Lessons From The Champion
Lee Thornton reveals the tactics and mind-set that he uses to stay one step ahead of the competition
As an angler who has been fishing at the top level on the UK match circuit for many seasons, it might come as a surprise that I have never felt I was achieving my full potential. This lack of confidence has led to me being a nearly man on several occasions, both in Fish ‘O’ Mania and Maver Match This qualifiers. I have also been ounces short of a White Acres Festival win, and my biggest disappointment was being runner-up in a Fisho final.
Many people would class the above as successes but being ultra-competitive, I am always looking to improve.
So two seasons ago I decided to devote more time to my fishing and set about improving my overall consistency in how often I win.
Lee believes that specialising in a specific venue or type of venue is vital for consistent success
I decided to do this by chasing the Matchman Of The Year title, to me the hardest in the country to win. You are in competition with every angler on the bank and it rewards consistency over around 80 matches. Unlike the likes of Fish ‘O’ Mania, which in reality is just two good draws. It is also very harsh because once it takes over your fishing, any result other than a frame place makes you leave the bank feeling like the day was a failure, so it drives you to win as regularly as possible.
The first season I finished 8th. Although in the top 10 in the country, I was still a long way off winning and changes needed to be made. Last year I finished 2nd, which is a result I was proud of and, although still quite a way behind winner Andy Bennett, my confidence is at an all-time high and I now frame in around three-quarters of the matches I fish locally.
Information is so easily available these days and the standard of angler is at an all-time high. It is no longer possible to be a jack-of-all-trades and be able to turn up to matches all over the country and regularly win.
Now you need to specialise in styles of fishing and, where possible, venues. This can be commercials, rivers or canals but it must be done to be regularly successful.
Although my apprenticeship was served on natural rivers and drains, I have been a commercial specialist for many years. Since moving to the northwest, this has been narrowed down further to fishing for F1s and ide, with carp present but generally caught as a bonus.
Mastering these styles has been key to many wins over the last two years and I definitely wouldn’t have achieved my consistency if I was switching venues more regularly.
Tips For Champion
1. Use a main line that is strong enough to couple with a hooklength to land the biggest fish. This will mean fewer rigs required.
2. Use softer than required elastic when targeting a mixed bag of fish to ensure fewer hook-pulls.
3. Use stronger than required elastic when big carp are needed. Line breakages are kept to a minimum because elastic never bottoms out.
4. Stick to just a couple of float patterns so you can learn how they behave.
5. Trough practice, learn to fish and feed quickly and accurately.
6. Use a long landing-net handle to net fish first time.
7. Embrace the Short Kit revolution; they are perfect for shallow/speed fishing.
8. Position your gear uniformly every time to aid familiarisation.
9. Use simple shotting patterns that work for you.
10. Rotate lines regularly to keep fish coming through the course of five hours.
11. Keep an open mind at every match.
12. Push your peg to the maximum; you are there to win
13. Maggots in the middle of a snake lake will catch you anything that swims
Leader Of The Pack
To be framing regularly you need to be the angler who everybody is chasing. Generally speaking, once you start winning on a method or a bait, the majority of the field begin to copy or mimic your approach very quickly, so a tactical change only gives you a narrow band of success.
The secret is to be spotting the trends before they happen and adapting quickly through the course of the season.
Although it is important to keep an eye on other anglers to give you clues as to what is happening each week, you need to have the confidence in your own watercraft and decisions to be always fishing your own match. Fishing the same venues week in, week out gives you an intimate knowledge of the lake’s stock and behaviour and will allow you to do things that may seem out of the ordinary to your competitors.
For example, recently at my local venue, I switched to a method I hadn’t fished in 12 months based on a gut feeling in the morning and went on to win twice and come second by 3oz in the next three matches.
I had framed in the matches previous to this, so it would have been easy to stick to what I was doing. However, intuition and confidence in my ability gave me the opportunity to strengthen my performance on these three matches.
Fish Methods Your Way
There are an infinite number of ways to fish and everybody seems to do things slightly differently, even when using the same baits. This can be very confusing to anglers learning the sport but I have come to embrace it.
It is imperative to fish different baits on your terms. I have a way that I am happy with to fish pellets across, paste, maggots shallow, Method feeder and so on. The important thing is to practice these methods so that they become a reflex action.
Nearly all match wins come from the decisions made during the match. Ensuring you are fishing with 100 per cent efficiency because you are well practised in the way you fish allows you to devote all of your concentration on the changes occurring in your swim, how the fish are responding, the weather conditions and timing your lines, rather than the mechanics of physically fishing and feeding accurately.
I've been at both ends of the scale with my tackle, being prepared as much as possible with setting up loads of kit and spares, and also being the hungover angler turning up late and muddling through the match with one rig. I have come to the conclusion that somewhere in the middle is perfect. Over-preparation is definitely counterproductive because it can confuse you, giving you too many options that detract from what is happening in front of you. I have five or six float patterns that I use, but nine times out of 10 only three are rigged up. I also have three or four hook patterns but again I stick to one the majority of the time. By using tackle that I have won loads of matches on, it gives me full confidence that it is not my presentation letting me down. It will be another factor, such as depth or my feeding. Basically, I give myself a psychological edge. It is also an advantage that I am more aware of how my tackle behaves. Using new floats, hooks, elastics takes a while to adjust to and is a variable I tend to eliminate. Over-preparation can also lead to being demotivated due to amount of time required. Limit your tackle to what you actually need and your results will improve.
I also have three or four hook patterns but again I stick to one the majority of the time. By using tackle that I have won loads of matches on, it gives me full confidence that it is not my presentation letting me down. It will be another factor, such as depth or my feeding. Basically, I give myself a psychological edge. It is also an advantage that I am more aware of how my tackle behaves. Using new floats, hooks, elastics takes a while to adjust to and is a variable I tend to eliminate. Over-preparation can also lead to being demotivated due to amount of time required. Limit your tackle to what you actually need and your results will improve.
The biggest factors that affect your results are adapting to conditions and the way in which the fish are behaving/feeding. Consequently, it is rare for me to have a definitive plan of how I am going to fish. All I want to know is what fish are in front of me and what they prefer to eat. The rest I will sort out during the session.
Making definitive decisions as early as possible and, more importantly, seeing it through properly to the end of the match, is the way to perform successfully. Time and time again I have made a decision, changed, and then bottled it when it didn’t work straightaway, only to end up changing back!
Trust your gut instinct; more often than not it is right, and have the confidence that what you are changing to is 100 per cent right.
The last tip is to approach every peg as though you are on a match winner. Keeping switched on and sharp and maintaining a high work rate will see you frame more. By combining all the aspects described with a positive mental attitude, you will be able to capitalise on the mistakes made by others who are on better pegs.