Wednesday 2 November 2022

MCX's Christmas Stocking 2022

It's that time of year again when I try to give readers of this blog some ideas to plant with Father/Mrs/Mr Christmas.  When I started this near-annual post a decade ago it was easy to find good things very cheaply, but time, inflation and compound interest have taken their toll and pushed the upper boundary further up the scale.  Nevertheless, you will still find the perennial stocking fillers as well as some really good useful items that I have personally tested.
What I found interesting while compiling this year's Stocking was that despite an accelerating economic downturn and the impact of the energy-induced cost of living crisis, there is no significant discounting visible on the tackle trade's major web outlets beyond the disposal of surplus and slow-moving stock (and it's usually one or the other for a good reason - no one wants it).  I searched all of the main dealers' sites for a big bargain for the "Father Christmas Goes Bonkers" item without success, so there isn't one this year.  It may well be that come the New Year, if you visit their shop or phone you might be able to negotiate a good deal on a big ticket item: good luck.  As a result this year's stocking is smaller than in previous editions, which is a sad reflection of these dull and uncertain times.

Guideline Firskin Gloves

These are my champion "must have" item of 2022.  I bought a pair at Bruar on my way up to the Spey in early April, which proved to be the amongst best £37.99 I've ever spent.  Nothing before has kept my hands so warm.  The first day at Orton was sub-zero with snow, wind and line freezing in the rings (see Chasing Unicorns for evidence), yet even at my advanced age I fished the whole day in comfort.  Make sure you get the lined GX version and not the thinner, cheaper unlined model.  They're currently available from Sportfish at £39.99 but you'll probably save a couple of pounds elsewhere.

HJ Socks

Socks for Christmas may be a hardy perennial joke, but there's no substitute for good socks when spring fishing, and 20 years' experience have convinced me that this British-made products are the best and most durable available.

HJ make socks for every occasion and will have something to suit everybody.  I use the HJ7 work model, which you can buy direct from the factory at £7.50 per pair.

Being a mixture of wool and wicking synthetic they will keep your feet warm even if your waders leak!

Brasher Lined Trousers

I found these in the sale at Go Outdoors last year when looking for a back-up pair to my expensive Simms insulated trousers.  After using them on the Spey and Helmsdale in April and the Ure in October, I can report that they're excellent: extremely well designed and cut; comfortable in fit and temperature; and fitted with ample pockets (albeit it takes a while to remember and differentiate between the zipped and unzipped apertures).  They're excellent value at £44 (and you currently get an extra 15% off if you're spend exceeds £100) at Go Outdoors.

Digital IR Thermometer

The IR sensor water thermometer I've previously recommended isn't currently available from LabFacility, which is a great shame as it's by far the best I've ever found.  I suspect that this is connected to the supply chain problems caused by the Chinese policy of managing Covid by total lockdown of entire provinces and cities.  This is a cheap alternative, which is available from your local branch of Screwfix for £23.99.

I've not tried it but the user reviews are favourable.  At that price it's still cheaper than the analogue thermometers sold by the tackle dealers (and way cheaper than their digital offerings) and far more convenient as you don't have to hold it in the water: just point and read.

Small Tube Fly Box

There seems to be an unfortunate trend towards bigger, more complicated and even more expensive fly boxes.  You just don't need that many tube flies in your pocket.  I loved the tiny Snowbee pocket box, but its peg springs expired and it's no longer in production.  To replace it about 6 or 7 years ago I bought this C&F model (at 3 times the price), which was about the only one that was suitably compact and works well.  The clear flap over the tubes is held down with a little magnetic catch, which stops them falling out when you're selecting your hook from the lid.  It's a good piece of all-round design.  However, it's becoming quite difficult to find, but it's available from Angling Active in Stirling at £29.99.

In the same vein, the inexpensive Richard Wheatley CompLite fly boxes appear to have been withdrawn.  I regret that I haven't found an acceptable alternative at a sensible price.

Mitten Clamps (i.e. unhooking pliers)

I find mitten clamps a much better and quicker solution to unhooking salmon than forceps: with a good grip on the tool, the fly locked in the jaws, and once good movement it's job done.  There are lots of very tough places in and around a salmon's mouth that can require considerable force to extract a fly, and in those cases I like to work as quickly as possible.

Sadly it appears that William Joseph has ceased making my old favourites.  In the last Stocking I recommended the Loon (which are very good).  This year the Vision mitten clamp, which is an identical design, is on offer £2 cheaper at GAC at £21.99.  It also offer a scissor blade adjacent to the pivot, a useful feature.

McNett Quick GoreTex Repair

I've previously recommended this neat little kit, which contains two adhesive-backed GoreTex patches.  It provides a quick (adhesion is instant) and very convenient repair capability for surface damage to the outer skin of your waders that's too big to fix with UV curing glue solutions like Snowbee Suncure or Loon UV Wader Repair, which are the best answers to simple hook holes.  You just cut a patch to size, peel off the back, press it into place, and the job's done.

In September at Arndilly I was able to confirm its utility.  One of the rods in the party has stored her waders unprotected from mouse attack, leaving three substantial holes of around 20mm diameter.  The patches provided an immediate solution, which I later backed up with Aquasure repairs on the inner surface.

Of course there's no substitute for Aquasure for the proper repair of a large hole or tear so it's a hardy perennial in my Xmas stocking list.  However, how much solid Aquasure do you throw away?  Lots over the past 20 years. If you put it in the freezer to keep it after opening, do you remember to take it out before you go away?  I didn't before going to Arndilly and wound up having to punch a hole into the mostly solid (unopened) tube in my toolkit.  In any event, how much do you use each year?  Not a lot.

So perhaps a better option is buying smaller tubes.  Of course it's more expensive per gram, but it is more convenient and less wasteful.  The Simms branded pack of two baby 7 gram tubes is available from Sportfish at £8.99.

Budget Nippers

My ranting about the price of nippers marketed by the like of Abel and Simms is as perennial as the Christmas Stocking.  After a further two years of surveying the market I still haven't found anything to beat the Sportfish De Luxe model at £6.99, and they're still nice and sharp.  When I was making up a grass leader back in August they happily cut 44 and 50 lbs Seaguar without a moment's hesitation.  Why pay more?

Leader Rings

I'm now an enthusiastic convert to using leader rings for making the join between a poly leader and the tippet, and in some cases for the last 2-3' of the leader.  In the latter it certainly speeds up replacing the end section if it's been abraded by the salmon's teeth or on rocks.  Having to tie a surgeon's knot in that scenario on the last day of the season reminded me of the convenience of leader rings: now £2.39 for 10 from John Norris.

One quick tip: don't keep them in the packet.  Thread them onto a safety pin, where you can tie the first knot easily without fumbling with a little ring with cold wet fingers.  Once it's attached to the leader, the second knot's easy.

Airflo Polyleaders

A fisherman's stocking isn't a stocking without polyleaders.  My wife agrees!  her Christmas purchases carry me through each season.

Although they have gone up in price (now £7.99 reduced to £6.39 at John Norris) the quality and finish has improved markedly.  I still think they're the best around at the money and you don't gain much by paying double or more for a premium brand.

Rio Cranky Kit

It says "Quick & Convenient" on the packet and for once Rio are absolutely precise in their use of words describing the virtues of this device.  Three seasons' use has confirmed that view.  The normal 'electricians coil' method is fine for quick changes of shooting heads on the riverbank, but it does induce a curl.  When you have a moment, straightening the head, winding it onto the split spool and then removing it for stowage ensures that your shooting heads remain curl-free.  Mine lives in the car box and is used almost daily when I'm fishing: strongly recommended at £9.99 from John Norris.

Line Lubricant

Get one of these in your stocking and give your lines an Easter present before the start of the season.  Some people baulk at the price of good line lubricants, but this small bottle will clean a full stock of shooting heads and lines many times over.  My last bottle lasted 6 seasons, so on that basis it represented 0.015% of the value of my lines each year, while improving their performance and extending their life.  Both the lubricant and the process of cleaning and polishing your lines (my spring ritual described here) deliver really high value.

Happy Christmas

I close by wishing everyone a very happy and enjoyable Christmas, in the hope that it will be truly free of Covid and lockdowns.  I also take this opportunity to thank all my readers for their continuing support and encouragement.  Just One Week passed the major milestone of 250,000 page reads in October, shortly after its 10th birthday.  When I started I never had any thought or ambition for such scale and worldwide breadth of readership, so I'm most grateful to you all, thank you.