Starting Match Fishing

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Starting Match Fishing. Hello all of fishing lovers, Today’s post is “Starting Match Fishing”. i hope that this post is ideal for you, all fishing lovers.

Starting Match Fishing

Many anglers will, at some point, want to test themselves against their peers.  For others it is just about the camaraderie of going out with a bunch of lads (and lasses) for a bit of banter, some fishing and some laughs.  However for many the thought of getting into that first match, just knowing how to do it, is daunting.  So here’s my guide on how to get started on the competition side of the sport.

Getting Started

For now I will ignore open matches. By the time you are ready to fish these you will know what to do. Most people will start their formal match fishing at club level.  There are two basic sorts of club, those that own their own water(s) and those that don’t and just book pegs on match/day ticket venues. You may already belong to a club that has waters, if so they probably run some kind of matches. If you don’t then you can join either kind of club or, like me, both.

The club I fish with most often just books pegs and has no water of its own. There will be such clubs in your area. Either look out for reports in the local press or speak to your tackle shop. They will know the local clubs and probably be able to advise you which are the best for you to fish with. Contact the club secretary to enquire about joining. Most are more than glad to have new members. They may let you fish a couple of matches as a guest to see if you like the club/match fishing. Most clubs are friendly and there will always be members who will offer genuine advice and look to help you out.

Whichever type of club you join you will be asked to book onto matches in advance, this is so the club knows how many pegs to book/allocate for the match. In my opinion it is then bad form not to show up on the day unless its for a good reason. Even so I would always offer to pay my peg fee as an empty peg will cost the club money. You will be told who to book with and by when. All you have to do is turn up in time for the draw. This will be around 60-90 minutes before the match starts. Always ask the organiser.


Every match is different but there are a set of universally accepted rules published by the Angling Trust. Just search on line for “model match rules”. These are a basis but may not be entirely correct for the match you are going to fish so always check with the organiser for any local amendments or oddities. Read through the MMRs so you have a broad understanding of them.

Some of the vital ones you should make sure you know.

  • No bait in the water before the start. You can set your nets, get water for groundbait/pellets, plumb up and cast a ledger to clip up to the right distance. Though check whether you are allowed to use an empty, unbaited feeder or if it should be with a lead only.
  • Understand what constitutes your swim. You should not allow your tackle or bait to go into another angler’s swim. You may need to get information on the day about what features are yours if pegging is tight. Rather than get into a dispute with another angler ask the organiser for guidance or have a friendly chat with the guys around you.  Also if anglers are on the opposite bank check with them to confirm you are not casting over halfway.  Strange how perspective can alter your estimation of that distance.
  • Know the net rules – size/type of fish in each, weight limit per net.
  • Most matches do not allow using two rods and that includes feeding with a pole while ledgering or placing a ledger rig out using a pole cup. The rods/poles not being used should be on the bank unbaited.  But ask, as my main club do allow baiting with a pole while ledgering.


Do not be intimidated by the guys with loads of gear. I was once pushed down to third by a guy sitting on a wooden folding kitchen chair. On the other side of the coin in a Fishomania qualifier I drew next to Mr Maver. Every piece of tackle and clothing was Maver. With my complete mish-mash of tackle I beat him by ten pound. End of the day the fish don’t know what gear you have. I have done well plenty of times fishing top four of my 10m pole. No one knows the length of the pole if you are just using the top four or five sections. The important thing is to fish well with what you have.

Before The Day

Old saying time – Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail. Never more true than in match fishing. Two types of preparation really, tackle and venue knowledge.

Many good match anglers will spend as long preparing tackle for a match as they do actually fishing it. I don’t but then I tend to fish similar venues and, as my post on my approach to pole fishing demonstrates, I do things as simply as possible. And that means I don’t have to spend too long before each match preparing tackle. But I will have sessions every now and again re-making rigs, tying hooks, checking/replacing elastics, preparing new floats (adding spring eyes and painting with nail varnish).

The thing you are looking to do is

  1. Making sure you waste as little time on the bank as possible, wasted time can lose you a match.

  2. Making sure your tackle is up to the job, no weak spots, floats in good condition that sort of thing

  3. Making sure your tackle is suitable for the venue.

At first and as you are learning you will make mistakes about what can and can’t be done in advance to help make you more efficient on the day. Make sure you have plenty of spare rigs, feeders, hooklengths. Things that are liable to stop you in your tracks if you run out. I remember just a couple of years ago when first trying out the pellet feeder. I bought one to try. Was easily leading a match when I snagged the far bank and lost it, and with it the match. I now carry at least six of each type of feeder.

It may be extreme, and I have the time to do it but before a big match I will make sure all my pole rigs are perfectly shotted by having a pleasure session where I will use each newly made rig and get the shotting right, hopefully catching a fish before putting it away and putting on another new one. Tiresome at times but means that on the day if a new rig is needed it is fishing as soon as it hits the water. No wasted time getting the shotting right while others are catching.

If you haven’t fished a water before then find out as much as you can in advance, even go and have a practice if possible, more on that later. At the very least you need to know what type of tackle will be needed. Is the venue exceptionally deep? I always have to remember that Toft Farm near Coventry is a deeper than normal commercial. I have been caught out with having rigs a few inches too short for the depth when full of water. Are the fish exceptionally large? Stronger tackle needed? How many nets will you need? You may need at least three on a commercial so you can split fish between silvers/small carp and large carp. And with net weight limits you may just need a third or even fourth net on a really good day. Don’t think it won’t happen to you, it will one day.

Information can be found from the water’s owners, local tackle shops, other anglers, and of course online. The first time I fished Stockton reservoir I found a club match report that recommended fishing paste at 5 metres. I did this and won the match. Never be afraid to ask.

If a new tactic is required then don’t wait until the match day to do it for the first time. Even if you practice it on an unsuitable water and don’t catch at least it will not be alien to you on the day.

Matchday Eve

The day/night before make sure that you are ready. Take things out of the freezer, make sure you have petrol in the car and know where you are going and how long it will take, know what tackle you need to load up. I recommend making a list including wallet, bait out of the fridge, clothes & boots, food & drink. The match day nerves will almost certainly mean you will forget something.

And do not have a skinfull and be hungover on the morning.  You will never fish well in that state. 

Entry Fee & Pools

Most match entry fees will be “all in”.  This means that the stated fee includes the peg fee plus an amount for prize money or pools.  You normally have no option but to pay the total.  If you are fishing as a guest and newcomer to match fishing some clubs may let you pay just the peg fee for a couple of matches.

All of the pools money should be paid out as prizes.  Most often this will be to the top anglers overall in the match.  The actual number may be variable depending on the number fishing.  So the more that fish the lower down the list prize money will be paid.  Typically though it will be top three.

Some matches will include section prizes.  The match is split into smaller sections or probably between five and ten anglers.  This way there is something to fish for even if you are drawn on a poor part of the match length or lake.  There are two ways of paying sections – by default or not.  By default means that any angler that wins a prize overall cannot also win their section.  That will go to the next best weight in that section that did not frame.  So if the top three come from one section it will be the fourth in section that takes the section prize.  Other matches will pay the section winner even if they have framed overall.  To “frame” means being in the overall prize money.

The importance of paying sections by default is that even if you think you have not done well its always worth weighing in as the match winners may all be in your section.  I have seen people lose money by not weighing when they could have had the section prize.  

So in a match with section prizes you first aim is to win your section.  Not only does that ensure a prize but also you cannot win the match without being best in your section.

On The Day

I tend to get up two hours before leaving time. This is plenty of time to have a cup of tea and do any bait preparation. I do soak my pellets before setting off. Saves time after the draw and makes sure they are fully soaked. Leave in plenty of time and despite how you may feel have breakfast, either at home, en route or at the fishery. You will use up a lot of nervous energy so make sure you are fuelled to go.

Once there make sure you know who the organiser is and find out when they want paying. Try and have the right money please. As an occasional organiser I can’t change twenty twenty pound notes or split them for the pools. One reason I always carry a bag of pound coins. The draw will be announced and the organiser should mention any odd local or club rules. If you are not sure then ask. Then its time to draw. Just wait your turn. There is as much chance of the flier coming out last as first. I normally wait until there are three or four pegs in the bag.  If you inadvertently draw out two pegs drop them both back in the bag showing you haven’t retained one and draw again.  Either wait until someone else has drawn or ask the bag holder to mix up the pegs.  You don’t want to start your match career being accused of cheating. 

Having drawn then make your way to your peg. Make sure you are fishing the right peg (even the right lake – I have seen someone start to set up on the wrong lake). You will probably have around an hour to set up, it will go faster than Usain Bolt can do 100 metres. So make sure you don’t waste a minute. But take time to study your peg and work out a plan of campaign. Mix groundbait and soak pellets first to give them time to absorb the water if you haven’t done this at home.   Having set up box, side tray, landing net, keepnets I then normally get any feeder rods set. Once they are done I know I can start at the whistle even if pole or float rods are not ready. Work efficiently but don’t rush around. Better to start a little late than break or forget something in your haste.

If things are quiet during the match you may be tempted to go for a walk to see how others are faring.  I would advise you not to.  Match anglers can be funny about people walking around, me for one.  I hate people stepping over my pole or standing over my margin swim.  If things are quiet just observe what you can from your own peg.  The time for questions is after the match.  If things are quiet then that’s the time you need to be working hardest to make things happen.  

If there are net weight limits you will need a way of monitoring your catch so as not to exceed the limit and have all or part disqualified.  I use a set of clothes pegs (see my Bits & Bobs blog).  You could buy a clicker/counter or just use a pencil & paper.  I am useless at estimating fish size over three pound so I carry a small spring balance and weigh larger fish in the landing net for accuracy.  Takes seconds but keeps me safe within the limits.

At The End

If you are playing a fish when the end of the match is signalled you need to let anglers know this. The cry of “Fish On” is enough. You will then have ten to fifteen minutes to land that fish. Pack up and if possible take bank sticks etc. off your nets to speed up weighing in. You may find it worthwhile following the scales round. Look, listen and ask the occasional question. Remember though you have two eyes, two ears but only one mouth. Look, listen and learn.

When your turn comes there is a technique in getting the fish into the weigh sling that separates the experienced match angler from the newbie. Most modern keepnets have handles inside on the second from bottom ring. They are there for a purpose. Also the bottom three rings should be slightly smaller than the rest. It is worth practising this technique at home with a few pounds of potatoes. Reach inside the net and grasp one handle, with a slight twist bring the half of the second to last ring through the top ring so one side is now outside the net. grasp the bulk of the opposite side of the keepnet to the one you have pulled through with your left hand and the bottom ring on the same side with your right (opposite way for lefties). You should now be able to tip the fish out into the weigh sling like pouring water out of a bucket.

If you are not sure get someone to show you how.

Post Match

I record all of my matches on a spreadsheet.
You may think that you will remember what happened.  Trust me you won’t.  I find it useful to be able to go back and jog my memory about what happened on a particular venue/peg.  Things like underwater features, exactly what bait and feed used, what length of pole.  It at least gives me a clue how to start next time there.  I would suggest that if you are going to continue matches then you do something similar.

And Finally

As a true matchman you have to follow these rules

  1. When you draw moan about whatever peg you get. Get your excuses in early.
  2. When asked what weight you have – halve your estimate
  3. When asked what bait you are using always say something other than what you are actually using, or alternatively for the extra points say something ridiculous like “pork pie on a size 20”
  4. When you don’t do well always say it was too hot, too cold, wind in the wrong direction, too sunny, too overcast, ripple on the water was too choppy to present a bait well, too calm.

Most important though is try and enjoy the day. 

And no day is a failure if you learn something.


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