing, in the 20lb/0.15mm size. Over a year of use now and my Van Staal titanium pliers are as free and easy to use as they were on day one. The cutters still cut braid perfectly and the pliers continue to perform flawlessly.