Silver fish fishing by Merce , part 5

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

Silver fish fishing by Merce part 4 , Options

I tend to be quite formulaic in my approach to the SM Festival. Whilst I will play around with different aspects throughout the week, as I only fish the place once a year I tend not to deviate too much from the proven approach described in the 3 previous blogs. That said, you need to keep an eye on possible alternative approaches – over time the fish tire of certain tactics so you do need to keep an open mind. Listed below are some alternatives that we have either tried, or thought seriously of trying.


Pellets for silvers are an obvious avenue to explore, given that pellets/fish meal probably constitute 95% of their diet on a venue like Stafford Moor. Let’s start with some facts: I have seen people put good nets of fish together on pellets in the festival, and I have seen them win odd sections (eg Jim McDowell in our lodge) but I have not seen an angler win the festival fishing pellets all week.

But there are some other facts that can’t be ignored. Two years ago, the ASBO Twins (Jamie Howarth and “Shallow Al” Rutherford) started fishing pellets mid-way through the week, and seemed to get good results. On the last day, Jamie and my brother Pete were in the same section on the far side of Tanners. Pete was walking it mid-way through, so Jamie switched to fishing expanders over micros at 12 metres, alternating between two swims at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. His swims got stronger and stronger, and the skimmers bigger and bigger, until on the all-out they tied with a dead heat on 42lb.

So pellets remain a practical winning strategy. A note on rigs: although I have every confidence in the 99 rig previously described, I wouldn’t use it for pellets. Maybe it’s just been bred into me, but pellets means a light rig, fished at dead depth, with only the merest dimple of the float showing (think F1s). As ever, experiment with moving the bait. It is hard to put into words, but on a cold clear day, faced with a surface like glass, a super-sensitive rig combined with a nice light expander is very hard to beat and just feels fishy.

Given that pellets are their staple diet, why do we ever fish anything else other than pellets? The answer is that, in our experience, if commercial silvers will take maggot (or caster), they seem to switch onto it far more strongly than they do on pellet, therefore providing two huge benefits: 1) they will feed more aggressively 2) maggot is a far more robust bait to fish on the hook (than soft pellet) so the operation becomes easier.

In summary, pellets are worth considering. If someone told me I could only fish pellets all week I would feel disadvantaged, but I wouldn’t think I was completely out of it.

Worm and Caster

To distinguish from our earlier discussion on the use of these baits, here we are talking about chopped worm and caster used in combination, often mixed together in the same baitbox as a slop, and usually fed via a toss pot, with your hook bait lowered down into the feed column. Sometimes bits of corn are added, as is Predator Plus or a similar additive to enhance the red colour. I believe Ian Didcote has done well at the SM Silvermaniac festivals fishing such a mix, and obviously it is a well proven silver fish tactic.

This again could well be the basis of a festival winning method. I think you would face several challenges/questions however, these being: 1) how far out to fish it? 2) how many lines to have? 3) how to avoid too many roach? and 4) is it too fiddly and therefore slow to compete with other anglers who are feeding by hand?

For me, this approach feels most right when the conditions are a bit harder, or such as the venue is quite closely pegged, and your aim is to fish a tight tidy match, and simply keep the fish coming for the full 5 hours. On the upside, this approach is highly likely to pull in bonus perch of which there seem to be a growing number in SM. Mark M had some better perch last year, as did Dave Brittain, and these are welcome weight-builders.

In summary, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if someone told me I had to fish this way all week, but my primary concern would be about getting at the bigger skimmers. That said, those like Ian Didcote who fish it a lot have probably evolved edges to target them along with the better roach.

Smash it with Roach

Before we get too pre-occupied with avoiding roach and just targeting skimmers, how feasible is it to win a match, or a series of matches, with redfins alone?

There are two recurrent problems with building roach weights.

1) Where have they gone?! More than any other fish I have ever fished for, roach back off very quickly. More than this in fact – they are ‘all over you’ one minute and then simply invisible the next. Many, many times I have thought that my swim is so solid with roach I cannot fail to continue catching for the rest of the match. But then within minutes you start to miss the odd bite, and within 10 minutes your swim is completely barren. Although this is difficult to prevent altogether, there are ways to minimise this happening. The most important thing is to try to avoid completely fishing out one single ‘seam of fish’, and instead try to anticipate their finickyness. So after you’ve caught maybe 10 fish, shallow up a couple of inches, move a metre to the left, change your shotting, or whatever. Obviously it is a risk to change any detail when you are catching, but I have learnt that the greater risk is to keep plundering the same hole (!)

2) They’re getting smaller!! A second problem is where you continue to catch but the fish slowly get smaller. The classic solution here is to fish caster rather than maggot, and there is no doubt that if they will take caster then the stamp of fish is likely to stay larger. This introduces another long-standing dilemma – maggot or caster? As a rule of thumb, if you can get away with caster (if they will take it) then fish caster. However, if they really want the maggot, or if you are in doubt about what they want, fish maggot. Maggot is more reliable, but caster will always win if they are willing to take both. (You probably know this but even when fishing caster, 99% of the time you should have maggot on the hook for its robust qualities).

So are roach a practical festival winning tactic? Chris Haines has had some 30lb+ weights of roach during our weeks there, which was enough to pick up on some days, but again can it win a festival? Maybe, but I’m not ready to target them exclusively for the reasons outlined above.

Tip fishing

About 5 or 6 years ago, I won the practice day match (joint first in fact) fishing the tip at 16 metres. It was incredibly windy, and chucking a 7ft wand seemed easier than battling with a long pole. The problem with tip fishing of course is that if the fish are within range, the pole has far better presentational qualities. So unless the conditions are unusual (eg high winds, fish are far out, or they want it absolutely nailed to the bottom) then by fishing the tip you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

That said, I still fancy having a crack at the festival on the tip. The right gear is essential. There is only one rod for me – The Daves of Middlewich Bite Finder, which comes in two lengths, the shortest of which is 6ft. This is made on a Tri-Cast blank, and is designed for shy fish on slow rivers, specifically the Weaver. The finest tip is incredibly thin. For a SM Festival campaign, I would twin this with a small Drennan cage feeder which I would alternate with a bomb, every two or three casts. This has proved very effective for me on the Weaver, much more so than just chucking out every single time with the feeder. In particular, after having several biteless chucks on the feeder if you then go out with the bomb, you can suddenly get a quick run of fish. Why? Well my theory is that it replicates the ‘feed and leave’ principal we talked about in previous blogs ie. the skimmers don’t like feed crashing in on top of them, so the subtler bomb allows them to move in and graze undisturbed over the pre-fed area. Of course you have to alternate back to the feeder every few chucks to get some gear in, but believe me this tactic works. Inching through the bait also works.

I’m actually getting quite excited writing this (!), and am almost ready to publicly commit to fishing the feeder all week in February. Almost.

Proper Tip fishing

In reading the previous section, how many of you assumed I was talking about quiver-tip fishing? Well I was, and all the above certainly applies to quiver tip fishing. However, I have launched a (probably one-man, lol) campaign to bring back the swing-tip. A few years ago I got bashed up by one of the senior gentlemen regulars fishing a swing tip on the next peg on the Weaver. Complete fluke of course. Until he did it again the following week. I felt he was seeing bites I wasn’t seeing. So I dumped my Direct Mono (to be fair a very good tip line) and replaced it with braid on the quiver-tip. This was better but presents other problems (casting, and losing skimmers when they ‘nod’), and still I didn’t seem to see the bites that this chap did. So I spoke to him and got a run-down. The following week I had made my own swing tips and was ready to go. By then however, the league had finished so I had to wait another year!

Since then I have refined my technique a little, and let me state very clearly – I believe you see bites on the swingtip that you never see on the quiver-tip. By and large this doesn’t matter with carp who rip the rod out of your hands (although I have another theory that it will work for fickle biting carp even on the method, but that’s for another day). But certainly for shy biting skimmers, against a quiver tip, even one set very lightly, they can feel some resistance, but with the swing tip there is almost nothing to feel. And if you believe Archimedes (what did he know after all?) the longer the lever, the more magnified the bites should be. So if you see me on the bank fishing very long swing tips (eg 12 inches) don’t laugh. At least not until I crack off on the cast, which is of course the curse of swing-tip fishing.

The Waggler

Again, the waggler is most commonly considered as a tactic when the fish are beyond pole range, and particularly when there is little wind, or the wind is off your back. (I am talking here of the conventional waggler of course, rather than the PW). I wouldn’t even bother with the waggler if the wind isn’t right because although you might be able to get your rig out there, if your loose feed won’t reach the float then you are a bit knackered. I know you can fire out balls of ground-bait, but as well as being (much) harder than it looks, for me the attraction of the waggler is to get the fish zooming around hunting and competing for each bait, and balls of ground-bait won’t achieve this.

So with a good wind the waggler is an option (as is the slider, but again that is for another day). I would consider the waggler if it was cold and clear, and I felt it was going to be slow going for the first few hours. Often in these conditions the fish will be further out, and firing in a pouchful of caster every few minutes can somehow seem to ‘get them warmed up’. This probably sounds daft but I have certainly caught on the waggler early on in matches when there was ‘not much doing’ on the pole lines. And of course its primary advantage over the tip is that you can fish on the drop and/or with a moving (ie dragging through) bait. Again, fish are funny and sometimes this just seems to produce bites when nothing else will. Ask Tonkin Tommy.

You Decide

So, there are definitely some viable alternatives to the core approach we outlined in blogs 1, 2 and 3. I do believe some of them can be developed into methods that will win the whole festival and not just the odd section here and there. I may even decide to try one all week and see where it gets me.

The next, and final, blog is probably the most important. It concerns how you develop yourself as an angler. See you then.

Silver fish fishing , part 3 feeding , by Merce

There will be 5 instalments in this series. This instalment, number 3 in the series, focuses on bait. The next one will concentrate on alternative approaches to the SM Silvers Festival that we think may have merit, and the last instalment will focus upon you, and specifically upon how best to evolve your own winning approach.

This blog on bait is unquestionably the hardest to write. This is because this area ultimately depends a lot on instinct, guesswork, personal preferences, or what you might call ‘watercraft’. Nevertheless, I will try to distil out the key principles that underpin our bait decisions.

How much?

Most of the time How much bait? is a much more important question that Which Bait? Get this wrong and your match can be over within the first 15 minutes. Below are the factors that should decide how much feed you plan to use in a match.

< ———— Feed ———— > More
Cold < ————- Temperature ——— > Mild
Cloudless < ————– Brightness ———– > Overcast, grey
Dead calm, glass surface < —————- Wind ————– > Blustery, ripple
Clear, can see bottom < ————- Water Clarity ——– > Coloured

The above table is a slight over-simplification, but serves as a useful rule of thumb. If you want the extra detail, here it is: the temperature that is actually the most important is the water temperature and not the air temperature – these two correlate but are obviously not the same. Wind is generally a good thing, but East winds are the least helpful (“The fish bite least when the wind is in the East”). And another reason is the recent stability of the weather ie. a cold-snap the night before is usually a bad thing, but after a few days of sustained cold the fish can acclimatize and bites can pick up. Ultimately it’s as much art as science, but hopefully the above steers will help.

Ok, let’s turn this into some specifics. When the silvers fishing is good at SM expect to get through, in a day, 2 kilos of ground-bait, plus one pint of dead reds and 0.5 kilo of worms on your long (skimmer) lines, and 3 pints of caster on your 5 metre (roach) line.

By contrast, when it is very cold expect to get through less than half a bag (ie 0.5 kilo) of ground-bait, less than a pint of worms and dead reds combined, and maybe only a quarter of a pint of casters at 5 metres.

Just to put this in context. One year on the festival the weather was wet and gloomy. Chris Martin won his section with 76lb of skimmers (hence his site name 76 Trombones, lol). Another year when it was very cold I won the same section (far side of Tanners) with 3lb 7 oz. You don’t have to be a genius to realise you need a lot more bait for the former than you do for the latter.

Below are some real examples to illustrate how your match plan needs to change to take account of the conditions, whilst still after the overall principles in instalment one.

Scenario 1: The weather is bang on: grey, overcast, mild, gusty with a good chop and colour. I’d start with 4 big jaffas fed in a diamond with the far point of the diamond at 12.5 metres, and the near point of the diamond a metre closer to me. I’d also then cup in a pot of loose ground-bait containing dead reds and chopped worm in the middle of the diamond. (I always prefer to be fishing my rig at the back of the feed and not in the middle of the feed table). Be aware that some people do take the mick of me with my diamond formation, but its my peg and I’ll do it how I want lol. So that is how you might start when you are confident of a good day. Meanwhile you will be feeding maybe 20 casters every two minutes at 5 metres to prime your roach swim.

Scenario 2: Its cold, bright and clear, no ripple, the water is ice-fringed, and you can see the bottom in even 2 foot of water when you put your net out. Expect a hard day. These were the exact conditions for the festival last year, and Pete (who won it) fed only one long line most days, putting in only 3 golf balls of feed to start, and leaving it for 2.5 hrs before going on it. (He topped up with an extra golf ball after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours). So, the same ‘feed and leave’ principle, but much meaner with the quantities of feed. Interestingly the caster at 5 metres failed to produce in the first two matches for him this year, so he switched to feeding little pinches of red maggots at 5 metres which worked better. Again, the same principle of ‘little and often’ for the roach, but with scaled down quantities and the more ‘accessible’ maggot instead of caster.

So, how much bait is all about feeling your way into it, tweaking different things to find out what they want on the day. As you know, you can put more in but you can’t take it out, so err on the side of caution.

My hookbait by the way is nearly always (95% of time) red maggot, both on the skimmer and roach lines. Usually single, but sometimes double on the skimmer rig. Occasionally I will try a piece of worm on the skimmer line, or a caster on the roach line, but I have supreme confidence in red maggot, and confidence is what it’s all about – yours and the fishes.

Which Bait?

ground-bait: Any fine fish meal will do. The first time I won it was using Ringers Dark (Green) cut 50/50 with brown crumb. The second time was with Ringers Crushed Expander ground-bait (yellow packet) on its own. Obviously you don’t want a ‘crunchy’ fishmeal with loads of big bits in it. Pete and I always mix it the morning before we have breakfast, because I believe strongly in an inert, dead mix, and it can take several hours for a mix to soak up water into every particle. Riddling it twice after mixing is essential. Steve thinks mixing it in advance is a waste of effort and does his on the bank before the match. Mind you, he also fishes paste with snow on the ground.

Worms: these worked well for the first few years of the festival, chopped and mixed into the ground-bait. Then one year they seemed to be the kiss of death. So much so that the following year I did not even bring any. Cue massive weights on worm. Jim had to get some sent to us midway through the week, lol. 2 kilos will be enough for most weeks.

Red Maggots: These must be dead for the skimmers. The movement of live maggots in your ground-bait will attract unwelcome roach. Prepare your reds in half pint freezer bags. Note that a few drops of water in the bag straight before you put them in the freezer will produce brighter, more rubbery deads. You will also need live reds for when it is hard and you wish to feed them at 5 metres. I also like a few whites in the mix as using them on the hook can sometimes get quicker/bigger fish.

Casters: a couple of pints a day for your 5 metre line is usually adequate. You are probably aware of this but the old trick of putting paper over the top of your casters overnight to turn them all the same colour is no longer regarded as a good idea. You want different coloured casters as the variable fall rates make it harder for the fish to distinguish the one with the hook in.

Pinkies: I always take two pints of mixed colour pinkies, as a ‘get out of jail card’. Hopefully they will sit in the corner of the tackle room unused all week. But if you gave me 5 minutes to catch a fish on a cold day, and my life depended on it, I would spend the 5 minutes fishing with flouro pinkie.

Pellets: I am going to cover these in the next blog instalment when I talk about alternative methods, because I believe if you are going to fish pellet you need to commit to it fully. If things are going well for me at the SM festival, I won’t put a pellet on the hook all week.

Other factors

One observation we have made is that the fishing for silver fish tends to deteriorate as the week goes by. Basically, silver fish don’t like fishing pressure will shut-up shop much more quickly that will, for example, carp. If a lake has been fished every day, other things being equal, the day five weights may be only half of the day one weights. Feed accordingly.

Charting new territory – flavourings and additives

We promised in this blog series to share every detail, and indeed we are doing. There is one new area that we have started to explore in the last 12 months, and that is bait flavourings and additives. Fortunately I was one of the people who won the MFS trip to see GOT Baits flavourings being produced, and it opened my eyes. I hooked up with Trev subsequently and he has provided some prototypes for us to try. It is too early to share any of our thoughts here yet – as I said in another blog the only way to evaluate flavourings and additives is over the medium to long term. That said, some of the results we are getting have made us think. To be clear, our current thinking is that they won’t transform an empty swim into an aquarium, but they can definitely give you an edge. We’ll post more on this when we have firmed up our views.

Ok, that’s it for now. Next time I’ll talk about some alternative approaches that could easily win the SM silvers festival including pellet fishing, tip fishing, and waggler fishing (with Tonkin Tommy). See you then.

Silver fish fishing part two , rigs

The 2nd instalment of silver fish fishing by Merce

Skimmer Rig

So the rig works like this. Essentially, you place 2 No9 shot (I use stotz) 1.5 inches away from the hook. You then have the the remainder of your bulk about a foot above this. You set the rig so that the 2 x No9s are just (and only just) off the deck, leaving about an inch of line laying on. When the fish takes the bait and rights itself, it lifts the weight of the 2 x No9s and your float rises like a periscope, indicating it is time to strike. You don’t need to strike particularly quickly, and can therefore afford to have a fair length of line between pole tip and float. You can even get away with a spray bar, in fact I suspect this may help prevent you hitting them too quickly.

When Steve first developed this rig I thought he was nuts. It certainly looks ‘wrong’. Of course, it is simply a more extreme form of the classic ‘double bulk’ rig that has been a long time favourite for skimmer pole fishing. The difference lies in the closeness of the bottom bulk to the hook, and its relative lightness which, combined with a light float, assures a clear lift bite without the skimmer feeling the resistance.

To complete the rest of the picture: hook is a Gama G Pellet Hook to Nylon (HTN) size 20 to 0.10mm line. Mainline is 0.12mm, float is a Hillbilly Billy Bob in either 0.2g or 0.3g depending on depth and wind (although any rugby ball shape float is fine). Elastic is Middy Hi Viz 4-6 (purple) – THE best skimmer elastic ever.

The plummet is your friend

Obviously, for the above rig to work, you need to plumb up accurately. And of course it is no good if you choose to fish on an uneven bottom, as one put-in it will work, whereas the next put-in it will be too shallow or too deep. So you need to find a relatively flat area. That is an absolute must.

Better still is if you can find a slightly raised area, a little (say 4 inches) shallower than the lake bed around it. This means the skimmers can eat off a table rather than eating off the floor, lol.

Worst case scenario is that you have to bring the rig up the shelf a bit towards you and find a line there with a consistent depth left to right. To be clear, time spent with a heavy plummet is an essential investment of time. If you can find a raised, ideally harder area – happy days. Steve will sacrifice distance to find a good spot ie he will fish at only 7 or 8 metres if he finds a nice raised bit. I prefer distance and will rarely come nearer than 12 metres for skimmers, as I believe they like being away from the bank. Yer pays yer money…

A note on HTNs: for top end anglers there is still a level of distrust of HTNs. I think this is based on the fact that some of the early ones had dodgy knots. After that problem was solved, concern swithched to the quality of line they were tied on. For me, those days are gone, and I will use HTNs whenever I can. I will only tie my own if I cant find the right combination of hook size and line diameter (rare). By the way, Gama told me they may be stopping the G Pellet HTNs so I will be swapping to Drennan Silver Fish Barbless, which Pete and Steve use.

A note on elastics: I will also have in my rod bag top kits fitted with Middy Hi-Viz 6-8 (orange). On very occasional days this just seems to work better, especially when it is mega windy (you know, when it is so windy it is actually blowing a bow into your elastic when you are playing a fish!). Bumped fish can be a problem at Stafford Moor (and everywhere else, lol). The rig itself will reduce foul hookers, but you will still bump a few fish. I have a theory (surprise, lol) about why this is…

Strike or lift?

About 20 years ago we were all happily catching fish on White acres festivals when someone called Andy Lloyd came along. He only set up three float rods, each with rigs at different depths, and would drill his pellets, loading them onto the hair jammed with a piece of cocktail stick to counterbalance the weight of the hook. He took the place apart, and the pellet waggler revolution was born. (I know, I know, others may claim to have started it but he was the first I saw). Things have moved on since then, but the West Country remains at the forefront, if you like ‘the spiritual home’ of PW fishing. What is the significance of this? Well I reckon over 80% of the feed the skimmers see at SM is 10mm pellets. Presumably the skimmers either wait for these to dissolve, or mouth them to accelerate this process which makes their mouths hard. Certainly the skimmers at SM have harder mouths than many elsewhere in the country, so don’t be worried to give a fair strike to set the hook.

Skimmers are not the only fruit

The other main rig you will need is for the roach at 5/6m. For this I use a Hillbilly F1 type float (think it might be called a Gazunder – light blue body with mega thin tip), shotted with a strung bulk and a few droppers (max size No 10). Mainline is 0.12 with a Kamasan B510 (this is a maggot hook ie narrower gape) HTN in size 20 tied to 0.08mm line. Elastic is again purple Middy Hi-Viz, with the orange as a back up.

Note on the 5m line: I have observed that more tench tend to show up on this line than on your long swims. Obviously these are vital bonus fish so you need to try and get them in. Where possible therefore, use a slightly heavier hook length (eg size 18 to 0.10mm) if you can get away with it (as ever, lol). Again I use a B510 HTN as hook bait will be maggot or caster, but more of that later.

Ok, that’s it for rigs. This is the first time we have discussed the ‘double 9s’ or ’99’ rig openly, and alongside the ‘leave it to cook’ feeding pattern outlined in the previous instalment, its probably the main differentiator in our approach.

Next time I’ll cover baits. See you then.


Silver fish fishing

This is a copy off a blog that i found on match fishing scene and the writer of it Merce has given me permission to re blog it , i have decided to do this as it’s a very well written and though provoking . It is in five parts and the first one revolves around feeding , hope you enjoy reading it as much as i did .



Ok, we are going to start here as it is arguably the most important factor. The first point to emphasise is that roach and skimmers feed entirely differently. The best way to describe it is this. Imagine you throw some scraps of bread on your back garden. Birds will swoop in, grab a piece and fly off. Seagulls do the same with chips at the seaside. This is how roach feed. Roach feed like birds.

I had an operation on my neck earlier this year and had to take a few weeks off work. As part of my recovery, I went to stay in a hotel in north Wales. There were sheep in the field nearby. I watched them (very closely of course, lol). Sheep graze. They steadily work their way across the field, usually in small groups, slowly covering the ground. They spook easily and don’t like to be disturbed. This is how (big) skimmers feed. Skimmers graze.

Now I know there are exceptions to this (you can catch big skimmers on pellet shallow at the Glebe and elsewhere) but this is an excellent rule of thumb, and completely influences how you should feed for them. Essentially, roach want it little and often. Whereas for the big skimmers you need to leave you swim to ‘cook’. This is the single most important feeding tip we can give. If you want to catch the bigger skimmers at SM (and elsewhere) than feed a swim and leave it to cook. When you go on it the bigger skimmers will have settled.

So from here, you can build an approach to the match. My feeding/match plan works as follows, from the start of the match. I have two swims at 13m, at 10 and 2 o’clock (we will come to rigs, depths and baits later). One (say the right hand swim) is fed with 4 or 5 big balls of feed at the start (ie ‘feed and leave’). I then leave this swim and start fishing the left hand swim, dripping in the feed via a kinder pot. I also start feeding caster by hand at 5 metres for the roach later on.

Nice roach

Nice roach

So on a good day, I’ll spend the first hour catching roach and odd small skimmers on the long left hand swim. After an hour I will then switch to the right hand swim (now hopefully cooked) and ideally catch a big skimmer straight away. At this point, I will then put 4 or 5 big balls into the long left hand swim, so this can start cooking, while I plunder the big skimmers in the right hand swim until they back off (they will!). You then simply rotate between each of your long swims every 45mins/hour – fishing it out, then feeding and leaving it, and then coming back for another spell later as you alternate between the two long swims. Then finally, if the Gods are smiling on you, you come short in the last hour and bag up on dog roach, plus the odd tench, at 5 metres!


Of course, it never works out entirely as you’ve planned but outlined above is the overall strategy, and more often than not is how the match will pan out. If you need any final proof of the roach vs skimmer difference, think about this. When fishing on these venues if you get a bite as soon as your bait has hit the deck, it will almost always be a roach. But if you bait has had chance to settle for a minute or two, the odds are the bite will be from a proper fish. The roach move more quickly than the skimmers, and will chase the bait down to the bottom. Skimmers however like time to find the bait, inspect it, and then take it. Because of their shape, they do this in a certain way, which is why the rigs are important. We’ll cover that next time.

Skimmers therefore are shy biters – perhaps only crucians and winter F1s are more gentle biters. However, skimmers have one outstanding feature that you can use to ensure you get unmissable, plain-as-day bites – their body shape.

Hold your hand up in front of you, palm facing. That’s a 6oz skimmer that is, with your middle finger (the longest one unless you live near Herbie, lol) representing its mouth. Lower your hand, bottom-edge downwards, until is just above the table in front of you. You are now a skimmer hovering above the lake bed. Imagine there is a piece of corn on the bottom that you want to eat – bend your arm down to pick it up with the tip of your middle finger, and your elbow will go upwards. That is how skimmers feed, they up-end themselves to pick up the corn and then level themselves to eat it. This gap between where they take the bait and where they munch it can be your passport to clear bites.

Sycamore fishery


12th April , silver birch

Being a teacher and it being silly session in terms of marking etc I convinced my travelling partner (BigStu) to go back to Sycamore to see if I could get amongst the fish again and challenge for a place. (Sycamore is very close to home therefore I would save travelling time to continue work later, after waking early to do some before the match).

At the draw a few familiar faces where there, Matthews580,Joey and a few others. After a catch up into the draw bag I went and I pulled out peg 15 on Silverbirch (not a great draw with Rowan being the much more productive of the 2 waters at the minute).

I decided to keep it simple today and after the decent last session I had last time out I decided to kept my baits the same but not include micro pellet (4mm feed pellet, crushed expander and some various hookbaits) I also had paste again for bottom of the nearslope.

I plumbed my usual lines around 1ft from far bank (this rigis also fine for near margin) in about 2ft of water and then bottom of the near slope in about 4.5ft for the paste line. Rigs where my usual 0.13 mainline and 0.9 hooklength to a Drennan size 18 SFP hook and a small Tubertini 175 on thepaste rig.

At the all in I potted about a 3rd of a cup of the 4mm pellets topped off with some crushed expander onto my opening line across. I lowered my rig over the top and after a few minutes of lifting and dropping I was into an F1 about 8oz. (Great start ) I went back onto the line with excitement that I was going to have a good day but after 30 minutes of lifting and dropping, swapping hookbaits, different feeding patterns and changing shotting patterns no more bites emerged. As with all F1 fishing a new line was plumbed further along the bank but this time I decided to just feed a toss pot of 4mm and crushed expander. Another 20 minute wait and the float dinked. A crucian around 3oz was landed and after 1 hour I had 2 fish for under 1lb and knew I was in for a long day, especially when the rain started…

I started another line across to the right of the previous one. I felt fish was shying away from the feed so tried just a little crushed expander but to no avail. I had been feeding my paste line sporadically with pellet for around 1 hour so I rested the lines across and tried the paste line for 20 minutes or so but again I got no indications. Around 1 and half hours had past now and things where getting desperate. Standing up to get a drink I noticed at least 4 people on the other water playing fish but no-one on mine!!!! I fed the margin and went across on the long line again deciding to go for it with another 3rdof a pot of feed. Again no bites, I went into the margins for a short while without any joy and was starting to get a little annoyed.

Over 2 hours had passed and I was sat in shocking weather with less than 1lb of fish, watching people catch on Rowan with loads of work to do and the thoughts of a nice sandwich messing with my mind. I gave it 20 more minutes across, hoping for a miracle, but none came. I hurriedly packed up (very rare for me) and went home to catch up on the work I was behind with and stuff my fat face with a lovely tuna and sweetcorn butty 

Needless to say my travelling partner and I and wasn’t happy with the way that the place had fished and with only the top 3 anglers receiving payout’s it seems if you don’t draw the right pond there is little point setting up your tackle. 

We have decided that Sycamore will not see us again for a while and were off to try other venues including Partridge with the heavyweights of northern match fishing…

It ended up the top 4 all came from Rowan (probably more) with the top weight of 40lb winning from a corner peg by a regular who draws better than Picasso… 

The top weight from my lake was again from a corner peg (20) with a mighty 12lb (mostly caught in last 90 minutes, probably due to a number of us on the water packing up early hahaha)

4mm Skrettings
Crushed Expander
Various Hookbaits
Paste (black swimstim and crushed skretting mixed)

What I learned

The venue is very unfair at the minute

Your fate is decided sometimes in the draw bag

A better pay out structure is needed at the water

I won’t be back in a hurry

The sandwich tasted especially good 

Partridge lakes , open match


9th June 2013

It’s been a while since I have had chance to fish a match due to work but my travelling partner and I decided to have a go at the open on Covey to dip our toe in the water and see how we faired against a top class field of anglers and venue regulars.

Upon arrival I was very impressed with the set-up of Partridge Lakes; they obviously have put a lot of work into the venue because it looked fantastic in the sun. Arriving to the onsite Café for a bacon and egg barm (lovely it was too) I couldn’t believe the amount of people there(both in the match and on the pleasure lakes, 86 fished the match today). After a natter with Matthews580 and few others we joined the draw queue and I peg 2, Covey pond 1 was to be my home for the day.

Arriving at the peg it looked promising but I was aware Covey 1 wasn’t the best of the covey waters so was aiming to compete well in my section. With it being my first visit to partridge I decided on an all pellet attack and chose a line across in the mudhole around 11.5m, a shallow swim about 4m and a very inviting looking margin line around 4m to the right.

The all in sounded and I shipped out straight across to the mudline with banded 4mm pellet (My rig was a small 4*10 rugby ball shaped float with spread bulk shotting to 0.13 main line and 0.11 4 inchhook length, B911 hook and micro band) and began catapulting over the top,after 20 minutes on this line, I didn’t have a fish to show for the efforts so left this alone.

I had been throwing 4-5 pellets on my short line regularly so I got out my deeper 2.5ft shallow rig (both shallow rigs where 0.1g matrix floats to same line and hook length as above with a couple of shot at half depth.) I missed a few bites (this was an issue on the shallow line all day) and then managed to catch a couple of F1’s and a small mirror. I then decided to try the shallower of the 2 rigs at 18 inch to see if this helped me hit more bites and again picked up a few more F1’s plus a nice mirror carp around 4lb. Missed bites where a real issue on this line and I tried lots of little things to try and improve my bite to fish ratio but to no avail (maybe it was small silvers mouthing the pellet or liners???) 1.5 hours passed quickly and I had not got off to the start I hoped for.

I noticed a few people fishing their margin swim so I fed a pot of micro pellets mixed with some 151 and carried on trying the shallow line for a little while to let it settle. I also decided to change the rig I made for across as the banded pellet didn’t feel right. I set up a new rig with the same float but a slightly longer line and a 0.11 hooklength to a 16 B911 for JPz or expander. Again a pot was fed here of the same mix. After 5 unproductive minutes trying the margin swim I went across on the mudline and had a decent run of F1’s on JPz or expander until I foul hooked one and it disturbed the peg with the water being so shallow and this spooked the fish. I fed another pot of the mix to try and get the fish to settle again and another in the margin and went back on the shallow line.

While trying the shallow line again the ducks decided to feed on my bait across and this turned the bottom up so the clay disturbed the bottom . This affected the line for the rest of the match and every time I tried feeding the line ducks where back in no time. Anyway a single fish on the shallow line and another 10 unproductive minutes in the margins saw the last hour fastly approaching. I decided to put a new margin line on the right hand side and fed this heavy with 4mm and micro to try for the last 20 minutes. For the next 30 minutes I wasted time messing around trying my shallow rigs against the far reeds and another 10 minutes on the margin line (I did get a bite this time though which I duly missed lol).

The last 20 minutes came and I decided to sit it out over the dumped feed I put in on the right margin and managed to get 1 more F1 and a missed bite. The all out sounded and I ended up weighing 24lb which was enough for 3
rd in my section. Covey pond 1 was won with 56lb from the other side of the lake, the match was won on one of the other waters with over 110lb. Many regulars around me where saying how hard the fishing had been and most of them said their swims also died for the last 2 hours.

Analysing things after the match I felt missed bites and poor decision making had cost me a few a fish but overall it was a good learning experience for when I make my next trip there. My next match is Cudmore Arena on my first MFS match of the year on 23rd of this month…hopefully it’ll be a cracker!!!


3 pints 4mm Skrettings
2 pints wetted micro with liquid Krill
Marukyu 151 GB
4mm Expander with liquid krill
6mm JPz

What I learned
The venue is fantastic and I will definitely be back
Maggot or caster would have been the better approach for the shallow line
Margins didn’t really work today but it is always worth a line there
The overall standard of angler is exceptional at Partridge 
I should have spent longer on the mudline across instead of chopping and changing too much 
Expander and JPz were better on the hook than banded pellet in terms of hook up’s
I really struggled to hit bites shallow, I must improve this aspect of my fishing to compete at this level.