GUEST ANGLER: OZ HOLNESS
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!