My first UK Species Hunt Competition (Lessons Learned).

I may have organised a lot of fishing comps over the years, but until this Wednesday I’d never yet actually fished one myself on British soil! A few years back I travelled to a couple of one-off competitions in France but they were different to how we’re running our species hunt events here at the moment.

This was the first round of this year’s Cornish LRF League. After introducing the league last year, this year I’ve passed it to 2015 champ, Will Pender to take the reins. Not only did I always feel too busy to do a good job last year, but passing things over to Will means I can actually fish the thing without having to attend every round. He’s had more time than I to be very proactive in the run-up with organising this one so I’m happy we’ve gone this way.

Although I do feel a bit of pressure to get a good result or two during this league, the local anglers know that I am far from being a species hunting expert. I’m nowhere near as experienced as the guys who tend to fish this league or our Cornish Lure Festival when it comes to really going for the species tally. I love LRF but my own fishing tends to reflect back to my old match/coarse fishing days when I’d prefer to keep myself busy catching quantities of fish, no matter what the species, rather than making it hard for myself by going for constantly different fish (and ignoring the ones I’ve already caught). When LRF began we weren’t fishing such targeted methods and in the days when I was doing a lot more fishing, we never really got our heads down a lot and went for variety. Overall, LRF has changed a lot since then. I just like being busy, basically – so if that means plundering Pollack after Pollack, mackerel after mackerel, goby after goby, then I’ll be a very happy and content angler.

All that said, I really want to support Will and others who are taking the bull by the horns and running competitions like these. Being the organiser can feel like a pretty thankless task at times – although almost by definition, LRF anglers do tend to be some of the most chilled out there. It’s because of the fact that I’ve done the odd little TV thing or talked a lot about the topic in the past that I do feel a personal pressure to be able to mix it with the species boys on any competition I fish these days. It may just be something I needlessly put on myself, but there’s an obvious risk of sounding hypocritical during my days in the shop – giving advise about the topic if I can’t actually walk the walk myself! Anyway, I think most of the locals know that modern-day species hunting isn’t really what I do, but I don’t mean like that to sound like an excuse before I even get started…… 😀

The full report will be over at www.lrf.co.uk once I’ve uploaded all of the results so I won’t go in to all of the details for now but I will just fill you in on a couple of things I think I might have learned about species hunt competitions.

I finished up 5th overall. That was my target before the round really – although 4th would have been nice and anything more a very pleasant bonus. I felt like I didn’t fish well at all really and it was all down to inexperience in reality. Certainly having fished one species hunt competition in my life doesn’t quality me to write a how-to, but for the benefit of anybody who may find themselves in the same boat one day, here’s a bit of a rundown…

It mostly went wrong for me in the middle part of the three hour time period. By fishing away from everybody else I hoped I’d be spooking less fish while they all huddled round the end of the pier, almost shoulder to shoulder, dropping the same lures on the same fish, cast after cast. Turns out you can only spook fish if you can actually find them though! The wrasse species for example only really feed during the daylight hours, so the three main ones had to be nabbed before sunset. While I spent the hour chucking “experimental” rigs in to snags, some of the guys at the end were building
a decent tally of the things without my knowing. By the time I’d wandered up to join them I’d missed my chance pretty much. The Wrasse weren’t the be all and end all or the reason for my average result, but catching them when they were there, and to have been in the right place at the right time would have been an advantage. There’s certainly a point to be made about knowing a venue in advance of fishing a competition on it! I’d never fished Newlyn before in my life.

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I mentioned “experimental” rigs above too. From all my years match fishing on the freshwater side of things I should really have already known that during any competition (even if it is just a bit of fun) is never really the time to go completely off-piste and start chucking a load of new rig patterns that you’ve never used before. I ended up spending more time messing with unsuccessful, snag-magnet rigs during that middle hour than I’d like to remember. Luckily I did have a trick or two up my sleeve for when it came to re-tying in no time at all – which I’ll share in an upcoming post – but losing rigs and catching no fish becomes a bit annoying after a while. If I’d been fishing a pleasure session I’d have been happy either catching Pollack on the outer wall or blitzing the Gobies and being happy with any odd surprises inside, but having caught both of those species already there was just no point during this evening.

To take nothing at all away from the guys who are very good at this type of fishing, what they do to be successful is actually quite simple…. (and it’s not what I did):

1) Find your favourite rig style and stick to it. Between the top 3 or 4 guys in Cornwall you generally see either a dropshot or a split-shot rig almost permanently attached to each of their lines. Some prefer one; some the other. They don’t switch every 20 minutes. Admittedly, they don’t necessarily need to experiment on the night because their favoured rig choice has generally been decided with their differing experiences or just personal preferences. Having confidence in your setup is as important in an LRF comp as it is in any freshwater match fishing environment. While my evening in Newlyn broke this rule completely, I can now see the comparisons with the freshwater match scene quite clearly, even if I didn’t really think there would be any similarities beforehand. Naturally, if you decide to start chasing mackerel or bass then a switch to a casting jig or something is the way to go, but the point is that for most of your bottom dwelling species you will catch on just one rig setup (split/dropshot). Pick your favourite and make it work. It will.

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2) Know the venue. I mentioned it above and it’s a very obvious one. If you’re fishing against experienced guys who have fished a venue a lot of times before (and you haven’t), you’ll be up against it a bit. Not only will they know where they’ve caught certain species or the most fish in the past, but mentally they’ll be confident that they can do it all again – whereas you’ll already be thinking negative thoughts or resigning yourself to a middle of the road position as a result. Experienced anglers with the right rigs, a knowledge of where the fish are and a matching, sensible confidence are always going to be right up there in the prizes! The joy of a species hunt is that you never really know what will happen as a little luck can come in to it from time to time, but it helps if you can make some of your own luck too by fishing a venue BEFORE you rock up to try and compete
on it.

3. Marukyu Isome and Ecogearaqua rule! It’s really not a point that I learned about on Wednesday (since it’s been almost 6 years since we introduced both brands to the UK), but these lures will catch you 95% of all fish in any species hunting competition. I’d go as far as saying that EVERY LRF competition I have EVER organised have been won by anglers predominantly using them.

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Obviously to go with the above points there are other things that the successful anglers apply to their fishing. There’s that 10% that literally nobody can explain. Some people just have it. When you’ve caught a big variety of species over the years, consistently, you have patterns in your head about how you think it is best to catch each of them. I know a bit, but not enough to start telling you how to catch each of them. That’s where these guys excel.

Anyway, I left Wednesday’s competition not disappointed but really just considering how I could have done better. It’s not a serious event at all in terms of the competition itself as it’s one where you really just hope for a couple of decent results during the league, but it’s just nice to think you’ve fished decently for yourself. I’ve fished so little lately that I really just wanted to try a lot of new bits and pieces out – which didn’t suit the competitive environment at all – nor the venue. Or any venue. In fact, some of the things I did were just really, really rubbish. I enjoyed thinking about them in theory but I won’t be returning to most of them (and won’t bother explaining them).

You can obviously fish these things with a number of personal targets – whether you just want to fish with a bit of company, go all out for the win or settle somewhere in between. I’d say most of the guys are somewhere in the middle. Certainly I am. The winning isn’t important, but to win an event is a satisfying confirmation that you did things just right – and that’s my target for any social session really.

I’m yet to decide whether I’ll fish a dropshot or splitshot in Fowey at the next round, but definitely I’ll be picking one of the other and going with it. Although…… it is a “total length” round so may play more to my strengths of catching numbers of fish rather than variety. Hopefully see some of you there!

Ben