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26 Jun 2017
by James Vincent
10 steps to becoming a good angler
James Vincent reveals what he thinks are the ten attributes to being a good angler

Good lake, plenty of time, dedication, being mobile, persistence, patience, good bait, variety of bait, correct timing, right weather conditions, single mindedness, correct moon phase, right tickets, understanding family, commitment, sponsorship, bait application… Nobody could argue these aren’t all things that will help put fish on the bank, but it’s important to try and get the right balance of each and know when to change tack and try something fresh.

Rather than include time as one of my ten attributes I think it’s important to understand that more time doesn’t always mean more fish. If you are a competent angler then putting your time to good use whilst on the bank will result in more chances coming your way and for sure the longer you are on the bank looking for opportunities the sooner you are going to
find one. Therefore, in that respect, time does equal higher returns, but one thing you can be sure of is that if you don’t spend time on the bank you aren’t going to catch.

#1 Apprenticeship in fishing

This gets talked about quite a lot and is something I really do believe in. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great thinking anglers out there that have only been into the sport for a few seasons, but, by and large, many of today’s successful carp anglers have been into the sport of fishing for years and have grown into the experts they have become. Learning from all their experiences along the way, catching anything that swims the waterways as they progress into specimen hunting that is the carp fishing of today.

I remember my days as a youngster sitting beside the Little Ouse happy to catch gudgeon, ruff, dace, roach and especially eels. Every species has taught me something, be it baiting or perhaps timings, always trying to better my previous day’s catch by trying different methods and understanding why the chosen method on that particular day works or not.

Moving onto stillwaters was a massive change for my angling, as I really didn’t enjoy watching a static float, although the Lift Method I fished for crucians and tench is one known by all who have completed their apprenticeship in the sport.

By making mention of this as a top ten seems elitist, but I only make mention as I really do think this has helped my understanding on how to angle better in different circumstances. Due to time constraints I no longer fish for any species other than carp, but looking back at those early years I would never have put myself down to become so single species minded, but I am glad I have tried the other disciplines of angling prior to settling for carp.

#2 Attention to detail

This can be a real head banger at times and can really cast heavy doubts on the way in which you are angling. There is nothing worse that worrying that you didn’t push the sleeve back over the clip prior to casting or that the last cast that you felt down was the right feel for that rod and not the left-hand rod. It happens to me all the time as I often get caught up in the moment and distracted, be it a fish showing over a spot whilst I’m trying to get set-up or that phone call I urgently need to make. Neither should be affecting the way I am angling, but modern life and its technology certainly has its own way of interfering.

#3 Confidence

Every time I put a hookbait out I want to be confident that it’s going to aid in my next capture. I’m sure you would agree it’s pointless casting a bait thinking it’s going to fail you. Although I have watched people catch fish from different venues, home and abroad, after having swim disputes and dejectedly just chucking out in the margins only for it to scream off. It can happen that way.

If I cast and don’t get the right drop so I’m unsure whether I have placed a bait bang-on the spot, I will recast. I remember casting over ten times to a spot that was no more than twenty-yards away but I had to know the lead was hitting the very small hard spot that I had found whilst out in the boat. I took a lot of fish from this small spot and would perhaps have caught away from the spot, but my confidence was greatest when the bait was where I wanted it rather than almost where I wanted it.

There was a belief among the other members that the carp were spooking off leads so they started using stones attached with a light line that would break off on the take. My approach differed, as the autumn leaves fell into the gin clear water I glued oak leaves around my leads, perhaps not necessary, but camouflaging my leads gave me that added confidence.

#4 Organisation

At times we all just expect everything to fall into place for us, be it getting to the lake before the weekend rush, getting the bait in the water or even picking the right swim. Picture the scene: mid-afternoon Friday and you have a weekend session planned, just you against the carp. You leave work early after the boss kindly says ‘on your way’, and upon arrival your favourite pre-chosen swim has gone, as has almost all the other swims on the lake. Straight away you are on a downer and whichever swim you now choose there will be very little positive, unless of course you manage to bank a fish although even that could be seen as second best as you believe you would have done better in the swim you wanted.

Get yourself organised and find out when the lake is at its quietest, perhaps midweek overnighters or take a day off on the Friday to get the swim you want. Either way, there is always another option to second best and being organised will help you to get the best out of your angling time on the bank.

To sum up, all the above combined can give you an advantage in fishing any lake, but there are also other external factors such as weather and angling pressure along with the time of year that affect the lake’s inhabitants and how you should angle for them. Understanding why and gaining knowledge in how to use these to your advantage when reading a lake is better known by the collective term ‘watercraft’ – this along with the mentioned attributes combine to give anglers an understanding of when a lake will fish and how to get the best out of the constantly changing circumstances. This is not only from session-to-session, but also within any session.

#5 Taking your chances and also making chances

You arrive at a lake and the fish are there in clear view, tails up rooting around throwing all caution to the wind. What you do next is key to making the most of the situation. I know, in fact, we all know anglers who would set the bivvy up, use a marker rod to find a feature, bait up with a kilo of bait, not forgetting the use of a mallet to make sure the bivvy isn’t moving before even casting out. Need I say more?

Opportunities come and go every time you go angling and a ‘mañana’ approach will never do. It’s so important to be vigilant and watch the water for signs of fish and try to fathom out their routines as they go about their business. As I write this I am sitting behind a bush beside a 25-acre lake in a small wooded area where I have got the fish visiting and feeding on a marginal shelf. I am just waiting for the clutch to signal one has made a mistake. The fishing has been hard during the day so frequently baiting a spot between some overhanging trees has given me the chance of a bonus fish. My other rods are fishing on alarms in my swim just twenty yards to my right. Whilst I have caught from my swim there are still other chances for another bite. It’s clear to see they have been getting on the bait as the bottom is clean and it should just be a matter of time before it happens. When priming spots, try to do it without fellow anglers knowing; there is nothing worse than getting a spot going only to find out somebody else has nipped in and taken your chance of a fish.

#6 Observation

Don’t just walk around the lake because that’s what your mate does or because you read it somewhere. Walk around the lake and take in as much information as you can about visible features and look for signs of fish or better still signs of feeding fish. Check out the local birdlife; coots can tell you where other anglers have baited, swifts and swallows a sign that a hatch is occurring. Try to work out where the fish are at certain times in the day and the patrol routes that they follow to get there. Placing baits along these routes or second-guessing their movements and getting set-up in the correct swim before they arrive is the way forward. Always be ready to move if fish show, it’s better to be on fish than bait.

#7 Information gathering

This is often seen as the boring part, but can reap rewards in the long run. Look for patterns in the captures of certain fish: which swim and area of the lake are they caught from and at what time of the year. Check out Google Earth and look at the lake contours and perhaps search the internet for any pictures of drain downs or work parties. It’s surprising what can be learnt from anglers blogs and features on specific venues. Try not to copy exactly what they did for success, as many have probably read the same information and it’s been done a hundred times over. Knowledge is power and knowing what worked previously may help with your way of thinking and give you an untried idea or method that compliments the information.

A few years back I did very well on a venue using Assassin-8, capturing two of the lake’s largest residents in the same day. It seemed a bait that was overlooked by many, perhaps due to the newer baits available. Subsequently, four different people contacted me through a forum for some advice and I gave them as much information as I could about what bait I used and how I baited. Three of those four people caught the ‘big ‘un’, and yes, perhaps this is coincidence, but to me it seems a little more likely that the fish enjoyed that bait and these anglers reaped the reward of asking a few questions before making the trip.

#8 Helpful and friendly

I know some anglers that come across as grumpy on the bank and they see angling as their quiet time to get out of the house away from the work and family pressures and just want to be left alone. There are also the anglers that want to send you up the garden path trying to put you off the scent as it were. Invariably these anglers are the ones that turn out to be the most helpful once they know you are there for the same reasons and not there to interfere with what they are trying to do.

I remember joining a syndicate and after six months being told I was “alright”. Turns out a few of the members thought me, being a sponsored angler meant I would fill in their lake with hundreds of kilos of bait spoiling their chances. Needless to say this didn’t happen and I have since joined other lakes recommended by the very same anglers.

There’s a certain etiquette in carp fishing, you are effectively after not just the same species, but often the same ‘target fish’. If you are courteous and treat people how you expect to be treated, then it makes fishing a more pleasant pastime.

#9 Think outside the box

Find the fish and make the most of the situation, constantly baiting marginal spots and checking. Fish love island margins, they also love the lake’s margins although may only venture to them at night on busy lakes. I have caught fish in six-inches of water 2ft from the bank; you wouldn’t believe that fish could actually swim to the bait as it’s so shallow. Think about it, anglers’ bait gets dropped in the margins or even thrown in when anglers leave as the opened tin of sweetcorn isn’t going to last. The fish gain confidence in these hook-free offerings.

Try a rig in the lake margins as you may be surprised what you catch.

#10 Fishing for the right reasons

This is quite simple really… Do it because you want to, setting your own targets and achieving your own goals. Don’t do things because you think it would look good on you by others, do it because you believe in what you are doing and the capture of your chosen quarry or perhaps individual target fish is then your success. What is the point of wanting to catch a certain fish due to following the ‘madding crowd’? There are some awesome fish out there to chase, but things need to be put into perspective.

I love carp fishing, as it holds great satisfaction when I catch one. Yes, I have targets, but they are realistic. I am lucky enough to have been recognised in a pastime that I lived for as a child. Nowadays I have to support my children in their path through life so for me any time on the bank is trying to catch ‘pretty’ scaley mirrors over twenty pounds and commons over thirty. Achievable targets that give me the greatest of satisfaction, I don’t have the time to get pre occupied chasing the length of the country after individual ‘whackers’. It doesn’t matter how blinkered or obsessed you become, some will and others won’t understand your obsession, as long as you are following your dreams it doesn’t matter.

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