MANY non-competition anglers have differing views about the match side of the sport. Yes, I have won my fair share of competitions and I’ve had the honour of competing at the highest of levels in world internationals across the globe. This proves my competitive instinct and desire to win competitions, but it also shows that I catch fish and often more than others.
It’s this latter part that keeps me at the top. After all, we go fishing to catch fish whether competing or leisure fishing. I get great pleasure catching fish – be it a haul in a competition or simply enticing two grown-on fish with more subtle techniques.
I am often asked what keeps me at the forefront of competition fishing or what makes me catch when others around are not doing so. It is an accumulation of skills, techniques, vast experience and most important of all, confidence. Whenever I go fishing I am confident I’ll catch fish. You must have confidence in the flies you tie on and you must believe they will catch fish or you simply won’t. Try to believe that the fish are in front of you. If you don’t believe they are there you're less likely to catch them.
Over the years I’ve built up the skills, techniques and experience, but one of the major components I’ve picked up is patience. Inexperience will see anglers thrashing the water with ineffective methods, without having given it much thought. I was sucked into pulling lures during my early days of competition on the basis that work rate meant I’d catch more fish.
I have learned some very harsh lessons at the highest of levels in world championships. Eagerness to get my flies into the water took over from considering my approach; cast choice; positioning and my fly.
The approach to fishing is key. Stealth is important to ensure the fish are not aware of your presence. In the past I may have been heavy-handed with my approach to a river or small water, or over keen on the engine on a larger reservoir. Now I am conscious of my every move to the finest detail.
I see many anglers with camouflage clothing only to be wearing a brightly-coloured hat. This is the item of clothing that the fish is most likely to see first, as it is at the highest point. Before approaching your fishing spot take time to look around you. Use the natural surroundings for cover and consider where the sun is to ensure no shadows are cast over the water before you get anywhere near it. I have walked beats used during world internationals and swear blind there is no one there, only to see a competitor ghost out from behind a rock or from under a tree. I have seen anglers lying in the water, me included!
It often pays to get close to your quarry. The more line you have out the more line you have to bring in to get the fish to the net and therefore the longer the fish is in the water. In basic terms my theory is ‘the longer the fish is in the water the better chance it has of staying there’. However, getting close requires stealth and patience. I have caught grayling in rivers from under my feet by inching towards them.
In terms of trout fishing, I watch competitors eager to cast at a tracking fish when it gets within 30 yards of the boat. By making an early cast you are spooking any other fish between you and this one, as well as risking presentation, accuracy and of course hooking it at distance and landing it. Wait for the fish to come within 15 yards or so before making the cast.
The ultimate in stealth and patience is personified in Pascal Cognard of the French world team, now the team coach (pictured below). He is almost like a heron. He has extreme patience with arguably the best all-round skills ever seen. He’s been world champion three years in a row!
On occasions, he’ll make only three casts during a three-hour session to take all three fish he could see. This guy is beyond world class and proves that patience and stealth are critical.
The right cast and depth
Making the right cast is often more related to river fishing to help you present your fly into the smallest of gaps under trees and under over-hanging banks. However, the perfect cast can be related very much to lake or reservoir fishing. We have touched on the fact that casting at distance is not always the ideal approach when casting at moving fish. However, choosing the long distance cast when sunk-line fishing can be essential.
In high winds, when your boat may be pushing through and the fish are lying very deep, it is important to cast as far as possible with the fastest sinking line you may have. This is another harsh lesson I learnt when new to competition fishing. I failed to take the boat speed into account when sunk-line fishing and I wasn’t fishing at the depths I thought I was.
Slack line for dry fly
A technique I picked up from fishing the championships dominated by rivers was the importance of a slack, drag-free line when dry fly fishing. Again, when fishing lakes or reservoirs, introducing some slack into your cast when dry fly fishing will bring more hook-ups instead of the ‘thin air’ strikes we all suffer!
When making a cast with a dry fly, simply roll your casting arm in a small circle when releasing the cast. This will form a natural kink in your line. This kink will give the perfect split second delay when lifting into a fish when it takes your fly – making sure it gets its head down and has a good hold of your fly. It does away with famous sayings like ‘God save the Queen’ and the count of one to three.
Casts with nymphs
Fishing the nymph requires the cast to be measured depending on the depth of the fish. Why cast a long line with a team of nymphs if the fish are just a few feet down? A short line will keep the flies high in the water and again give you less distance to bring the fish to the net. In reverse, if the fish are lying deep and are hard on nymphs, a short measured cast will simply not let our flies get deep enough.
The key aspect to my fishing is analysing the surroundings. Every part of the day requires thought – from tackling up in the car park to casting the fly. Spend a little time thinking before you start your next day’s fishing. Take a look at the water, be patient and who knows, one day you may be as successful as Pascal Cognard of France.