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Our resident Irishman Cathal Hughes travels to Cornwall to see what all the fuss is about at White Acres.

Having done very little fishing over the past month, I really thought that I’d be writing about yesterday’s charity match in this month’s magazine. But if it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all, and in typical fashion I blanked, and in doing so scuppered any chance of scraping a feature about the miserable two hours I stayed on the shores of Lough Garadice playing with my new SLR feeder rod.

Not for the first time in my life I found myself in a bit of a pickle and on my way home I was racking my brain trying to think about what I could write about. With the deadline less than 20 hours away, I needed to think fast.

One thought that kept re-entering my head was a recent conversation I had with a top angler. During our chat he mentioned to me that he was finding it increasingly hard to get motivated and that he felt the buzz he used to get from match fishing was dwindling to the point that he considered giving up! Maybe not to the same extreme, but I’m sure that this is something that many anglers go through at one stage or another and is something that most likely coincides with a bad run of luck in the draw bag or when temperatures plunge into the minuses, and sitting out in the cold becomes a chore rather than being enjoyable.

Thankfully (going back to my man) we concluded that his lack of enthusiasm was most likely down to the fact that most of his recent outings resulted in sitting in the cold for five hours catching very little and, let’s face it, this wouldn’t do anyone’s sanity any favours, let alone increase the desire to head out on a regular basis.

Goldfish

Although the conversation obviously finished and we moved on, I couldn’t stop thinking about what was said and in general what keeps my enthusiasm up after what seems a lifetime in the sport. For me I believe it’s about keeping things fresh and mixing it up.

Because of where I’m living, I usually have a minimum of a two-hour drive to most of my matches. Believe it or not, this gives me massive options of where to go and I don’t fall into the trap of fishing a local venue week in week out, just because it’s the handy choice.

It’s clear to see from reading my magazine features that I like to travel and regularly fish different venues. For me this is the key to keeping things fresh. It also keeps me on my toes and gets me mixing with different groups of anglers, which is always a good thing.

This leads me nicely on to a recent trip I made to White Acres to fish the Drennan Silverfish weekend. It was said that I was mad going and that it was a long way to go to get my ass kicked. I never thought of it like that. For me, I was excited about tackling somewhere new and experiencing a completely different style of fishing to what I’m used to. The timing was also perfect as the festivals were over and my year was winding down and coming to an end.

For company on the trip I had Richard Caplice, who had some media engagements regarding a revised Muckno festival calendar and with the journey taking 17 hours from door to door his company was greatly appreciated.

We arrived on Thursday morning with the intention of having two good days’ practice before the main event. However, having driven through the night and been absolutely exhausted, Thursday’s practice was never a starter and instead I walked around the lakes hoping to learn something of value.

Unfortunately there weren’t many anglers about and those that were off work seemed to be all fishing the Match Lake, or Pollawyn as it’s also called. Thankfully those that were fishing were top class and very open with information, which was greatly appreciated as I really hadn’t a clue about the place.

Later that evening our lodge mates Tom Scholey and ‘Boy Wonder’ Jordon Holloway arrived and showed me around the complex. The knowledge they have not only about the individual lakes but about every peg was mind-blowing and made me wonder if I’d made the right decision accepting the invite.

The plan was to fish Jenny’s Lake on Friday, which I was more than happy with as it’s a venue that has played host to some huge, big-money finals, so it’d be nice to say that I’d fished it. After a good breakfast the lads put me on Peg 16, which I was told was the best peg on the lake (so no pressure then), while Jordan and Tom fished Pegs 17 and 18 respectively.

The next 90 minutes were a huge eye-opener and a little humbling, as while Jordan basically caught a fish a chuck beside me, I couldn’t get a bite! Now I’m not sure if it was out of sympathy for me or the fact that I threatened him with two broken arms, but he dropped tools and came to see where I was going wrong.

The first thing he did was take off my 0.10mm hooklength and replace it with one of his 0.08mm versions with a size 16 Gama Green hook. Surely this wouldn’t make that much difference, as to me it was blatantly obvious that there was nothing in the swim? He also felt the need to abandon my carefully fed swims as he believed that I’d probably completely fecked them up and starting new ones would be the best option.

Anyway, after basically changing everything I’d done, he then sat on my box and started to empty it, making me feel like a complete tool. It gets worse, when I evicted him from my box he sat beside me and proceeded to ask me why I wasn’t striking at the bites. What bites? I couldn’t see the float move and finally came to the conclusion that these F1s twist the bristle rather than pull it under and they were doing my head in.

Oh, then he came out with a classic, that the fish in these commercials can sometimes become wary of feed and that if I fed more than a thumbnail-sized ball I could ruin the swim. I was starting to feel homesick.

The good news was that I had learned something and after pinching some slim Mick Wilkinson floats from Tom I felt a little more confident going into the draw on day one of the festival.

As luck would have it, I drew end Peg 19 on Jenny’s, which was close enough to where we practised so at least I would have an idea of what to do. Unfortunately on arrival at the peg there was an angler on Peg 20, which blew my chances of a much-needed advantage.

My plan was rather simple and uncomplicated, I fed two swims at the maximum limit of 13 metres, one to the left and one to the right. I also fed a worm swim straight in front of me at 11 metres and, just in case, a caster swim for roach at four metres.

On the all-in I fed a tiny nugget of groundbait containing a few pinkies on my main swims and a golf-ball-sized ball with lots of chopped worm at 11 metres, which I never had a bite over so forget about that.

It took about 10 minutes to get my first bite, resulting in a small skimmer which, as far as I could see, was the first fish caught in the section. After a steady first hour it looked as if the section was fishing very hard and I was well in front, and if I’m honest was really enjoying myself. I was catching a proper mixed bag, having landed skimmers, tench, goldfish, roach, perch, carrassios and an F1, with every fish falling to either pinkie or maggot.

As the day went on the peg slowed significantly but by alternating between the 4m line and my long line I kept the odd fish going into the net. With an hour to go I knew I was under pressure for the section as the angler on Peg 16 was regularly catching carrassios on the waggler and I knew that it would be tight.

On the arrival of the scalesman, it was revealed that the angler on Peg 20 had fished the wrong peg, therefore giving me a valid excuse of being able to blame him for taking my end-peg advantage should I need to. As it turned out I finished second by 10oz to the angler on 16 with 20lb odd, which deep down was a disappointment as I would have loved to have won the section, but at least I’d held my own and not bombed out.

On day two I think that I was drawing from the blue bag, which contained some of the bigger weight sections. Andy Power had won the match from this zone the day before with over 100lb of big F1s, so I figured that his peg would do me, so I drew it.

A quick chat with Andy about how to fish the peg left me a little confused. He caught over 100lb by feeding two maggots at a time and used 0.09mm lines – the world’s gone bloody mad! Anyway, with his advice on board I headed off through the back roads trying to find Twin Oaks.

As most of Andy’s catch came from the margins that’s where I based my attack. I also plumbed up two lines at 11 metres both left and right, just in case things weren’t working close in. At the back of my mind I was aware that it was unlikely that the fish would be still in the mood after receiving a hammering the day before, but all I could do was hope.

At the start I fed one of my long lines with groundbait and pinkies as I’d done the day before, while I fed the other with chopped worm and groundbait. The close-in margin swims were fed with only a few maggots.

It took an age to get a bite but I finally caught a F1 in the margin and a bloody big one at that. At about 4½lb it gave me a proper scrap on the light hooklength and yellow Hydro, and it didn’t take long before F1 number two was added to the net. Unfortunately that small burst of fish was the only real action in the first two hours, and regardless of what line I tried the float would not go under.

Finally out of the blue I got a bite on my pinkie line, which resulted in another big F1 and by alternating between my long lines I started to put a few fish together. The worm line seemed the most productive and I found that by feeding a tiny ball of chopped worms and leaving it for 10 minutes I could usually go over it and catch.

I have to say that I really was enjoying the fight these boys put up and was amazed how such powerful fish could be landed on such light, delicate tackle. I even managed to land one that was hooked in the tail! I did catch a couple more in the margins late in the match and finished with 12, which although was way off what Andy had caught, was pretty good for the day.

Grant Albutt easily won the section with over 60lb from the end and I finished second again by the skin of my teeth, only pipping Tom Potter who was on the next peg by 8oz.

Well done to Andy Power on another brilliant performance, winning the festival with two section wins beating Jordan and Steve Hutter into second and third place on weight.

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All in all, I enjoyed the weekend so much that I can’t wait to get back. The company was excellent, Dick and I were treated like kings and made feel extremely welcome. While the fishing was challenging and completely different from what I’m used to, it was enjoyable and I learnt loads. Whether or not my new-found knowledge will work in Ireland remains to be seen, but hopefully it will be of benefit next time around.

Even though I enjoy the wild, natural fishing I usually do, I find mixing it up a bit and fishing new venues creates new challenges and that’s what it’s all about for me. As some wise man once said: “Variety is the spice of life”, and I tend to agree.

David Haynes continues his conversation with the genial big guy, Des Shipp.

DH: You’ve been a regular in the England setup for how long now?

DS: About 13 years, I think it is.

DH: How did that come about?

DS: I was fishing for Dorking and those people that fish for England basically come through Starlets, Barnsley and Dorking – they’re the three teams from which the England team normally gets chosen.

I had good success with Dorking, then I started fishing the Sensas Challenge matches, which are really important with Mark Downes there, the England captain, and I did well in some of them. Then I had a phone call from Mark Addy, and he said: “We want you to come and fish the Home International at Port Talbot Dock in Wales.” We went there and did a bit of practising; it was mega deep – 11 metres to hand deep – so it wasn’t the greatest of venues to go on for your first England appearance.

To be fair the fishing was quite good and I won my section on the Saturday, I can’t remember what weight, around 12lb I think. You’d got the French internationals there too and I actually had Alain Dewimille in my section who now fishes for the French national team and I beat him by a couple of pounds, but my nerves were just ridiculous.

But what happened then was we had a massive storm overnight and the river that runs into Port Talbot Dock turned it from gin-clear to chocolate brown. We won it on the first day and all did terribly on the second day, the French absolutely annihilated it. I came last in my section, so I’ve gone from hero to zero in 12 hours and I thought I’d blown it. But the rest of the team didn’t do any good either and we just got it wrong on the day, and I was gutted, absolutely devastated and thought that was the end of it.

It dwelled on me for weeks and weeks, and I didn’t know what to do because when you’ve got your sponsors they probably think you’ve got a chance of fishing for your country. I’ve never told anybody this but in the end I actually phoned Mark Addy up after a month or so because it was doing my head in and said: “I have to ask you, tell me the truth, do you think I’ll ever fish for England again after what happened?” He basically said they didn’t know yet because I’d just fished my first Home International so see how it goes. I put the phone down and still wasn’t clear what was going to happen.

The following year I got a call from Mark Downes saying they wanted me to come to the European Champs in Holland (or was it Belgium?) on a canal. He wasn’t saying I was going to fish but they wanted me to see how it was all done. I went there and I actually fished both days – I think I came something like eighth or ninth individually. The fishing was really hard and I came fifth in my section on the Saturday and won my section on the Sunday. And that was it, the following year I fished both the European and the World Champs.

DH: Have you ever been close to winning it individually?

DS: You’re always close, David, there’s always one bite here, there or anywhere, but whether it happens or not is a different matter. You never think about that when you’re fishing, you’re fishing as a team. You’re never fishing individually, unless the team might have done really badly and say if one of us has won their section the management might turn round and say: “Look, we’re never going to win so fish for your section or fish for a big fish.” But that hasn’t happened, we go there as a team and that’s what it’s all about.

I don’t even think about it; it’s not until after the match when you’ve actually finished and you find out the results that you think: “If I’d have just had that one bite on that long pole fishing for a bream I could have had an individual medal.” It just doesn’t compute until after the match, because in the match you’re fishing for the points, you’re fishing to win as a team.

I’ve always looked at individual medals like this; you’ve only won an individual medal because the rest of the team has helped you win it. If it wasn’t for the rest of the team sorting out the tactics, how to catch the fish, you wouldn’t have won that medal anyway. You’ve still got ability and you’ve got to have that little bit of luck on the day, but that’s the way I look at it.

DH: And how long before the young guns in the team are pushing you for your place?

DS: You don’t know; it could be next year, it could be 10 years. I try not to think about it; every time I get selected I just go and do my thing and that’s it.

DH: Do you think those coming through the Under 21s setup have the all-round ability needed?

DS: I think now, and I’ve always said it, that I will probably be the last person ever to fish for England who hasn’t gone through the junior setup. Everyone else now will have to go through the junior selection process.

DH: It used to be said that match fishing was one of the few sports where ordinary people could compete next to world champions. Do you think that’s still true, or is there a big gulf now between club anglers and semi-pro or pro anglers?

DS: There are lots of individual things now, because team fishing, while it hasn’t died, is definitely a lot smaller than it was. Some of that is to do with age; take my river for example, it’s a brilliant river, and if you could drive to your peg I’m sure it would revive the whole river scene. Some clubs have already tried doing it and it is working, because it’s all about convenience. It doesn’t matter what you do nowadays convenience is important, where you can drive your vehicle near to where you’re fishing, you don’t have to carry loads of gear – people just don’t want to do it.

I look at Evesham as the perfect example of it; if you had to walk a mile to go and fish Evesham would you bother? Probably not. But because you can drive to every peg there, you’re sat on a little platform, it’s sold out every week.

I look at that and I can’t believe that a lot more clubs haven’t said to the farmer, right, let’s sit round the table and come up with a deal where you put a track in so we can drive to the pegs and we’ll pay you so much a year for it, or we’ll pay you so much per match to let us use your track as an access. It needs to happen, because if it doesn’t happen I honestly think the rivers will just dwindle.

DH: Do you think it’s any coincidence that the ‘glory days’ of river fishing happened when everything was much simpler and you just had a basket or box and two or three rods and you could easily walk to the pegs.

DS: Exactly. And, to be honest, there weren’t all these other fisheries about, ‘diluting’ the river fishing, because people don’t have to go on rivers any more. As soon as you put things in their way, like walking or not being able to get in their pegs because the banks are terrible, people say: “I tell you what, I’ll just go on the lakes.”

But if you give them the opportunity to drive to their pegs, and sit on a platform – if you have a bad day you have a bad day, at least you haven’t got to walk a mile, and you haven’t got to wear chest waders, people will do it. Evesham is a classic example that it can happen; clubs need to change their ways. It’s not easy but there is a way of doing it.

DH: As an all-rounder, do you have any favourite methods? What would be your ideal match?

DS: My ideal match… I’m not fussed really, I just love a mixed fishery where I’m catching skimmers, roach, using natural baits like casters, maggots, groundbait, I just love that style of fishing. I’m not really fussed about baits though, a bait’s a bait and if you’re catching fish on it it works, that’s what it’s about.

But I love river fishing, I love going on the rivers where you can ball it in, chuck 10 balls of groundbait in and catch on maggots over it. I love that way of fishing, I think it’s great.

DH: How much prep do you do?

DS: Loads. I remember Steve Gardener, when I first went to Port Talbot Dock in the Home International, came up to me – I actually had a Boss box at the time and I don’t know if you remember but Boss boxes had these little tiny metal balling arms – and he said: “Des, you cannot fish like that. You have to get your setup right, you can’t fish like you are, it’s just not right – you’ve got top kits on the floor! You’ve got to think about your prep!” And this is how it’s progressed over 10 years, it’s amazing how it’s gone on. Ever since that day I’ve got into a system where I just do it.

I don’t confuse things, I’ve got a selection of floats – obviously floats change and everything moves on – and once I’ve got a few that I’m happy with, like the ones I’m using now, I’ll tie those on three different lines so I can go to an F1 lake, or a roach lake, whatever; I don’t have millions of different floats, I just have a few different floats on different main lines. And that’s my prep. I don’t go overboard, some weeks I do none, some weeks I do loads, but I do try and stay on top of it.

Last night, for example, I tied six rigs in my garage, because I’ve got a festival coming up and I’ll do maybe three or four rigs a night. Sometimes I spend a long time in the garage but I try and do an hour here, an hour there, so I do quite a bit. Just stay on top of it. I try and do the right prep, I’m not doing it for the sake of it. I do the right floats or the right hooks for what I’ve got coming up.

DH: In our last Big Interview Jamie Hughes commented that fishing is a very selfish sport. How do you strike a balance with your life outside of fishing?

DS: I think it’s selfish to your family, and I’ve said to my missus about that, I’ve been totally straight with her, saying I’m sorry and I’ve not spent enough time with her and the kids but for me, the same as Jamie, when it’s your life, your job and you’re earning money from it what can you do? You need money to survive, and I think it is selfish in that respect to your family. It’s like any sport, if you get good at it you have to put time into it.

It’s an evil circle, because if you’re being paid to go fishing by your sponsor you need to stay on top of your game, stay at the top, for them to keep sponsoring you.

And I’ve always had that thing about it where with Preston I want to do as much as I can so they’ll never have an excuse to turn round to me and say: “Actually Des, we think time’s up now, you’re not doing enough.” I don’t want that. I want to do my job the best I can so I don’t get that phone call.

But every sport is selfish like that.

DH: What would you say was your best match win or your finest moment if your match fishing career?

DS: Winning my first match, I’ll never forget that. Obviously getting my first gold medal with the England team, in… now you’re asking… I never remember dates, I just keep putting them on the mantelpiece… 2007 was it? (It was actually 2005, in Finland – DH)

DH: Have you any idea how many medals you’ve won in all?

DS: I’ve got five World gold team medals, a few silvers and bronze, I can’t remember how many, a few. There’s only been two years when we’ve not won a medal, so we’ve got quite a few. And the Europeans too.

But I’m not the sort of person to look back like that, I just want to go out and compete, win a medal and bring it home, I don’t keep any records.

DH: Anything you might consider your worst moment?

DS: (Laughs) Yea, it was last year, in the World Champs in Bulgaria. I actually lost a carp. I was doing really well in my section and Mark Addy said: “Look, you’re walking the section, just see if you can catch a carp. I hooked a carp on the slider, it was a good one about 4 to 5lb, most of the others were much smaller than that, played it all the way back to the net, lifted my rod up and I could see this carp because it was quite clear, then it’s nodded its head so quick that it snapped the 0.14mm hooklength. I felt physically sick – if I’d got that out I could have sat in the car for the rest of the match, and I didn’t find this out until later, but if I’d got that out I would have had the silver individual.

But the team got a bronze medal. As I said, it’s the little things, it’s not until you start looking at things afterwards that you think: “If I’d have just done that…”

DH: Do you have a favourite venue?

DS: On natural venues I like the Bristol Avon in September time, I just go down there on my own when I’ve got some free time. I just love it, love running water. But I like loads of places; Bitterwell Lake, that’s where I started fishing on my own, going down in winter when it’s rock hard I just love that, it’s a challenge.

DH: As we’ve discussed, you’ve won all colours of team medals for England, you’ve been at the top with Dorking for a long time and won many big-money top matches individually, including our very own David Hall Trophy match…

DS: That was obviously the best…

DH: … so what ambitions do you have left?

DS: I don’t have ambitions, really. I just go along, I like fishing all sorts of different matches. Obviously like everybody I would like to win the big matches, like the Maver Match This. I walked the bank at a lot of the feeder matches this year doing some promotional work and that looks a really good competition, but I just enjoy doing what I do.

I just want to keep fishing for England as long as I can and just keep enjoying what I’m doing. I enjoy fishing matches whether they’re 100 pegs or 20 pegs. Any match to me is a match.

DH: Is that what drives you on to keep on match fishing, the feeling of winning?

DS: When you turn up at a match, no matter what match it is, or what venue, you’re under more pressure because of who you are, so to many of the others if they beat you that’s their day.

DH: You’re now the target.

DS: Of course. If you beat them it’s “well we knew that was going to happen,” but if they beat you that makes their day… and I try and stop that from happening.

DH: Are the big-money matches a pull for you? Do you think the money is a good thing?

DS: I think you’ve got to have it; it’s so obvious it works, it gets people out there fishing. For me personally I don’t chase them, never have done. If I didn’t fish for England and I didn’t have other commitments I would probably have more of a go at them.

But I’ve seen a lot of the bad things about some of the finals, I’m not going to mention which they are but I go to some venues and they cannot take the amount of people on it. And that’s the turn-off for me. They put in areas on lakes that are not capable of competing, and I know that can happen on all lakes on all venues, but they have to think about it. People travel a long way for them.

I remember one guy came up to me once and told me which peg he’d drawn, and I knew the venue very well and just told him he might as well go home.

He said: “What do you mean? I’ve travelled five hours to get here.” I said: “Listen, you’re not going to catch anything because they never put it in matches.” And I thought that isn’t right, and I wish they would just limit the pegs. I know they’re trying to collect a load of money but just limit the pegs so everyone has a day’s fishing and that competition will go on forever.

But I think it’s getting to a stage where people get peeved with it, and they don’t turn up, so someone gets a spare couple of pegs and ends up winning. It’s all gone a little bit funny and just needs sorting out.

DH: Do you still go in for it?

DS: No, not really. Very rare. I’m not the sort of bloke who does his diary at the start of the year and says I’m going to do this and do that, I normally just run along and get in a right mess with it. I don’t know what’s going on – I’m sort of a two-week person, a fortnight in front not a year ahead. And obviously there are England commitments, and I’m committed to stuff with Preston, and I’m quite reluctant to go into things full-on when I have other commitments.

DH: Does it ever stop being enjoyable and become just another job?

DS: It hasn’t for me, not yet. No. I’m doing my hobby as my job – it doesn’t get better than that, does it? The thing with me is I’ve worked for 20-odd years of my life, and I look back on clocking in and clocking out, with a set of rules you have to abide by, and that’s when you think: “I’m actually very lucky. Extremely lucky.”

DH: Finally, if you only had one day left to go fishing, where would you go, what would you like to catch and who would you like to beat off the next peg?

DS: (Laughs) Erm, I’d like to just catch a great big net of quality roach on the river, and I’d give Will Raison a bit of a tanning – I catch 40lb of big dog roach and he catches 3lb!

DH: Des Shipp, thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure listening to you.

Words and pics: Steve Haywood

River master Joe Oakes visits the River Soar to demonstrate how to put together a match-winning weight of perch.

Perch are abundant in natural venues and regularly take part in the weighing-in ceremony, sometimes in the starring role or maybe a bit part in a well-rehearsed silvers’ onslaught, but on some days they can be the saviour of a very difficult day. 

But how much attention do we give the perch? The role they play is definitely forced by the matchman’s hand and it’s the specifics of the venue and a careful nod to the conditions that will determine their appearance.

Today we are on the River Soar in Leicestershire and here the perch will always figure to some extent in match weights, and Middy’s Joe Oakes is certainly a fan. Over to Joe…

I’m sat on a probably not-so-typical Soar peg today in respect of its geography above the water; it’s wide to my right and there are boats in front, but under the water I think the quarry will be very similar to that in many pegs along this river. For this session I am going to solely target the perchy residents that from experience I know are in here. 

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It is unlikely that this sort of blinkered tactic would be a stand-alone match plan, but by doing this today it will give me the opportunity to pull apart the tactics and apply some logic and hopefully get a better understanding of this popular species.

I’ve got plenty of water to go at today but a good initial hunt around with the plummet reveals the options may not be as plentiful as at first seemed. We have had a few frosts to date but temperatures haven’t really plummeted for any length of time and this means there is still weed present on the bottom of the river, so the mission is on to find some clear, weed-free areas. 

For me these clear areas are important in all respects when presenting a bait, even a great big worm, and if you can do this on a clean river bed you will get more bites. As I bounce the plummet around I can feel the soft impact revealing the weedy areas, and after a good search around I’ve got three main areas to target. The water is clear as there hasn’t been any rain for a while and the other effect of this lack of rain is the absence of any real pull on the water, so this will make fishing and feeding in the chosen areas much easier. 

My lines are at 14 metres in front of me over to the boats, 14 metres to my left in the deep water and 11 metres to my right, and with an occasional drop in on a 5m line that’s got most of the swim covered. Then it’s just a case of rotating around these areas and getting a feel for what’s on offer. 

With the short 5m line, if I’m catching on the others I won’t touch this until the last half an hour, when this line is renowned for throwing up some bigger fish. I think this is always more likely if it’s not been fished throughout the day. In normal match conditions it’s unlikely you will adopt an approach like this in its entirety, at the expense of other species, but certainly a couple of viable perch areas need to be identified depending on the venue, conditions and form.

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Baitwise its obviously worms, with a few worms, and of course some more worms just in case! These will be in the form of both lobworms and dendrabaenas, and I will have some casters to add to my loose feed as well. For my hook baits it’s normally a section of dendrabaena as this will catch me not only the bigger specimens but hopefully keep a steady stream of smaller perch coming as well. The option to go bigger with the lobworm is there and I normally leave this until later in the session when I’ve got a better idea of the sort of stamp of fish that are about. 

With the worms I am a fan of giving the worm a nice clean cut with scissors to get my section and then hooking them like a maggot, as this is neater and leaves the hook showing nicely. Feedwise I will start each line with a pot of chopped worms, mainly lobworms with a few dendrabaenas and casters, and the reason for the pot as opposed to a baitdropper is mainly down to the lack of flow here today. The water is also quite shallow at about five feet, so no need for a baitdropper to deliver the worms to the riverbed as you would with more flow to stop them littering all over the swim. 

The routine is simple: pot and fish. As a line starts to fade, pot a second line to get some interest before you switch and you are aiming to rotate between these lines. Once I think a line is fading I will make that switch rather than re-feed that line, and this gives it time to settle without forcing, as a forced line can often be counterproductive. You need to strike a nice balance with this feeding; just enough to keep catching and not too much so as to completely destroy an area. 

This sort of regime is very specific to each peg you fish and every day is different, and experience does play its part, especially in knowing when to switch. That’s the simple bit really and I think other factors play their part as well, namely things like air pressures and light levels are the prominent ones. 

Perch fishing, as with all species I suppose, can be a very moody affair; just as bream feed better with colour in the water the perch will favour the light conditions and with the water being clear and moderately shallow the light penetration dictates mood, and this has been very obvious today. On more than one occasion as some cloud cover moved over a succession of small perch were finding the net, and this happens too frequently to ignore so for me it’s a big consideration. 

With regards to my rigs for perch it’s very basic and I think that’s all it needs to be, the only consideration being to nail the bait down. Here a 1g float shotted with an olivette and a couple of droppers is fine, and also a reasonably big float helps when lifting and dropping the bait. Giving the worm some movement will often arouse the fishes’ predatory instinct and promote a bite when the swim appears to be empty, and today a good number of fish have fallen to this tactic. 

Likewise for hooks and lines, there’s no real need for stealth so Middy Lo-Viz 0.16mm to a 0.14mm hooklength and a size 16 hook is fine, and this gives a bit of a cushion if a bigger fish turns up.

I’ve had a good, productive day and ended up with double figures of perch; no specimens however, but on the matches here these would be very welcome and it’s highlighted a few things along the way, mainly to stay busy moving around your lines and pay an unusual amount of attention to the light levels. 

Today’s session is pertinent in respect of the matches on here at the moment, and when you look at this net of perch it would nearly always be well up in sections so you have to pose the question: is this a viable method for a full match? 

Also, when I factor in some of the frustrations on clear rivers in respect of pike activity, and the problems they are causing when I’m fishing for silver fish, this perch approach starts to make even more sense. I think you have to give reasoned consideration in a match when deciding when to have a go for perch – that is if you can fit it in with all the other considerations needed to get the most from a peg – but it is all in the timing. A switch in tactics at the right time will always trump a move at the wrong time anyway.

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We join Darren Cox on the bank to find out just how he won the Feeder Masters trophy. 

As I’d fished my last qualifier this year for Feeder Masters 2017 I had resigned myself to not reaching the final – I was due on holiday and had no more chances left. However, a ticket came up for Bough Beech while I was away sunning myself with the family; it was only three days after we returned but I grabbed it. My partner in crime, Si Fry, also had a ticket so at least we could travel together. 

At the draw of the qualifier I thought I had blown that chance in the draw bag too; after talking to a few locals it appeared that my peg, the second in on the dam wall, was hopeless for skimmers as it was too shallow. 

There had been an open match on the yacht club bank the day before and lots of roach were caught in the shallow water. That made my mind up – I would fish for roach at 20 metres all day. After 150-plus small fish and 14lb 12oz I sneaked into the final by a mere 2oz! I was delighted and immediately decided to spend one day per weekend at Bough Beech in order to try and get in tune with this huge expanse of water.

In the practices running up to the main weekend it had been fishing very poor. The algae had died back and the colour had dropped out of the water. As a result 20lb was a huge weight and there was talk of it being a very low-weight affair. I set my target of 45lb for the two days for a top-five finish.

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Sorting out the skimmers was key to success. Coxy soon realised the cage feeder was important to pull sh into the swim.

On the official practice I drew an area I had fished a couple of times past the tower and knew it was okay for a few fish. Most anglers were fishing at similar distances of between 50 to 60 metres to find the correct depth for the skimmers, which seemed to be around 30 feet of water. Again, most were putting up to 10 big feeders in at the start and then fishing bullet cages or window feeders throughout the match. What I learnt on this day helped me tremendously over the two-day final. 

I had figured out that if I put lots of feed in at the start I would potentially miss a lot of smaller skimmers early on in the match. I had tried filling it in and it never did any good for me, so I decided to simply put on a medium 40g Garbolino Distance Feeder, have three very quick casts without a hook on and then go fishing. 

This may sound very negative but you can get quite a lot of bait in these feeders and with very regular three to four-minute casts I was constantly putting a column of cloud through the water, which I am convinced attracted the smaller skimmers. I believe that these smaller fish also drag the bigger fish in later on. By using a 700mm hooklength at the start and two floating maggots I was fishing on the drop through this cloud and it worked a treat. 

The Friday fished poorly on the dam wall again, and I was joint first in my section with Andy Powers next door, with 11lb.

My mind was set again on this plan with the option of swapping to a window feeder later to get more bait in if required.

The setups were fairly simple everywhere you drew at Bough Beech. Two 13ft Garbolino Distance Feeders for the main 50 to 60m line and a new Garbolino Essential 13ft Distance Feeder just in case I needed to cast further, or the wind got so bad that I needed this to get to the main line. I then also set up two shorter 10ft light Garbolino Bomb rods, which were perfect if I needed to catch roach at any point. 

All the reels were loaded with Sakura Sensibraid 8X in 0.08mm or 0.10mm diameter. The starting hooklengths for skimmers were 0.16mm Garbolino Garbo Line with a size 14 Kamasan B560 hooks as the fish are wild and not hook or line shy. In my opinion it was more to do with how you fed them. My groundbait mix was also fairly simple and consisted of Thatchers dark and natural, plus Mainline Method Mix, which has a very high fishmeal content. I added a small amount of red and yellow Sensas Pastoncino to offer some specks of colour to what was a dark mix. I feel this helps hold the fish there even when there are not many feed particles left on the bottom.

On day one I wanted to draw on the natural bank as I figured that it would fish well after bait going in the day before and would deteriorate on the Sunday, as it is fished a lot less than the dam wall. I was pleased to draw on Woody Point opposite the yacht bank, as there had been some double-figure weights the day before. Mick Vials had been on my peg and he told me the distance he fished and assured me it would be okay after the bait he had fed! 

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Don’t be scared to ram the bait in the window feeder.

I started at 53 metres as I did the day before, with a long hooklength and the 40g medium distance feeder loaded with plenty of particles. I had a great start and after an hour and three-quarters had 28 small skimmers. 

Then I had a 2lb fish and felt as if they needed more bait, so changed to the biggest 50g window feeder and a shorter 50cm hooklength. I packed the feeder with dead red maggots, casters and a few worms and the peg got stronger all the time. I had an odd better fish but lots of 10oz to 1½lb fish, which are perfect weight builders. 

The secret was not to wait for a bite but cast every three to four minutes maximum, as the fish were responding to more feed. After a quiet 30 minutes I switched back to the distance feeder and caught a 3lb bream and a few more skimmers. This certainly triggered the fish back on to the feed. 

A final switch back to the window feeder kept fish coming right up to the final whistle. I won that bank with 27lb 13oz, which put me third overall, with Steve Ringer topping the day with 32lb 12oz and Michael Buchwalder second with 28lb 8oz.

On day two I wanted to draw Pegs 5 to 12 or 18 to 25 to give myself a chance of some fish. I was delighted to draw Peg 7 but thought I would struggle to catch Steve and Michael, who were on 20 and 22, if it fished hard.

Again I opted for the same start but this time it didn’t go to plan! I only had a few small skimmers in the first hour and they were catching big skimmers and odd bream on Pegs 3 and 4 to my right. Then I could see that the fish started moving up the section towards me as everyone to my right started to catch. 

At this point I put my 50g large window feeder on and began putting as much chopped worm and casters through as I could, with quick three-minute casts. If the fish got to me I didn’t want them to carry on past me! 

Within 30 minutes I had my first decent skimmer. Then after that I probably had one of the easiest day’s skimmer fishing of my career! The peg got better and better and I caught right up to the whistle. The one thing I had to do was to keep casting; they wanted feed and came straight to the feeder, then if I missed the fish I would have to recast. The best hook bait on both days was two floating red maggots, with two redworms being the best change bait when I needed a bite. When I thought there were some better fish in the swim I also fished two big pieces of worm, which worked at times on both days. 

On the final day I fed a lot of bait and got through 1.5kg of dendrabaenas, one-and-three-quarter pints of casters, and one pint of red maggots and pinkies. The fish responded so well to the feed so I just kept it going in.

The rumours were that I had done enough to overtake both Steve and Michael and I guessed that I had around 38lb at the end. 

My fish actually went 39lb 8oz, which won the whole day and gave me a total of 67lb 5oz. Thankfully it was enough to win the event overall, 7lb ahead of Steve and 10lb ahead of Michael, who was 3rd.

A wonderful end to an amazing event, which was organised perfectly from start to finish by Lee Kerry, Mick and Darren Vials and many others who worked hard. Bough Beech turned out to be the perfect venue with great hosts, and the fish responded to the feed all weekend. 

I would love to be in the final again next year and hope I get some tickets and a few good draws on the way.

It is a pleasure and an honour to be crowned 2017 Preston Innovations Feeder Masters Champion!

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Spliced-Tip Special!

Over a year ago my good friend Adam Richards rang me with an excited tone in his voice. He had received a sample of a new rod designed for river fishing. Adam has turned into quite the river angler over the past few years and he was quick to tell me that they were Sphere rods too!

Sphere has been an interesting concept. Browning has essentially produced some of the finest rods on the market and more recently one of the very best poles ever made. The idea behind Sphere is to produce tackle of no compromise using only the best materials, and so far they have definitely achieved great success! I have been impressed with the rods and have seen a good amount of them on the bank too. 

With such high-quality carbon, it was only a matter of time before Browning utilised the technology to produce some longer rods. And here we are with the Spliced-Tip River models. 

This is a two-strong range, with 13ft 6in and 15ft 6in models. I think more and more anglers are realising the advantages of longer rods for everyday river work and these two lengths are very interesting. 

What really interested me though, was the use of the spliced tip, something which you don’t often see in rods now. As soon as I assembled the rods and used them though, I got why the spliced tip was so essential. 

Float control is the number-one factor when deciding to use a longer rod, such as the 15ft 6in model. The extra length allows you to keep the line between the rod tip and float in perfect control. The extra length also allows lightning-fast bites to be hit. 

And that is where the Sphere carbon and spliced-tip combination works so well. Sphere carbon is incredibly responsive, and to make the tip respond as quickly as possible the blanks of these rods are pretty stiff. I think if the rod didn’t have the spliced tip it would be difficult to get a soft tip. 

The spliced tip comes into its own here as it gives you a super-soft action, it then blends perfectly into the rest of the rod nice and progressively. 

It’s an interesting balance to make as if the tip is too soft and the blank too stiff, it would be counterproductive as you would strike through the soft tip and hit the stiff blank, bumping everything! It took Browning a few attempts to get this right but the end result is magnificent. 

My test session was a little different as I visited the River Swale with Adam so he could show me the rods, while also getting a feature. We decided to use the longer rod for the bolo while the shorter rod was rigged up with a light waggler setup.

Controlling the floats with these rods in incredibly easy. The blanks are so responsive and it makes float control an absolute dream. It didn’t take me too long to get a bite and I was connected to a brute of a chub!

It was clear that the spliced tip made it perfect for smaller fish, but the way it blends into the blank when under the load of a big chub really surprised me. It’s seamless and the delivery of power is incredibly smooth. This is very important here as when chub are about you do need some control and these rods definitely give you that. 

What really struck me was just how light these rods actually are. The 15ft 6in rod weighs just 175g – to give you an idea of just how light that is, Browning’s 10ft Commercial King pellet waggler rod weighs 170g and that isn’t a heavy rod. This really helps as holding a long rod all day can be arm-aching stuff. 

It’s hard to express how much I liked using these rods. They are certainly a niche product, but for anglers who appreciate the highest quality fishing gear and want the best for their river work then you have to take a look at them.

 

RRP

13ft 6in £379.95

15ft 6in £419.95

Verdict

A stunning pair of rods that river anglers will go all googly-eyed over!

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The 2018 Product Release from Bait-Tech

The 2018 Product Release from Bait-Tech is here! It is a list of baits that perfectly fits into the Suffolk-based, family-run manufacturer's extensive portfolio. With one of the largest bait ranges on the market, there is something for every coarse angler to smile about. 

Adding to the exceptionally popular The Juice Range is a fabulous sweet fishmeal groundbait and Pellet wafters. Expanding on the famous and continually successful Special G Range they have added Special G Glug and Soft Hook Pellets to match the 3 groundbaits. 

A new Big Carp Method Mix with ingredients processed with ADF technology. This process maintains the high nutritional quality of the ingredients and makes them highly digestible. This is more efficient and effective than standard fishmeals and Bait-Tech's ADF fishmeals are from human grade quality fish.

Pro Natural Range has another addition: Fine Lake Dark. There is a perfectly formulated range of Stick Mix Liquids, the Bloodworm pellets are exceptional and there is a perfect addition to their infamous particles: Hemp & Sweetcorn.

With another stylish bucket on the list too - it's going to be a another great year for Bait-Tech.

Here is a taster of some of the new products:

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The Juice Groundbait
A new and unique formula based around commercials – fast breakdown, low binding properties. This is a sweet fishmeal groundbait

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Big Carp Method Mix ADF Fishmeal
Contains real pungent fishmeals and fish that have been uniquely processed using ADF technology for instant chemo-sensory attraction.

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Special G Glug
For increased attraction and maximum reaction – this is Special G in a glug! You can use it for anything

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Special G Soft Hookers 
Sinking soft hookers made from Xpands to perfectly match the Special G Groundbaits.

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Stick Mix Liquids
Increase the attraction of any bait with this range of Stick Mix Liquids. Versatile and with the right amount of Stick!

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Groundbait bucket
A new Bait-Tech groundbait bucket to add to an angler's collection. Classic black with a touch of Bait-Tech pink for the lid.

 

In total there are 15 different bait items and 2 accessories for the 2018 product list which makes this year's release strong and focused. For the complete 2018 product list and more product information please click here.

"We're very happy with the products we are releasing into the market this year" says Managing Director Hayley Goldsmith, "the development work has been an exciting one as we've been working with ADF ingredients - a new way to process ingredients to retain their nutritional value for instant attraction."

Ian Hirst, Sales & Brand Manager comments "For 2018, we focussed on what was missing from the range and we have certainly filled the gap with some brilliant products".

Andy Neal "being involved with product development is a lot harder than you can imagine as there is so much testing and tweaking to be done. The 3 new groundbaits this year are complete winners and I've been testing the Special G Glug for months now and always have a bottle with me. I can't wait for people to start enjoying these products as much as I have been."

Tony Curd comments "For 2018, the brief was simple - fill the gaps and give anglers the baits they need to catch more fish and win more matches. I believe we have done just that - after a lot of testing I'm really excited to see the results these product will help to achieve!"

 

Rob Wootton discusses the lessons learnt from a tremendous week in Ireland. 

 

I’ve just returned from another really enjoyable trip to Ireland; this time my destination was Inniscara lake down in the south of the country and the competition was the annual FeederFest, sponsored by ale giant Guinness. 

As the name suggests this event is a feeder-only affair and given the lake’s vast stocks of roach and skimmers, fishing at short range is normally the name of the game. Last year’s event saw me finish in fifth place, not bad considering 100 top feeder anglers were in attendance, but even so I was still keen to improve on this result. 

The week started off a little disjointed as our Saturday ferry was cancelled due to bad weather, meaning that we had to travel a day earlier than expected on Friday. This wouldn’t normally cause an issue but I was due to land back in the UK from a family holiday late on Thursday night. The initial plan was to use Friday as a prep day but that was out of the window, and I’d have to just chuck all the gear in the van and sort it out on the other side of the Irish Sea. 

Anyone who has fished any of the big festivals in Ireland will know just how well run the events are: food is organised, there are signposts to each venue and bait deliveries during the week just help take a weight off the anglers’ shoulders during the week. I’ve got to say the bait is always top-notch too. 

My week went brilliantly on all but the last day; I had some really favourable draws and earlier on in the festival I managed to avoid some really tough areas, something you need to do in a weight-based festival. Things ticked along nicely with me adding sizeable chunks to my total each day, and after day four I was leading the festival by a couple of kilos. Then it happened… my run of good draws ended with a final day on the dreaded Pump House section, a bottomless area that threw a spanner in the works for quite a few people during the week. My return of just over a kilo meant I crept over the line and finished in fifth place again! 

Much of the fishing during the week revolved around catching numbers of small fish short, so I’ve brought editor Smokey Joe out to Naseby for a bit of a recap of the tactics I and many others used during the week.

Go Short

Catching lots of small fish should always be done at the shortest distance possible; during the week in Ireland much of the fishing was carried out at distances of around 20 metres. Obviously, the shorter distance means that everything happens quicker – fish are retrieved quicker, the feeder sinks quicker and you are also more likely to be more active and not become lazy when you’re fishing at such close quarters. Just picking a line and fishing it without thinking isn’t the way to go though, as so many factors come into where you choose to fish, and just like many natural venues Inniscara needed some careful thinking. 

The Right Line

Finding the right depth is vitally important and fishing in water that is just a couple of feet too deep or too shallow can see your results really suffer. Something to bear in mind is that skimmers and bream tend to prefer deeper water while roach want to feed a little bit shallower; if you can find a depth in between where both species are happy to feed then that’s when you’re on to a winner. 

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Holding the rod can be important for roach

I reckon that a 1oz square bomb sinks at roughly two feet per second at these short distances, so by having a cast around at the start of the session and getting a feel for the swim I can try and find that ideal depth where both species feel happy. 

It’s a tricky thing to master though, as in my experience the bream like water of 20 feet or more while the roach often feed happily in just four feet! Every week we fish Inniscarra the magic depth changes, but trying to find a depth somewhere in between these two points is essential and will give you the chance to catch both species. 

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Small-fish work on the feeder is very rewarding. Take time to plumb the swim with a 1oz lead.


The other critical factor that comes into swim placement, especially on shallow venues or when the pegging is tight, is where your neighbours are fishing. I always want my own line and if that means that I have to go a couple of metres further than those around me then I will. On the other hand, if I feel that it’d be better to come closer than those around then I don’t mind doing that either; a line at 15 metres can often outfish one at 20 metres, especially if it’s the correct depth.

The Bait

I’ve already mentioned that the quality of the bait is fantastic when you’re over in Ireland and to every peg you need to take casters, worms, hemp and red maggots to complement your groundbait. There are no hard-and-fast rules for what to put through the feeder, as each day and venue is different; for instance, some days you might need to cram as many casters in the feeder as possible whereas on others you might not feed a single caster. 

I like to be prepared though, so I take plenty of bait to my peg and if needed it’ll get fed. My groundbait mix for this sort of fishing hasn’t changed much for several years: brown crumb, Dynamite Bream Original and Match Black Frenzied Hemp to help darken the mix works really well and can be mixed to different consistencies, which again can help on days when you need to change things around regularly.

Mixing the groundbait to a wet consistency can work very well for roach. The wet mix and its extra cloud can really pull fish into the swim. Always have a spare bowl on your side tray so that you can try tweaking a small handful of mix. This way you don’t ruin the whole mix. 

The Kit 

Short, responsive rods are the name of the game and 11-footers are most people’s choices, mine too. The tips need to be nice and fine to show up the bites, and to help bite detection even more I use braid direct from the reel to the feeder. To catch big weights of small fish you need everything as direct as possible and a light tip and braid direct combo means that you see the bites as quickly as possible. 

By using heavy feeders I can cast in and quickly tighten up to the feeder and see bites as soon as the feeder settles. A long mono shockleader is great when targeting larger fish but for these fast-biting roach you need to be seeing every little flicker on the tip. 

The rig I use is also very simple; the last thing you want in a speed race is a load of tangles so my standard running rig is all that I use, and coupled with a robust hooklength of 0.17mm there’s very rarely a problem with any tangles. A Tubertini Series 18 or a B512 in a size 12 completes my setup. 

Feeders

A standard Nisa Cage works well and I carry these in all sizes and weights, with the small 28g feeder getting more use than the others. Cage feeders work brilliantly even in deep water and the small plume of bait that exits the cage as it sinks definitely helps draw fish into the peg. This is always my starting feeder but more and more often I’m finding myself chucking window feeders. 

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These feeders are far more versatile than I first realised and while they are great for getting loads of particles into the swim they are also very useful when you’d like to cut back on the feed and feed neat groundbait. Window feeders cast like a dart and also sink a bit quicker, so the whole fishing process is speeded up. I find myself using the two smallest sizes of Dennett Rapid Feeders and by swapping to a cage whenever you feel the peg needs a boost you can really get the most out of your swim.

Interestingly I rarely fed a volume of bait at the beginning of the session. I find in Ireland it’s often better to just fish from the start rather than filling it in at the start. 

 

Rob's Irish Mix

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1. One part Frenzeid Hemp. Match Black

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2. One part brown crumb 

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3. Mix it on the dry side to start with

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4. The dark andcrumb is perfect for Ireland 

 

If you would like to find out more about fishing in Ireland visit Ireland Travel Plus

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Or call Helen Rainsford on 07711607200

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