WELCOME TO MIKE KAVANAGH’S
Keeping with the recent theme of anniversaries, it is a quarter of a century since Mike dreamt up the mighty hinged stiff rig. This month he sits down with a modern luminary to discuss how he has adapted it to suit his own fishing requirements whilst on a large East Anglian pit...
THIS MONTH: Keeping with the recent theme of anniversaries, it is a quarter of a century since Mike dreamt up the mighty hinged stiff rig. This month he sits down with a modern luminary to discuss how he has adapted it to suit his own fishing requirements whilst on a large East Anglian pit...
It was November 1998 when I wrote the first Rigworld column, so for me this issue is a bit of a milestone. On a similar theme, it’s been 25 years since I first wrote about the hinged stiff rig, never expecting at the time that it would cement a long-held place in the carp angler’s armoury. But, given its continuous success, I think it’s fair to say in carp fishing terms the rig has now acquired iconic status. I can talk about the mechanics of the rig with a degree of authority because, contrary to popular belief, and despite Terry Hearn’s much publicised association with it, it was actually my simplistic view of anti-ejection that conjured up the hinged stiff rig in the first place and in this month’s offering I’ll explain why.
The history of the hinged stiff rig
As I’ve mentioned previously when writing about the stiff rig, my first experimentation with tying loops in my hooklinks goes back to 1983, but using a loop through the swivel, with a short stiffened hooklink to create a hinge effect, started in 1987 when I was forced to rely on 45lb Dacron to rescue a disastrous two-day session. However, I returned to the idea late in 1989 when I was fishing the famous Darenth Tip Lake in Kent. At that point I’d spent 11 years reading everything written by successful anglers involved with rig development, as well as picking up pointers from those in the know. I also spent hours observing carp feeding at every opportunity and noting their reaction and ability to deal with what was, until then, deemed to be the only way to persuade a carp to pick up a hookbait. That way was to use a hooklink supple enough to allow the hookbait to behave as far as possible like a free offering. The introduction of supple braids and multi-strand hooklink materials, mainly pioneered by Kryston, became incredibly popular based on that belief and for some anglers supple rigs remain their preference to this day.
However, given what I’d seen at close quarters while observing carp feed and the rescued two night session in 1987, I started to question the validity of that belief and decided to return to my original hinge loop at the swivel, but this time, despite it being the complete opposite to supple, I used short lengths of stiff mono. Initially, I chose Sylcast Uptide casting line for my hooklinks, which was stiff and springy but once hinged and the hookbait mounted on a supple hair, was surprisingly mobile and responsive. Encouraged by this I decided to stick with my theory and give the rig a run for its money, because, although there was no doubt in my mind that a supple hooklink would allow the hookbait to be taken by a carp more easily than a stiff one, there was also no doubt in my mind having witnessed it many times over that a carp could eject it easily too. I’ve always stated when writing about anti-ejection that finding a way to allow the hookbait to be taken is, in my opinion, not the main problem, preventing it from being ejected is the problem, and despite all our best efforts it continues to be to this day.
My way of reducing the ejection opportunity at the time was to take into account the average circumference of a 20lb carp’s open mouth in relation to a stiff hooklink three to four-inches long and hinged at the swivel. The idea being that the hooklink could rotate in any direction within that circumference and allow a bottom bait to be picked up similarly to a free offering, or at least similar to one attached to a supple braid rig. My rationale was that once inside the carp’s mouth, the short stiff hooklink would not allow the hookbait to just fall out, like it could with a supple one as soon as its mouth opened. Instead it would, via the hinge loop, drop onto the palate of its mouth and allow the hook to find a penetration point before it could be ejected. Of course that was my theory but in reality we know now a carp is an expert at ejection once an unwanted item is inside its mouth, so the best that can be hoped for is that ejection by this method at the very least is made more difficult.
At the time I was sure it could work, my only real concern was would my target carp actually be able, or even tempted, to suck in a three to fourinch long hinged stiff hooklink. I needn’t have worried because the first bunch of fish I hooked, nailed in fact, were tench – which as anyone who has fished for them will know spend a lot of time fiddling with a hookbait before taking it. I hooked quite a few in the well-trodden Pallets Swim on the Tip, following screaming takes, and I knew from that day on if I could hook the finicky tench on the rig, hooking carp above single figures was not going to be a problem.
I’d started using 20lb and 30lb black Sunset Amnesia towards the end of 1990 which was pointed out to me by Mick Sly when I was in Bob Morris’ tackle shop across the road from the lakes. I was looking for a hooklink material that was stiff, but with sufficient low memory that it could be pulled straight, stay straight and wouldn’t kink like the Uptide casting line had been doing. I took a spool from the sea angling section and as soon as I pulled a length off the spool and tensioned it I knew I’d found what I’d been looking for. That, combined with my hinged loops, the black Drennan Boilie hook with the out-turned eye, which I believe was the catalyst for the Mk1 Stiff Rigger, meant the basic rig was now complete.
The additional hinged boom came about soon after my first experiment, simply because the Tip Lake was a very weedy water. To overcome the often difficult problem of finding clear spots I added the boom to a three-inch hooklink which was generally 12 to 15 inches long, depending on the density of the weed. I used the boom version with a critically balanced, hair-rigged popup that could sink slowly and come to rest on the top layer of the weed to ensure the pop-up stood proud and was visible. The other plus point from my perspective, was that similar to the short, bottom bait rig, the stiff boom was far less likely to tangle, either during the cast or on its descent. There can be nothing worse than sitting behind rods with tangled rigs!
I obviously showed the rig to close friends who, at first, were naturally reluctant to try it, but when they got their head around it, found their results were similar to, or in some cases, better than mine. Confident I’d got the mechanics right I eventually shared three versions of the rig with a few of the guys fishing the Darenth complex of lakes who took them to their circuit waters: Rodney Meadow and the famous Harefield Lake being amongst them. Zenon Bojko, who was fishing the Darenth Big Lake at the time, took the boom version I’d shown him to Harefield where it was well received and, if memory serves me right, Stuart Gilham in particular did really well on it. Zenon preferred the short-hook section, used with the hinged boom to be made with braid rather than the Amnesia I was using, but it was the stiff version (no pun intended) that really caught on. Despite its success, even the basic rig was still generally kept under the radar until I wrote it about it and it appeared in the Carp Society’s magazine, Carp Fisher, in 1993. At that time the Society membership was at its peak and inside a week of it being posted out nigh on 6,000 members in the UK and overseas in Holland, Belgium and Germany became aware of the stiff rig. I didn’t reveal the other variations I’d come up with in that article because that wouldn’t have gone down well with some of the guys using them at the time. I was also acutely aware the concept was such a radical shift from the norm that I felt the basic rig was enough to be going on with. I did, however, close the article by mentioning there were other variations of the rig that I would save for another time, but I left it to Zenon to reveal his interpretation of the now popular hinged boom version I’d shown him at Darenth, in the Carp Society’s book, Carp Hunters, published in 1994. The measurements used in the book were different to mine but nonetheless once the boom version was out there and the concept that a stiff hinged hooklink in varying lengths could and had caught impressive numbers of carp, like most previously ‘under the radar rigs’ that had proved successful, it quickly became the one to use. Not surprisingly it wasn’t that long after being endorsed by some notable anglers in print that we started to see ready
tied Amnesia stiff rigs in packets in tackle shop and the introduction of flexi-ring swivels by Gold Label Tackle as an alternative to hinge loops.
Fast forwarding to 1998 in a Face To Face interview in Carpworld with Julian Cundiff, Terry Hearn explained how he’d come to start using the hinged boom version of the rig for his popups. Two friends of his Alan and Andy... Andy (being Andy Kidd I believe – a very good angler) had shown him and another friend Lewis Read the rig, but it was the supple hair version. Lewis suggested to Terry they should have a look at the rig because, according to Alan and Andy, it was ‘doing the business’. They were right, it was, in fact it had been since 1990!
With a bit of experimentation in a bath, Terry decided, like Zenon, to use Roger Smith’s swimmer rig D-loop with a small rig ring attached to tie a pop-up with dental floss instead of the hair. It was 1995 when Terry got to use the rig and his first carp on it was Heather the Leather! Not surprisingly after that he championed the rig because that, combined with his outstanding angling skill and watercraft, saw him continue to catch some huge, much sought after, carp on it. I interviewed Terry myself in the summer of 1999 for my Rigworld column, partly on the bank at an Exiles charity fish-in at Linear Fisheries’ Hardwick Lake, and partly on tape which I still have in my archive collection. I photographed the clear Amnesia hinged rig Terry was using at that point and other than the hook he’d been testing and a subtle curve in his hook section, essentially, mechanicswise, nothing had changed. Why would it, given his catches and his confidence in a rig that had already brought him such fantastic results.
But what did change in the spring of 2000 was the type of hooklink material sourced by Adam
Penning, during his tenure with ESP, to further stiffen the rig. Thanks to Adam, ESP were the first company to supply the Stiff Rig Filament that Terry had asked for to compliment the Mk1 Stiff Rigger hook. I knew the extra stiff filament would work, in fact in my article I pointed out it wouldn’t matter if you chose 50lb line for the hooklink as long as it was hinged. Also, I was aware of a guy (a friend of my close friend Gary Gande) in the early 90s, who at first wasn’t convinced about my stiff hooklink theory when he was shown the rig and despite Gary’s assurance decided he would put it to his own test. So he made up a short hooklink with 70lb sea fishing line. The line was too thick to tie the hook on with a knot and too thick to tie an overhand knot for the hinge loop at the swivel, so instead of a knot he managed to feed the line through the eye of the hook and then folding it back whip the line together to make a join. He did the same at the swivel to make a hinge loop. To cut a long story short he took the rig to Walthamstow Reservoirs, cast it out and in less than 15 minutes landed a well hooked 28-pounder... that convinced him!
ESP went on to lead the field in supplying dedicated rig materials to construct the hinged stiff rig, and with Terry’s media presence and the rig’s success rate, other suppliers had to sit up and take notice. The rest, as they say, is history but the one thing that still pleases me immensely, is that, after all these years, my original stiff hinged antieject mechanics (in all their weird and wonderful forms now – whether that be knotted loops, peeled coatings, crimped loops, swivels or rings), are still doing what they did for me when I started the ball rolling in 1989, catching carp for any angler who puts his trust in a method of presenting a hookbait that once upon a time defied logic.
It was 1995 when Terry got to use the rig and his first carp on it was Heather the Leather!
One of my original Amnesia hinged boom rigs with the perfectly matched Drennan boilie hook, which for almost a decade was the forerunner to the Mk1 Stiff Rigger
Top, two Drennan boilie hooks. Below, the two phases of the stiff rigger hooks – the only real difference pattern wise being the straight point
My stiff rig article in Carp Fisher in 1993 reached nearly 6,000 members at home and abroad – the cat was out of the bag! As you can see I only revealed the basic rig in the article but promised to come back to variations of it another time Zenon’s interpretation of the rig in the Society’s book, note his preferred braid hook section for the boom version with pop-up tied on with dental floss to a small swimmer rig loop
Julian’s ‘Face to Face’ interview with Terry in 1998
Excerpt from the interview where Terry explained to Julian how he was shown the hinged stiff rig by his friends Alan and Andy)
On the right my old spool of solid filament Amnesia and on the left the modern repackaged version, still going strong!
The first of the stiff filaments that set a benchmark for other suppliers to follow