Phil Buckley – The final piece of the jigsaw

In a fascinating insight into the evolution of rigs, Phil Buckley talks to Jack Reid about how the release of ESP’s new Trig-Hammer hooks have solved a puzzle he has been working on for 15 years! 

We’re going to talk in depth about a rig that you’re using for nearly all your angling these days Phil, but the back story to arriving at this point has taken place over a long period of time, right?

Yeah it started back on Burghfield in 2004. That’s the first time I can remember starting to think a lot more in depth about rigs and the role they play in our angling. Up until that point I was using a very basic knotless knot setup with Kryston’s Snakeskin and later Snakebite. I was 24 years old at the time and walking onto one of the biggest challenges in carp fishing, inspired by the writings of Terry Hearn to become a proper big fish angler. Of course, I didn’t appreciate just what it would entail to catch from a lake like that with my limited experience, but the sense of adventure was incredible. I’d never walked round a lake anywhere near that size before and to be honest at that age, back then it was hard to imagine people even carp fished lakes like Burghfield. The only other water I knew of that was similar in size and make up was Wraysbury, which I later did a bit on one winter but Burghfield was just this sprawling, overgrown giant which I instantly fell in love with.

I can imagine it was a pretty steep learning curve...?

Absolutely. It’s still a difficult water now, even with the bait boats and all the information that is readily available but back then it was very quiet and off the grid, like a lot of those waters were at the time. I just started at the beginning and bit by bit it comes together doesn’t it. After several months I’d got to know a few of the guys regularly fishing there, Alan Welch and Jon Holt who were very good to me to be fair. I think they could see I was a bit out of my depth, but I had the right attitude and they would try and nudge me towards certain things without laying it on a plate for me. They were both very private anglers but after a period of time they started to open up more and showed me the rigs they were using, and it was an eye opener to say the least! Huge big hooks, thick hook lengths and chunky swivels. They were using the 360 rig for their pop ups with a stiff bristle filament boom and this ‘caveman rig’ tied with coated braided and a big withy pool style shrink tube kicker for bottom baits. It was the hook that was key to the performance of both rigs they explained though, the original Fox Series 5 hooks in a size 4. Now that’s a serious piece of steel even by today’s standards, where we’ve finally realised the benefits of using large hooks again but at the time it looked like shark tackle!

Presumably you began to incorporate these setups in your own angling.

Yeah, I ordered all the bits from the Tackle Box in Kent over the phone from their catalogue. There were no online shops back then that I can remember. Once it all arrived, I tied up these rigs and began using them over there straight away. I remember thinking, I’m going to smoke ‘em now. I’ve got these magic rigs you know. I quickly learnt it was about a lot more than just that (laughing) but it was a big step in the right direction. The young fish that had escaped from the Blue Pool next door were mostly 20lbers at the time and these were the first carp I caught from Burghfield, early March the following year if my memory serves me right, all on the 360 rig. It was the autumn of 2005 that I had my first proper one though, and it was one of the treasured big Leney mirrors, 3 Up 5 Down. I was fishing in the fingers bays a lot which were a mass of small bays all separated by small islands and peninsulas and I had this drop back fishing at range and by the time I got to the rod, he had swam towards me and through a gap between these two islands and into a completely different bay! Bit by bit I managed to tease him back round, I had 20lb Sensor on as a mainline and a long length of leadcore which was all frayed and that hook hadn’t budged a bit. Incredible really. I never lost one fish on that pattern during my time on Burghfield, my only losses came on chod rigs. I was still getting to grips with the bead arrangement and silicone buffers etc but that 360 with the stiff bristle boom and large Fox hook never once failed me. By the time my Yateley Car Park ticket came up in 2007 there was a bit of concern building with the 360 and that style of longshank curve hook causing mouth damage. It’s not something I ever experienced at Burghfield, but it was obviously starting to play on my mind. I knew most of my fishing over the CP would be hard on the deck, so I intended to use that ‘caveman’ setup that Al had shown me. I knew how effective it was and that it was unlikely to have been used on the CP before but in the end, I decided it just wasn’t worth the risk. That was the point I started to play around with replicating a safe way to create that big sweeping curve shape that the hook had. 


The version of the 360 rig I used throughout my time on Burghfield. A size 4 Fox Series 5 hook which was later upgraded to the LSC with an ESP Bristle Filament Broom.

We were talking earlier about this off tape, this was the early stages of what is commonly known now as the Soft Hinge...?

That’s right. I wasn’t keen on just using the shrink tube with a different hook as it just wasn’t stiff enough in my eyes. I remember thinking ‘I need that bit of stiff bristle in the mix” that was proving so effective with the chod rigs. As soon as I folded a piece over and whipped that Albright knot it was like ‘eureka’! It initially started as a bottom bait setup with a supple hair trapped round the bend of the hook. That’s how I first used it on the CP, coated braid Albright knotted to the bristle with a size 2 Stiff Rigger, basically the biggest hook I could use. I remember John Claridge catching the Brute from Pingewood on that version of it a couple of years later. Obviously at the time I realised I’d stumbled onto something special for pop ups too by using the D arrangement instead of whipping on a hair but like I say I was fishing polished hard spots on the CP so although the pop up version came at the same time I didn’t start using it until that winter. I held onto it for a while only showing a couple of close mates but eventually I did a CC Moore video on it around 08-09 showing my pop up version and then within a few months the rig started to appear in magazines as the new version of the hinged stiff rig with people claiming to have used it for years (laughing).

Did that bother you?

No, not at all. You expect that kind of thing. I made the call to publicise it, I wasn’t pressured in any way. Some were advocating the use of back to back grinners for joining the two materials together which to me was completely missing the point. The Albright knot allowed you to be ultra-precise on the length of the upright section by simply folding the bristle exactly where you wanted the hinge point and the length of boom by tying off the swivel end first and then stripping the coated braid at the desired length. The grinner, although slightly stronger, has that slippage as the knot contracts and trying to knot 25lb bristle filament accurately is a little fiddly and leaves a bulky knot too. Nowadays I only ever see it done with an Albright, so people obviously got there in the end with it. Even now I get the odd message from my mates saying, “you see that good un that came out the other day on ‘your’ rig…”. I’m quite proud to be honest, that it’s so widely used and catches plenty every year.

1) Burghfield was hugely demanding place in terms of tackle requirements and any inferior components were quickly exposed. Double Stomach about to be released 2) Three Up Five Down from Burghfield. 3) Returning Heather The Leather. By time Phil was fishing the Car Park in 08, the 360 rig had bad press and he moved to a Soft Hinge approach.

Did you continue to use it on the Car Park?

I used it the first year as a bottom bait setup with the hair whipped on but never had a bite apart from the odd tench, all perfectly hooked mind you but I was still on the fence with whether it was the way to go. Obviously, those CP carp had been under pressure for years and early the next season I wavered and started to use more conventional setups. It didn’t stop me getting the Yateley nickname of ‘Big Hook’ which some people still call me till this day! It was the year after when I started fishing Pingewood that I started to put it through its paces properly, and yeah, it worked well but I knew deep down it wasn’t as good as the 360. With a soft boom it was occasionally prone to tangles, unlike the original Hinge Stiff and it’s quite blatant. I still think that upright section tied off at a couple of inches is unbeatable on less pressured waters but by ‘09, lakes were already becoming a lot busier. I started to play around with similar mechanics to the 360 by using a stiff coated braid that could be crimped with just a very short exposed bit of braid but the braid just didn’t have that flexibility and true rotational qualities of the 360 so I just stuck with the Soft Hinge or a Chod for particularly sketchy bottoms. It wasn’t until I first saw the Ronnie in print that I began to revisit it again.

What were your initial thoughts on the Ronnie because it is very similar in terms of mechanics isn’t it?

Definitely. I could see instantly the free rotation and ability to change the hook quickly by mounting it on a small QC swivel was a bit of a game changer. It just looked a little clunky compared to the Soft Hinge which contains no metal ware for that hinge point so I must admit I wasn’t an instant convert like some of my friends, but the fact that it was clearly proving effective wasn’t lost on me. Around a year later though I saw a new version Tom Dove was advocating and straight away my interest in it was back. Tom was constructing his ‘Spinner Rig’ by crimping a small loop in a stiff boom material to house the QC swivel rather than knotting directly to the larger ring, which was now removed, and I just thought it looked the one.

Very similar to the 360 you were originally using… Exactly. It just looked much more streamlined and obviously the crimped stiff boom was a big draw. I took it over to a large private estate lake I have a ticket for where you can use a boat and spent a whole morning casting it out at all different ranges, over various bottoms and then going and viewing how it was sat from the boat. The water was crystal clear and shallow, so it was perfect for it and every time I looked over the side it was sat perfect. I just couldn’t get it to tangle. On the softer spots, the lead would penetrate out of view but with the extra travel on the helicopter, the rig was sat beautifully every time. I’d performed these same tests with various coated braids a few years before and there were plenty of occasions where the link looked awful, looped up or spun round the leader. So, I’ve got this new version which is ticking all the boxes and like any new rig once you start getting a few bites on it your confidence begins to build doesn’t it? I was using it exclusively on the estate lake and had some lovely ones on it including a couple of really rare ones too and those are the kind of captures that take your confidence to another level. You look in the net and think “blimey that one hasn’t been out in years!” For a while everything seemed faultless with it. 

When I first got to Dinton I started off using balanced bottom baits with the smaller curve style

pattern hooks but it soon became apparent it lacked the big fish selective properties I had enjoyed with the Soft Hinge

Within a few trips back to Dinton with the final tweaks in place I

managed one of the special ones, an old original known as Tench Fish

I sense a ‘but’ coming…

I did have a couple of little gripes which I hadn’t considered initially. During the spring with bright single pop ups and the top stop of the heli moved up a few inches it was working perfectly but if I wanted to use a cork ball pop and fish over bait I would have to pierce the cork ball pop up all the way through to attach it to the hook ring swivel which I’ve never really liked doing. I’m not bothered piercing an airball or cork dust hookbait which is much more durable, but I’ve never liked doing it with my corkball pop ups and have used the bait screws for years now. Aside from being incredibly convenient they also reduce the swelling of the bait by sealing the hole they create. All simple stuff but with a hook ring swivel now sliding on the shank of the hook this was basically a nonstarter. The thing is, choosing to use a pop up is not always dictated by the type of lakebed I’m fishing on. There are times when I’m using a pop up simply because I know it is more big fish selective. We all understand that, and it’s always been my mindset you know, sacrifice numbers of bites in order to get the better ones and I think that ethos has worked well for me. With the soft hinge I caught very few small ones over the years. In fact, on Pingewood as an example, bar one small common early on, the rest I caught were all big mirrors. When you consider they were probably outnumbered 3:1 by the commons at the time and some of the other lads would catch a couple of commons a trip, to me that was mostly being driven by my presentation. On the estate lake where you can use a boat, I was predominately using a wafter because I could see exactly what I was fishing over and the bulk of the fish are big anyway and so for a while this wasn’t such an issue. When I headed over to Dinton last year though the limitations with the rig were beginning to surface again unfortunately. I started off fishing with the wafters again thinking pressured carp, I probably need to be hard on the deck you know but with a big head of small carp It soon became apparent this wasn’t the quite the way to go. I managed 7 bites in a short autumn campaign totalling around 20 nights, which felt like a decent return considering it was a new lake for me but none of the better ones turned up. Initially, I thought it might have been a location thing and the bigger residents were holding up in other areas of the lake but on one occasion The Twin showed twice right over my spot, yet the next bite was still one of the small stockies. In some ways I thought the rig was too effective as crazy as that sounds. I really needed a bigger hook and slightly cruder presentation to ward off the ravenous little stockies, but I couldn’t really find a pattern out there that I liked. The following spring, I was back fishing the estate lake with the small bright pop ups early on and I started getting problems with the hook bead slipping on the cast. Admittedly this was real long range, on casts of 130 yards plus but you can imagine by now the doubts are starting to creep in again. As the weather warmed up and the carp moved into more conventional ranges the problem was obviously over, but I realised I still had quite a few niggles with it in terms of its all-round versatility. Thankfully they didn’t last long! 

With its elongated shank, wide gape and super-sharp fine point, the new Trig-Hammer is the ultimate hook for this type of presentation

Both versions side-by-side... just a couple of simple tweaks is all the rig needs for alternation between a pop-up and a wafter presentation

So, this is when Dave first contacted you?

Yeah it was mid-February I think, and he text me and said, “We’re working on this new hook mate which I think you’ll really like”. I’ve done various stints of testing for quite a few companies over the years so I’ve heard that kind of thing a lot and often the result is never what you hope it will be but with Dave it’s different. We go way back, and I knew he wouldn’t have contacted me unless he genuinely thought he was on to something. The last samples he sent me was the Tungsten Loaded hooklink range which are awesome aren’t they? So, I was interested from the get-go. I said something along the lines of “cool send me some though and I’ll let you know what I think” but he didn’t actually have the physical samples at the time so he ended up texting me a screenshot of a CAD drawing off his computer screen. As soon as I opened that text and saw the pic, I thought back to those Burghfield years and the Fox hooks. I just knew there was potential there and said to send me through the hooks as soon as he had them. A couple of months past, I had finished up on the estate lake which shuts at the end of April and although I’d had a good spring, I’d also suffered a few losses too. I headed over to a large boating lake and during the week before I was due for my first weekend session, the hooks arrived. To say I was impressed was an understatement!

What was it that impressed you so much? Everything! The shape, wire gauge, points, they were so sharp straight out of the packet and nice and strong too. All those boxes you’re looking to tick off. They were just perfect. I literally wouldn’t have changed anything. I contacted Dave straight away and said, “I love em, send me all the 4’s you’ve got mate!” I used them right from the off but instead of with a hook bead with those rubber D sleeves. When I first tried the sleeves on a traditional curve shank, I wasn’t that keen on them. The dimensions just didn’t seem right, and the D was either too close to the bend of the hook or too close to the eye depending on what size you used. On the new prototype hook which had a longer shank the large size sat perfectly and of course this little tweak brought the bore rig and cork ball pop ups back into play too. Couple of trips to the boating lake later I had my first bite on that final setup and despite a pretty hairy battle through a lot of weed, Ianded the first one on it. Things were looking promising. I headed back to Dinton late August and within a couple of bites had one of the real nice ones, an old original called the Tench Fish. Long story short, the weed was horrendous, and I ended up stood up to my waist in the lake holding onto the leadcore leader, unable to wind any more line on to the reel due to the rod rings all jammed up with silkweed. I had this big angry mirror thrashing around but eventually I managed to bundle him into the net and when I checked the hook hold it was absolutely solid! From that point I felt like it was done. Every bit of the puzzle was complete, and I just knew I’d got there with it at last. 

1) Stiff boom for tangle free casting 2) For corkball pop-ups use a bore ring to make it convenient and reduce swelling 3) For harder wafters you can use bait floss as usual 4) The finished corkball presentation.

That must have been a very satisfying moment Phil?

Yeah, I mean it probably sounds overstated to a lot of people reading this, just how much emphasis I’ve put on it all but the type of fishing I do means you’re always trying to maintain confidence levels because there can be large periods of time between bites. That’s just the nature of the angling you know. With limited time on difficult waters, it only takes a few doubts to creep in with one area of your approach and before you know it your mind-set isn’t right and consequently everything starts to feel forced again which in turn starts to cause the bad habits and it’s like one big vicious circle then. I see lots of people end up in this position, constantly changing rigs, moving bait companies, one minute it’s all about braided mainline, then its fluorocarbon etc. All that does it takes your focus off finding the fish and getting hook baits in front of them. I honestly don’t want to be thinking about rigs or bait. I never tie rigs on the bank. When I’m on the bank I’m there to find them, not spend time looking down at my lap. Everything is done in advance.

Is that why you are such a fan of this version of the spinner rig, it’s versatility?

It’s a big plus definitely but the mechanics are just undeniable. Being able to quickly change the hook or adapt it from a slow sinking bottom bait to a pop up with just a couple of tweaks means I have a rig that basically does it all. With the stiff boom, I never have to worry about tangles. The components are all strong and reliable and when used with a pop up, the rig is performing in the same way as that 360 did all those years ago. Complete 360-degree rotation to allow the hook to spin and take hold and the stiff boom results in a very difficult rig for them to eject once pricked. End tackle in general has moved on in leaps and bounds over the years. QC swivels, crimp-able booms, rubber D’s etc but the Cryogen Trig-Hammer was the missing piece! 

1) Plenty of half constructed rigs win a board, with the final wafter or pop up components close at hand 2) Homemade pop-ups that match the freebies  3) The all important hook! 4) For a wafter you want a bit of separation

A stunning Dinton mirror utilising the rig to present a corkball over a light scattering of freebies amongst a hole in the weed.