As a match angler of nearly 30 years I have seen changes to the sport I could never have envisaged when I started. From catching Roach, Bream and Chub from a sluggish Bristol Avon to the sometimes frantic sport encountered on the modern-day commercial waters.
I have not fished a river for about 4 years, not because they are not as good as they used to be (as there still seems to be plenty of fish in them) and I see many anglers in my shop who still fish rivers every week - with some good returns. As with a lot of the nation's rivers the Avon seems to have had an upsurge of fish to specimen proportions. Carp to over 30 pounds, Barbel to 15 pounds plus and chub to 6 pounds seem commonplace. Bream are regularly caught to nearly 10 pounds throughout its entire length.
What is worrying is the apparent absence of smaller specimens of the above and, apart from about 4 months of the year between mid-summer and late autumn, the shoals of roach seem to do a disappearing act, so for most of the year big fish usually decide the top spots in a lot of the matches. With big fish playing such a part on the rivers many match anglers have deserted the rivers in favour of the more consistent sport available on the still waters. To see the popularity of these venues you only have to look at the match bookings to find they are frequently booked for up to 2 years in advance by many of the clubs and associations that would normally have been fishing the rivers.
The benefits are many, such as safe parking - with no car crime, easy access to the water, many fisheries boasting good facilities for disabled anglers, with flat stable platforms to fish off, toilets/shops available on site and, of course, the quality of sport is absolutely cracking.
As far as matches go on these venues you would generally have to catch Carp to win. The weights now being achieved, in even the coldest weather, are over 100 pounds and, in warmer conditions, up to and over 200 pounds is regularly required.
Another interesting aspect is the introduction of the silver fish pool. If you think that you have no chance of winning from your draw, and it can become apparent very quickly which anglers around you are catching well, it is possible to change your attack and target the smaller species such as Crucians, Tench, Bream, Roach and Rudd. All these fisheries are stuffed with these smaller fish and, as they go largely uncaught, you will usually need between 20 and 90 pounds to win the silver fish pool. This is a good to brilliant day by anybodys' standards. So, rather than going home empty-handed, it is possible to get a brown envelope from a mediocre to sometimes bad draw and recoup some of your expenses for the day.
By and large, match and pleasure anglers have never had it so good, with easily accessible and prolific fishing. Even for those amongst us who still feel that running water is the place to be, good sport can be achieved with a little more preparation and homework. So keep an eye on angling weeklies for pointers as to where to go, but most importantly pay a visit to your local tackle shop for the most up-to-date information. Information in the weeklies can at times be two weeks out of date.
Even if you only class yourself as a pleasure angler, if you get the chance, go and watch some matches on your local waters. You can often learn an awful lot by watching for a couple of hours. This, in turn will help you catch bigger and more fish in ways you might not have thought about.
One word of warning though, is give the anglers in these matches every respect. Do not ask too many questions while they are fishing, and always wait until they have finished what they are doing or they turn to talk to you. Most importantly, keep back from the waters edge. Avoid stepping over their tackle, as a lot of anglers pegs look like bomb-sites, with pole sections, rods and various other pieces of tackle strewn all over the place. Any breakages which occur can be very costly!
At the end of the day all any of us want is a good days sport, with a few fish and the chance of a 'few bob' back for our troubles. Also we must learn to appreciate what we have. This means don't leave litter. Most fisheries have waste bins and if they don't always take your rubbish home with you as there is no excuse for leaving any waste behind. Be aware of wildlife and treat it with the respect it deserves as it has as much right to be there as you do! Always be civil and respectful to other anglers and bankside users as all we want is an enjoyable days sport - SO BE LUCKY.