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Tips for taking your fishing to the next level

As part of Let’s Fish! we hold the annual National Celebration of Young People and Fishing. For some it’s a great day out and if they catch some fish. For others the celebration can be the catalyst to aiming for the stars. Each year, inspired youngsters taking part have been in touch on the lookout for additional advice about improving their angling skills to an even higher level. Here are some recommendations aimed at those whose ambition is to become the best anglers they can be.

Boy with fishing trainer

Wanting to improve your skills is a good thing

Life might not always be fair, but generally those who achieve the best results do so because of a combination of hard work, asking the right questions, being honest with themselves about things they need to improve, coupled with that all-important slice of luck. Rarely is luck alone ever enough. Few ever win an Olympic medal, play for a premiership football team, or get to represent their country in any sport due to sheer luck. Consistency matters.

We can't all be the best, but we can all continue to improve if we are committed

Think of the London marathon. At the front are the elite athletes. Behind them, are tens of thousands of happy, sweaty runners who know they won't be crowned champion. They love being part of that great occasion. They can achieve their own challenges, maybe knocking a minute or two off their personal best time or finishing ahead of their training partner or best pals. Fishing is the same. For Terry Nutt, qualifying for the final of the Canal Pairs final is a successful outcome. For others, anything less than a top ten final placing is considered a disappointing result.

Titford Canal, Oldbury

Master the basic principles

I learnt these from reading the works of the likes of Benny Ashurst, Kevin Ashurst, and Ivan Marks plus having a supportive father and uncle. Some of the kit has evolved, but the principles of bait presentation, feeding and balanced tackle remain the same. Before you can catch a fish, you first need to persuade the fish to sample your hookbait.

Sometimes hungry fish do throw caution to the wind and feed despite an unnaturally presented bait, but those days are rare. Your hookbait must behave as naturally as your loosefeed.

It's perhaps unfortunate for development of young anglers that at some commercial fisheries you can catch fish despite following these basic principles, which causes all sorts of challenges when youngsters move to natural fishery venues where the fish are not so obliging if you don't do the basics correctly.

Given this, it's entirely logical to use the finest diameter lines and the smallest hooks because this gives the most natural presentation. If you can't get any bites, worrying about landing any hooked fish is pointless. Of course, fishing with tackle way too light for the circumstances with no hope of landing the target species once hooked is also similarly foolish.

It's the business end of the tackle that really matters

You can't blame tackle companies for promoting their goods, but you don't have to spend thousands on the latest pole or seat box. The fish are not especially impressed by what you are sitting on, although being comfortable whilst fishing is obviously good necessary for your posture. It's the business end that really matters; what we mean by that is the right mainline, float, hook lengths, hook pattern and size, shot or Stotz. That must be the priority investment area.

All fish species have their day

Growing up in the north, I fished the occasional winter matches where the whole section blanked. We respected gudgeon, perch and ruffe for enabling us to avoid the dreaded dry net. We also learnt that the angler who put 30 small fish in the net had performed better than the one who had only managed 15. Landing a two-pound net of fish can be a finer performance from a peg on a venue where the average catch is one pound than say a 200lbs weight of carp on a heavily stocked commercial in the height of summer. Weight of fish in itself isn't so important as your catch compared to others around you.

Think methods for species, not for specific venues

This was one of the many valuable lessons I was reminded of from chatting to former world number one Stu Conroy. Stu has fished all over the planet in multiple European & World Championships and will be helping out at the 2022 National Celebration of Young People and Fishing. Roach feed like roach feed whether you are in Warrington, Warsaw, Wigan, or Walsall. Bream feed differently to roach but wherever in the world you are trying to catch them, it's always a very similar approach.

fishing hero image04

Become a genuine all-rounder

Whether you have ambitions to be one of the very best in your age group or as an adult is entirely a personal decision. You are unlikely to be selected at international level unless you have a wide range of knowledge of different fishing techniques, including waggler and slider.

A big social media following or sponsorship deal is, in the end, no substitute for angling skill and experience. Therefore, it follows that you need to gain experience on a variety of different types of venues. These would definitely include narrow and deep canals, rivers both slow and faster flowing, as well as natural and commercial stillwaters.

The really big historic angling events such as the World Championships, Angling Trust national championships etc are pretty much always held on natural venues, typically rivers or canals. Henceforth, to be amongst the very best, you need to be at least as proficient on natural venues as on the commercials.

Surround yourself with anglers who are currently more skilful than yourself

If you want to improve as a tennis player, don't play against someone you can beat easily. You will quickly get into a comfort zone and stop learning and developing. One the other hand, avoid playing Andy Murray every week. You're unlikely to win a single point and demoralisation will set in. If you want to get better at any sport, compete with and perhaps even join the same team as those who you know are currently better performers than you but whose skill levels you believe it's possible to emulate.

It pays to work on your weaknesses. I've seen quite a few young anglers with international ambitions who don't yet have the all-round experience for that stage. If they recognize that reality in good time, and then resolve to take action to put it right, they could potentially get back on track towards achieving their dreams. Blaming the selectors is of course another option. And it's easier and much less effort to blame the selectors than improve your skills. Many have used the dodgy team selector excuse in the past and some will probably do so in the future, but my advice is to let your results on a variety of fishing venues do the talking, rather than your mouth.

Just who are the better anglers?

But how do you know who the really good anglers are? In the end, it's all a matter of opinion. In my experience, it's not necessarily the ones who shout loudest or have the biggest social media following or latest sponsorship deal. As in all sports, it's the elite who represent their nation on the international stage. In my opinion, they are the best. Will Raisons Match memories is a must listen for anyone serious about success in the competitive field. When you tune in, make notes in your fishing journal, for there's so much wisdom imparted.

Beyond that, it's consistent performance at high level that counts so study the results; see who wins sections consistently and frame when fishing in a favourable area. To improve your knowledge of river fishing, spectate at the Riverfest final, for canals attend Canal Pairs qualifier or final or a canal National Championships. For commercials, it doesn't get any bigger than the FishOMania final. When suitable opportunities arise, ask angers whether they mind you sitting behind them and promise not to skyline or disturb their fishing.

Other options of learning

Those of a certain generation read something called books. There's a lot of wisdom written down in those books, it's worth seeking out that knowledge still. The more modern approach is the YouTube video. Many are very informative, but you need to be on the lookout for those whose interest is to sell you their latest must have fishing product, rather than upskilling the viewer. In the end, whatever you learn, you are going to have to put it into practice at your fishing peg so set aside time in your weekly calendar for fishing. Write the things you have learnt down, ideally in a journal. Then you can read them again at a later date.

Tackle shops

Some shops are absolutely brilliant, others can be at best mediocre when it comes to meaningful advice, especially to newcomers. Search out the best ones by asking the anglers whose results you wish to emulate about the places they personally use. Find the right people, treat them with the respect they deserve, and you will hit the jackpot. Inevitably, they will have a lot of knowledge of how to fish those waters and what bait and tackle to use. The worst sort of shop is only interested in selling what they need to get rid of to some unsuspecting customer. This is unlikely to be what's require for the job in hand.

Don't neglect your studies

Balance in life is important, and not everyone can become a top sportsperson and represent their country. Life is not like that. So even if you have lofty dreams of becoming the next Matt Godfrey or Alan Scotthorne and earn a full time living in fishing, you still do need a plan B.

Get yourself the best education you possibly can, for it will benefit you forever. Nobody can take knowledge and wisdom away from you, unless you chose to let them. It's all yours to keep. If you are interested in fishing, why not choose, to immerse yourself in the study of biology, chemistry, maths and physics. Who knows, you could ever end up with a career in the fisheries management. And finally, whatever sport you chose to develop your skills in, do make sure you enjoy it. At the end of the day, that's the most important thing of all.

Last Edited: 31 August 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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