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If there is one an­gler I’ve wanted to in­vite to join me in a mile­stone Rigtalk it is none other than for­mer Bri­tish carp record holder, Oz Hol­ness. I have ad­mired Oz’s in­cred­i­ble drive and de­ter­mi­na­tion to tackle some of the UK’S most dif­fi­cult and test­ing wa­ters and his en­vi­able abil­ity to cap­ture some of this coun­try’s most sought af­ter carp. His su­perb book Forces of Na­ture epit­o­mises his strength of en­durance to track down and out­wit his quarry us­ing wa­ter­craft, tac­ti­cal bait­ing and rigs he knows he can al­ways rely on. Who bet­ter then to round off this month’s fo­cus on the his­tory of the hinged stiff rig, and to dis­cuss his use of it than Oz. I caught up with him on his lat­est chal­lenge, the for­mi­da­ble 160-acre, low-stock Ferry La­goon in Cam­bridgeshire to get his view of how the rig has im­pacted on his fish­ing both past and present, this is what I found out...

Mike Ka­vanagh: In the early years, the stiff hinged hook­link con­cept was ini­tially a dif­fi­cult one for me to get ac­cepted by the in­flu­en­tial pro-braid/ sup­ple hook­link an­glers who were con­vinced it was alien to ev­ery­thing that had been learned when it came to tempt­ing a carp to pick up a teth­ered item of food. What were your thoughts when you first be­came aware of the rig?

Oz Hol­ness: Well, as you say, it was an alien con­cept at the time be­cause ev­ery­thing re­volved around the sup­ple braided hook­link ma­te­ri­als. I’d been us­ing Dacron and moved onto Krys­ton’s Silk­worm, which, of course, is re­ally sup­ple. I sup­pose the first thing I was re­ally aware of in the early days while I was fish­ing Ford­wich, a lake in Kent where I did a lot of long range fish­ing, was the amount of tan­gles I’d ex­pe­ri­ence with braid hook­links – not nec­es­sar­ily in flight, but on en­try into the wa­ter where the rig could be pulled back and wrap around the anti-tan­gle tub­ing. We know now from un­der­wa­ter film footage that a braid hook­link had a ten­dency to do that and when you reeled it in, it would un­tan­gle it­self. The prob­lem was, most times you wouldn’t know be­cause sup­ple braid doesn’t kink.

There were def­i­nitely times when there were fish out there show­ing over a baited area, but you weren’t get­ting takes – and that was sim­ply be­cause the rig pre­sen­ta­tion was so poor. Think­ing back on it, to make mat­ters worse, we used to pull the rig back and drag the lead out of the silt un­til you felt it touch the edge of a gravel bar and think, yeah, that’s just where I want it. I mean, heav­ens above, it’s a won­der we ever caught any­thing! You have to ask your­self, what were we do­ing to the hook point when we were pulling back, what was hap­pen­ing to the hook­link as it was be­ing bounced along the bot­tom, was it in a tan­gled ball? And, that’s as­sum­ing it wasn’t tan­gled in the first place. Hind­sight is a won­der­ful thing, but look­ing back I think we wasted a hell of a lot of fish­ing time. There were things you could do to help get over that prob­lem, stringers for ex­am­ple, but there were sit­u­a­tions where you couldn’t. Even when we did use mono it was still the softer ma­te­ri­als in lighter break­ing strains. Some­times if ex­tra strength was needed we would use a few strands of light mono, linked to­gether, to re­tain the sup­ple ele­ment, but even those rigs were prone to tan­gles. So, when the stiff hinged rigs came on the scene that changed ev­ery­thing, be­cause, al­though a stiff hook­link doesn’t com­pletely erad­i­cate the risk of a tan­gle, it takes a lot of the doubt out of the equa­tion. So I re­alised very quickly the stiff hinged con­cept had a lot of mileage in it, es­pe­cially when I looked at the rig on the bot­tom, the anti-tan­gle prop­er­ties alone were a rea­son to be per­suaded.

I was mi­crowav­ing my hook­baits back then and go­ing through the crit­i­cally-bal­anced phase. So what fi­nally con­vinced me was when I com­bined one of those hook­baits with the stiff hinged rig, be­cause it showed me just how ef­fec­tive it was go­ing to be. As soon as it landed it was push­ing the hook­bait away from the leader and if you dis­turbed it, it would rise up and just set­tle back down re­set­ting it­self per­fectly. That for me was a ‘light bulb’ mo­ment, be­cause that’s what’s go­ing on out in the pond a lot of the time when

tench and bream are dis­turb­ing the swim or when carp move in, pick up a bait and flank off your spot. So rather than leave a rig tan­gled and dead in the wa­ter, this stiff hook­link was still go­ing to be fish­ing.

I can re­mem­ber fish­ing one of the fa­mous lakes in Kent, the School Pool, one af­ter­noon. I climbed a tree that gave me a good view of a spot I was fish­ing on top of a small gravel bar in the bay. I was ac­tu­ally fish­ing a few pouches of peanuts, us­ing my nor­mal Silk­worm hook­link, and ev­ery­thing was vis­i­ble. That day a num­ber of the big fish came in and I saw my hook­bait picked up sev­eral times be­fore I got a take and I think that was only be­cause the fish ap­proached the rig from the back of the bar and got pricked as it lifted the hook­link. That proved to me how in­ef­fec­tual at times the sup­ple hook­link could be – and I could see it wasn’t tan­gled ei­ther. So that was a real eye opener, be­cause it gave the carp so much time to get away with it. It could have been the bait­ing sit­u­a­tion, be­cause there were quite a few tiny baits in a small area on the bar when they ap­proached, but they weren’t mov­ing very quickly, so that hook­link wasn’t al­ways get­ting tight­ened up. But af­ter see­ing that I de­cided to use the Am­ne­sia for a bot­tom bait rig in the same bay dur­ing Au­gust and had nine bites – and a cou­ple of those were the big­ger fish. Ad­mit­tedly, it was later in the year but the feed­ing sit­u­a­tion was very sim­i­lar. It was the same bar, but the ra­tio of ‘bites to hook-ups’ was phe­nom­e­nal. I went on to use that rig through the win­ter and caught quite a lot of carp even though they were feed­ing much slower. Those re­sults re­in­forced just how ef­fi­cient the stiff boom mech­a­nism is, cer­tainly when it comes to ejec­tion.

MK: How long had you been aware of the stiff rig at that point?

OH: Well, I was shown it in its very ba­sic form around 1996/97, but prior to that, prob­a­bly in 1993 or 94, I was shown lead­core lead­ers by my friend, Ian Brown, which al­most felt like the holy grail when it came to pre­sent­ing rigs on the bot­tom. Al­though it ap­peared to be quite a crude ma­te­rial, it was sup­ple enough to fol­low the con­tours. It sunk into the sub­strate and you could fish a ro­tary rig on it re­ally well. So when the stiff link came along and you com­bined the two with the bead ro­tary sys­tem, it made per­fect sense. Plus, you only had to read the ar­ti­cles and see what some of the an­glers fish­ing hard wa­ters were catch­ing on stiff hook­links to re­alise it was a very ef­fec­tive way of an­gling for carp.

MK: In the last chap­ter of your book Forces of Na­ture, ti­tled The Sub­ur­ban Pit you men­tion your use of the Am­ne­sia hinged stiff rig on there. What in­flu­enced your choice of that rig for that par­tic­u­lar wa­ter?

OH: Well, the Sub­ur­ban Pit is a small, but re­ally pres­sured Kent wa­ter, that holds a group of quite big carp that are an­gled for 24/7, 12 months of the year – so they’ve seen it all. You know what it’s like with those small in­ti­mate wa­ters, they’re a dif­fer­ent level of mad­ness. As soon as you’re walk­ing the banks they know you’re there, they’re on edge and you have to think very care­fully about rigs and stealth. The pit is only four acres so you’re never far away from them, but get­ting a bite is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent thing. There are spells at dif­fer­ent times of the year when they’ll throw all cau­tion to the wind, but for the most part, those carp were very tricky cus­tomers. You just knew you were be­ing done a lot of the time, you’d get those vi­o­lent rod top knocks and peo­ple would say “I’ve just had a liner” and reel in only to find their soft coated braid hook­links were tan­gled, or the hair was wrapped around the hook. Some an­glers were us­ing the lit­tle bit of sil­i­cone blow-back sleeve on the shank that had been pulled back to the eye, so they knew they’d been done. You never saw any bait float up on that wa­ter ei­ther, so it was get­ting eaten, but you weren’t get­ting the takes. So, based on pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, I knew the one thing that would put things in my favour was to in­tro­duce the stiff rig me­chan­ics into the equa­tion. I de­cided short rigs on the ro­tary sys­tem was the best op­tion when I was fish­ing silty areas, be­cause my lead could plug in, out of the way, and lay the rig out onto what­ever the sub­strate was re­ally nicely.

MK: What sort of length hook­link were you us­ing? OH: Mostly they were 3 to 4½ inches of Am­ne­sia. I was us­ing the black Am­ne­sia at the time in that pit. It’s got slightly dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties to the clear one as you well know. It’s very dif­fi­cult to put your fin­ger on it – I don’t know if it’s the in­jec­tion of colour that makes it a dif­fer­ent qual­ity, but it was per­fect for that rig and the silty areas I was tar­get­ing. The other thing that rig was giv­ing me, by us­ing a mi­cro ring swivel to mount the hook­bait onto a small D, was the bait al­ways sat on the back of the shank be­tween the point and

the eye of the hook – so when a carp was del­i­cately feed­ing and clamp­ing its mouth down on that bait as they tend to do in silt, that meant the hook was in its mouth too. That, com­bined with the stiff­ness of the short hook­link and the hinge, meant the hook was able to turn into its bot­tom lip and grab hold like a claw. Once in the carp’s mouth it couldn’t move very far be­cause the hook­link wasn’t about to drop out like a sup­ple one could; and I’d get a few ini­tial bleeps on the alarm while it pan­icked and shook its head, and that would turn into a blis­ter­ing run. So the dif­fer­ence that rig made, com­pared to the longer sup­ple rigs I’d used on that pit pre­vi­ously, was marked. Sim­i­lar to the School Pool fish, the carp just didn’t know how to deal with the stiff ele­ment of the rig dur­ing that pe­riod of time and you were no longer get­ting those aborted takes. Once you got that se­ries of bleeps you just knew it was game over and they were hooked. So, for that type of tricky wa­ter that was al­ways go­ing to be my ‘go-to’ rig.

MK: Is that still the case? OH: Oh yeah, def­i­nitely.

MK: What about hook choice for the hinged rig. Do you have a par­tic­u­lar pat­tern pref­er­ence when it comes to stiff hook­links? OH: Well, ob­vi­ously a pat­tern with an out-turned eye has been the main choice of many an­glers, to en­sure the use of a stiff hook­link ma­te­rial will still al­low the hook to sit right, but, over the years, I’ve used var­i­ous hooks. De­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion and how the fish were feed­ing it would have an out-turned eye and a straight point if I was look­ing to prick a fish quickly on a pop-up rig, and that seemed to do the job. In ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances I will use a beaked point for pop-up fish­ing, es­pe­cially if the fish have got soft mouths or if its early spring and they’re in an ag­gres­sive type of mood – snatch­ing at baits and tear­ing off with them. In sit­u­a­tions like that some­times a beaked point will give you a more se­cure hookhold. Hav­ing said that, in re­cent years when I’ve needed the Am­ne­sia D-rig I use for a bal­anced-bot­tom bait, I’ve gone over to a straight-eye, straight-point hook pat­tern –only be­cause I wanted to al­ter and in­crease the an­gle of the shank in re­la­tion to the stiff hook­link and cre­ate some­thing sim­i­lar to the an­gle you can achieve on a softer ma­te­rial with a shrink tube kicker. Since do­ing that the hookholds have been phe­nom­e­nal. If you lay the rig out and lift the hook­bait like a fish would, the hook ring swivel I use on the D al­lows the hook to in­stantly swing down un­der­neath and as the fish lifts and rights it­self, it’s hooked. It’s a bit like the old bent hook mech­a­nism in that re­spect which was so ef­fi­cient at turn­ing the hook.

MK: Think­ing An­glers, the com­pany you’re as­so­ci­ated with, are pre­par­ing to launch their new Tase hooks – what can we ex­pect from those when they ar­rive and how have they per­formed dur­ing test­ing so far?

OH: Yeah, we are bring­ing out the Tase hook which will fea­ture an out-turned eye specif­i­cally aimed at multi-rigs, stiff hinged and chod rigs, be­cause there’s no doubt about it, the out-turned eye is well suited to those. We’ve also gone for a straight point be­cause most an­glers tend to use those rigs with a pop-up and the straight point is ideal for that too. The hooks are still be­ing tested and by next year, that will have been over a two year pe­riod. To give you

some idea, apart from my­self, the hooks are out on test with some very good an­glers both at home and abroad. They’re be­ing put through their paces by our con­ti­nen­tal con­sul­tants on Cassien, big Ger­man lakes, Dutch canals, UK day-ticket wa­ters, big pits, weedy pits... you name it, we’ve got it cov­ered. The long term tests and the feed­back re­ceived is not just valu­able, but ab­so­lutely vi­tal to mak­ing any ad­just­ments that cul­mi­nate in a fin­ished hook that an­glers can have faith in. The re­sults so far have been pretty spe­cial and among them re­cently was the cap­ture of the Burgh­field com­mon.

MK: I must ad­mit I love the new PTFE coated swivels, the coat­ing re­ally does make a dif­fer­ence to how they per­form... and they’re out now aren’t they?

OH: Yeah, the swivels are out now and you’re right they def­i­nitely are an im­prove­ment on what’s gone be­fore. There are al­ways ad­vances in the in­dus­try over time and we’ve gone from tied hinge loops to ring swivels and, more re­cently, a dou­ble ring swivel for the ro­tary rigs. But what we’ve done with ours at Think­ing An­glers is add this su­per slick PTFE coat­ing to our swivels that just seems to have taken ev­ery­thing move­ment-wise to a new level. The swivels are ac­tu­ally dif­fi­cult to hold they are that slip­pery. If you grip the ring on one side of the swivel, the bar­rel and the ring on the other side re­volves un­der its own weight and with­out any en­cour­age­ment – they re­ally are in­cred­i­bly slick. So when you’re talk­ing about rig me­chan­ics and the abil­ity to turn a stiff hook­link or ro­tate a rig around a leader and so on, the best qual­ity swivel with the best ro­ta­tion is al­ways go­ing to give you a bet­ter chance of hook­ing a carp. Even if that small im­prove­ment gives you just an­other 10% chance, it has to be worth it. The rig is the last point of con­tact be­tween you and the fish and you’ve got to make each chance count. I’m so im­pressed with the new hooks and the swivels and the work that’s gone into them, es­pe­cially be­cause they’ve al­ready helped me catch one of my tar­get fish this year – I can’t ask for much more than that! MK: Bit of a hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion to fin­ish Oz. When you look around the me­dia, stiff hinged rigs are still pop­u­lar af­ter all this time, do you see them con­tin­u­ing to be a ‘goto’ rig in the fu­ture, not just for your­self but in gen­eral? OH: Oh, with­out a doubt. Any rig that can stand the test of time like that one, that has the me­chan­ics to al­ways present a hook­bait well, has got longevity – so I can’t see it be­ing left be­hind. There are so many dif­fer­ent per­mu­ta­tions of it th­ese days, but they all re­volve around the same con­cept. There’s very lit­tle that’s re­ally new in carp fish­ing nowa­days, but to me it’s a case of: ‘once a good rig, al­ways a good rig’ – and that’s the only way to de­scribe that one.

MK: Thanks for your time, Oz... and good luck here on the Ferry.

OH: I think I’m go­ing to need it Mike!

Lo­ca­tion, prepa­ra­tion and watch­ing for signs of carp at all hours of the day and night is key to Oz’s well-earned suc­cess – noth­ing is left to chance and that in­cludes his rigs

Oz’s con­tin­u­ing con­fi­dence in the stiff hinge rig pro­duced this stun­ning Mil­ton Pan com­mon

The stiff hinge rig with a bal­anced bot­tom bait on Think­ing An­glers’ ro­tary sys­tem that Oz uses nowa­days – be­cause he knows he can to­tally rely on it when it’s needed

Oz with The Pretty Fully from the Sub­ur­ban Pit fol­low­ing his stiff hinge rig tac­ti­cal suc­cess

Note the in­creased an­gle the straight-eyed hook pat­tern cre­ates that Oz likened to the hook­ing po­ten­tial of the old bent hook when us­ing a bal­anced bot­tom bait

The es­sen­tial com­po­nents that you can rely on to con­struct the stiff hinge ro­tary rig, and among those the new slick PTFE coated swivels that I reckon will steal your heart!

I doubt Oz will ever won­der why his fas­ci­na­tion with carp is so strong, but if he ever does he’ll be re­minded when­ever he stirs a brew – I’ll have a cup of what he’s drink­ing please!

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