Match Fishing – Interview with a Champion
Andy Neal speaks to the newly-crowned Mega Match This champion Les Thompson to see what it means to him to have the title, the money and the glory of winning such an event.
Obviously winning this event has really topped off a great year for me. That said I have put in a huge amount of effort in getting to this stage as I had to meticulously plan my year to make sure I was ready come the day of the race. Everything I did was all about planning towards the final and really the story starts with the qualifying round at Boldings.
Okay, so take me through your plans. We all fish these big events and you have qualified for lots of big finals so another question I have is how do you narrow the odds to make sure you get your chance at the big time?
Qualifying for big finals isn’t as easy as you think. I like to plan well ahead, early in the year before the qualifiers get underway and look at the venues, choose my matches and target all local ones. I then concentrate on a few and make sure I fish them regularly to stay in tune with the moods of the places and the species we would be targeting. That way come the qualifier I will know straight away what sort of weight I should be targeting and tackle I should be using to give myself a chance.
Obviously you have to draw a peg that has the potential to qualify from but there are far more of these on every venue than most people give credit for. If you know the venue well then you can tailor your approach to suit the peg and not just pigeon hole the venue as a one method attack. I’ve fished Bolding a lot in recent years and have done really well there. In the run up to the qualifier I made sure I was well in tune there and spent lots of time ironing out methods and rigs in readiness. I had actually won my fair share in the lead up to the match so the confidence I had was sky high. I knew given half a draw I would back myself to do well and contend for a frame place.
So with lots of pressure on the venue for the day you already had a plan. I was on that particular match myself and my lack of knowledge showed as I thought I could have caught more come the end, that said I never would have won and qualified. Didn’t you draw a flyer if I remember rightly?
Granted when I drew I knew I had a great chance. It’s a known peg with form and everyone expected me to catch but other pegs were being mentioned before mine which helped keep anglers away from my area. This is where the planning comes in. You have to be mindful of the amount of pressure that these matches put on a venue. They don’t react in the same way as they do with a 20 peg club match on them. At the same time you still have to attack, especially on a peg like one I had drawn. You also have to think about the potential of the peg.
I saw this opportunity as my chance. It was my match to lose and not to win if that makes sense? Thinking in this way and with all the added pressure of the other lads chirping about how good the draw is can easily put you in different mind sets so now is the time you really have to stay cool, focus and be realistic about what you need to catch to make sure the job gets done. Matches can easily be lost before you even get the kit out of the car and a cool head always pays as you still have to do the job and not get carried away. Thinking you’re just going to turn up and bag up is wrong as there are far too many great anglers around you pushing to beat you. Stay calm, trust your instincts and make it happen.
Well, that you certainly did with a brilliant 106lb of F1s if I recall? So, the hard bit is done, you have won the match. You have a few months until the final, time to relax and enjoy?
Ha ha, I wish. Far from it! Now is the time you must sit down and think about the road ahead. I am busy with work, a consultant with Matrix and earlier in the year I signed for Bait-Tech, as well as this I get married towards the end of September. With these sorts of commitments I had to plan to make sure I did the best I can for all concerned.
The thought of winning such a major event is what makes us go fishing. It was only fair to me as well as my sponsors to make sure I gave everything towards trying to win this. My whole year’s fishing changed in an instant as everything I was now to do would reflect on the coming final. Venues, baits, species and tackle all had to be considered and I set a plan up that every time I fished I would or could learn something that would benefit me come the day of the race. I know Larford Lakes relatively well as we’ve fished there a lot in the past. This gave me a good understanding of the type of lake we would be fishing, the target species and size of fish we would be looking to catch.
So, camped on the match lake at Larford for months were you?
Quite the opposite in fact; I did of course spend a lot of time there and fished as many matches as possible, including a Fish O Mania qualifier that I managed to come second in. As well as this though I knew I would glean as much info from other venues that held similar stocking. This would give me a much broader outlook on styles, methods and baits as something you may not normally do at Larford could be catching you fish elsewhere. This is where you pick up these ideas and have to take it and try it to see if it does work.
Boldings saw me visit on plenty of occasions as the target species are very similar. This would let me compare the two venues and the moods of the fish and compare tackle setups and feeding styles. I worked closely with my good friend, team mate and bank runner on the day, Stu Ballard comparing methods, baits and possible scenarios. Stu did a fantastic job for me right through from qualifying to the final and I can’t thank him enough for his efforts.
Larford Festival and 2nd place - looks like the plan was coming together?
Sort of; As soon as I qualified I booked onto this festival as a week on the venue so close to the big event was going to be invaluable. Not only that but it’s a fantastic week’s fishing that we all love. I fished hard and studied everything that week. Plans were certainly starting to come together as caught well and managed to come in second overall. Also very importantly I was getting good responses to things I was doing and as usual saw a change in the venue, notorious at this time of year and the amount of big matches that were on the venue.
What do you mean change?
The end of July and August can be difficult months if you are not switched on to what’s happening. The fish get wiser as they see more pressure and you have to adjust to make sure you stay in contact with them.
By this I mean feeding and hookbaits. Smaller baits work best and lesser food content baits seem to outscore high food ones. This is why you always see the Bait-Tech lads sacking up on groundbait fed loose down the edge. It keeps the fish in your swim but doesn’t fill them up as much as pellet so makes them easier to catch over longer periods.
Couple this with dead maggots and you are onto a winner. As well as the actual catching of fish you have to study their reaction and why they are feeding the way they do, this enables you to stay ahead of the game and all this was certainly the case with Larford. F1s can be fickle creatures. They will feed happily but wise up to things very quickly. You can’t take you eye off the ball.
Things were clearly going well and you and Stu had formulated a plan that was working. Confidence must have been high going into the final? What did you think of your peg once drawn?
This is something you will understand well as you’ve been there. Confidence is a must, plain and simple! You have to go into these matches ‘KNOWING’, not thinking you can win. All the hard work, time and effort you have put in will give you the plan to win. The mentality must be that the only thing that can let you down and stop you from winning is the peg. You HAVE to back your ability and if you’re on enough fish, your preparation and knowledge should carry you through. It may sound a little big headed but without this mentality the bloke next to you who has it with it will beat you! This is why you see so many of the other finalists so devastated at not winning. They have all worked hard, put the time and effort in and know they can win if the peg will let them. It’s quite an intense experience.
Yeah your right mate, it is devastating...anyway, talk me through your match, your ten grand an hour final.
At the gala evening the night before we lined up to do the draw, my turn came and peg 12 stuck to my mitt. This is permanent peg 29 on the lake and quite an interesting area to fish. Over the years bigger fish are playing an ever increasing part at the venue but this is an area I know holds a lot of big F1s. I would take my chances on most pegs to be fair but this I really fancied as I didn’t think one of the lake’s usual big weights would be needed. I had 100lb in mind to win and I know this is a lot but nothing compared to what is possible here.
With this in mind I simply tried to catch everything that swam and keeping busy with plenty of bites I hoped would be the key. There are plenty of skimmers in the lake and although on big weight days you need to avoid these, they can add vital weight so can’t be ignored!
The rigs I set up were: for my bottom rigs at 6 and 13m Matrix Series 7 .30g floats with .11 Matrix prototype main line to .10 hook lengths and a 20 Carp Rigger hook with a banded pellet. Then Matrix Series 2 .10g and .20g floats for shallow rigs again with .11 main line .10 hook lengths and size 20 Carp Rigger hooks, banded pellet , Evolution method feeders and bomb for the island swim.
Bait was the next thing to consider and 4mm fishery feed pellets were going to be main feed bait for the short and long pole lines. As mentioned the fish had become a little fickle of late so a 4mm pellet was getting a far better response than a 6mm as feed. I would look to fish a hard 6mm or even 4mm on a hair rigged band to try and make sure the bites kept coming.
Then there was my trick to stay in the water longer. All I did was get a handful of 4mm and 6mm Bait-Tech premium pellets to use for banding, I dipped them in Xcite Omega 3 fish oil. This gives the pellet a longer life on the hook as the oils slow down the breakdown of the pellet. Not only that but it gives off a very attractive smell for the fish to home in on. I’ve been doing this for some time as it allows me to catch several fish on the same pellet without the need to change.
My edge line was going to be fed with loose groundbait and dead maggots. This was a very important line as this is where you can claw back a lot of weight in a very short space of time. Bait choice was one I had settled on from lots of experimenting and chatting with the other Bait-Tech lads. N-Tice and Red Kult mixed 50/50 has been killing on Larford this year. I like this mix as the colour is very similar to the red sandy bottom that Larford. Add to that the texture is light, fine and fluffy, fish go bonkers for it and it was decision made.
Funnily enough there were several other of the Bait-Tech Team in the final and most had elected to fish the same mix; not so secret after all! This was going to be primed for the last two hours for an assault on some big weight builders but would also double up as my method mix for the far bank; that and some softened 4mm feed pellets.
I had a few other baits with me like meat and corn but felt that if I was reaching for these I would be struggling and behind. I like to keep things simple and let my practice tell me what to use.
With everything ready the hooter sounded and I instantly shipped out on my short line. This line can produce very quickly and get you off to a great start. The key here is to go straight on it and milk it for what it’s worth as it only lasts a short time before you have to move. Rather than pot in I went straight out, lowered my rig in and fed ten pellets around my float.
Instantly I was playing an F1, soon followed by another. Some competitors were still feeding by this point where as I was off and running. Sure enough this line slowed and the small skimmers moved in. This is a sign to move and look longer where the fish will settle better. I shipped out to 13m and laid my rig in, again another ten pellets around my float. Sure enough slowly but surely I started to catch F1s and the odd skimmer at full depth. Constant lifting and dropping producing lots of indications and bites, I accompanied this with the frugal but steady feeding.
Stu kept an eye on things and it soon became clear that I was in the mix if not winning as more F1s and the odd proper carp came steadily to the net. Bites then started to slow and a switch to a 4mm hookbait saw me yet again get a good run of fish. As predicted it was fishing harder than expected but it’s no surprise with all this pressure on it.
Bites once again slowed and with an hour and a half to go I felt I needed to get away from where I was fishing to rest it.
I had been feeding the edge and wanted a quick look. By now I was starting to have doubts as to whether the banker edge line was going to produce. For the benefit of the spectators the venue had received quite a haircut and with the gathering crowds appearing I was sure this was going to put them off. I had a look and nothing showed.
Usually as the water is so shallow you can see them when they are in the swim but I hadn’t seen a sign and now, aware I was in the lead, I had to move and try and keep something going in the net. Back out long and two quick fish settled me again after a nervy period. The skimmers started to rack up again and with 40 minutes left Ian Giddings was now catching well in the edge so I felt I needed another ten F1s to keep my lead.
It’s at this point where the difference between a good bank runner and a great bank runner show. The pressure is immense. £50K running through your mind! Stu was cool and calm and kept me focussed. I decided to go longer in a bid to connect with some more carp and the move proved vital as I soon started catching again. The fish had clearly backed off but by using fine lines, small hooks and small baits I managed to pick off another eight before the end of the match.
The hooter sounded for what seemed the longest five hours of my life. I was being congratulated but knew it was close. When the scales arrived my 56kg was enough to beat the chasing Ian Giddins who weighed 46kg! I had won! I had to take a moment to think about it. All the time, effort and practice had paid off. I had stuck to my plan and it had worked. It’s a very special feeling when your plans come through and you fish a match like that, let alone when the prize is £50,000.
Words will never explain how happy I am to have won. I still can’t believe it! The money is a massive help as it will certainly pay for mine and Bonnie’s forthcoming wedding and maybe even a nice holiday. What a present!
As for me well it’s back to work. I’m still the same old Tommo. I love the sport and the people I know because of it and as long as that’s happening I will never change. I just want to do it all again now!
“Wow, what an account, thanks Les. ‘Want to do it all again?’ Enjoy this one first mate, any chance of a small loan?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved. Thanks must go to Stu for being my wing man, all the guys at Matrix and Bait-Tech for their continued support and of course my wife to be Bonnie for putting up with me.
And Andy… uh… NO!
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