OPEN COMPETITIONS - WHAT TO DO

by Eugene Kruger

"Open" fishing competitions are different to organised matches, in that open competitions award prizes for the heaviest fish of a particular species, and not for the heaviest bag of fish.

The "open" refers to the fact that any member of the public may take part - you do not have to be affiliated to a club. The line class is also "open" - namely you may fish with whatever breaking strain you wish.

This type of competition presents the leisure angler with several opportunities a year to enjoy a weekend's fishing with the bonus of being in line to win one of the many prizes on offer. Prizes vary from big cash payouts to tackle items and household appliances.

All open competitions have a "Lucky Draw" as part of the prize list, and all entrants stand a chance of winning a lucky draw prize. The only qualification is that you must be an entrant, and that you attend the prize giving function.

Prizes for lucky draws vary from free accommodation at fishing resorts, vehicles, household appliances, fishing tackle and so on.

What attracts many to these competitions, apart from the chance of winning one of the prizes, is the fact that the organisers present each entrant with a competition badge. There are very many leisure anglers, who go out of their way to collect as many badges as possible, which are worn on fishing shirts or jackets. Another attraction is that more often than not the competition organisers have negotiated special entrance fees and accommodation prices. Sometimes too, areas not generally open to the fishing public are used which gives you a chance of fishing waters not generally available.

Attitudes towards open competitions vary from angler to angler. Some view them as merely an opportunity to enjoy a fishing weekend with friends or family that also offers something extra, and adopt a fairly relaxed attitude. For these anglers it is merely a matter of "chucking and chancing" it.

"If I get a big enough fish to win a prize, or win a lucky draw, then that's fine. Otherwise I've just enjoyed a lekker time!"

Others however adopt a more competitive attitude, planning their strategies and really going after the prizes.

It does make sense, however, that if the competition is for the heaviest carp, for example, that dedicated carp tactics are used. The same goes for any other species.

While there are many open single specie competitions, others are multi-species; namely prizes are awarded two and even more different species.

That's the time to do some effective pre-planning.

For bank anglers the options are somewhat limited, but for boat anglers a multi-specie competition provides an interesting challenge.

Boat fishing provides mobility, namely you can move around from one spot to another in search of fish. Logically then, boat fishing allows you to target more than one species, even though they have different habitat preferences and feeding habits.

A boat therefore holds the key when you want to target more than one species, such as often happens in open competitions.

Competition organisers like to throw a 'curve ball' at you. For example they will offer prizes for carp, mudfish and kurper, so you just have to catch all three. To compound the difficulty, they will offer the main prize, such as a complete boat for example, for the heaviest carp. This means you are forced to target carp as a priority species.

Herein lies the challenge. Carp and muddies have similar habitat preferences and can quite easily be targeted together. But, how do you also target kurper at the same time? After all, kurper is a free ranging gamefish, demanding totally different tactics.

The highly effective kurper tactic of fishing worms beneath a sliding float on the drift; just cannot be done while fishing bottom rigs for carp and mudfish at anchor.

But there is a method that allows you to target all three species at the same time, and importantly, while anchored on one spot. Patience and an adjustment in baits and traces are, however, necessary.

WHERE

The key, as in all situations, is the choice of a fishing spot, namely a habitat where these species are likely to be found.

Ideally, one should position the boat in water that is shallow enough to allow you to fish for mudfish beneath the boat, and to provide a carp spot some 30 to 40 metres away in deeper water.

But hey! You might well ask, what about the kurper?

Well, past experience has shown that kurper are very often found together with muddies. Not in abundance, granted, but every so often the hard fighting fish putting a bend into your rod next to the boat turns out to be a kurper. The logical assumption that veteran anglers have made is that kurper will "visit" muddie habitat and feed together with muddies, but not the other way around (muddies are not mid or surface water feeders).

This means that you are looking for a muddie spot of about 3 to 4 metres deep, with a carp spot about 5 to 7 metres and even deeper some 40 metres away from the boat.

Look for a clear area adjacent to a well grassed, gently sloping bank, preferably coming off a drop-off such as a hole, gully, old riverbed or a point. Obviously you need a sonar unit (fishfinder) to do this. Doing some homework beforehand, studying a topo map or plotting your own will be very helpful.

This then is your key tactic, namely fish for carp away from the boat on your main rod, and beneath the boat for muddies and kurper on your second rod.

MUDFISH & KURPER

Vaal River Muddy
Loskop Blue Kurper

There are two options.

The first is to use normal mudfish tactics, namely to use the usual two-hook, 'Baby-shoes' trace on the bottom beneath a sliding float.

The second is to use a variation of the Rietvlei trace. The variation being that the top hook is tied on a longer than usual hook length (see sketch).

Caption: 1. A rig for catching kurper and muddies on the same spot.

Hooks must be sharp - chemically sharpened hooks are preferable.

Using such a set up, past experience has proved that in between the muddies you should also get kurper.

The key, however, is to adjust the bait being used. The normal flour or bread paste bait is used on the bottom hook for muddies, while the top hook is baited with earthworms.

HINTS

Don't just thread the worms onto the hook. Hook them first through the 'collar' and then two or three times through the body so that the heads and tails are free to wriggle around. With the worm use a 'Mielie Float' bait so that it floats upwards.

  • Use chemically sharpened hooks.
  • For groundbait for the muddies use cooked mielie rice mixed with sweet condensed milk. Mix in two or even three tins of sweetened condensed milk to a 25-litre drum of cooked mielie rice. Before you start fishing, put in up to 5 handfuls, then add one handful every 30 minutes or so. Also spread a couple of handfuls of 'Chick-Chick' (crushed mielies) or chicken pellets all around your spot. Repeat every so often. The trick is to attract the attention of the fish and then to keep them in your spot. By putting in small amounts regularly, as opposed to a large amount just once, you create competition among the fish and something of a feeding frenzy - which of course is to your advantage. If you just put in a large amount once, there is no competition for the free food and the fish will just feed at leisure.
  • Maroek - this popular ground feed for kurper still has its place, but use it sparingly. It does attract kurper but also often attracts small, 'undesirable' fish such as squeakers, butter catfish (makriel) and papermouths. A few compressed balls of maroek every so often are all that will be needed. You can also add a handful or two to the mielie rice groundbait.
  • Muddies can take some time to arrive, so be patient. If you start at daybreak, for example, don't expect to catch muddies within the first hour. It can happen, of course, but usually muddies take some time to come on the bite. Once they are 'there', however, one rod is all that can be handled.
  • For paste bait, dip brown (or white) breads into water and squeeze out all the water. Using mutton cloth makes this easy. Or place small amounts of soaked bread between the palms and squeeze hard to remove the water. Then knead the bread until smooth. Use only small, pea-size balls on the point of the hook.
  • Strike immediately you see the float move, even if it just quivers. Muddies do sometimes pull the float beneath the surface, but more often than not they take the bait laterally. If the float lifts to lie flat on the surface, strike instantly because it means that the fish has taken the baited hook and lifted it. Muddie fishing demands constant concentration. You must strike the instant the float moves, no matter how little.
  • Colourants and mutis - Red is the preferred colour. Mutis depend on the dam, pH of the water etc etc. Take your pick.

CARP

8 kg Common Carp
6 kg Mirror Carp

Groundbaiting is vital for successful carp fishing, no matter what the dam. The key once again is not to overfeed. Small amounts put in regularly are better than one large amount.

A good tactic is to spread a 5 litre bucket or two of cooked, whole mielies over your chosen target area before you anchor the boat. Then add balls of cooked, minced mielies or any of the commercially available groundbait) every fifteen minutes or so. Balls of groundbait tend to disintegrate when you throw them, so use a bait catapult (available at your tackle dealer), which does the job efficiently and accurately.

Chemically sharpened hooks are always an advantage, particularly when they have a 'cam' bend to ensure solid hook sets, such as Tru-Turn hooks.

A reliable knot is another 'must'. Wet the knots and snug them up tightly.

Popular carp traces such as the 'Rietvlei' and 'Baby-Shoes' work as well in any dam. Bear in mind that the Hair-rig and boilie baits are designed to catch big fish, so it is a good idea to use them on at least one rod to try and catch a big, prize-winning fish.

All the usual carp baits can be used, namely mielie pips mieliepap, bread paste and so on. Also make use of the wide variety of colourants and flavourants available. As with any fishing, experiment until you find the winning combination.

CATFISH/Barbel

14 kg Vundu Mocambique
18 kg Catfish South Africa

Many open competitions, particularly bank angling ones, offer prizes for carp and barbel, species that require different strategies and tactics.

It is truism that carp and barbel are rarely caught in the same spot, so the strategy is to fish for them at different spots. If you want to target both, fish spots at least 30 metres apart.

Make use of all the popular barbel baits such as worms, insects, platannas, unhatched chicken egg embryos, meat strips, offal and so on. Seeing as how you are targeting big barbel, step up the tackle to be used with heavier line and bigger hooks.

ENJOY YOURSELF, BUT...

It takes only one rotten apple to spoil the barrel - it's the same when large numbers of people come together. While most will be out to just have a good time, "having a good time," means different things to different people.

The most annoying thing at open competitions is liquor abuse and the noise emanating from portable radios.

To prevent any unpleasantness, however, one only needs to adhere to the concepts of good manners.

"Good manners" means keeping your radio turned down (if your neighbour can hear it, it is too loud!), picking up your own litter, not abusing liquor and so on. Nothing special - just a common respect for others. Then everyone enjoys the competition!

Pictures by Sue Babich