Safety First – Martin Crackoff

Looking back a few years, and then a few more, back to when I started carp fishing, it sometimes strikes me just how much has changed, yet at the same time, how little.

Back in ’76 when I first wet a line in pursuit of carp, things were simple. Everything from safety rigs to fish care. The basics were there, the principles of safe rigs, (even though we didn’t really think of them as such) were already in place, even though some of the systems used would at first glance seem barbaric nowadays.

As I say, our thinking at the time was not based around clever gadgets to offer any safety to the rig, it worked more on the principles of simple physics. A prime example would be the hooklink material.

Back then, it was common practice to use a lighter hooklink than the mainline used. Most of the time that would be around two thirds of the breaking strain of the mainline, so 12lb mainline = 8lb hooklink. It follows that the weakest point of any set up would be the knots on the weakest link… Now I would love to say this was down to our understanding of rig safety, but it was as much down to the fact that the old lines we used, stood out like sore thumbs, and had the flexibility of a steel girder. As a result, in order to get a take, you fished, as you would if you were a match angler, with as light a hooklink as possible.

By making the weakest link the hooklink, many rigs were safer, simply by default. The original bolt rig for instance consisted of a split shot pinched onto the line or a stop knot behind the lead. Little thought was given to the bead passing over the shot or knot, simply because it was not really needed. At the time, mono was just about the only line available to the angler, and the idea that these big wary carp would mess up with a thick hooklink was unthinkable. As a result, the weakest link was always the hooklink, and remained so for many years. It was not until Amnesia started being used for specific rigs that the previous balance was upset. At around the same time, Dacron also became widely used, but was still available in lesser breaking strains. Amnesia was I seem to remember 20 or 30lb (??? Old age fuddles the mind…), and it highlighted the carps willingness to take a bait presented on  what were, rather rudimentary rigs that stood out like a sore thumb. Carp anglers up until that point had always gone for the most subtle set up they could get away with, assuming that the carp were just too wise to fall for such a blatant set up. BUT they did.

It was soon after this that Kryston came onto the market and braids far better and stronger than Dacron became available. Even in those early days though, these braids were available in anything from 6lb up, so the balance of the “weak hooklink” idea was still a feasibility.

Move on about 10 years, and no one sold any braids under 12lb… The balance had moved, and moved to a point where 18lb+ mainlines would be needed to keep the balance alive. The big problem with this though, is that the mono’s around at that time were ridiculously thick (all except Sylcast, which had its own issues, one being its springiness) My favourite at the time, was Maxima, but at 18lb, it was pretty much unusable. Stiff, thick, casted like rope, and kept most of the coils from the reels all the way to the rig unless you were fishing a tight line. Strangely enough, it was also at about this time that the concept of safety rigs came into being. With the C.V. Safety Rig probably being the best known. All of the time, this steady “progression” of up to date kit moved the simplest “weak link” idea, further and further from a possibility. It is now difficult to get any of the major brands materials in anything below 20lb. Most anglers on the other hand use mainline well below this, with 12lb being about average… so where does that leave any true concept of safety?

It follows that any breakage will now come above the hooklink, past any leaders, and onto the mainline… but where on the mainline? In theory, the weakest point of the mainline is the connection knot to either leader or swivel, but in reality, the mainline is the part of your set  up which gets the most damage. Damage from weed, snags, gravel and mussels. Damage that can easily make the weakest point, anywhere from the rod tip, to the lead. Sure, getting rid of the lead is a good start, but if your line breaks 20 yards from your lead, that’s 20 yards of line trailing… If your line broke because it got too much friction from rubbing against a snag, or through weed, that line will crinkle up, making it loop and grab in strange places. Plenty of potential to turn a “safe rig” into a “death rig”…

Another thing that goes through my head re “Safe rigs” is this concept of a safety bead for helicopter and chod rigs… The set up for these two rigs rely on the lead pulling any line through the hooklink swivel to remain safe, so why would anyone drop the lead??? By dropping the lead, you are actually making the set up UNSAFE. I think this is a major step backwards from those that designed it and put it on the market as a safety feature. A major step backwards that I question daily, and am yet to come up with a single thing that suggests safety.

 

Through all of this, “carp care” as a concept had not really seen that many changes, although this was about the same time as the first settee cushion was thrown onto the ground and as a result, the first “Unhooking mat” was born. I am not saying that before this there was no cushioning for the carp, but it was a kind of afterthought. Certainly, the idea of carrying something around for the sole purpose of giving the carp some protection whilst unhooking and photography classes were taken, had not yet been embedded into our psyche.

Fish “cushioning” had gone through a few very basic changes up until that first actual cushion had been chucked down. Usually revolving around what you usual carried with you in the course of a normal session, or the environment at hand. The first and original plan was simply to find the lushest grass in the area of your swim. Whilst this is a long way away from todays “care” systems, I can honestly say that due to the fact that grass isn’t that much of a cushion, anglers paid very close attention to their captures, never moving away from them and keeping a tight rein on their movements. This meant that I can remember very few injuries to carp using this method but can recollect a whole lot more from anglers that are using the latest “Carp Care” kits, so think they can just wander off for whatever reason.

I guess the next step along this route, was the realisation from anglers that they actually did carry an idea product with them already, one that would cushion the carp better, was waterproof (to a point) and was readily available. Therefore, for a few years at least, carp were landed, and the angler’s sleeping bag was immediately sacrificed in place of anything better. This did add quite well to the cushioning from the grass, but had its drawbacks. (Obviously…) The first and most obvious was a perpetually wet sleeping bag… Not too bad if you struggled to catch on your water, but a bloody nightmare if you were doing well. Secondly was the smell, you got used to it in the end, but it really did start to hum after a couple of days. Lastly, and probably the most annoying thing about this method of fish care, was the resulting wildlife.

OK, so you have just landed the carp of your dreams, weighed it, photographed it and returned it, and you get back into bed hoping for a few hours of kip before sunrise. WRONG… What you are going to get is very different. You are now in a very wet sleeping bag, and whilst your body heat is slowly warming the bag and drying it out, it is giving out a nice, moist, vapour. That vapour stinks. But worse, mozzies love moist, warm, stinky vapour, so you are now going to be dive bombed by the blood sucking little shits until you give up, throw your sleeping bag in a tree at the back of the swim, and smoke your way through till sunrise. (No wonder someone came up with an unhooking mat…)

Through all of these changes to carp care, the only real and noticeable change has been the angler’s idea of what he can get away with and still keep the carp safe. The “acceptable” level of care, whilst seeming to increase with the introduction of products to cater for all types of circumstances from a simple capture that only needs unhooking, to a  scratched lip or flank that needs some decent carp care kits, it has in fact dropped, and in some cases, quite dramatically. Anglers are now willing to risk far more than was acceptable back in the 70’s or 80’s simply due to these products that give the angler a sense of security.

This “safety” mentality is not just within the angling world, as an example… I used to work with quite sharp metal. This metal used to create loads of cuts, to loads of warehouseman’s hands. I was once called into the office to explain why I would not wear gloves in a clearly hazardous environment. The answer was simple. My records for injuries whilst at that place were far lower than anyone else working there, and the cause was even simpler. Those wearing gloves were under the impression that the gloves limited the amount of cuts they got on their hands and fingers. As a result, they took more risks than I would, letting the metal slide across their hands slightly, not taking a solid grip of the metal, little things, but, big enough to get shed loads of minor cuts. Without gloves, my thinking was always to hold the metal firmly, never let it slip, simply because I didn’t afford myself the comfort of gloves, the result was obvious to anyone looking at my hands, and certainly to me.

We see lots of posts nowadays where “Righteous Richard” gets on his high horse about mats, like they are the be-all-and-end-all of fish safety, but ask any old angler how many fish were damaged before mats and the figures will astound you with how low they are, even fishery managers will attest to those figures. Again, not down to the products, as I can assure you, even the oldest of the old will be using a mat, but down to the mentality that this safety equipment instils in the user. Many great and famous carp lived long lives, undamaged by their captors even before “Fish Safety” was a thing.

So rather than just jumping on the bandwagon and worrying about mats or if the angler has the right cream to apply to the fish, look at your own angling, and see if you have fallen into the “all the gear, no idea” category that is prevalent in today’s angling. See that fish safety is not just carrying the gear, but even more so, the mentality of the angler holding the fish.

That’s Not me…!

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