Friday, 23 November 2018

MCX's Christmas Stocking 2018

It's been 2 years since I last produced a Christmas Stocking post, which I regret as it's usually rather enjoyable, especially if you're stuck in a hotel room in Arabia on a religious holiday.  Of course the key point is whether you enjoy reading the output, but as you don't give me much feedback or abuse I generally assume it's satisfactory.  On the other hand reading this blog costs nothing and people tend to be undiscerning about things that are free, while feedback requires some effort. For me there's the pleasure of the research, scanning the catalogues and websites to spot bargains and good kit.  And second, it's fun to write for a happy time of year when thoughts of the new season are starting to emerge.  It lifts my morale and hopefully does something for yours.  Talking of morale, the less said about the 2018 salmon disaster the better.  I got that out of my system in my last post and was delighted by the feedback, thank you.

After 2 years away from writing this post my renewed research has prompted the following observations:

  • During that absence there have been no revolutionary developments in kit in the stocking price range.  As a result there are no 'wow' discoveries in this year's list.  Sadly I must report that yet another useful gem - the William Joseph Mitten Clamps - has gone out of production (but I've found an alternative).
  • In fact there's been a dearth of technical progress in salmon fishing tackle over the past year.  There have been no magic resins, miracle materials or quantum leaps of anything.  As usual Sage have put out a new rod and claimed revolutionary improvement from what is clearly incremental change.  If for the past 25 years you'd swallowed their annual verbiage without question, you should now be able to cast 50 yards with an 8' #4 single-hander.  In fact you've probably gained about 3 yards over the period and 90% of that is owed to improvements in lines.
  • Henrik Mortensen of SalmoLogic hasn't had any new ideas.
  • Loop has got through another year without a financial restructuring.
  • The overall market in salmon fishing tackle shows signs of being slack, indicating falling demand and excess manufacturing supply.  With the exception of the Glasgow Angling Centre, the major on-line retailers have pared back the range and number of salmon rods and other high-ticket items that they stock.  Despite these economic conditions, this year the retailers are offering few price reductions on useful items.  Unlike the early years of the recession after the 2008 crash, the retailers seem to be keeping their nerve in the run-up to Christmas.
  • There are some ludicrously priced gadgets in the market.  Who in all seriousness pays £155 for a pair of line nippers? Why pay £50 for a digital thermometer that you can buy directly from the manufacturer for £20?
  • The quality, comfort and effectiveness of thermal clothing is leaping ahead, especially the base layer.  If you're still using some from 10 years ago you should give serious thought to replacement.
  • It's jolly hard for me to be original, so I can only hope you've forgotten what I recommended in earlier years or are too idle to look up the old blog posts.  But the simple fact is that the perennials are just that for good reasons of utility and value for money.

1.  Basic Fly Box by Richard Wheatley

The clips have fallen off one of my old basic polythene fly boxes, so I have been scouring the market for some time in pursuit of a replacement.  All I want is something simple and cheap: last time it was 3 for a fiver from John Norris.  Most of what the market provides is too expensive, over-specified and fiddly for my taste.  Now I think I've found the answer.  If Richard Wheatley puts his name to a fly box then you know it will be good quality: he has a brand to protect.  In contrast to his normal aluminium products the Comp-Lite range is made from plastic composite and cheap.  Yes, you can have a Wheatley salmon fly box for £6.50.  The Easy Grip (without the leaf) suits smaller salmon flies; and the Easy Grip Streamer is for sizes #6 and larger.

Afternote: I ordered one of these boxes at the £12.99 price shown in my original post, with which I was content. Then I received an email from Wheatleys advising me of a cut in prices subsequent to my order, and that they would refund me £6.49.  As a result I got a quality Wheatley fly box for £6.50, which is unbeatable.  My trout fly boxes are original Wheatleys that no doubt cost my father a few bob, but if I needed to replace them I'd buy just the same.  On the other hand my preference for salmon fly boxes is simple, robust and cheap, and this new Wheatley Comp-Lite ticks all of those boxes.

2.  Digital Thermometer

Yes, on second appearance it's become a perennial.  There isn't anything better or more reasonably priced in any of the tackle retailers.  I bought a new one this summer after giving the original to Donnie the Helmsdale Ghillie as a gift - he was fascinated by its simplicity and neatness.  It's still under £20 inc VAT & P&P from LABFACILITY in Sheffield.  if you really wish you can buy the same thing for £50 from one of the on-line tackle retailers, but I recommend buying direct.

It makes taking the water temperature delightfully easy.  There's no more waiting for analogue liquid to register - just point, press and read the nice big numbers.  It takes up very little room in your pocket and tips the scales at around an ounce.  There are 2 free spare batteries in the box, so it should keep you going for 5 seasons.  And for younger readers, it does a great job of taking children's temperatures: just point in the ear and presto!

3.  Mitten Clamps

Sadly, despite all my efforts on here promoting the product, William Joseph has ceased production of their brilliant rubber-handled mitten clamps.  The advantages of using a pair of locking pseudo-pliers while unhooking a lively salmon over conventional forceps are enormous.  It just becomes so quick and easy.  For me mitten clamps are one of those must-have bits of kit.

This Rapala alternative was on sale at GAC at £15.99 but they sold out within 24 hours of me publishing this post.  However, the same item is available on Amazon and a somewhat more expensive equivalent at Uttings which also has rubber grips.

4.  Neoprene Fingerless Gloves

The Snowbee gloves have featured in every stocking since I started this blog for the simple reasons of effectiveness, value and durability.  Why pay £55 for what you can get from Sportfish for £12.99.  They last me for 3-5 seasons, or about the price of a pint per year.  Cleaning up at the end of last season I threw out a 12 year old reserve pair that were still serviceable but not a pretty sight.

5.  Base Layer Thermals

I remarked above on the technical progress in this field of clothing.  Last year my very generous wife gave me a new set of Simms thermals to replace my 12 year old set.  The improvement is transformational, a quantum leap in comfort and effectiveness, which at my age is something I really welcome.  They're not cheap - £40 each for top at bottom from John Norris - but in my book worth every penny.  Note also that is £10 less per item than advertised at Sportfish and some other retailers.  And of course, they roll up so small that they fit in even a modest stocking.

If, however, you're looking for a bargain solution, try Go Outdoors.  I bought one of their own brand Hi-Gear zip polo neck base layer tops recently for £15.  It's not as good as the Simms in terms of material technology and finish, but the breathability and wicking is absolutely top-notch.  The arms are a mite long for me (being short and stout) but should be fine for anyone taller and slimmer.  And at £15 you can't expect Savile Row fitting.

And while Father Christmas is in the Go Outdoors store, ask him/her to have a look at these Craghopper Kiwi lined thermal trousers at £35.  Something similar from Rohan and other suppliers will be around £65-70.  In cooler weather I am wholly dependent on my superb Simms fleece lined trousers that I got on special offer from Angling Active for £60.  But in the absence of any such offer from any of the tackle retailers against an RRP of £90, I recommend that you Go Outdoors instead.  After you've worn them a couple of times wash and then rinse with the NikWax surface proofer.  This will stop any condensation caused by the contrast between cold water and newly super-warm legs penetrating your trousers.

6.  Stocking Fillers

Mrs Christmas is always grateful for helpful hints on smaller items to put in my stocking.  Here are some hardy perennials complete with the hyper links to assist ordering from John Norris.

Aquasure is an essential in your kit box at £6.99.  If you opened last year's tube it will be solid by now and you'll need another.

If you glue you knots like I do, you won't lose another fish to knot failure or premature breakage.  Loon Knot Sense forms a nice smooth streamlined blob before setting clear.

Airflo Polyleaders are the standard salmon angler's stocking filler, and you will always need more at the start of the next season.

I see little point in spending lots more money on the equivalent products by Rio and others when the Airflo leaders do the job perfectly well.  Moreover, I've never had a quality failure with one in all the years since they first appeared on the UK market.

Come the start of the new season you will wish to clean and lubricate all your heads and running lines.  I've used Loon Line Speed for years for the simple reason that having been given a bottle in my stocking, it lasts a decade.  You only need a small pea-sized blob to polish a shooting head or running line, which makes the £8.50 price tag easier to bear.

7.  Father Christmas Goes Bonkers

In search of originality and good deals in this 'Bonkers' category I have scoured the websites and catalogues of all the major retailers.  As I noted at the start of this post, really good deals are very thin on the ground this year.  There is absolutely nothing out there that gave me pause to think "at that price I could really fancy one of those!"  Reels are the litmus test item: 3-4 years ago you could find highly tempting offers on premium reels in the run up to Christmas.  In 2015 Angling Active's deal on the Loop Multi at £120 really was unmissable: today's best price at GAC is over £200 for a die cast product.  This year Angling Active is offering 10% off Hardy reels, but that sort of reduction is unlikely to nudge anyone over the threshold of buying a £300 item.  Norris and Sportfish are holding firm on RRP, but no doubt if you speak directly to James Norris you can cut any number of deals.  On GAC's website it's hard to tell where the deals are without ploughing through item by item (I viewed 5-6 'marker' products), but there's nothing much on obvious offer.  Accordingly, I must hang my head and confess that I've failed to find you anything.

I instituted this category in the 2016 edition with the Danielsson L5W #8/12 reel owing to its stunning value for money.  You may find it hard to believe, but this reel is cheaper now at £216 than when I recommended it.  The larger siblings, the H5D and Control, have similarly declined in price.  Since the BREXIT vote the US Dollar and Korean Won - the currencies that account for about 90% of salmon reel manufacture - have strengthened considerably against the Pound, whereas the Swedish Kroner has marched in step downhill with us.  As a result the L5W is now £80 cheaper than the equivalent US-made Lamson Guru HD4 - the nearest equivalent in design quality - and over £120 cheaper than the Loop Evotec.  On that basis Loop must be kicking themselves for parting company with Danielsson who designed and made their early reels, and outsourcing production to Korea.  Indeed the die cast Loop Multi and the fully machined Danielsson are now similarly priced, despite being a mile apart in design, engineering and material quality.  Put another way, they now make a world class reel at a significantly lower Sterling price in Sweden than others can in South Korea or the USA.  So there's never been a better time to succumb to the temptation of a beautiful Swede.

Happy Christmas and tight lines for 2019.  After 7 years' climatic aberration a nice average season would make a lovely gift, wouldn't it?


  1. Unfortunately the mitten pliers are marked up as no longer available at GAC.

  2. Oh dear, sold out in the last 72 hours. Thanks for pointing it out. I will amend the post on Monday night.

  3. "There are some ludicrously priced gadgets in the market. Who in all seriousness pays £155 for a pair of line nippers? Why pay £50 for a digital thermometer that you can buy directly from the manufacturer for £20?" met someone this year with ABEL line snips ... HOW much was my comment .. Happy Christmas

  4. Great call on the infra-red thermometer. Cost was £22.80 due to the extortionate £9.80 postage, but it's still waaaaaaaay cheaper than the dedicated fishing alternatives.

  5. HI, have just discovered your blog.... excellent. Thanks you for putting so much time into this. It helps to demistify a lot of issues. I found the following link on Salmon fishing forum that appears to be broken and linked to your material.... I am using an old link?

    1. Many thanks for your kind words: encouragement is always welcome and I'm glad you find the blog useful. Thank you for highlighting the failed link, which hopefully is now fixed.