New Year’s resolutions – personal promises made with good intent but rarely put into practice pretty much sums it up. We’re all guilty! As a sea angler though, what resolutions should we be considering that will further increase our enjoyment and results, but remain achievable within the time constraints most of us have?
At the outset, to give yourself a greater chance of realising your new ideals, it’s important to be realistic and not take on too many unrealistic changes. Consider what you really want to achieve in your fishing. Narrow it down and focus on a specific thing, or couple of things, then put into action a manageable process that works to achieving that aim.
Here are 10 things to consider that individually will help your mindset, improve your angling abilities and increase the fun factor of fishing.
Keep a fishing diary
Many years ago, I spent time talking with a very successful commercial skipper. He had the knack of finding fish, and consequently the better market prices, when others where struggling. He was a meticulous man, deliberate in his thoughts. He kept a diary every day of his catches, listed his mistakes, things he could have done differently, and his successes. Also recorded were tide times, heights, wind and weather conditions and many other observations. A major part of his success was that he had records going back decades as to exactly where the fish where, what grounds they were on, the best tides to fish those areas and the best weather conditions. It was a massive edge over his competitors. He called that diary his “little book of gold” which sums it up perfectly.
I’ve mentioned the importance of keeping a diary many times in the past, the reason being, I’ve kept a diary since my early teens of every trip I’ve made. It’s invaluable! Fish movement, migration patterns, seasons and feeding behaviour on individual marks and boat venues all quickly become apparent. Above all else it’s the key to the magic box of consistent catches.
I record tide size and times, sea conditions, wind direction, weather conditions such as cloud, clear skies, frost, also time fished, rigs, baits and anything else I observe on the day that I feel important. It builds up a picture of fact that eliminates much of the element of chance. If it’s the only change you make this New Year, then you’ve made a massive stride towards your individual goal by writing your experiences down.
Watch any top match angler or successful freelancer and the obvious thing is that they are very organised, neat and tidy. Nothing is left to chance! Their tackle boxes won’t be stuffed with tackle that covers every eventuality. It will be geared towards what they really need on the day and is stored instantly to hand. During and after a trip, they’ll have a list of tackle items that might need to be restocked or replaced.
They’ll set up their base camp around the rod rest the same every time, too. This repetition breeds consistency and encourages minimal time wastage during a session to maximise fishing time. They’ll instinctively know in the dark exactly where individual items are stored. After use these items immediately go back to their original home.
Use your time wisely
Time is valuable for all of us and for many fishing time is limited to going when you can go, not necessarily when you ideally want to go.
Try though, to put this more in your favour by planning well ahead putting specific dates in your diary around the best tides. Yes, you’ll inevitably need to sometimes amend to family or work issues, also adverse weather conditions and the like. My personal experience though, is that a definite date in the diary is far more likely to happen. I will obviously make spontaneous trips but tend to find that such trips are less successful overall than one that has been well planned, mainly because I’ve ignored the right tides or weather conditions and put the odds against me that much higher.
Also, with a date in the diary, the rest of the family know you are going fishing and there’s less likelihood of a date clash. What we do is to have a wall calendar in the kitchen, and I write in any dates I’m intending to fish. This avoids the inevitable, “You never said anything to me!”, helping to keep the family and home in harmony.
Get the best bait!
What a game changer this is! Alongside the diary, this is the other main contributor to improving catches. Fresh live bait will out fish good frozen bait 5 to 1!
If you can make the time, then there is no substitute for collecting your own bait and being organised in keeping it to maximise its life. Having your own bait fridge or freezer is a major step in the right direction.
Remember, you can always collect bait in the dark after work with the use of a headlight providing safety is kept in mind. A lot of anglers with hectic daytime work schedules do this nowadays and those willing to put this time in again have a huge edge.
If you’re too far away from the coast to get your own, then find a good and reliable tackle shop to supply your bait. I’ve found over the years that building up a working relationship with the retailer and staff pays massive dividends at times when bait is in short supply due to bad weather or difficult tides. Even if your situation changes and you can’t go fishing, still pick the bait up and either freeze it down or give it away. What you lose in cash is repaid tenfold by good and reliable bait in the future.
Be more lighter and mobile
Taking too much tackle per session applies to all of us, especially those like me of advancing years. It’s literally a burden that sees us walking with heavy seat boxes and overloaded rod holdalls that restrict our ability to fish where we need to fish. It’s no coincidence that the most popular spots to fish are close to car parks. By cutting your gear down you’ll be able to walk further beyond where most anglers fish and reach ground that sees much less angling pressure. This simple modification to how you fish is again a major contributor to increasing catches.
Think about what you really need. On clean venues four different rig types and three of each probably covers it. A few packets of hooks, some leader and hook length material, a few swivels, links and crimps, scissors and pliers and you’re about there. Work out how many leads you normally use on specific venues. On clean sand, why take more than four or five leads? Some anglers take a rod holdall with four or five rods in. Surely two is enough on most sessions, maybe an additional light rod for alternative techniques.
The best way to sort your gear is to lay it all down on the floor at home and be ruthless. Put gear you really need to one side, the stuff you rarely use to the other. You’ll be shocked just how much unnecessary gear you’re dragging around. Go light, follow the fish, and you’ll increase your fun and double your catch rate!
Target a specific species
Early in the New Year is the time to put plans in place if you want to target a specific species you haven’t yet caught. Research is the key here! Go through online forums, Facebook pages, websites and books to identify times, tides, venues and baits. It’s worth a message to an angler who’s had success with this species before and pick his or her brains. Most will respond in kind and provide a short cut to success.
A good way to achieve your goal is to break the individual factors down. Seasonal timing is ultimately important as is the venue, so research this thoroughly. Get these factors wrong and you’ve no chance with most species! Weather patterns often dictate how and when a beach or venue will fish best, and this will further refine the timing aspect and venue choice. Break this down further into wind direction and strength which is the single most important factor in exactly when a specific venue or section of venue will produce best. Only when this is complete and comprehensive should you look at bait and rigs. This is the set formula for success. Ignore the rules and you’re preparing to fail!
One of the most enjoyable challenges, and the most infectious, is undertaking an annual or lifetime species challenge. It opens up a whole new world from standard catch what’s there freelance fishing and is guaranteed to raise your skill levels rapidly.
Much depends on where you are based. Southern based anglers can consider a relatively easy initial challenge to catch 20 species within the 12-month calendar. Further north, go for 15 to start. Judge your catches as you go and be ready to up your scores to 25 or 30. The ultimate challenge is 50 species in a year. Some go for the 52 species, one a week challenge which puts it into perspective what you’re trying to do. Yes, a few anglers have achieved much better numbers than this, but for most of us with an average amount of free time available, then 30 to 50 species in a year is a massive achievement. It keeps you actively thinking, exposes you to a vast variety of techniques, venues and baits and really gets you thinking about your fishing.
The biggest challenge of all is 100 species as a lifetime target. I set my geographical borders for this as any fish caught within UK and Irish waters to keep costs sensible. Even the most stoic of big fish anglers has fallen for the allure of species fishing. I certainly did and have never regretted it!
Fish a famous venue
When I was young the beaches to fish were Dungeness in Kent for cod, Dinas Dinlle in North Wales for bass and tope, Inch and Stradbally for bass in Ireland. Over time I got to fish all these places and many more, and to feel the mystique, history and significance of them.
We all know time ticks away rapidly and I’ve left things on the back burner all too often thinking I’ll do it next year. It’s a big mistake! If you want to fish a particular venue, then plan for it now and do it as soon as you can. That principle of putting it in the diary and working towards that date, even when far off, is again important.
It applies to countries too. Many rightly want to go to Norway, Iceland, maybe America, Mexico, Australia. Finances rule the feasibility of this, but if you really want to go, start saving even tiny amounts and you’ll be surprised as to how quickly it builds up. Making that initial move to set things in motion is the key and stick at it!
Add some variety
It’s easy to fall into a rut fishing the same venues and the same tactics for the same species year in and year out. This is identified as the single most likely factor in an angler leaving the sport. The New Year is a time to consider branching out into different areas of sea angling.
If you’re a beach or boat angler, how about taking up lure fishing for bass and pollack? It’s a completely different way of fishing. It requires minimal gear and will take you to vastly different places. If you’re always beach fishing, go and fish piers and breakwaters, or try the estuaries and rock ledges. If you’re a boat angler, change ports and fish new ground with new species.
The adage of variety is the spice of life is true and changing the way you fish is a new lease of life with an injection of new enthusiasm that stimulates the mind and renews interest.
Fish more with friends and family
I get the greatest pleasure when my lad and I share a day’s fishing. Time is scarce as we’re both working and live a fair way apart, but every chance we get we’ll fish together.
Any day spent with the family is special and taking them fishing equally so. The knack to success on these days with youngsters is to keep trips short, say no more than a couple of hours or so to avoid boredom. Time it during decent weather and gentle seas and pick easy safe venues where you can target obliging fish such as flounder, school bass, dabs and even dogfish. Young kids love to think they’ve caught a shark, dogfish being part of the shark family. Have plenty of snacks and drinks with you and keep it simple until they get older or show a deeper interest. The biggest thing is to sacrifice your own fishing and just take tackle for the family. Devote your full and undivided attention to them and you’ll have a day to remember.