Well last Saturday at Fish 'O' Mania XVIII blew me (and almost everyone else) away!
It never seems to fish to its potential but none of us could believe just how hard it was on the day. I told everyone who asked that I wanted 1-9, perhaps as high as 10 and that any of the high numbers never stood a chance. My reason is that it was easily the worst area in practice. Even peg 16 was bad. This was almost certainly down to the wind rarely being on this area. Peg 16 to 14 was like a mill pond on Saturday. I actually had some ripple on the day which kept me a bit more bouyant but there was noticebaly less fizzing and fish movement compared to the opposite side of the lake and I really feared the worst. I was dreading this area all week and thats why i deliberately practiced on peg 13 on my last practice day. I actually caught about 25 tench, a load of skimmers plus a handful of carp and barbel - and that made me realise that this area could potentially compete but with a much more negative catch-everything-that-swims approach. For some reason none of us could even catch small fish on the day.
My strength is trying to be versatile and not sticking to rigid plans so my loose plan involved potting in mostly hemp plus a few casters and a bit of meat at 14.5m, pinging a few cubes of meat 3/4 out and starting on the groundbait method across. In practice, the method on these pegs wasnt always great while the lower numbers yielded carp and even barbel at times. GB was more reliable than pellets on the method and Id caught really well with EFG 131. The best sign was to catch a carp rather than a tench - tench are like catching perch when roach fishing ie. they usually mean the carp arent about. I had a tench and a skimmer on weigh-in one and the same again on weigh-in two. Not a good sign!
All the while I was topping up the pole, pinging meat longer and keeping an eye on Nathan and Tony C fishing the feeder and the likes of Kieron and Simon fishing the pole - not to mention Andy Favill immediately to my right. No one was catching much or running away with things in my eyeline so I saw no reason to switch anything after a few weigh ins. Andy fished the best match around me. It was very negative as he merely Kinder potted worms all day at 13-14m but he put an odd fish in the net including a bonus carp and a good barbel. It was easily the best way to secure a safe weight but I honestly dont think it was going to win £30k - we are only trying to win after all.
When I tried the pole I never had so much as an indication or any fizzing (almost unheard of in practice on any bait and method!) and thats when i began introducing worms. This was my ploy as talking to the likes of Sam Perkins and Rich Ahearne plus watching Matt on last years Champs of Champs who ended up feeding mostly hemp and Neil Machins theory that worms often 'poisoned' the water seemed to cement the idea that the barbel sometimes shy away from lots of worms and preferred a bed of particles - ie. more hemp than worms. Starting without choppy therefore made sense to me. In my experience you can turn any swim into a worm swim but you can rarely turn a swim fed with worms into a meat swim, for example - not sure why! Anyway that failed too and big-potting was the kiss of death.
I deliberately fed a secondary swim v negatively at 15m to my left towards Nathan with just a conker sized ball of mushed worms held with a minimum of GB and felt that would guarantee a few crucians, skimmers and tench yet that failed miserably too. Again, not a single fizz!
I half expected the pole not to work as in practice it was noticeable taht teh barbel often backed off before switching on around 3pm (you could almost set your watch by them) The fish definitely sat around 2/3 to 3/4 across and meat worked quite well here. I had a couple of liners and foulhooked and lost what I assumed was a barbel and then went 45 mins without a sign. I never felt i was in an area to dominate on meat as there were always more barbel in the low numbers and once i realised i wasnt going to line them up i made my biggest gamble - something that worked really well in practice and seemed to be something i could convert a bomb swim to - and that was the chopped worm feeder in the deeper water. Erm, not a bite on this!!!
Back to the Method and all i could still muster was an odd skimmer while I think Nathan managed just one carp on it - again not a good sign. Nathan cast dead tight whereas i felt on this side of the lake you caught better 12in or sometimes more away from the grass, whereas in the low numbers i had actually cast under the grasses and caught well! I pulled out of a big tench and the Method was by far my best line but it was obviously not going to win me the match.
A big plan of mine was to big-pot maggots down the edge. If they didnt want to venture that close, i also big-potted maggots at 6/7m, often a good area on many venues I fish when they are too scared to venture closer. These were both throwaway lines and i never felt they were ever going to produce on the day from where I was sat - the feeding fish were so obviously beyond pole range.
Shallow was never going to produce more than perhaps one carp in the swirling winds
and with the low pressure. My 'experienced' runner felt the same although Nathan snared one completely out of the blue very late in the match. With no silvers seemingly in front of me Neil Mc suggested i try caster shallow as a last resort and that produced just one bite from a nice roach but no hoped-for carp. The carp swim v shallow on this lake as its only 4.5ft deep and if you are to catch shallow you would almost always see several cruisers and odd swirls after feeding. There simply wasnt any of this in front of me. Neil Machin told me there was lots of carp activity in the ladies zone however with very fast cruising fish - something we had all witnessed for the past couple of weeks.
What do I do now? I felt the fish were definitely spooking from big piles of bait and so decided to simply underarm a Method feeder somewhere in open water where I hadnt fed a thing. It actually felt dead right and I had a carp within 5 mins! Sadly no more however and that was that. Game over. I tried lots, arguably too much, but I wouldve kicked myself if I hadnt as I knew I had to gamble. No guts, no glory and all that!
I should have never tried the choppy feeder and stuck to bomb and meat but I just didnt think it would win me the match. If I had fished negatively with worms etc all day I reckon I couldve had perhaps 11kg to 12kg tops. The next day, Brian Clark drew my peg and only mustered about 14th in the match with 11kg and I had chatted to him throughout practice and he seemed to have it really sussed. Like everyone, I fished to win and failed miserably. BUT, as ever, Ive learned absolutely loads and am really glad i put so much time and effort into the day and into practising. Im definitely a better angler for it!
Shane fished a blinder and kept his nerve well. From what Ive been told he is 100% the most deserving winner. I was told he has worked in a care home for the past few months without pay out of the kindness of his heart. He nearly had to sell all his tackle to make ends meet but was convinced not to, got two Fisho tickets and qualified at his first attempt and couldnt afford to practice more than once or twice. Now that's a proper dream come true story!
I'm glad it fished better on Sunday for the Home International as Arena is a cracking venue, one of my faves, and stuffed with fish, yet I dont think people realise just how good a place it is to pleasure fish. I personally dont think shallow water (less than 5ft), barbel (arguably the most sensitive species there is) and gravel footpaths are a good combo, but that doesnt explain why it fished so much harder this year compared to last year. The massive pressure change, followed by the big downpour and possibly the disturbance may be responsible. Andy May agreed with me that two days without bait going in actually worked against us too this year. The last two years with it fishing so much better on the Sunday seem to back this up (er, not to mention world class anglers fishing i suppose!).
I have one other outside of the box theory that struck me on the way home that 'possibly' could have affected things. Every platform had fresh fine, grey gravel laid around it just one or two days before the big day. 'Perhaps' chemicals etc were washed off this freshly laid gravel into the lake by all the rain, sickening the fish? Its exactly what seems to happen after grit etc gets washed into my local canals and rivers. Its nothing like washed aquarium gravel and if anyone has ever washed fresh gravel they will notice tonnes of fine dust etc coming off it. Perhaps it is salty, alkaline etc? Im no scientist (obviously!) but i personally dont think its a bad theory. After all, very little got caught close to the nearside bank for most of the anglers, despite plenty of quiet areas and plenty of depth and reed cover. Food for thought?