High Pool Hiccups

Even top anglers like Jon Arthur can go through a bad run, as a recent three-day event at Tunnel Barn Farm proved…

Two of Jon’s pegs from the three-day festival. A huge move of less than five metres!

As a self-confessed drawbag I can still have the very occasional hiccup. Three days on the Pole Fishing Daiwa Masters at Tunnel Barn Farm certainly proved that! With over 110 anglers involved, this event is all about section points. Coming top three in your seven-peg section is the very worst you can aim for to do well overall.

110 anglers were involved.

My last two visits to Tunnel saw me come away with a match win and a 4th overall so I felt I was reasonably up to speed. One worry, however, was just how hard the fishing had become. When 100lbs are normally commonplace it was 70-80lb that was now framing with really low back-up weights. Several weeks of hot, still and muggy weather combined with spawning had clearly taken its toll. Even really prolific venues like this one were becoming temperamental. The good pegs were looking after themselves but there were worrying areas that were becoming increasingly difficult to crack.

Day 1

Part of Jon's Day 1 catch.
Part of Jon’s Day 1 catch.

There aren’t too many pegs I would immediately drop my head after drawing. Peg 22 on High Pool was one, however, and that was my destination for Day 1. I knew I was well up against it with red-hot pegs 15 and 16 in the section, plus peg 23 immediately behind me on a slightly better arm of the lake. Having someone sat less than five metres away to my right on peg 21 wasn’t ideal either! Couple that with being sat right at the end of a spit with two anglers fishing long poles on the adjacent bank towards you and you are a tad boxed in.

Never mind, I still had a job to do and with plenty of time to set up I was armed for everything. That included a short pole starting swim at the very base of the steep marginal slope where it was about 7ft, a central track swim, two margin swims to fish with just a top kit (any more and I would be in someone else’s peg), several shallow rigs and a couple of rigs for across. The shallowest water I could find against the island was 2.5ft at the top of a steep slope. Again not ideal but fairly typical for this lake.

Starting short on hard pellets I had a quick flurry of small F1s while regularly throwing casters around eight metres to my left. I bided my time before having a look on this line and had instant bites. A lot of these were from an explosion of inch-long roach in the lake, but by fishing a banded caster I was only actually hitting the F1 bites and started to put a few together. I tried throwing a bit of sloppy crushed expander to see if that would improve things but soon ruled that out. If the fish don’t swirl then it’s not a slop day.

With the day getting hotter the fishing became tougher so I had to venture across to the island. Pellets weren’t right so I quickly swapped to worms and had a couple of F1s. This soon died so I gambled and switched to a new swim fed with groundbait and maggots. Two bigger F1s followed then nothing. I couldn’t see anyone else catching across. As I half expected the margins were a complete waste of time as all I could muster were perch and very tiny skimmers.

ja-day1-sheetNo one near me was catching but whenever I looked behind me I could see Barrie Duggan on 23 taking odd F1s shallow on pellets while Andy Bennett fishing towards him on the other bank was really motoring on maggot shallow. My shallow line was all but gone in the middle of the match but seeing them still catching convinced me I had to persevere. In the last hour a ball of F1s magically reappeared. I ended up swapping between a normal fixed 0.2g Crystal Dibber and a homemade jigger float and really motored in the dying stages. On what was clearly a tough day for this lake that late surge put me on a half-respectable 58lb. The section was won with 76lb and there were two 60s, so I was 4th. It was hard going but a 2nd in section was definitely possible in hindsight. Not a great start for me and with a chance of a top 10 now gone I had to just try to win the match over the next two days…

Day 2

Part of Jon's Day 2 catch.
Part of Jon’s Day 2 catch.

I really fancied a draw on one the other five lakes for Day 2, so I couldn’t believe it when peg 19 on High Pool stuck to my hand, three pegs along in the same bloody section! At least I was three pegs nearer the flyers and had the experience of the day before to draw upon. This day I had a section full of familiar names including local ace Dave James to my left and Dale Shepherd five metres to my right on 18, his mate Ryan Lidgard on 16 and Mark Wainwright on fancied 15. This was not going to be easy!

This day was again slow to begin with. I had a very short flurry close on pellets and a couple of quick fish shallow before having to go across. Dale bagged on pellets while I was still working out how best to catch. I ended up fishing chopped worm and micros together and this seemed to be ok. Thankfully my far bank plumbed up much better than the previous day so at least I had a proper shelf to target.

ja-day2-sheetThe middle of the match was again poor for everyone. Then the skies blackened and the heavens opened. For the next 30 minutes we had three inches of rain (that’s how much was in my groundbait bowl!). It was one of the heaviest rainstorms I’ve ever sat in, but boy did we need it. I had a feeling that would freshen things up nicely and was right. Over the last two hours I sacked up shallow on casters and also had a decent run with meat on a top kit. Pegs 15 and 16 had caught all day but I was now motoring and knew I had caught them right up.

That last-gasp sprint pushed me right up to 84lb and agonisingly short of the 89lb I needed to win the section. It was much more than I ever expected to catch but I had worked hard and felt I had fished pretty well. Pegs 21 to 23 had all predictably struggled, though, and in hindsight there just wasn’t enough space for those pegs to compete. All I wanted now was to see the back of this section and draw somewhere with a chance of actually framing. I had endured enough…

Day 3

I arrived in the morning not feeling the best, then proceeded to draw Peg 18… in the same section on High Pool again. Argh! My head was now ready to explode. No chance at all of framing and only an outside chance of winning the section IF pegs 15 or 16 blew out. I made a very slow drive to the peg but to cheer me up I thought I would walk the section. On this 110-peg match I had moved just 33 paces in three days! To make matters worse Alan Scotthorne then arrived on peg 19. Bang!

I re-assembled the same tired rigs from the two previous days and set about a similar plan as before, albeit with a lot less enthusiasm. This time I started short on softened 4mms which felt a bit better. Just one F1 shallow made me realise it was going to be a grueller. Worms on the deck over the same line produced three small F1s but bites were agonisingly slow.

Alan had a similar start but after coming 2nd in the match with 127lb the day before he was clearly more motivated and determined than me. He went across to the far bank with worms and was soon forging ahead. I eventually followed, first on pellets and then on worms with very little success. Back short I nicked a very occasional fish down the middle but was clearly going nowhere fast. The lake was fishing even harder. Two days on the same section hadn’t actually done me any favours, as everything I did right the previous day was now completely wrong today!

Just two hours in you could sense that peg 15 on the point was going to cruise to a section win. He was the only person catching consistently. Alan was going to be an easy 2nd. I now realised that trying to beat Alan wasn’t going to win me any prizes other than my own pride. To win the section I had to do something creative to get in front of peg 15. Fortune favours the brave and I now needed to take some risks.

There was an odd big carp showing to my right so my answer was to big-pot groundbait and maggots right across and start up a meat line in 4ft of water towards Matt Pillay on 16. I also fed a new shallow swim much further across the lake and well away from Alan.

The groundbait gamble was sadly a complete waste of time and just ruined any chances of me catching across. Shallow fishing was also a write-off on the day as there just wasn’t enough fish competing to line any up. The meat line thankfully worked. However, this was mostly small barbel averaging 8oz and I must have caught about a dozen of these plus the odd F1. I was at least getting some enjoyment in playing these lovely little whiskery critters and, unlike me, they never give up!

I somehow managed to net a barbel and bounce it out of my lap and onto my platform before it snapped me and escaped back into the lake. That summed up my day. A few slightly bigger F1s came very late on meat but the writing was on the wall. Three days had taken its toll and High Pool had beaten me up fair and square.

ja-day3-sheetWeights in this section were even lower. Pegs 21 to 23 had really suffered and two didn’t even trouble the scalesman. As expected, peg 15 won the section with 62lb and Alan had a very well deserved and hard-earned 2nd. He never gave up right to the whistle and his class really shone through. My bouncing barbel cost me a point, as I had 43lb 1oz to Matty’s 43lb 9oz, not that it made a big difference to either of us!

It was day where very negative feeding was required to keep bites coming and I was definitely guilty of overfeeding and trying to force a miracle. However, its difficult to feed negative when the peg is full of micro roach up in the water. I still don’t know how I could have caught the 62lb needed to win the section on the day. Matt and I consoled ourselves with one of his lovely Cherry Bakewell tarts and that was possibly the highlight of my festival!

On Reflection

castersI think caster shallow was clearly the way to go if there were any feeding fish in front of you. The margins were largely devoid according to a lot of people I chatted to. Even fishing right across wasn’t as prolific as you’d normally expect. Fishing up and down in the deeper water was the most reliable attack but you couldn’t plunder any swim for long before it needed a rest.

It’s a lesson I keep having to tell myself but on an F1-dominated venue feeding a big pot of anything only ever works on the good days. Eking out bites with small amounts of feed is the safest way to keep bites coming. When it’s hard going, less is always more. Start negative and you’ll always catch a few fish. Instead of gambling with more feed, come off the area and rest it or start a new swim further along.

Tackle wise, keep the gear on the fine side but still sensible enough to deal with vital bonus fish. I mostly use soft 6-8 Carp Bungee and size 18 or 16 Silverfish Pellets to 0.11mm Supplex, with eyed 18 B911s for hair rigging.

That huge rainstorm on Day 2 also proved that a quick influx of fresh water can really liven things up. Lots of people including myself bagged up shallow immediately after it passed. It’s a strange phenomenon that’s worth bearing in mind.

ch-bake-cakeThe final important tip is to find someone nearby with some consolation food. Matt’s ‘exceedingly good cakes’ come highly recommended if he’s ever in sight!

I must conclude by saying it was an extremely well run event by Pole Fishing and also generously sponsored by Daiwa and Tunnel Barn Farm. Yes it fished patchy in areas and the weights were lower than expected with some sections being won with just 30lb, but you only have to look at the top three to appreciate the cream still rises to the top. Andy Bennett won by ounces over Des Shipp, with Paul Holland in third. All three scored a maximum three section wins, so a very well done to them. Whenever I looked behind me I could see Des catching on Day 2 and Andy bagging on Day 1 and they really were class. Part of me wanted to pack up and just get some pleasure in watching guys like these in bagging mode.

Hopefully next time I will be back on a pile of fish again. I might have been knocked down but matches like this are important reality checks. It’s only fishing. Just learn from it, take the positives away with you and move on to the next big match!