Fancy getting into match fishing this season? It’s brilliant fun, not to mention a great way of improving your skills. Dom Garnett is your guide to starting match fishing or making a return to the fray.
For those who make it a regular thing, competitions can add a whole new level of enjoyment to your fishing. Furthermore, aside from the social element and buzz of matchday, it’s a sure way to improve your angling skills in general.
Contrary to some of the cliches, you don’t need to be an elite level angler, or to spend a fortune on gear or entry fees. The chances are, there’s an event where you live to suit your favourite fishing styles- and your wallet!
One of the great things about current match fishing is the sheer variety of events, regardless of your age, sex or angling ability. Just take a look at our competition section and you’ll find matches from the Canal Pairs and RiverFest, through to big money qualifiers such as Fish’o’Mania. But beyond this, there are also thousands of smaller club and open matches to get your teeth into.
In this blog post, we’re going to be talking about coarse match fishing in particular, but watch this space because we’ll also have a special fly fishing article on the way soon. Of course, some of our tips will apply to all types of fishing, however. So where is the best place to start match fishing, for any beginners or those who’ve not competed for a long time?
1. Start with clubs and smaller matches
One of the biggest nisnomers about match fishing is that it’s all about trying to win large amounts of money at high profile venues. For the vast majority of anglers, this isn’t the case- and certainly isn’t the best place to start match fishing. Most of us are just after a great day out and some friendly competition. And on that basis, a great place to start is your nearest fishing club and its fixture list.
Club matches have a heck of a lot going for them. They’re inexpensive for one thing, often at a tenner or less per match for local waters. They’re also very friendly and you’ll get a lot of great local knowledge just by introducing yourself. Because the stakes are lower, you’ll find most people quite free with their information, too. Far from being high stakes gambling with poker faces all round, the chances are you’ll have a great chat with the person in the next peg, win or lose.
So, as fantastic as the big events are, start smaller would be better advice. That way, you’ll get lots of practice without heaps of pressure. Clubs are perfect for this- and with most of them having a wide range of abilities and personalities, they tend to offer just the right balance of fun and competition. Once you get a taste for it, you might then think about open matches, festivals and special events- the list is endless!
It’s also worth remembering that you don’t even have to fish a match to learn a bit more. Purely by turning up to a local contest, you can always have a walk round and a chat to the competitors. Just remember to be respectful and keep back once any contest is underway! Some anglers are more willing to talk than others, so play it by ear.
2. Play to your strengths
All of us have methods we prefer and skills we’ve developed to a better standard in our fishing. Think about yours before booking into your next match. If you’re a dab hand at canal fishing or the pellet waggler, try and pick an event where your ace cards will count.
There’s also a lot to be said for confidence in any competition. If you start with what’s familiar- whether that’s a specific venue you already know, or a method you’re good at, you’re far more likely to enjoy the day.
It’s also fair to say that on most venues, it won’t be one approach that dominates every event. There’s a lot to be said for doing it your way, therefore. Just because nobody tends to fish meat in the margins, or caster on the pole, that doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, you might just surprise everyone by bringing different skills to the table.
3. Buddy up
One of the most daunting things about match fishing can be going it alone, and it’s great to have a regular match mate if you can find one. Not only can you share ideas, you might get a travel buddy and save on fuel, too. You can also practice together and compare methods- while there are also plenty of pairs events to try these days.
Don’t feel put off if you don’t have a match fishing “bestie” though, because most matches are incredibly friendly. Regardless of where you finish, the cameraderie, banter and mutual respect are the heart and soul of match fishing. A good match is so often more like a great day out with your mates than a pressure cooker scenario.
4. Ask questions and don’t be shy!
No angler knows all the answers and even the best is continually picking up news and knowledge. That applies whether you’re Joe Bloggs or Steve Ringer! On that basis, never be afraid to ask questions. If you can swallow your pride and say “I’m new to match fishing” or “I’ve never fished a match here before” you’ll find a lot of competitors will be helpful. Rivals you might be on some level, but any decent angling club or venue will want you to enjoy yourself and come back next time!
At any match, there are lots of opportunities to pick up information, so the more you can find the better. This includes before and after the actual match, too. If you get the chance to help with the weigh in, this an especially good opportunity because you can see for yourself exactly what has been caught and how.
5. Precision is key
Of all the qualities that make a great match angler, one key factor is accuracy. Whether it’s casting tight to a feature, or feeding bait with precision, accuracy makes a huge difference. This applies to everything you do! A “that’ll do” attitude won’t cut it when it comes to dotting your float down, plumbing the depth perfectly or having everything where you need it. This is a key reason why match fishing tends to sharpen our skills!
6. Be prepared
No two matches are the same, and competetive angling will take your preparation to the next level. Match anglers are continually talking about the latest baits, feeders and the rest, but even more fundamental is your equipment to deal with the weather. These days it can be frosty in May and baking hot in October, after all!
No regular match angler should be without a decent bib and brace, a sturdy umbrella, and a decent hat, for starters. However, you’ll also do well to have some rigs for extreme conditions. I always like to have a few pole rigs, for example, to cater for emergencies. Some will be extra heavy, for keeping a bait stable in high winds. That said, I will also have ultra light rigs for those days without a breath of wind, when delicate presentation is possible. Even if these stay in the box most of the time, you’ll be thankful when their time comes!
7. Always have a plan B!
Talking of preparation, another must for any match is to have an alternative method should things go Pete Tong. Fishing is unpredictable after all. A fantastic example of this is a light feeder rod in pole dominated matches! Given any high winds, this can be a real get out of jail free card- and mine has gained me some coin on both commercials and canals.
Of course, another huge thing for any successful match is to have different lines to go at. Even when things are going smoothly, it’s very rare one method or area of your peg will work all day. Think ahead and avoid being a one-trick pony and you’ll get far more from your time on the bank.
8. Set some goals
Another great tip for upping your game is to set one or two basic objectives. What do you want out of your next match, for example? If it’s totally new venture, this could be as simple as “catch X pounds of fish”.
In the longer term it might be something like “improve my feeder fishing” or “finish in the top 10 of my local league” or “enter a festival”. It’s amazing how much a simple goal or two can focus your efforts.
9. Measure your progression!
Last but not least, one of the most satisfying things about match fishing is enjoying it as a journey. Even if you have a terrible next match, there will be things you learn and things you can build on. It’s for this reason it makes sense to fish the same venues for a while, because every visit will help for next time.
If you keep a diary, you can log various details, whether it’s tactics that worked or things to consider for next time. Of course, it’s also a great way to revisit your best days and see if you can repeat them.
Whichever type of match fishing you enjoy, it’s this sense of progression that is most rewarding of all. It’s not so much about beating opponents as competeing against yourself, in that sense, and seeing just what you can catch on any given day.
For more on the world of match fishing in all disciplines, including full listings and results for various national events, check out the competitions section of our website and the Angling Trust Competitions Facebook page.