In this last blog we share some lessons learned (the hard way), through our match-fishing careers (such as they are, lol). They apply to any type of match-fishing, carp or silvers. You may disagree with some of them, indeed you may think we are talking rubbish, but I firmly believe these are the most important lessons covered in this series of blogs. From a personal perspective, I can trace significant improvements in my match fishing directly to following the principles explained below.
· Go with a plan: do your research in advance of the match so you have a feel for likely target weights, species, methods etc. Then decide the two, or at the absolute most, the three things you are going to do in the match. Choose methods that suit both the venue and you personally ie. things you are good at and/or like doing.
· Under no circumstances change your plan at the draw, based upon something someone tells you on the morning of the match. The only time you should consider tweaking your plan is when you get to your peg eg. if there is a particular feature in your swim that you weren’t expecting. Even then you should ideally be looking to tweak your plan, not alter it completely. Many, many times in my early career I changed my plans on the day based upon the view of some supposed venue expert, or upon the latest information. I regretted it 95% of the time.
· In deciding which two or three things to do in the match, make sure these are compatiblemethods. For example, it is quite easy to ping pellets or casters at 13 metres whilst watching a quiver tip. These tactics are compatible. It is not easy to ping feed whilst fishing in the margins. So select a combination of methods that work well together, enabling you to be comfortable when fishing.
· In your mind, have your plan broken down by the hour. For example, in hour one you will fish on the feeder. If you are catching you will stay on this until the end of hour two (or maybe even all match). However, if you’ve not had any bites on the feeder after an hour you will come onto the 13 metre line. This disciplined type of approach has helped me enormously on venues like the Glebe where there are endless options, and lots of locals who are on it every week.
· Keep it simple: This applies to your gear as well. Don’t keep buying different types of line, or different types of float etc. Decide on one or two brands of each that you are happy with, and stick with these consistently. This way, you can really learn how each float or line actually performs, how far you can push it etc.
· Are you fishing to win, or fishing to not lose? This sounds like a silly question but in fact has serious implications. Steve and I have fished for many teams over the years, including Widnes Angling Centre (me), Middlewich Joint Anglers, Whizzo, and Last Cast. Both of us developed a reputation in these teams for being able to scratch fish from the most barren of areas. I think we were amongst the first names on the team sheet every week, and where anglers could be ‘placed’, we were always given the hardest sections. This is fishing to ‘not lose’ and is fine for big team matches, but is completely different to individual open-match fishing, where a riskier, ****-or-bust, ‘fish to win’approach is required. I’d say it took me 5 years to get team fishing out of my system, and to accept that in order to win at individual events you often need to push things a bit harder, and take a few more chances with your swim than you would in team events. Basically, you’ve got to be willing to lose, and in some cases lose badly, in order to try things that equally could see you win. You must also accept that luck plays a big part in match-fishing (as in life). “It’s not fair” is an acceptable phrase from a five year old kid, but it still surprises and amuses me when I hear it from adult match-anglers.
· Know what to do when the wheels fall off. All match anglers, and I do mean ALL of them, ‘get ragged’ on occasion. What I mean is, they all experience matches where things are not going to plan, you feel you have fed it wrong, your casting is not tight enough, or whatever. The difference between the best and the rest is not that the best don’t get ragged, but that the best recognise when it is happening, and have techniques for dealing with it. Pete was the first person to identify this, and the technique we have developed is as follows. 1) Stop fishing, get up from your box, stretch your legs, have a swig of drink or whatever. 2) Confront the reality of where you are at eg ‘there is only an hour and a half left and I’m miles behind’. 3) Draw a line under what has happened, let it go, re-boot your mind and your day. 4) Set yourself a positive goal for the remaining time eg “If I do nothing else, I’m going to fish like a pro for the last 90 minutes”and 5) Execute your new plan. If you’ve ever seen the film (or read the book) The Hustler you will recognise that this is exactly what the pool veteran Minnesota Fats does when he is on the receiving end of a mauling from young upstart Fast Eddie. They’ve been playing 24 hours non-stop and Fats is very nearly out of luck, out of belief, and most importantly, out of money. He calls for a break, goes to the toilet, and spends half an hour cleaning his hands and finger nails. He returns a different man, and starts to turn the tide of the match, in the process teaching Eddie what it really means to be a winner. The moral is, of course, when things are going against you, you’ve got to break the chain, re-set the parameters, and start afresh. By the way, many times I have re-set my parameters after a poor couple of hours in a match, decided just to concentrate on having a good last hour, only to find that by the end I have somehow dragged myself back into contention. But even if you don’t achieve this, you leave the venue in a positive state of mind, rather than feeling water-licked.
· No man is an island. It is possible that you will become a great angler by keeping your secrets to yourself. Possible, but distinctly unlikely. You are far more likely to get (considerably) better by sharing things with others. It is also much more fun. The vast majority of insights and innovations we have made in match fishing have resulted directly from conversations either in the lodge, in the pub, or in the car on the way to and from fishing matches. It is not necessarily the case that your buddy puts you onto some killer tip or method (although this can occasionally happen), but more the case that they say something that chimes with something you yourself have noticed, and between you it develops into a plan or idea. It can often stem from a disagreement about some aspect, so you need to be robust with each other and argue things out. The key is that you must be willing to share everything with your buddies. Reading magazines, and websites like MFS can play an important part here, but the discussion is the real key. Innovation happens when like-minded anoraks talk fishing endlessly. So find some mates who you can share stuff with. It is more important that they are a) mad-keen and b ) trustworthy, than that they are necessarily excellent anglers. Also, always chat to other successful anglers – most are willing to talk. And when you ask try actually listening to what they say. In my experience, way too many anglers ask ‘names’ how they have caught simply as a prelim to enable them to talk about themselves.
· Trust your instincts. Imagine you are at a party and are talking to someone. Then someone else on the other side of the room mentions your name. Your attention will immediately switch to that other conversation (known as the cocktail party effect). But, how could you have picked up on your name being mentioned when you weren’t even listening to the other conversation? The answer is that your subconscious is scanning the environment around you all the time, looking and listening for things that could pose a threat (or an opportunity) for you. Your subconscious is a vital and powerful protective mechanism that has evolved over thousands of years and is one of the reasons that human kind has prospered. When it spots something important (like your name being mentioned) it triggers your conscious mind to focus upon it. Relevance for fishing? Your subconscious can spot patterns long before your conscious mind can identify, let alone explain them. If you get a hunch that the fish may be shallow, or have backed off a metre, or bigger fish have moved in, then go with it. Try something different even if it is only for a few minutes. You will be amazed at how often it is right. Instinct – this is the essence of watercraft.
· Let them worry about you: in my early match fishing days I would go to my peg and try and size up the people either side of me. Were they top anglers? Did they look like they know what they were doing? Did they have good gear? (On this last point, I never found any correlation whatsoever between the cost of an angler’s gear and his/her ability). What will they think if I choose to ball it in? Etc Etc. But years of experience has taught me that my success (or otherwise) has little to do with those around me, and a lot to do with my attitude. So these days I go to my peg, and fish it exactly how I feel. I try to be pleasant but if my neighbours are unfriendly so be it. If they start setting up a method I hadn’t even considered – good luck to them. I’ve got my plan and I’m happy.
· Be yourself: we mentioned this point in the first blog, and we return to it here at the end. Good match-anglers (like good sportsmen, good craftsmen) analyse themselves, work out what they are good at, and play to their strengths. They will certainly watch and learn from others who are excellent, but they take what they have seen and adapt it to suit themselves, adding their own flavour or twist, rather than slavishly following the examples of others. In the words of one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century:
“Find out who you are, and do it on purpose” Dolly Parton
So that’s it folks. We hope you have enjoyed our ideas. It started as an exploration of our approach to Stafford Moor, but has developed into something broader and deeper. Thanks for reading