Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pawns or Prawns? The complexity of the sport

Someone once said angling is the most complex sport behind chess. Certainly it is complicated but not playing chess leaves me at a disadvantage. I recall British Grandmaster Nigel Short (still number 45 in the world at the age of 47) playing Gary Kasparov for the world title and being addicted to the apparently tedious spectacle even when Short was so far behind he needed snookers to stay in it (as Ron Atkinson would have said, if anyone was still interested in him). That interest didn't hold so strongly with anyone else I knew who had shown any enthusiasm for the earlier stages and I firmly believe that it was a background in angling and believing to the very last second that anything was possible that kept me glued to it every day. Whether angling is more or less complex than chess though, is a moot point. Certainly the combinations of possibilities are huge in number if we want them to be but for the less experienced angler, or the occasional angler not willing or particularly bothered about learning much, then chess must be way out in front in the permutation stakes. For an angler of a certain experience and enquiring mind however the factors to take into account and draw conclusions from are vast in number. I would suggest whatever branch of the sport you choose to pursue this is the case once one has a certain back-catalogue of experience to dip into and, while increased experience leads to greater awareness, there are more associated possibilities and it is fascinating that the experienced angler is best able to sift through the irrelevances and conclude that some thing or other will be likely to succeed on a given day. Much of this is influenced by pre-planning - the selection of venue; required tackle; preconcieved bait needs, weather forecast, etc., but a far larger proportion of the contributary influences are resolved on the bank as things progress

In reality the few hours spent in pursuit of my partciular quarries since returning properly to the sport this year have been somewhat one dimensional in that I have gone to a venue with a preconcieved idea and stuck it out come what may and regardless of relative effectiveness. This is contrary to my previous match fishing outlook when I would have been seeking to employ as many as five methods within the duration of the match, juggling them in an attempt to keep fish coming for the 3, 4 or 5 hours as appropriate. Not only did this require a certain understanding of each method to possibly produce 'the goods' but also an ability to apply them in a suitable sequence, evolved on the day, to maximise that catch potential

If I were to set-out here how that might typically work it would seem, when written down, quite simple but of course it required years of honing to be able occasionally to get it somewhere near right by reading the water and interpreting the factors on any given day to suit constantly varying circumstances.

A simple list of factors seems somewhat inadequate but without resorting to novel proportions it will focus the mind on the enormity of the challenge:
  • time of year (God it's cold)
  • time of day
  • length of session - fixed in competition, possibly flexible if not
  • general weather but mainly temperature, before and during the session, and wind impact (Hard frost this morning?)
  • level of other disturbances such as boat traffic, lock movement, walkers, etc
  • potential lulls in other disturbances (will the boat traffic slacken off at lunchtime?)
  • water level, colour, flow 
  • target (species/weight or other)
  • methods pre-selected to be used
  • methods adjusted or introduced during the session
  • depth and physical profile of swim (shelves, deeper holes, etc)
  • features of swim - overhanging vegetation, weed beds, gravel beds, etc
  • baits - predetermined and taken to the water's edge but as selected and deployed
  • rod, pole, whip? (one, two or all and multiples thereof?)
  • matching rod/pole/whip to circumstances inc elastic choice for pole
  • basic method - float or lead (various types inc feeder options)
  • selected rig(s)
  • assessment or predetermined preferences against prevailing conditions (aaargh my casters are still in the fridge!)
  • final (immediately pre-session) planned approach
  • feeding options - loose feed, groundbait (light/heavy, dry/sloppy, flavoured, etc) other variants/combinations 
  • in-session adjustments to approach 
  • predetermination of sequence of methods to maximise potential of swim
  • selection of areas of swim to apply each method
  • line type (numerous now available)
  • main line breaking strain or thickness/diameter, also for hook-length, for each rig
  • hook, size and pattern for each rig
  • weight/size/length/tip colour of float, lead/feeder type
  • shotting pattern
  • depths set *up in water, at depth or *laid-on (*& by how much)
  • hookbait in relation to feed decisions
  • surface skim
  • floating/sinking line
  • rate of feed of each selected 'line' or location to be targeted
  • etc, etc, etc

1983, and more floats than you can shake a, erm, stick at
The list is extensive but not exhaustive (though I am exhausted having thought it through!) and of course most, if not all, of the post-commencement conditions can and will be adjusted to suit during the session as it evolves

Okay I accept the chess player will have a certain number of moves ahead pre-planned, perhaps the whole game if everything goes perfectly to plan, but I really struggle to believe that it can be more complicated a set of options than confronts the experienced angler when he or she alights at his or her peg...and, before this, the weekly wrangling over where to go, what type of venue, where am I even allowed to go?, etc

I recall quite distinctly when I first started travelling, to what I subsequently realised to be very good venues, being overwhelmed by my lack of understanding of literally any of the above but very slowly, trip by trip, conversation by conversation, year by year, things started to unfold. I remember setting myself season-long targets for a five-year period over which I tried to teach myself how to fish certain baits determined on the basis of which I thought might be most useful that particular season. Eventually this lead to a reasonable appreciation of what was required to make use of them under various ambient influences but it was a long old job and, as with all things angling, just when you think you have arrived the piscatorial bus pulls away before you can walk to the stop and you are left realising that the natural world is far more unpredictable than you had hoped as you seek directions to the nearest drawing board

For me it is this eternal internal churning, sifting and deliberation of possibilities that is firing me towards the bank once again with unbounded enthusiasm and optimism. Sure I could get into chess, that would be possible, but the wind wouldn't blow and the rain wouldn't fall; and I wouldn't smell the waterside; and absolutely, certainly, I wouldn't see the red fin of the roach nor eye of the tench; nor hear the reeling of the grasshopper warbler in the scrub, the peeping and blue flash of the kingfisher. No, there is an altogether more entralling aspect to all this than the above can even scratch the surface of.

Is it going to be a frost this weekend? Well actually, now that I happen to mention it, yes, possibly; temperatures down to around 3degC it seems...can't wait!

World Class Match Fishing, Kevin Ashurst. Cassell 1976
Ron Atkinson
Met Office iPhone Weather App]

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