Monday, 23 January 2012

Forty - Seventy Percenter

It's about that time of the year when I begin to make serious plans and set objectives for the fishing I intend to do over the course of the rest of it. Completing the book has pushed away the recent past, where I relearned how to fish for coarse fish after decades of neglect, and opened a door to a new phase of my fishing career. Uppermost in my mind is the British obsession with the breaking of old personal bests (isn't it uppermost in yours?) and especially those that have been hanging around unbroken for far too long. Pike and carp to mention two -- personal records that were set way back in the late seventies at South Weald in Essex and that have remained at the top ever since even though neither are for particularly big fish, just 19lb 12oz for carp and 15lb 12oz for pike.

That I have never fished seriously for carp since then might have something to do with the first remaining stubbornly fixed, but 20lb carp are far more common nowadays than they were back in the seventies so I was hoping to have caught one to beat that old record by now, if only by accident. My pike record was shaken last year with a 15lb 6oz fish from the canal, which I rank highly as a capture but it's still a very small pike compared to the British Record. I was chasing a rumoured twenty seven pounder when I caught her but that properly big fish never turned up for me, alas. Both these records are ones that I want to pay some attention to beating into the weeds this year, hoping to pass the twenty pound mark for both.

Last year was very good for beating records. I keep a speadsheet on which are listed all my best fish from three entirely different types of water -- rivers, canals and still-waters. I do this because they are all so very different in terms of what can be expected from them that I think the record for the species that swim in them are best kept well apart. Roach fishing, for instance, is one thing in a river, another thing in a lake or pit, but so remotely different on my local canals that the fish I catch from them may as well be another species. Tench too. I have caught them from all three but regard the river and canal tench as being more remarkable than those from lakes where they are an expected catch at a high average weight during spring and summer. A five pound tench is still something to aim at on a canal, and this year I'll be trying hard for one. On lakes I just want to catch one a little bigger than the last, and do it again and again until I eventually find that elusive double, but reaching such a fish quickly is not this years plan.

The upshot of having three categories is that I get to beat records all the time, which apart from being very good for the angling soul, is also a neat way of having lots of new targets to aim at. Last year I beat no less than 16 records over the three categories and set 8 new overall personal bests, some of them falling three times over in a month with my crucian record falling three times in one hectic morning at Marsh Farm. It was good to do so well and my overall average percentage of the combined British records for the fifteen coarse fish species that I aim at, went from thirty percent in January 2011 to just over forty by the end of December last, which is a lot of improvement in one year.

To make a ten percent increase this year will be very hard work indeed. The double-figure zander I had from Bury Hill beat my previous best by seven pounds but now I can't imagine making a significant increase there. Ditto barbel, ditto roach, ditto silver bream, though I will be working extremely hard on the latter when Spring comes around as I believe there to be a british record specimen of the species swimming around in the canals local to Coventry and I think I have a very good idea of how to go about catching it, a secret strategy that will, at the very least, throw up one or two surprises, I'm sure.

Already this year I have set one new PB, a dace of seven and a half ounces, which is an improvement of only half an ounce. The percentage increase is however quite remarkable at 2.38% for this the smallest of the target species on the list (and the only one I weigh in ounces, and drams) however this makes almost no difference at all to the overall yield, effecting an increase of only 0.16%, so you can see how difficult it is to make headway with that overall percentage figure, for example, if I were to add a mid double-figure bream of fifteen pounds, which is a really significant fish in excess of 70% of the record, the overall percentage increase would be a measly 2.7 % !

Which figures bring me neatly to a direct comparison with a renowned big fish angler, one whose personal best list explodes in the minds eye like a firework, Coventry's finest, Phil Smith. His overall figure is a massive 69.52 % and he only need catch one small silver bream, the only fish on my list but not on his, to catapult himself into the stratospheric atmosphere above that figure and become one of a tiny handful of anglers in this country who are (may be?) members of The Seventy Percenter's Club.

The spreadsheet above, one that Phil has kindly given permission to publish, compares my efforts with his colossal track record, and without any surprise at all, I lose badly on every score excepting silver bream, where, through lack of a record for Phil, I manage to outscore him. It won't last long! But just look at those fish. Good grief! His crucian is 00.01% off the record, best bream outscores mine by double figures, his roach is nearly twice the size, his rudd is more than twice the size and so are many more. How can I ever hope to get even close to any of those fish?

I don't do this out of a spirit of competition, as there's simply no competition, is there? Phil's figures  only serve as realistic targets to aim at, and they're more realistic by far than my aiming at British records. I find comparing my own efforts to the overall british record a tad unreal as half the British record captures were made by design and other half were complete accidents. It's akin to being a amateur athletics enthusiast who tries to compare his achievements with those of all the world record holders in track and field but with the added madness that a drunk geezer with a gammy leg, or a five year schoolboy, is just as likely to set a new one as any of the top flight of dedicated specialists! However, comparing myself to Phil is realistic as his are the lifetime achievements of one man who always fishes by design, as do I, therefore the comparison is a fair one. If he can do it, then I think, so can I.

It'll take massive effort over many years just to reduce the disadvantage but reduce it I certainly will because Phil has reached such a peak that he'll find it very hard to improve even one percent in any year, where I'll make make steady progress all the while picking away at that 28.76 % deficit till the difference is reduced from distasteful, to quite palatable. Mind you, that big silver bream that you can bet your life he will catch, will push the disadvantage back over the thirty percent mark in one fell swoop...

This year though, my aims are quite reasonable. Steal the year's fishing challenge off Keith. Get my car license, at long last, as motorbikes aren't going to do it for me any longer. Publish the book, get a little job and make regular money as I'm fast running out of £500 coins to sell to keep our heads above water. Give up smoking because it impacts upon the fishing pocket and roach hate the taint on the bait. Already a member of the Forty Percenter's I want to be filing an application for the Fifty Percenter's by January next.  To do that I want to catch some nice fat spring tench, better my pike and carp, have a go at a three pound crucian, try for a double figure bream, top two pounds for both roach and rudd, generally increase figures all round, but to clinch it, put my name to the British Record Silver Bream...

Now, how hard can any of that possibly be...?

PS. Phil is already in the Seventy Percenter's without the silver bream as he's just reminded me that he had an eleven-pound fourteen-ounce tench in June which was a few months after I put together the spreadsheet... 

Amazingly it only gets him over the bar by 00.01%!

PPS. Updating the sheets to accommodate the new record perch (thanks for the reminder, Ian) has now robbed Phil of his 70% and reduced my PB average too, but still leaves me over 40%. 

I love stats! Crazed stuff, but fun to play with...

Phils Smith's 'Travelling Man'


  1. I could be wrong but isnt the perch record 6lb 4oz broken in October lst year :-(

  2. Steve in Colorado24 January 2012 at 04:17

    Per Ardua, Ad Astra...
    You Brits certainly make toil out of an otherwise leisurely hobby.
    And I thought Yanks were weird that way!

  3. I don't think it's been ratified yet Ian, but the I see the 6lb 30z one now has.

    Yes, Steve, we brits really are obsessed by weights and records, it's the backbone of our fishing, either individual fish or total weight. Doesn't get in the way of enjoyment though, in fact it makes it more fun chasing something that get increasingly more and more difficult to attain the more you pursue it