Wild Match Fishing
Sat 10 May 14
With Jamie Harrison
It’s a controversial statement when I say that I consider myself to have been born at the perfect time to be involved in match fishing as we see it today. I was competing at junior level in the late 80’s early 90’s when each and every angler had grown up on natural venues where the fishing was pretty poor to say the least! The venues we competed on were tough but I’ve always been of the opinion that it doesn’t matter whether you need 5lb or 50lb to win a match, your all in the same boat on the same venue and you’re competing against other anglers and of course, the fish. Whether anglers my age have gone on to just fish Carp “puddles” or whether they fish a mixture of venues, the grounding and experience they gained on those natural venues is in my opinion, the perfect foundation for a match angler.
Today’s big money events are on the whole, centred around the UK commercial Carp scene and whilst I don’t compete in these events I am 100% in favour of them and I hope more and more companies continue to invest in our sport in order to keep them growing in popularity. My involvement with the England Feeder Squad however has meant that my time is now spent on large lakes, reservoirs, wide canals and rivers that couldn’t be further from the usual commercial style venue. These venues are on the whole, natural, well established bodies of water that have been exposed to nature and everything that the elements can throw at them!
Having been fortunate enough to have been able to fish these types of venues from an early age close to my home in Sheffield my experiences have taught me just how fickle these venues can be and how they will always present a challenge to the angler even on a good day! These types of venues will be used a great deal over the coming years for forthcoming World Feeder Championships and related events and many of these places are similar to the ones we are competing on in Ireland and across Europe. Since coming back from The World Pairs in Ireland last September the focus has really switched to Inniscarra Lake in County Cork, Ireland which is to be the venue for this year’s World Feeder Championships. I was fortunate enough to be able to get over to fish this venue once during late march and again in May. Inniscarra Lake is extremely typical of most reservoirs I fish close to home.
It’s basically a valley which has been dammed at either end and then flooded to create one vast body of water. When I was younger, feeder fishing on large lakes became a set way of fishing and you could almost plan your entire match the day before because we had a “plan” of what the best approach would be. Key decisions tended to be what type of feeder (either open-ended or closed) and what range you found to be best. Ranges weren’t a big issue as most people tended to cast to roughly the same range. This was partly because it was comfortable but I also believe it was because everyone was using pretty much the same kit. Rods, reels and lines were very similar and specialised distance casting tackle wasn’t readily available so there weren’t as many variables and options to complicate your decision making. However, with tackle developments making huge leaps forward and our better understanding of fish behaviour, we have created a potential mine field when it comes to approaching certain situations. Certainly one thing is clear, on these vast, wild venues you’re not only battling against the fish but you are tackling the terrain and the elements. By their very nature these venues are large expanses of water that are open to wind, rain and the constant battering of nature of several years or even decades. That battering takes its toll and if I had to take only one thing away from my experiences over the last two years it would be making sure your tackle is durable.
Preparing for the World Pairs last year saw me having a couple of sessions at my local Underbank Reservoir just outside Sheffield. This venue has been an awesome “training” ground for me as its pretty deep, a large body of water, right on top of the Yorkshire Pennines so it’s open to the elements and all the fish are wild. It’s provided the ideal venue for almost any sort of wild fishing situation (at times!) and being quite remote, I’m usually the only angler on the bank.
As with all these types of venues snags can be a problem and you’re often fishing over rocks, mussel beds, trees and sometimes even stone walls! What soon became apparent was that this reservoir can be extremely wild but not by Irish standards! Some of the Loughs over there are massive expanses of water. With snags a big problem in areas, waves from strong relentless wind that hits the shoreline and wild fish, it soon became apparent that my “stepped-up” tackle was no match. Matrix Submerge Braid in 0.10 diameter was the way to go with 8lb Shimano Technium leaders. Often on these venues a big cast isn’t really necessary as you have a good depth close in with around 30-40 metres being a common range to fish. 12’ rods are ideal and whilst an 11’ version would suit the cast better, you need the extra length to help get over any snags close in and to help punch the feeder out. When the wind is strong, you have to step up the weight of the feeder to aid casting but then you have the added complications of sinking the braid, the bow which is created on the cast and then the bow created by the increased tow once the tip is set. The tip you select also has to take into account the extra weight being cast and the effects of the tow as it picks up the braid once the feeder is in place. This tow and added feeder weight will then also affect how quickly (and what angle) your feeder comes in when you retrieve the feeder. All these variables are what the top feeder anglers have to take into account and that’s why they succeed when others fail. My first visit to Ireland this year was the three-day St. Patricks Festival on Inniscarra Lake. The venue was still in very much in its “winter” phase and sadly for me, the system was full of tiny Roach (9 to the pound) and my feeder approach simply couldn’t compete with the pole / whips as these fish could be caught at close range in certain areas. What we did learn though was that once you found a certain depth in your peg you could catch Roach. Any shallower or deeper however you couldn’t catch.
This is a vital element to reservoir fishing that has become a lot more apparent in recent years. On this occasion, the Roach were happiest in around 3 metres of water. Typically on these types of venues, that depth was available in all pegs throughout the match length but what differed was the range in which it could be found. Some pegs had that depth within pole range whilst others could only find that depth at 40-50 metres. This obviously affected the speed at which you could catch these fish and had a massive bearing on what each pegs potential weight could be. Depth is a major issue and it’s something that is often overlooked losing out to range. I for one, used to favour range over depth and I’d feel more confident casting a decent distance regardless of the depth. The fish love to be at a certain depth on these venues and whether it’s because of temperature or air pressure we may never know. The depth they “sit” at fluctuates and it’s our task to find out where they are on any given day
Having been brought up fishing very light lines and small hooks especially when the going gets tough, it’s fascinated me recently to learn how on occasions, wild fish can be caught by appealing to their “greedy” nature. We’ve always known that in certain situations, scaling down in line diameter and hook size can catch us a few extra fish. On some natural venues however, fish like Roach, Bream and Hybrids are travelling fish which swim over large distances through lakes and loughs on a constant search for food. On these venues, you can fish large hookbaits to devastating effect as they are easier for the hungry fish to spot. These occasions are often coupled with introducing quite a large amount of bait in a bit to “hold” any roaming fish in the peg for as long as possible. When this happens, it pays to make sure you are fishing with robust tackle that can catch these hard fighting wild fish as quickly as possible before they ultimately move off out of the peg. Making the most of these situations is something that the top anglers are very good at especially in Ireland. These wild fish in Inniscarra Lake are very exciting to catch and whilst the purpose built match length boasts a specifically built access road to 200 uninterrupted pegs, it’s still unclear as to what actually lies beneath the water’s surface in some areas. The first section is reported to have a predominant ledge at between 20-30 metres out from the bank. This ledge drops off into deep water quite rapidly and I’m sure it will prove a real test for some of the competitors drawn there. One things for sure, this lake is an awesome venue which holds a colossal amount of fish which will be caught all throughout the length so it’s going to be an exciting championship for the teams competing as well as those lucky enough to watch the event.
The third trip of the year for me was an opportunity that I thought I wouldn’t get for at least a couple of years. It was an invitation to fish as part of the England Feeder squad in the now annual European Feeder Challenge on the Ghent-Terneuzen canal in Holland. I’d vowed to make this “my” World Championship of 2014 so I managed to sneaky practice session on the venue two weeks before the event.
This turned out to be an enormous learning curve for me as not only were we competing against seasoned international anglers from all over Europe but it was the venue itself that proved the real test. The match length actually crosses the border between Belgium and Holland at a small town called Zelzate. The length has a purpose built road which runs parallel to the canal giving anglers perfect vehicle access to each peg and it’s rumoured that this will be the venue for next year’s Feeder World Championship. The canal is actually a 200 metre wide channel that allows sea-going ships to reach Ghent from the North Sea.
These ships, tankers and cruise ships pass through all day long, 7 days a week and when you consider that this canal is 30 metres deep down the middle, you get an idea of what we were faced with. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that with this being the venue for next year’s World Championship we have been asked by the manager to keep the groundbaits we used etc under wraps but the venue itself boasts enough interest by itself. The shore line to this canal has a gradual slope to it which has been created by boulders and rocks which have been placed there to reinforce the sides of the canal. This “slope” of rocks runs out to about 16 metres and the section of the rocks where the anglers sit, the rocks have been reinforced further by having liquid tar poured of them to help bind them together
The amount of “wash” created by the ocean-going vessels as they pass is incredible so positioning your seat box and trays a good metre away from the water’s edge is a must. As it turned out, odd Perch and tiny Bullhead type fish (which had apparently got there travelling in the hulls of sea going ships from Brazil!) could be caught throughout the length but it was the bonus Skimmers and Bream which made the difference. Large Mullet could also be seen feeding on the weed on the nearside rocks! These Bream however were quite unpredictable but we found it quite possible to catch them in all sections. Once again, fishing with robust tackle was the way to go as reeling in over rocks all day really took its toll on our kit. Being efficient as possible on these deep venues is always important and when you consider that in certain parts of the peg it was taking our feeders up to 30 seconds to hit bottom so using that down-time the best you can really can make a difference at the end of the match. Deep water demands you to tailor suit your groundbait, feeder choice, braid choice and rig choice and this venue was no different. You also had the added head-ache of the water constantly moving from right to left with fluctuating flow as the ships passed-by or went through the lock gates further up the canal. One item of kit that’s always overlooked here in the UK is the use of a casting mat.
These allow you to cover the bank behind you on sloping banks which stop your hooklength “snagging” in long grass etc behind you when you are casting. The banks here slope upwards behind you and using a matt was essential to avoid the long grass. These matts are also very useful on venues like the tidal Trent and some of the fens and drains where the banks are overgrown. As it turned out, with only a couple of days practice on this venue we managed to have all 3 teams in the top 5 and we had no fewer than 6 out of the top 8 individuals which really is encouraging for next year’s World Championships.
All of these wild venues are obviously different but there are certainly similarities in the way you tackle these challenging waters. Anything you can do as regards being comfortable on the bank is important. A good platform and strong robust side trays and groundbait hoops all make tackling these venues easier. The next real issue you need to address is the contours of the peg. Use ready rods to maximize the amount of time you have free once you get to your peg. This will give you more time to spend casting a heavy bomb around to get a feel for how much water there is in front of you and what features or hazards lie beneath the surface. Remember, finding snags and losing tackle is always frustrating but finding a snag BEFORE the match starts is better than finding it during the competition. Depth is key. Learn to count a bomb down to gauge what sort of depth is in front of you and if you find the fish, make a mental note of what depth you’ve found the fish at. This will add factual knowledge to your experiences and will give you a head start the next time you are faced with a similar situation. The experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in have helped me to become a better angler but that’s only been achieved by spending as much time on the bank as possible. I even go out casting occasionally especially in summer after work just to improve accuracy and technique.
The theory behind my fishing has been gained from some of the top feeder anglers in Europe who have been kind enough to share their ideas and experiences and once you spend time mastering and understanding them, you’ll begin to love the challenge of tackling these wild venues and the wild fish contained within them.