So often, match angling is thought of as a polarising part of our sport that blinds its competitors to the natural world they sit within. But in reality, is that true?
As part of our ‘Love Fishing, Love Nature’ campaign, we asked Angling Trust Membership Executive and accomplished match angler, Emma Jenks, for her thoughts on competitive fishing through the seasons.
Autumn has to be my favourite time of the year. The leaves begin to fall, the conkers drop from the trees, and the wildlife starts to prepare for winter. You can watch as creatures collect food stores and build warm, comfortable beds as we sit patiently waiting for the fish to take our bait. The insects are mulling about making good use of the detritus but then they’re interrupted by the swooping blue tits who take them to refuel their own energy levels.
The chill in the air slowly builds and the dark nights and mornings are creeping in. Match anglers, being the early birds that we are, get to benefit from the heart-warming experience of a dawn chorus. So many birds suddenly become a lot easier to spot as they take the time to claim and maintain their glorious territories. Our summer visitors are now taking their departure, such as the chiffchaff and the reed & sedge warblers and in return we begin to see our winter visitors, whooper swans, field fares and red wings, along with many others.
As match anglers, we are genuinely wonderful at observing our surroundings. We make judgements on how to fish but also how to care for the environment.
We use our senses to take in the float and everything around us too. To enjoy a competition to the full, the two must go hand in hand.
For me, nature and its wildlife are beautiful in so many ways. It’s amazing for our wellbeing and fishing is a perfect way to immerse ourselves in all of it. Even as a match angler, you’re still able to appreciate the little things in life, to recharge our batteries, and act as the eyes and ears of our waterways.
Although we try and kid ourselves otherwise, it’s not always about winning and I’m sure those of you who are match anglers like me, will understand that these thoughts are merely a snapshot of what we experience while on the banks. Autumn is wonderful but at any point of the year, we understand and recognise the onset of the next season.
Picture this. I’m scraping the frost from my windshield on a chilly, dark, crisp morning and in the distance I hear a blackbird singing its dawn chorus as I ready for the match ahead of me.
As I arrive at the venue, the blackbird’s song is swapped for the chatter of anglers talking about their plans for fishing the match. The sound is not so sweet, so I block it out and take in the wildlife hidden around us. The creatures give themselves away by the rustle in the undergrowth or by their call and I hear the usual suspects. The favourite of feathery friends in the winter months, the modest robin, and the dainty dunnock are flicking up leaves and looking around for food.
As the match is underway, us match anglers frequently enjoy the company of the robins. They seem to become bolder than ever in the colder months, pinching maggots from our side trays and quite often take to using our fishing poles or rods as a brief resting spot.
Despite the darker days and dreary clouds, the splash of colour from our birds is enough to bring a smile to our faces. It’s a great way for match anglers to embrace nature – especially if it’s a bad day on the fishing front! When the going gets tough, do you ever notice how the ducks and the geese never seem to be phased by the colder weather? I do!
As Winter gives way, we are greeted by spring and the start of renewed life and vigour. Not only in the natural world but in us humans too. We’re greeted by an array of colours. There’s the delicate white snowdrops and then the famous yellow that spreads up and down the UK, signalling that spring is truly arriving. I’m talking, of course of the daffodils. They line the banks of fisheries, canals, and rivers, bringing along with it, an influx of insects that have awoken from their slumber. Whilst we concentrate endlessly on our floats or rods, we hear the buzzing of bees, or wasps around us, the rustle of moorhens and coots down our margins or across the far bank.
Now is the time that we witness the territories of all birds, I’m sure we can all relate to the squabbling between the mallard ducks and the Canadian or Greylag geese whilst trying to fish.
For some it’s sometimes hard to smile at the wonder of it all as they destroy all the hard work in competition! In spring we start to see the water colour change, and the fish seem to liven up ready for the spawning season to begin. Needless to say, they are on the hunt for food and our bait, so the spring is always a great time for some good fishing and a great time to observe beyond the pole or rod tip.
I find match fishing in summer difficult. By now, you will all have recognised I’m a huge fan of wildlife and will have worked out that I‘m easily distracted. There is so much new life to be found no matter where you are. New families are booming, the season’s broods are taking flight after their period of growth, and the greenery thrives and forms around us.
There is nothing quite as cute as those ducklings, although they can be a little annoying when they are pinching your bait. New colours flicker past me while I’m fishing. The dazzling blues, and bright oranges of the dragonflies and damselflies which never fail to amaze me. They’re such delicate, perfect insects that it feels so cruel for them to fall prey to the many birds. At this time of year, the birds enjoy being by the water as there is always such an abundance of wildlife, that they feed on for their youngsters.
However tough I find match fishing in the summer, it’s always a great way to focus on my wellbeing, to soak up nature and the environment around me, and then fish to the best of my abilities against others. With the plant life now so abundant and the bankside receiving heathy cover, I’m more conscious than ever to make sure I dispose of my rubbish responsibly and protect our active wildlife and our burgeoning summer environment.
The wonderfully long days mean fishing in summer is a great way to make use of the added sunlight that we get. Now we can choose between a fresh early morning and dawn chorus while most are still snoozing away and relaxation by a languid stretch of river or peaceful still water in the evening sun.
And through each of our beautiful, yet very different seasons, I ask my competitive self a question: Does it matter if I don’t weigh-in the biggest catch?
No, not really.
When others take the prizes, I’m always winning in a different, yet associated way. And that, of course, is what fishing does. It takes you to nature and allows you to embrace it.
You just have to let it.
If you are a match angler like me, The Trust’s Environmental Projects Officer, Liberty Denman, who is leading the ‘Love Fishing Love Nature’ campaign would be keen to learn about your stories and experiences of wildlife.
You can contact her about your match fishing and any wildlife photography at: