It’s easy to think that fishing on commercial carp waters is all about one dominant seasonal tactic.
That could be fishing shallow in warmer weather or chucking out a bomb or feeder when things turn a bit colder – but to catch consistently throughout the year, the successful angler needs to be able to turn their hand to a bit of everything.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on the match scene, when staying one step and one fish ahead of your rivals is essential to consistent success.
Getting your tactics right and making the correct decisions during those five hours of fishing will very often be the difference between a win and a near-miss.
One man who knows better than most about getting this right is the unstoppable Jamie Hughes, who recently booked a place in his third big-money final. The Wirral man has now earned a spot in the Fish O’Mania XXVI, Maver Mega Match This and Golden Reel Angling Championships finals. If he wins the lot, he stands to pocket a projected £180,000!
Qualifying victories have come by fishing a range of methods based around the pole, from shallow tactics for big carp to battling gales for shy-biting F1s.
Now the Matrix/Spotted Fin superstar, already a triple winner of Fish O’Mania, reflects on those wins and what he learned from each match.
Here he shares his top tips for successful fishing on commercials in the next few weeks…
Victory No. 1 | Fish O’Mania XXVI Qualifier
Venue: Tunnel Barn Farm Peg: New Pool 5 Weight: 146-3-0
It was blowing a typical March gale for this one, so fishing the long pole was out of the question. That forced me to focus on the margins and going short at 5m. However, the lake is dominated by F1s that you have more of a chance of catching than ‘proper’ carp at short range.
When fishing in such terrible conditions, it is important to keep things simple and comfortable for yourself. Trying to fish long would only waste time and give you bad presentation in the first place. What I noticed during the match was how crucial the feeding was.
Put too much in and the F1s would come up in the water where they’re much harder to catch. It was a case of feeding less often but with a decent hit of bait each time. This put enough feed into the peg to keep the fish there but ensure they stayed firmly on the deck.
The decision to fish hard pellets rather than expanders was important too. I do this a lot because my theory is that every time a fish takes an expander it gets caught so naturally they associate them with danger.
Hard pellets are different, as the fish see lots of them as feed and so aren’t as wary of them.
1) Don’t be afraid to use heavy rigs when it is windy. At times the weather means that you simply can’t go lighter. A 4x16 float sounds big, but when there are waves on the lake its stability is an absolute must.
2) Even though you think you might not be feeding a lot, foul-hooking F1s is common. If this happens to me, I first cut back on how regularly I am feeding. Feeding more but less often is the way to go – feed too little infrequently and I just don’t think you’ll get enough fish into the peg to catch consistently.
3) How well you catch in the edge can be governed by the depth. Ideally, 12ins-20ins of water is perfect but even if it’s deeper than this a good weight is still possible. In this instance I’d have an eye on catching shallow, as F1s, in particular will want to come off bottom, especially if you are feeding maggots regularly by hand.
Victory No2 | Golden Reel Qualifier
Venue: Woodland View Peg: High Pool 27 Weight: 266-10-0
In contrast to the Fish O’ match, this one was on a warm, still day when we fished in T-shirts and carp were the target. Before the start there were lots of fish cruising about close to the surface all over the lake and, when this happens, I find that they’re not really in the mood to feed.
Dobbing or mugging comes to the fore here. This basically means spotting a fish and dropping a single hookbait in front of it, trying to get the carp to take it. Fishing this way is hard work, but it’s amazing how many fish you can catch if you do it right.
The most important thing I learned from this day is how the colour of your pellet hookbait can make a difference. I began fishing a normal plain-brown 6mm pellet but was only catching one out of every four fish that I saw.
Switching to a much darker pellet did the trick and I then nailed every single one – I presume this was down to the colour of the pellet, which created a silhouette against the sky that carp could see far more easily.
Another difference to normal mugging was that most of my fish took the pellet as it was just reaching the maximum depth of my rig, around 2ft. I think that at times the carp watch the bait fall past them, respond to this movement and follow it down before sucking it in, so fishing very shallow was never going to be as good.
1) Be prepared to have a crack at any fish you see! I caught a few on a top kit but then went out to 16m. Have the belief that you can catch cruising fish at short range – mugging is rarely a method that sees you catch all day on one line.
2) Invest in some polarised sunglasses as these make such a difference. They cut out any surface glare, allowing you to see each fish and judge in which direction it is swimming and whether it has seen your bait and is showing an interest in it.
3) I always use a long pole between the pole and float when mugging so the fish won’t be spooked by the pole tip. Around 3ft to 5ft is ideal, and I like to use a light float as well – only around 0.2g with all the shot beneath it to give me a concentration of weight to help swing the bait into position.
Victory No3 | Mega Match this Qualifier
Venue: Tunnel Barn Farm Peg: house Pool 29 Weight: 135-8-0
Although a lot of the lakes at Tunnel Barn are narrow snakes, this peg is actually in open water, and on the House Pool there’s an even mix of carp and F1s. You need to have an eye on catching both, and that meant fishing both shallow and on the bottom.
The match actually went pretty smoothly, starting short before moving out to 14.5m on the bottom with banded hard pellet. Once I started getting line bites or saw the odd swirl, I changed over to a shallow rig and this worked well too.
When fishing shallow, however, a change in weather conditions can kill the fishing stone dead.
Whether it’s air pressure or rain I don’t know, but midway through we had a big thunderstorm and the bites ceased completely! This is when being able to go back and fish on the bottom paid off, and I did this by feeding more heavily than you normally would when fishing shallow.
1) By feeding heavily with 4mm pellets I knew that I could catch shallow and that a good percentage of the bait would get to the bottom. I caught 40lb of carp late on by changing to the deck. If I hadn’t been so positive in my feeding, those fish wouldn’t have been there in the first place.
2) When you haven’t got an obvious feature, where do you fish? I like to be well away from where I’m sat but far enough out that I can feed comfortably with a catapult and control the rig. This is why 13m or 14.5m would always be my starting point. Later I could add a pole section to follow the fish out.
3) The bottom of the House Pool is very silty, but I could see the carp bubbling. In this instance a bigger hookbait was needed, something that would stand out on the bottom – and that meant a 6mm or even an 8mm hard pellet.