Chris Kennedy lifts the lid and reveals the truth behind the success of many high-profile anglers and explains how you can use these tactics to improve your own fishing
Like all sports, sea angling has a dominance hierarchy; a group of people that have risen to the top of the sport and are widely accepted to be the best. There is a phenomenon called the Pareto distribution, or 80/20 rule, which says that 20 per cent will be more productive and successful than the other 80 per cent put together.
This law or rule applies to art, music, economics, sports and most other areas of life. Since the invention of forums and social media, we now know who these people are and what they catch regularly.
Most of us are not fortunate enough to be born into a situation where we have a family member who can offer us expert tutelage on how to be the best angler on the scene. Understanding how the best fishermen in the sport can achieve such remarkable or consistent results is often a mystery.
We rack our brains about how it’s done, often spending many hours reading forums, blogs, magazines and books to try to better understand how we can improve. The frustrating part is that the answers aren’t often there, no matter how hard we look.
The reason such answers aren’t easily obtained, or common knowledge, is because if such knowledge were out there, it would level the playing field. The truth is that many of the country’s best anglers don’t share such information, as it can be replicated, and it would ultimately give them more competition, making their success less remarkable. In this article, I will reveal the things that elude the average angler and will help to reset the balance a little.
1) INFORMATION SHARING/NETWORKING
If you’re going to be an angler who appears to master multiple species and achieve specimen results year after year, you’re going to need to be an excellent networker. The top anglers are primarily on social media, sending their contemporaries messages, trying to glean little snippets of information that are not publicly posted on social media or in magazine articles.
In the past, if you lived in Wales and wanted to catch a stingray from Sussex or Hampshire, you’d have had to have driven down with very little local knowledge, and your chances of success would have been close to zero, as you wouldn’t have any of the intimate knowledge necessary to catch one.
2) THE ILLUSION OF CONSISTENCY
As you surf Instagram, Facebook or forums, you’ll notice a group of anglers who seem to have extraordinarily great results, session after session, which has produced a desirable target, and these guys never have a blank.
For all intents and purposes, they have almost immaculate records, unless of course, you fish next to one and observe a blank. There are incredibly consistent anglers out there; they are very few in the scheme of things. What is far more common to see is anglers only posting when they have success.
I have been fortunate enough to fish with some of the best anglers in the country many times and some of the social media-famous, well-known names of the sport. What I quickly learned was that these chaps often sacrificed social life, precious time with family and friends, so that they could go fishing four or five times per week.
Of those five sessions, they’d have one double-figure fish or target species, and that would be all you’d see on social media; it would appear they’d only been fishing once and had struck the jackpot.
You could say that is disingenuous or deceitful or you could look at their social media feeds as carefully curated presentations of their best work, creating the illusion that they rarely, if ever, fail.
Our sport is full of anglers like this. What I’d say to you is this; if you want it badly enough, go and do the four of five sessions per week, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you go out once per fortnight and don’t get your desired fish; there is no shame in it and no evidence that you are performing worse than the guy who fishes five times per week.
3) BE RUTHLESS
The most successful anglers don’t mess about; they make use of almost every second of their fishing time. These guys have the appetite, will and determination to give it their best almost every time they go out.
They’ll bait up every 10 minutes, they’ll have rigs hanging on the tripod ready to be fired out, their eyes are either on rod tips, or they are on the next bait being done. They don’t sit and talk to their buddies about life like most of us do; they are a different kind of animal, focused on getting that specimen fish. You have to want it badly and be absolutely committed.
For some of us that would take the pleasure out of what we love, but for them it’s all about the success, that chemical release in their brains when they hook and land that incredible fish, or when they receive adoration on social media. As human beings, we do track our social status; the more we rise, the better we feel, and these guys are often addicted to that feeling.
It’s debatable whether that is healthy or in the spirit of what most of us love; either way, it’s a choice, and this article is about how they do succeed. If you want to bait up every 30 minutes or so and prefer talking about football with a good pal, while missing taps on your rod tips, that’s up to you. These guys don’t do that.
4) GET THE FRESHEST, HIGHEST-QUALITY BAIT
You can be forgiven if you just want to get out of the house for a couple of hours after the kids are in bed and the Mrs is watching Love Island. Grab any old bait you can, or snatch at the squid in the freezer that’s been thawed out three times previously.
If you really want to give yourself the maximum chance of success during your valuable fishing time, then you need to source the finest bait available. These high achievers in the angling community may dig their own ragworm or lugworm, they may net their own sandeels, collect their own peeler crabs or razor clams, and so on.
I have known one remarkable angler drive to five shops in an afternoon seeking the best quality sandeel and launce before a tope session. Some of these guys have their own trusted bait digger who they pay premium rates for the best quality worm. This can be the difference between success and failure; how badly do you want it?
5) BAIT PRESENTATION/RIG CRAFT
These high achievers are constantly willing to experiment, to switch things up when things aren’t going their way. Do you know how many times I have seen someone using shorter or longer snoods haul most of the fish?
You must match your rig to the weather, tidal conditions and the venue where you are fishing. If your pully rig in a strong tide is suspending your bait 3ft off the bottom and their up and over has it pinned to the bottom where the rays are laying, they’ll have more chance of the fish picking up their scent trail.
Vice versa, a popped-up halibut bait may yield much more success than one pinned to the deck. It’s horses for courses, use your loaf, always be thinking and analysing. This can be crucially important and defining in terms of success and failure.
6) HOOKS MUST BE RAZOR SHARP
The first thing I really noticed about great anglers is that they are constantly checking the points of their hooks. Every single cast can result in a sharp point being rounded by some material or obstruction on the seabed. Using new hooks, each session isn’t enough. Take a diamond file with you and check your hooks every single bait up.
Make sure they are incredibly sharp, and if you do that, you’ll even catch small fish on your big hooks. Some fish often have hard exteriors and lots of cartilage or scaly armour around the mouth; having razor-sharp hooks dramatically increases your chances of success.
Don’t be lazy; check them habitually and your results will improve. All these guys do it with fanaticism.
7) WATCH THEM
If ever you are fishing next to a very high profile or successful angler; watch them like a hawk; they won’t help you but see how far they are casting, what kind of rigs they are using and how they are striking bites.
I was fortunate enough to spend lots of time observing some of the best. I asked questions but generally learned the most by just studying what they were doing next to me. Great anglers are usually very efficient; improve your efficiency.
This is often a less significant factor as most desirable fish are found less than 100 yards from dry land. These guys have done lessons or have taught themselves to be able to put a bait long when the conditions or venue mean that it’s an advantage.
It’s embarrassing getting out-fished at Chesil when after cod or plaice, just because the next guy can cast 30yds further. All your bait, fuel, time and effort are wasted. You could have had two casting lessons and added a string to your bow.
9) WATERCRAFT & EXPERIMENTATION
As human beings we behave like herd animals, following or emulating what the masses do. The highest achieving people in any sport are usually doing what the many are not; it is what sets them apart.
Don’t be afraid to do your own thing sometimes; switch things up if your actions aren’t working, change range, rigs and baits. The best anglers do this to overcome challenges and turn a poor session into a good one.
Watercraft is something that few anglers mention and few are good at. In my opinion, the very best in the sport can turn up at a new venue or walk a stretch of coast, identifying fish holding features, back eddies and so on and catch, even without intimate knowledge.
Such a quality only comes from trial and error, shared knowledge or a tremendous amount of experience.
BE COMMITTED TO LEARNING
This sounds a cliche, but it’s absolutely true in almost every walk of life. If you want to be the best at anything, you have to dedicate yourself to constantly acquiring knowledge. Self-development is a lifelong thing, and your peak at sea angling doesn’t have to be in your youth or twenties like other sports.
In this hobby or pastime, you can peak later in life. The best anglers out there all have this in common, they all want to be at the top badly; they are fiercely competitive and are constantly adding strings to their bow. Study the best, soak up any information of value and improve your game.
If you want something badly enough, everything will conspire to make that happen for you.