Last weeks trip to the UK’s commercial fishing Mecca of White Acres was one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve had in angling.
The week really made me realise that there are two kinds of secret when it comes to angling. The first is knowing about a particular tactic, bait or rig that will give you an edge.
The second however, relies on decision-making. It’s the art of knowing when to change to a certain swim, or when to drag or lift a hookbait, and exactly when to feed. This can be on a big or a small scale. When do you feed your margin with a sudden big amount of bait? When do you flick in those dozen casters when you’re catching silvers down the edge?
The Preston Innovations festival is a highly prestigious event - the main reason being the fact that the top 24 anglers out of the 180 competing qualify for the £25,000 Parkdean Masters Final! Just a few of the names I had to contend with in my section for the week were Andy Geldart, Darren Cox, Nick Speed, Tony Curd, Danny Scott, Tom Wallis, and more. And, when you looked at the other five sections, every one was the same! As you’ll appreciate, it’s very hard to win!
However, I don’t believe its any coincidence that the likes of Des Shipp comes in the top ten of nearly every festival he fishes. Surely there’s a knack to it? After last weeks fishing, I felt I really learned a lot about these small but vital aspects. Don’t get me wrong, I made a hell of a lot of mistakes along the way too, but I’m keen to share what I learned with you here!
The first day saw me draw peg 33 on a lake called Twin Oaks. Although the lake is well known for its big stocks of F1s, there are also carp and a lot of quality silverfish. As I was taking my tackle down to the peg, Danny Scott was walking back, and said how there were carp feeding infront of most of the pegs right in the edge. Sure enough, standing at the top of the banks you could see mud churning up. The clever critters were still mopping up bait dropped in the margins from the previous day.
As I set up, the fish inevitably stopped feeding. However, I was sure there would be a way of tricking one. I decided to plumb up a rig infront of the next peg, but a few metres off the bank.
The trick worked, and by feeding a tiny amount of meat I managed to mug an 8lb common first drop-in. Next drop, in went another six cubes and a 3lb F1 was in the net. Six minutes in and I’d got double figures in the net. It’s a tactic that Andy Geldart told me about some years ago, and certainly works. I ended the day with 131lb, narrowly beating second place in the section by just 8lb. Those early fish probed vital!
The thing that often strikes me about matches at White Acres (and other venues in the spring and autumn for that matter) is the fact that you’re often fishing for between 80 and 100lb. Sure, it sounds a lot, but often these weights are caught early or late in the day.
After watching many quality anglers weigh in at White Acres over the years, I noticed that they often tip a net of silvers on the scales. Some days its just 12lb or so, while others it can be 40lb or more. The fact of the matter is, they always catch them when others don’t.
On last week’s festival, I made a conscious effort to catch some silvers if sport was slow during the middle hours. On the second day on Acorn Lake, I caught a few F1s early by fishing short, but could see that the whole lake was struggling. I had nothing to loose by catching silvers. After all, I could see most of the other anglers, and if they began to catch carp or bigger fish I could easily follow suit.
I actually spend the next two hours fishing casters and worms in around two and a half feet of water down my left hand margin. I’d fed the swim from the off by hand, and the fish were really competing when I went on it.
The thing that opened my eyes about this swim was the fact that I didn’t only catch small silverfish on it. After catching 20 or so roach, I hooked something much better, a skimmer around 2lb. Several roach later an F1 put in an appearance, followed by six more in the next hour. I put all the roach in one keepnet, which weighed 23lb, and with the F1s, skimmers and a 1lb plus perch I had on this swim too, I caught well in excess of 30lb from my so called ‘silverfish swim’.
This really hit home just how deadly the tactic was, but better still, I’d been priming my short swim for the final hour, leaving it undisturbed. With the final hour looming, I fed my margin with two pots of loose groundbait, and I managed a few more F1s on the short swim I’d primed, before I caught glimpse of Jason Lebosquet playing his first margin fish next to me. I was reluctant to go on my margin line, as I was still catching an odd fish. I left it until the final 45 minutes – surely the longer I could leave it, the more confidence the fish would be, and the easier they’d be to catch?
On switching to the margin, I managed five carp and three big F1s before the match was over – action was hectic! Many other anglers around the lake had noticed lots of fish coming into the margins, but couldn’t catch them. I’m sure it’s to do with fishing there too early. If you nail the first few fish that come into the swim, they’re ultra wary. I ended up with 109lb, winning the lake overall, and taking the section by over 40lb. However, most of that 40lb difference is thanks to those essential silvers and fish caught on the caster swim mid-match!
I also felt feeding less bait was a big advantage when fishing down the edge. Carp know they’ll get fed in the margins, so during the final hour they’ll come hunting. If there’s lots of bait in a swim for them to eat, they can be picky and blow your hook bait out of the way. However less feed means more competition, therefore by feeding just a handful of bait after each fish, you re-set the trap for the next fish coming in. I like to think of it as like Method feeder presentation down the edge. Feed a small amount of bait, accurately present your hook bait on it, and nail the first fish that sucks it up!
On the third day of the festival I drew an out and out flyer – end peg 40 on Porth Reservoir. However, after two hours fishing with a confident skimmer attack by potting in small balls of groundbait, I was really struggling. Strangely, I only seemed to be able to catch roach, and looking back I think it was because my peg was very shallow – just six and a half feet at 14m. Nick Speed a few pegs away was admitting to over 6lb, while Darren Cox at the other end of the section was approaching double figures after just two hours!
I needed to change my tactics, and chatting to Callum Dicks in the bar the previous night, he mentioned that loosefeeding was better on certain days at that venue.
Switching to a feeder for 15 minutes, I caught very little. However, I began really attacking my pole swim with loose-fed casters. After returning to it, the difference was unbelievable!
Rather than catching just an odd roach, I was getting a bite as soon as my rig settled every single drop-in. Over the next hour, the fish got noticeably bigger too. What was also apparent was that it was better to feed more bait but less often. I found that feeding two large pouches of casters after every three or four fish kept them down in the water column. When I fed every drop-in, I began missing bites as the fish followed the feed up in the water due to the higher regularity of it.
By the final hour the stamp of fish had really improved, and I was netting roach to 8oz. I ended up winning the lake again, this time with 19lb 9oz – and what a cracking two and a half hours fishing it had been! In my angling lifetime, I’ve never witnessed a feeding regime change the results so much. It really proved that when something isn’t happening, there can be a way of totally transforming the swim. That particular day is one I’ll remember and definitely apply the tactics from it in the future.
One of the most frustrating days of the festival for me was Day Four on Bolingey Lake. Drawn on peg four, I was very happy, and plumbing up I couldn’t help but notice how different the bottom of the lake was at 11m compared with 13m and beyond.
Convinced the bottom was harder at close range, I decided to put on a heaver 50g plummet. Sure enough the bottom felt hard all the way out to 11m, before it got softer and softer, to the point that it was bubbling when my plumbet plunged into the silt.
After noticing this, I decided to fish for the first hour on this hard ground. Feeding just a few pellets at a time in a Cad Pot, I managed seven carp. What was also notable however, was the fact that I missed very few bites and foul hooked very few fish – issues I’ve suffered with in the past on this lake.
When bites did dry up for 20 minutes or so, I decided to chase the fish out. However adding more sections and venturing onto the softer bottom, I proceeded to foul hook and loose five fish, landing just one small carp. It had to be something to do with how the fish were feeding on the soft bottom, burring their heads in the silt to get the pellets.
Frustrated, and an hour and a half later, I chose to come back onto the hard bottom closer in. Here, I got far fewer indications, but when I did it was a positive whack under and I hooked the carp fair and square in the mouth. The fish obviously fed more aggressively and only sucked up the particles off the hard bottom. I suppose its like you trying to eat your dinner off a pillow compared to eating it off a plate – the second one is far quicker, easier and less messy!
I ended up finishing third on the lake and third in the section with 118lb, beaten by Tom Wallis and Danny Scott – two lads who you really can do without in your section! However, looking back I wish I’d have been a little more patient, and sat and waited for bites on that shorter swim closer in. I’ll know for next time!
The Wallis Way
Tom Wallis on the next peg to me at Bolingey fished a particularly interesting line, which was in around three feet of water, just off the bank. At Bolingey, the water is fairly clear for a commercial, and I though it was a really clever swim somewhere in-between a margin and short line.
I also heard that Steve Ringer had caught on a similar swim the previous week – it’s a line I’ll certainly be considering in up and coming matches – perhaps you’ll see a feature in Pole Fishing Magazine on this in the near future!
Fishing at White Acres has also taught me the importance of late fish – they can be absolutely vital. By this, I don’t mean five carp in the last 20 minutes. Oh no, I mean real late fish!
On the final day, I drew peg 7 on the Match Lake – an iffy peg that can throw up carp, but can be very poor too. After scratching around for a few carp early it was obvious I needed to catch some other fish. I spent most of the match fishing for silvers, but really fancied catching a late lump.
Several years ago, I can remember watching Andy Geldart catch three big carp in the final five minutes of the match. I’m convinced that deep down he knew he was going to catch them. These fish made all the difference, taking him from nearly last in the section to first. However, Andy had obviously primed this swim for this final stint, tricked the fish into thinking it was the end of the match, before catching three of them from right off their dinner table!
On the final day on Match Lake peg seven, I had a very similar scenario, but was confident in catching those late fish. I looked at my phone which read 16:54 – there was six minutes left. At this point, I fed both my left and right margin with a handful of groundbait and a few maggots. I was then in on the left line, and after 30 seconds attached to a 5lb carp. Landing the fish as quickly and sensibly as possible, I looked down to see 16:58 on the clock.
In I went on the right margin this time, and with butterflies in my stomach the float was wafted by a big fish present. Seconds later it whacked under and I lifted into a head shudder of a proper lump. As it bow-waved out of the swim, the all-out sounded and I netted a near double-figure mirror after the whistle.
To show the importance of these fish, I finished with 29lb, which put me fourth in the section. However, had I not caught the two fish in the closing five minutes, I’d have been seventh at best! These late two fish made the difference between making the frame and not! The lesson certainly proved that the old saying prevails…“It’s not over until the fat lady sings!”
Results And Congrats!
My 34-point finish was enough to finish seventh on the festival – a result I was really pleased with out of the very strong 180-angler field! More importantly however, was the fact that I made the £25,000 final on the Saturday. My close friend and Drennan Barnsley Blacks team mate, Lee Kerry, obliterated the festival with five section wins! A truly awesome display in a line-up of the country's top anglers! (Oops I missed that bit out earlier! - sorry Lee, love you!)
The final on Jenny’s Lake was incredibly difficult. Many of the anglers were expecting 70lb or more to win the match – as it usually does! I struggled and in hindsight I would fish very differently knowing that such a low weight was going to win. However, that’s match fishing for you!
Massive credit must go to Jamie Wilde who won the match. Not only was he in between two previous Parkdean Masters Champions, he fished in incredible match. In fact, nobody knew he had won!
Fishing a cute Method feeder match and sneaking fish in throughout the day, he’s a very worthy champion – well done Jamie!