How to win your first festival


It's my favourite time of year again when the festival season starts.

In fact, as one event finishes I’m already planning for the next and I’m determined to add to my tally of wins this season.

Now, a lot of people ask me what the key to success in these festivals is, as in ‘why do certain people consistently do well?’

The obvious answer to this is that they draw well, and while to an extent this is no doubt true (you can’t win off a bad peg) there is definitely a lot more to it than that.

Anyway, this got me thinking, and in this week’s column I’m going to look at some of the things that I believe make a difference when it comes to doing well in a festival.

Some of these points may seem slight, but at the end of a five-day festival they can help you put an extra point or two on to your score, which can make a big difference when it comes to making the magical top ten at the end of the week – the margins really are that fine.


‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is a motto I have always believed in, and never has it been more apt than when it comes to fishing a festival. My preparation starts weeks in advance and takes the form of tying hooks and rigs, and changing reel lines and pole elastics.

This might seem excessive, but as far as I am concerned nothing can be left to chance – a lost five minutes in a match through having to tie a new hook on can make the difference between winning a festival or not.

For this reason, at the start of a match I will often set up duplicate rigs so that, should I trash one while I’m fishing, I can literally just pick up another top kit and drop back in again with no time being wasted. 

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, as in anglers who make their rigs on the bank yet still do well, but they are likely to be the ones who have an ‘if only’ tale to tell at the end of the week.



At White Acres there are bait limits, and although these are generous in the extreme (eight pints) they can still cause problems.Many anglersaren’t positive enough – they will take a pint of meat, plus a pint each of corn, 2mm pellets, 6mm pellets, maggots and casters.

They try to hedge their bets by covering all bases.

The problem is that by taking a single pint of lots of different baits you don’t have enough of any one bait to do anything with!

I decide what bait to take by drawing my swim and then formulating a plan of attack.

If I draw a peg with an island cast and open water in between I’ll look to take three pints of 2mm pellets for Method work to the island, two pints of meat (which should cover me for long and short on the pole), plus two pints of casters, which can be used to mix with the meat as feed or to target silvers. Finally, I’ll also have a pint of dead red maggots for down the edge.



One of the biggest mistakes anglers make on a festival is to try and fish methods outside their comfort zone. If they draw a peg that they are told is a pellet waggler peg, even if that isn’t a method they are strong at, they go there and fish it anyway.

They then struggle due to lack of confidence, whereas if they had taken on board what they had been told but adapted it to suit how they wanted to fish, they could still have caught a decent weight.

A brilliant example of this occurred a few years ago. When Gwinear was used in the festivals I drew peg 13 and won the match with 137lb caught at 5m and down the edge.

The next day Will Raison drew the same peg and after talking to me went and won the match again with 139lb! The difference was, Will caught long on the pole shallow, which just goes to show that when the fish are there you can catch them in whatever way you want to!



To win a festival at White Acres, four out of five results count and, more often than not, the scoring is so tight that the fifth result comes back into play when there is a tie.

Over the five days the chances are you won’t draw five fliers – normally you will have three great pegs that look after themselves, one average peg that you turn into a winner and one potential disaster.

Nine times out of ten it’s the disaster peg that makes the difference between winning a festival and finishing out of the frame.

The disaster peg can, though, on occasion be turned into a winner by daring to be different.

The problem is most anglers, myself included at times, will go all out for glory by trying to catch carp that just aren’t there in the numbers required to catch the weight needed to win a section.

The better percentage game is to target anything that swims. For instance 20lb of silvers and two carp can be a section winning catch in a hard area.



Although I always have a plan, that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to change it if things aren’t working out. A change of plan can come about for a variety of reasons –

it might be something I sense during the course of the match, like the carp coming up in the water when I’m fishing on the deck.

More often than not, though, it will be something I notice someone else doing. I like to keep an eye on the anglers around me as you can learn a lot from what others are doing. For instance, if I’m catching long on the pole but thinking about coming short, I can look around to see if anyone is actually catching short – if not, I can safely assume I’m better off staying long.

If someone starts emptying it down the edge then the same applies. So yes, looking around can be distracting, but at the same time it can help massively in terms of making the right decisions at the right time.



At White Acres festivals the results from the previous day are posted up on the wall, so once you draw your peg you can see what it produced the day before.

This is great in one way, but a lot of anglers end up beaten before they start when they look at the results and see that their peg has produced next to nothing the previous match.

Obviously, it isn’t nice to see your peg last in section, but you need to stay positive and think that today is a new day and fish have fins and can and will move. I know I am guilty of having a good moan should I draw badly, but I will still come up with a plan of attack to achieve the result I need.

The angler who fished the day before may have had a bad match, or just got it wrong. It happens all the time, so rather than taking the result from the day before as an excuse, treat it as a challenge and go to the swim with a positive attitude – you never know what might happen!