I have always tried to keep my gear as light as possible, from right back when I was a kid starting out. It was probably born out of necessity, I didn’t have much fishing tackle and what I did have was just carried on my back, or on my bike!
Winters under an open fronted Aqua 50.
I didn’t have much fishing tackle and what I did have was just carried on my back, or on my bike, with a seat box on the back rack and rods tied to the cross bar. When the amount of gear I accumulated became too much for my bike, I acquired my first trolley, one of those two wheeled jobs that you pulled along and which would inevitably topple over on anything but the most even terrain. The mile long walk to my local lakes involved going over several stiles, gates and a railway line, at which the trolley had to be unloaded and reloaded every time. No wonder I still have an aversion to carrying too much gear!
I guess this predilection for ‘travelling light’ followed me into carp fishing and I have always preferred to keep my gear relatively lean, often at the cost of comfort. I have never been a fan of big heavy shelters for example, going right through winters under an open fronted Aqua 50 without a groundsheet (granted I have never done really long sessions) – it’s a trait I can’t shake as I just don’t like having mountains of gear!
My typical overnight kit - Quickdraw luggage and rods and a lightweight bed.
In more recent years most of my fishing has revolved around short overnighters or day sessions, often twelve hours or less, or even little three / four hour evening trips. As I tend to fish low stock, quieter venues I would often pre-bait between trips, knowing with reasonable confidence that I would be able to get in the swim when I returned to fish. This style of fishing means I’m even less likely to be taking buckets of bait on a quick work night and as I often require a quick set up when arriving in the evening, hook baits are usually already attached to the rigs which are clipped up to the marks.
So as such because of the level of preparation involved I often don’t need much excess gear. A few years ago I even started looking at my Porterlite with a critical eye – do I even need you?! It was just something else to load and unload into the van in that hurried wrap up before work when I could easily carry my gear on my back.
ESP Onyx Quickdraw rods
In fact I became slightly obsessed with streamlining my gear as much as possible. The term ‘gram counting’ entered my vocabulary. This has nothing to do with anything illicit but a generic term used in the hiking / mountaineering game where they have got lightening the load - while still being as equipped and comfortable as possible - down to a fine art. So I have fined everything down as much as possible, gone are the days of a big baggy carryall slung on a barrow.
For any carp angler carrying their gear though, the biggest headache is a bedchair. Big, bulky and heavy to the point where compact sleep systems weighing well over 10kg are described as being lightweight – it’s all relative I suppose! I got a bed made to my spec which weighed just under 6kg and by removing the elastic bungee cord and replacing it with cable ties to attach the mattress to the frame I got it down to 5.5kg and it made it a lot firmer and more comfortable. I know this is inconsequential to anyone barrowing, but carrying you can feel the difference and like I said, I’m counting those grams!
Alfie mid-battle with a 10' 3,25lb Quickdraw
The Quickdraw net retracted and at full length
I use a US army ACU sleep system and have done for years. Definitely the best bag I’ve ever used and with a comfort rating well into sub-zero Celsius and a Goretex cover it still weighs only just over 3kg. So with a combined weight of under 9kg my ‘scratcher’ is perfectly comfortable to carry with a shoulder strap attached.
Hiding water butts in the bushes on recce trips around a venue is another major weight saving!
Up until a couple of years ago I had been using 12’9” Tel’s for pretty much all my fishing, they had been my rod of choice in their various guises for well over fifteen years. But shorter rods are definitely a major advantage when carrying your gear, especially when that involves going through heavy undergrowth etc. In those situations longer rods can be a bit cumbersome. So it was when my short session fishing started to involve a bit of ‘guesting’ that I quickly discovered the benefits of retractable rods. A friend had a set and considering one part of the walk to the lake involved crawling under a fence, his set up was a lot more suitable packed away in their little short padded sleeves!
So the next day I ordered a set for myself. Ten footers with a 3.5lb test curve with sleeves to match. I then made a landing net handle from an old Drennan match handle that when broken down to two pieces was the same length as the retracted rods. It all looked so neat and fitted in my quiver so that everything was the same length – even my 50” brolly! The weight saving was obviously significant compared with conventional rods and all these attributes suited what I wanted from my angling - it perfectly suited my ‘quick fix’ trips, whether that be an overnighter or just a short evening session. The compact nature of the set up definitely made it more likely for me to want to go for just a few hours than if I was using heavier, bulkier gear.
The rods I brought were cheap though, perfectly ok to use and I caught a few on them but they felt a bit sloppy and had one too many guides for my liking and a handle that felt too short. So towards the end of 2019 I started working on a range of retractable rods for ESP, specifying a higher grade of carbon with 5 lightweight stainless guides and an SiC tip, plus a longer handle that resulted in lighter, better balanced and more responsive blanks. Plus, purely down to personal preference due to many years of using Tel’s, I got them made with full length duplon handles.
The finer details
The resultant sample sets arrived just as we came out of the first lockdown and we got fishing with them straight away. The initial range comprised 9’ 3lb and 3.25lb plus 10’ 3.25lb and 3.5lb. We subsequently got samples made of a 10’ 4.5lb spod version. The blank finish and handle on the first samples didn’t look quite right (we went for brown duplon initially) so tweaks were made and a second set of samples ordered.
Over the last 18 months eight anglers (Alfie Russell, Gaz Fareham, Kev Hewitt, Jack Reid, Ross Bancroft, Nick Dunn, Benji Brettle, Nathan Martinez) and myself have put these rods through their paces and thoroughly enjoyed using them, with carp to over 40lb being caught. They have performed in all sorts of situations, from chucking to under the rod tip, plus river and boat work. They all feature a lovely playing action with the 10’ 3.5lb being an excellent weapon in really weedy situations. The spod rod compresses very nicely with a midi spomb, delivering the payload with ease and accuracy.
The ESP Onyx Quickdraw rods as they have been named complement the Onyx Compact reels or any reel of an Emblem 5000 size or smaller.
Along with the rods, of course we needed a net. The Quickdraw Twist-Lock landing net was developed. This has a two piece telescopic carbon handle which retracts to 44” long (the same length as a 9’ Quickdraw rod) and extends to just over 6 foot. The twist-lock mechanism within the handle allows it to be locked at any point within its overall length, making it ideal for all round use when fully extended, or shortened down for restricted close quarters or boat work.
The net comes with stiff, lightweight 42” arms and a super strong but lightweight stainless spreader block which we machine in our Oxford factory. This is a slightly smaller version of the block used on the new Terry Hearn net. The mesh is nice and deep for retaining fish in the margins for short periods.
Of course retractable rods are best kept in sleeves so these were designed in our popular camo material as part of the Quickdraw luggage range. They are simple – padded but not overly so, with a full length zip that makes getting the rods in and out quick and easy. Also in the range is a small lightweight quiver to carry the rods along with net, retainer, brolly and banksticks etc.
The Quickdraw mat attached to the rucksack
To complete the initial range of Quickdraw luggage is the rucksack. Compact at 40 litres but with loads of carrying capacity due to the way it has been configured, we designed this rucksack based on the needs of the short session and mobile angler. I felt it was important to have essential items to hand easily when you arrive in a swim. Whether that be for a quick set up on an overnighter as the light starts to wain or when moving on showing fish.
So there are multiple bankstick retaining slots on the three outside pockets so single sticks or sticks with buzzer bars attached can be stored in transit on the back or sides of the rucksack, making them easily accessible.
But even more important is the detachable tackle case that clips to the top of the rucksack’s main compartment. This can house essential terminal tackle bits and pieces as well as pots of hookbaits so that the rods can be baited and deployed as quickly as possible. Over the last 12 months of testing the rucksack I have settled on using a small ESP camo tackle case for all my terminal tackle which fits snugly inside the detachable case. On the other side of a central divider I have multiple pots containing a variety of pop-ups, tigers and other hook baits. Rather than using the large pots pop-ups etc are usually supplied in, I have decanted smaller quantities into clear squeeze top pots which are generally used by ‘herbalists’ and easily got on eBay. This gives me a good variety of hook baits (probably still too many!) without a ridiculous amount of bulk. After all do you really need say 80- 100 of each hookbait and then times that by multiple large pots?!
The rucksack sits high on the back and is comfortable to carry even with a Quickdraw mat clipped to the outside. The large central compartment is comfortably padded and maintains its shape even when not full so it sits up nicely making stuff easy to find inside. Three roomy external zipped pockets provide loads of extra carrying space and make it easy to keep everything organized.
The ESP Quickdraw range of rods, net and luggage is a top quality, concise selection of kit which has been developed to cater for the angler that prefers to travel relatively light for short sessions or opportune trips. I’ve grown to like this gear and style of fishing so much that I have even downsized my van!
The rucksack and mats are available now, while the rods, net, quiver and sleeves will be available early in 2022.
How I organise my detachable tackle case
As minimal as it gets without kipping under the stars!
Ross Bancroft with a biggun caught at long range with the 10' 3.5lb, just one of many he caught while testing the rods.
Alfie with a river stunner stalked on the 9' 3.25lb
Me with one caught on a short evening session with the 10' 3.25lb
Gaz with a gnarly old French mirror on the 10' 3.5lb
Jack Reid with a powerhouse common caught on the 10' 3.5lb
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