It’s always the same at this time of year, with the weather still grim, the nights still short and the winter skins most definitely still on; the best we can do is to turn our attentions to Spring and the season that lies ahead. Many of us will be looking for a new challenge and will perhaps be looking to select a new water, syndicate or club - but how do you go about making sure you get it right? Permits are not getting any cheaper and you need to ensure your hard-earned does not go to waste!
There are no hard and fast rules, and yes, like many seasoned anglers, I’ve made mistakes in the past! However, with the passing of time I’ve learned to narrow down the options effectively to leave waters that will give me the maximum chance of banking a specimen.
I’ve always found that it’s best to have a few waters at your disposal during any one season, even if you only end up concentrating on one. I usually have a main ‘challenge-water’ – this will be the place where I’m hoping to bag the biggies, and as that usually involves a good deal of time and effort, most resources will be put into this one main water. However, it’s often a good idea to have another water available where you can put a bend in the rod every now and again, either to confirm that you are doing everything right or to make a few subtle changes and solve any problems.
In addition to these two waters, I will usually be keeping my eye on a number of others within the region. I always have one eye to the future and so try to keep my finger on the pulse in relation to other waters that may become a future challenge-water. I might not even have a ticket at this point, but when I have chance, I will be doing the rounds on the bankside, speaking to regulars or making a few phone calls to see what’s occurring and gauge the likely potential should I to take it on. Last but not least are my ‘treat’ waters; those which I’m either fishing through a special invite or as part of an arranged trip or holiday.
Picking any of these waters can be a tricky exercise. It’s not just a case of seeing which has the biggest fish and going from there, as money, available time, suitability, and distance, all play a part and you need to get a good balance between all four, especially if you have a home life to consider. Carping in ones youth is relatively carefree - I remember I once fished thirty-eight weekends in one year! Mortgages and families certainly change all that and such factors need to be thrown into the mix.
Distance is of paramount importance; if you’re tied to snatching the odd hour here and there, it’s no good selecting a water two-hundred miles away, and even if you can fish every weekend, give serious thought to the water in question (this is where doing your homework comes in). I once joined a syndicate purely on first impressions - those being that I loved the place in every way! 20-acres with about fifteen swims and thirty members – bliss! The problem was, for the majority of the other members, this was their only water, so by the time I got there on a Friday night after work the best and going swims were always taken. As it was a good distance from home I was limited to when I could fish it - overnighters during the week were out of the question. I had a few nice fish during the year but overall I wasted the best part of £400.00 because I could never get on the fish, all down to a lack of homework. The same happens with many club waters. If big fish are your target then check how much pressure your intended water is getting and what the prospects are of being able to secure good swims on a regular basis – and do it before you part with your cash! It’s not rocket-science, just a bit of common sense. Make some phone calls, go along to a club meeting and speak to those who fish it or get on the net and check out a few websites.
Where I am in the North-West, waters containing a good head of thirties are few and far between, and those that there are can be taken as having people on most of the time. However, this does not mean they should be ignored, just that you may need to change your strategy to fish them effectively. I’ve fished a number of waters over the years that are rammed every weekend, but by fishing mid-week overnighters I’ve been able to bag decent results when the banks have been much quieter. Again, distance is key. Locate waters that allow you to get home and off to work with minimal traffic - even better if you can shoot straight to work from the venue.
Nowadays, I try to keep my challenge water within an hour’s drive from home. So should I be presented with the opportunity of a few spare hours, I can grab some gear and be fishing within sixty minutes or less. I do regularly fish further a field (my treat waters) but as my angling time becomes more and more limited due to family and business constraints, I know I can’t devote the time needed to these waters in order to bring continuity of results. As such, on the odd occasion where I have a few nights available, or praise be – a whole week - I will often go much further from home to a treat water; but I have to admit it’s been a few years since I got more than two nights on the bank!
Cost is obviously a very personal thing; my fishing means a lot to me and I shell out quite a bit each year to do it, though I have friends who spend much more than me – one has a yearly ticket costing almost £1200.00 for just one water – ouch! No matter how much you spend you need to ensure you are getting value for money, or in effect - good suitability. It’s no good buying an expensive ticket for a water you’re not going to fish. For example, one water on which I’ve spent considerable time (and effort!) has now gained a bit of a reputation through the results of myself and a few other experienced anglers. It’s not a place for the faint hearted and has always been pretty tough. Nonetheless, each season we see a steady trickle of new members joining the club just to fish this water with little or no forward planning. The result being that most don’t last more than four or five sessions. Luckily there are other waters on the ticket a little less challenging which most move onto, but the point I’m making is that it never hurts to think ahead and pick a realistic target.
Once you’ve found a venue that suits your style of fishing and fits the bill with regard to cost, distance and time available, all that’s left to do is bank the fish of your dreams… If only that bit was as simple to plan out, eh?