The most commonly asked question that I get asked is how to start a match. While this seems to be an area of fishing that a lot of people are unsure about, it is one that I am very confident in.
No matter what kind of fishing you’re doing, it’s vital that you settle into a match confidently, and if you can get a few bites and put some fish in the net early, that’s all the better.
How you start the match, however, can affect what happens later in the day too. My starting method takes all this into consideration, and will hopefully help you get off to a strong start to your matches.
Where To Start
I like to target open water to start the session. Whether I’m on a narrow snake-style lake, or an open-water swim like today’s peg, I always fish into open water. This gives me a lot of scope to draw in some fish to begin with, as I can attract them from a short swim, from the open water, and from further out.
How far out I decide to fish depends on the swim, and I always like to leave myself somewhere further out to venture to later in the session. On a narrow snake lake, I’ll opt to fish just past the middle.
However, today the nearest feature is an island some 20 metres away. Looking at the swim, I’m planning on starting the session by fishing around 11 metres out. This is far enough out into the main lake and open water, but I still have plenty of scope to follow the fish out and go further later on.
I’m not a big fan of starting down the edges or against islands. These are areas of the swim where fish will back off to later in the day. I like to leave these alone and let fish naturally settle there as they get pressured from anglers.
John has made this simple back rest to place his pole under behind him, while the front lies over his leg, allowing him to strike by lifting his knee.
For me, there’s only one bait to start with, and that’s pellets. Commercial fish love them all year round, and I feel like I’m more likely to get a bite from a carp or F1 on a pellet than any other bait at the very start of a session.
Plus, as I’ve said throughout this series, I’m always keen to keep things as cheap as possible and pellets help this. I have just a bag of fishery 4mms with me today, and a handful of 6mm hookers!
I like to use hard pellets at this time of the year, both as feed and on the hook. They reduce my chances of being plagued by small fish at the start of a session. As feed, a hard pellet makes a unique sound when they hit the water, which plays a vital part in my attack.
You need to make sure that you are ready to catch fish instantly in a match. By this, I mean you need to have the right rig on, have the right feeding devices and the correct tackle to get straight into the fishing. If you’re at a venue you fish regularly, there’s no excuse for not being ready at the off.
My rig is already tailored to get a bite instantly today. My plan is to basically ship out, fire in some pellets, and lay my rig over the top. Hopefully, fish will home in on this feed immediately and by presenting my hook bait right in the feed I’ll be into fish straightaway. This means having a light, strung-out rig that allows my hook bait to fall just like the feed.
If I was to have the wrong rig on, say a big bulked-down pattern, I could miss out on that one big carp that comes to the first feed, and at the end of the match it could cost me winning.
By the same token, if I have the wrong catapult to start with, and my first three feeds go past the pole tip, I risk not even catching the early fish I’m after.
If my float isn’t shotted correctly at the off, I may miss the first few bites, and again, it could be costly. The very start of the match is a little jigsaw in itself, and you need all the pieces put together correctly before you even wet a line, to make the most of the start of your match.
John is a big believer in fishing light, and has banded pellet hooklengths tied to lines as light as 0.08mm.
To start today, I’m shipping out and place the pole in my back rest and across my knee for optimum comfort. I then fire in just four 4mm pellets, right on the float! I’ve adapted the catapult that I’m using so it fires pellets very accurately between 10 and 14 metres, and having practised with it time and time again I can make good judgment of the distances. I actually replace the Drennan elastic on the catapult with some 17 Hollo pole elastic from Preston Innovations.
After pinging in the pellets, I lift the rig out of the water with my knee, and lay it back in right over the top of where the pellets landed. As the float settles, it bobs a couple of times and dinks under instantly. Lifting with my knee to strike, I bump the fish… typical, with the cameras here!
It did prove that fish came to that very first feed of pellets, though. Feeding another four pellets, I lay the rig in again and connect with a very fast bite as it settles. In fact, I doubt the bait was even on the bottom when this fish took that bait! It shows the importance of the light, strung-out rig.
It’s noticeable too that these bites are coming as the bait is falling or just after it lands on the bottom. This is very common on commercials these days, as fish have grown cute to static baits that simply sit on the deck.
Most commercials like this one are very silty too, and the bottom is very smelly and soft. I actually don’t think fish like eating off this, which is why I aim to catch them in this certain way.
A Preston 17 Hollo elastic is used as catapult elastic. This is super accurate at distances from 10 to 14 metres.
I have managed to catch eight fish in the first 30 minutes of the session today, and am keeping the feeding tight with a catapult. I think the catapult is vital instead of a pole pot, as it allows the pellets to make a loud, scattering noise as they hit the water to attract the fish.
Four of the carp that I’ve had will go 15lb between them, and with thee chunky F1s added on, I’ll have 20lb in the net easily – not a bad little start to the match. But where do you go from here?
In my experience, it’s simply a case of reading what is happening. If you’re happy and still getting bites, stick at this swim! I’ve caught some huge weights by simply sticking to this method all day.
Today, though, bites have definitely dried up and I’ve had five minutes without an indication before catching a small skimmer. Often, the bigger fish become wary of the small area you’ve been fishing, where there will be small build-up of pellets on the bottom, and a lot of disturbance from fish digging up the silt.
To keep fish coming or to get another run of fish in this first hour, I like to simply push a little further out. I decide to plumb up again and add another section to take me to 13 metres where it’s exactly the same depth. Shipping out, I start the same process again, and after following the first feed of pellets in with my rig, hook a lean common around 6lb!
This settles me into another good run of fish that lasts even longer than the first. Perhaps going that little bit further means the fish have a little more confidence than they did closer?
The top section of John’s pole is painted white to reduce the chances of spooking fish in shallow water.
Concentrate On Feeding!
I really can’t emphasise enough how important the start of a match is. Whether it lasts five minutes or the full match, this simple way of starting is very effective and always gets me settled with a few fish.
One thing I must stress is the importance of not overfeeding. Each feed is for a bite. The noise of the pellets hitting the weather attracts a fish or two, and when you place your rig over the top of them, the fish will hopefully pick up your pellet with the other feed.
If you don’t get any indications as the bait settles, don’t get too giddy and feed again too soon. I like to give it a minute or so before I ping in another two or three pellets.
You are not aiming to build up the swim and have lots of bait on the bottom. In fact your aim should be quite the opposite – to draw in a few fish with each feed, that will hopefully have cleared it up by the time you’ve caught one! This way, you don’t have fish with their heads buried in the silt, and always ensure the fish are competing, as there’s always a minimal amount of bait in the swim.
So there you have it, my simple, cheap and deadly way to kick off your next match on a commercial! That first hour really can make or break your day, and hopefully now you can see just how much thought I put into the start of my sessions. Hopefully a good start to your next match will help you finish with a brown envelope!
Getting off to a good start is often the key to a smooth match win!
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