The Probabilities of Match Fishing


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Sep 20, 2014
The Hopeful Match Fisher

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Last week I caught up on a few old back editions of Tight Lines, which I get as an edited video podcast onto my computer. I've been a fan of the program mainly because they cover some of the big match events and also get some decent guests in to talk about their experiences.

On one such recent episode Callum Dicks was on and Keith Arthur was talking to him about the recent Parkdean Masters match, which is considered one of the most prestigious titles in the match fishing game. As far as I know, in order to fish on the Parkdean Masters you have to qualify by good results at the White Acres Festival, which runs the week before. I think they take the top twenty-four anglers, based upon results in their sections. By all accounts there are something like five matches to gain qualification points, about 180 anglers each all in. Now here comes the rub: according to Callum Dicks you cannot finish less than second or third in your section on any of the five matches and then expect to qualify for the Parkdean Masters. Sounds tough! Yet what I found when I looked at who had made it through to Masters was a list of mostly the same faces who seem to do consistently well in the commercial match fishing world.

Now if you are still with me, what I'm aiming to work out here is not the obvious (the best guys always do well), but rather how it is that these characters manage to do it so consistently. There are so many variables to take into account when match fishing (or any sort of fishing for that matter). So how is it that these few are yet able to rise to the top so regularly?

There is of course a simple answer: 'experience'. Or perhaps it could be 'ability', but these basic answers are just too simple for my inquiring mind. I'm sure we have all heard that preparation is the key to success: it's that old 'fail to prepare - prepare to fail' adage. I believe that is true, but it's still to generalised for me. In a previous life I was software engineer and I so I'm just always trying to discover how things work by reverse engineering them!

It seems to me then that the best match anglers are able to achieve consistency by lessening the odds of success in a number of key areas of preparation and performance. By doing so they improve their chances over other anglers. There are of course some random factors involved, such as the peg draw, over which no amount of preparation and performance can influence the result at the point you put your hand into the draw bag. However, many other factors might be predicted to be within certain limits so that an angler could make preparations to cope with the range of possibilities. I believe that it's good decision making within this array of possibilities which gives one angler an advantage over another.

So what are these key areas? Well to be fair I'm not sure I could find them all, but here is a go:


The weather has a huge effect on fishing. It's not just a case of basic temperature, but also temperature change. That of course is linked to air pressure, which can determine the direction of the wind. All of these can make a huge difference on the day. There is a practical angle to this. For example turning up for a match on a very windy day prepared only to fish a long pole is not a good decision. But as we all know, sudden changes in temperature can be devastating, even in the height of summer. These days we have good weather forecasts to ever greater levels detail, and they are becoming ever more localised. Surely having some idea of the weather trends can help in preparation. For example, if there is to be a lot of rain overnight then a lot of cold water, which is denser then warmer water and therefore sinks, is going to mean deeper swims may not be popular with bottom feeding fish. Yet as we know the forecasters can also get it wrong, so packing rigs and tactics to be able to cope with a sudden change can be a good move. The point is that the successful angler won't leave it until the whistle before deciding how to fish the match.

Fish Behaviour

An understanding of fish behaviour can also lessen the odds - sometimes called watercraft. It's amazing how apparently similar days can fish entirely differently on the same water! What is it that makes fish go on the feed, or puts them off? How are fish governed by their body clocks? How do carp, caught multiple times, react to a common bait like pellets? How can fish be made competitive, to seek out feed in a sort of frenzy? What puts fish off? I'm sure most of these factors can vary from water to water, yet there are some common patterns species by species. A successful matchman will be able to make some good choices to rule out or rule in certain approaches on any given day, to improve the odds.


I think bait choice works in two directions: positively and negatively. It's about offering acceptable baits and avoiding unacceptable ones. We all know that some baits seem to work well for certain species, and we also know that some will help us to avoid others. So when approaching a water where a good head of bream exists, or carp, roach, tench, etc, there will be some choices that can narrow down and improve your chances. But I think that in commercial waters the choice is less about what the fish are happy to eat and more about what makes them feel safe to feed. It's also worth noting (again in commercial waters) that there is likely not enough natural food to satisfy the fish population. Also, just like animals reared in captivity, if they are released to rely on their natural state they may not have the experience to cope. My point is that fish have to eat, and therefore make subliminal decisions about risk verses need.

I like to increase my chances of a good catch simply by carrying a variety of baits to the peg. I've got a decent size bait bag, which usually gets packed with various pellets, meat, corn, worms (sometimes) and premixed paste. In my garage I've got two large plastic crates overflowing with baits and groundbaits because I like to prepare my baits at home. I prefer to keep a stock of many varieties ready to pick and stuff in the bag. I never leave bait choice to the point I get to the water or buy my ticket.

Clearly experience, local knowledge and confidence will come into play here. Decision making about when to change baits is also key on match days. Perhaps one of the most important and critical skills is loose-feeding behaviour, which is another whole article in itself, but we all know that the volume of feed and timing are the main variables. I think this is area where the top matchmen can pull away from the rest of the field - not simply by employing dry knowledge of what works, but rather because they can 'feel' and interpret what is happening in front of them and then make good decisions.

This is a complex area, perhaps the most complex of all the areas considered, but a lot of the probabilities and uncertainties can be narrowed by carrying a variety of baits and by having some local knowledge about what has or hasn't worked well in recent matches.

Angler's Effort

We have all done it. You sit bored on your box after lobbing out a method feeder hoping for something to happen, which it hasn't done for the last three hours! Patience is not a virtue for the match angler. My wife still thinks I go fishing to relax. Hard work is surely a part of match fishing, linked to making decisions and taking risks. If you don't put in an effort then you are not going to improve your chances by trying alternative methods and approaches.


Equipment can mean options - options for methods and approaches. But for me the point here is good use of equipment. It's about technique. A few weeks back I fished a match where I had an island at about 60 yards to fish up to. The guy next to me had much the same to aim at, except he seemed to have a more suitable feeder rod for getting an accurate and consistent drop-in where it made the most difference. I was hitting the sweet-spot less than half the time. His equipment and techniques were a big difference between us and in the end he was a decent way ahead of me at the weigh-in. Having the right equipment in our boxes and bags is important, but more important is learning to use it well. Practice is a big deal in this area.

Freedom to Innovate

I'm sure this is an important factor. Anglers follow each other where gear and techniques are concerned, for reasons of 'tried and tested' and fashion (I'm well guilty of the second of these). But I'm sure there is an edge to be had by trying new things. Sometimes it can be a tiny change or maybe a whole new approach. Steve Ringer always seems to be talking along these lines: he often seems to be experimenting with some new way or other. Obviously when you work in the tackle industry you have to be innovative, but new idea shouldn't be the preserve of the professionals. I'm sure that those who are prepared to take risks and think out of the box can improve their odds tremendously.


Everyone knows that practice can help. A trip to the water to have a look, ask some questions and walk the match length can surely narrow the probabilities. Internet searches might highlight results and often some information about what has worked well for the winner. The Angling Times is also a mine of match intelligence waiting to be dug through.

I find that confidence comes from good preparation and some familiarity with what has happened in the past, by me or by others. We've all had the experience of throwing our tackle together at 10:00pm the night before. Im sure that leads to a 'oh well whatever happens' mindset, which just ends up hoping for luck.

Multiple Probabilities

Let me sum up a bit. If you have ever bet on a six horse accumulator or played the National Lottery then you will have come across the effect of multiple probabilities. For each 'ball' there are many different possible outcomes, just like for each of the factors I've outlined here. If there are several possible baits, or way the fish might respond, methods and rigs, then these can work together to give whole range of possible approaches on the day. Perhaps only a few of these approaches might get an angler into the winning weights, and perhaps these will have to change at different points in the match. So for example, fishing a long range method with a certain mix and hookbait might catch some fish, but perhaps on the day more can be had up in the water on a 14m pole, with light feed. Or it could be both, or some other of the hundreds of possible approaches! The best match anglers will be able to narrow the possibilities down, and therefore give themselves the best chance.

As I've already written, some factors, such as the peg draw, seem to be random. But even then there are ways to improve your chances. In a recent 40-peg match I fished the draw could have put you on either of the two lakes reserved for the day, which are quite different and need a different approach; I prepared accordingly. Yet most of the other factors are under much easier control. I'm sure that with experience and bit of planning you can help yourself a lot. You almost need a planning checklist to force yourself into asking some key questions the night before. The most consistent anglers get themselves into the winning lane even before they get to the water!

So if you think it through, there are actually very few truly random factors in match fishing. Certainly that is a very long way from complete certainty, but somewhere in between is a scale of predictability which can be improved by thought, planning and experience. Whenever I have done well or badly in a match I can see how other choices could have improved my chances, or indeed did so. It's about turning those understandings from hindsight after the match, into preparations before, and good decisions during the five hours by the water.

Well there are a few thoughts! I just hope if can put them into practice to improve my own results.


Neil ofthe nene

Doing things differently.
Site Supporter
May 4, 2009
A lot of what you talk about I will be covering in my blog over the next few months. But here's my take on why some are consistently at the top.

My fishing has definitely improved since I did two things - retire and simplify my fishing.

Retiring has given me more time on the bank. More time, spent well, will make you a better angler. Even on a "pleasure" session I set myself targets, it may be ten carp from a commercial style water in Winter or 100+ silvers from the canal.

Simplifying my fishing means I can concentrate on a few, to me important, things rather than worrying about a wide range. As I explain in my Simplified Pole Fishing blog I carry just four or five rig variations, I use one or two elastics, my bait table is simple and I have learned to use those baits well. I think the best anglers similarly keep much of their fishing simple, though admittedly not as skinny as me.

No, I can't claim to be a "top" angler but I believe I am now a respectable club level angler with the confidence to expect to frame in just about every match (though I don't).

One other area that has helped me improve is sticking to what I do well. I am not a good up in the water angler, so I don't try and compete with those that are. But I know that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Any one peg can provide several ways of producing a competitive weight. You are much better off fishing to your strengths than trying to match an expert at their game. And again I think this is what the best do. Though of course as they fish more frequently they will do it better and have a wider range of honed skills.

I believe a good angler does not look at a peg and think "What method should I adopt", instead it is probably more likely "Where in this peg can I fish to my strengths". My first look at a commercial peg in Summer will have me examining the margins. That's where I want to catch and where I do well.

Fish cannot read the name on your tackle. As said by Hopeful it is more about using what you have well rather than having a load of gear you have no idea how to get the best from.

Just recently I stated on this forum that I believed that the best prepared angler and the one that pays close attention to getting things spot on will outperform those that say "That'll do" and accept "nearly right". Another member described my opinion as "tosh". It may be but I am still of the same opinion. One example from my past. After one match in which I had framed a clubmate asked me how I caught. I told him I couldn't get a bite until I buried the hook in a pellet by pushing a baiting needle through and pulling the hook all the way through the pellet burying it totally. His reply "I couldn't be arsed to do that". He rarely frames/wins.

I also believe that the best match anglers are impatient. If something is not working then they will change quickly. Doing the same old thing will result in the same result. Changes may not be major but subtle, like a half inch change of depth or a 13 shot on or off the rig. Again the lazy angler, and I have been one of them, will be outclassed by the busy one.

Sticking to your strengths and simplifying your tackle & bait will reduce the effect of multiple probabilities. If you only have five choices of rig rather than fifty, four baits instead of ten then your number of possible combinations comes down to a manageable number. If you know you can fish all of those different combinations well then your confidence increases. And a lot of times confidence is the deciding factor.

I also believe that top angler is not beaten at the draw. Yes there are some out and out known rank pegs. But generally a good angler on an average peg will do better than a poor angler on a flier. This has, in part, got to be down to mind set. OK - average draw, time to roll sleeves up and work really hard. The bad angler on the good peg will probably not work anywhere near as hard and so is likely to be beaten. And a good angler knows that the draw is a great leveller and that unless there is a similarly good angler on a flier they are in with a shout, if not of a win then of a frame.

Yes some good anglers innovate and not imitate. But there are those that can take another's innovation and make it work for them. That takes an open mind, a willingness to learn and the ability to see past the preconceived ideas. Again, although I can't claim to be a top angler I am not afraid to swim against the tide of opinion and convention. I would say it certainly doesn't harm my fishing.

Specifically at White Acres the top boys fish every festival and have done for years. They know every peg on every lake and if not will unashamedly pump people for information. So compared to the annual visitor to one festival they already have a head start. And I have been told that there can be quite a gulf between the people who win festival sections regularly and the rest of the field. So while they do frame regularly, in each section they are in effect only competing against one or two others.