IFD: When it comes to Match fishing in Ireland, few names crop up as much as Tony Kersley’s. Tony moved over here many years ago and started fishing the match fishing circuit where he has consistently stayed at the top. Tony has won almost all the main angling festivals at one time or another and was only too happy to give us this interview so over now over to Tony….
What was your introduction to fishing?
It would have been when I was nine years old. My father bought me a little fishing rod and he would bring me off. He had no interest in fishing I think it was to just get out of the house and away from Mum for a while for some peace and quiet. My very first fish ever was a little skimmer bream from the Grand Union canal, North West of London, and that was it I was hooked for life.
Can you tell us about your fishing in the UK?
Well it was fairly limited, especially where the match fishing was concerned. I went to a boarding school, and they allowed you to take part in outdoor pursuits with your mates over the weekends. The school was about a half hour walk from the river Thames. My first competetive streak would have started around then as there was a group of about five or six of my mates, and we would have competetions to see how many minnows we could catch. I always wanted to catch the most as that ensured you had bragging rights on the walk home. We kept a sheet in the school which was a kind of a catch report, and you would be the talk of the school if you could catch 100 of these minnows and maybe a gudgeon or a small perch.
My first ever proper competition was when I was about fifteen. It was on a river near where I lived and about twenty of us fished it. All I can remember was I caught two fish. One was a roach and the other a perch, but the roach one me 50p for the biggest fish so that sticks out in my memory as the first time I won money for a match lol.
How did your association with Ireland begin and how did you come to move over?
When I was sixteen, a couple of friends of Mum who used to fish, told me they were heading over to Ireland and asked me did I want to go, so of course I said yes. We went to Cavan town and we fished all around that area, places like Innismuck and the lakes around Cavan. At that particular time, there would usually be an influx of English anglers coming over each year fishing places like Cavan or Enniskillen.
So that was my first taste of fishing over here. Then I got married when I was twenty to my first wife and we came over on honeymoon. Because it was my honeymoon I didn’t even have the fishing gear with me. We stayed in Belturbet, and maybe it was a result of a few too many in the local taverns, but we decided that we were going to uproot and settle in Ireland. We just took a mad notion one night that we would pack up our jobs in England and move over. So we returned home to hand in our notice in work, then packed the car and moved to Ireland. It’s one of those daft things you do when your young.
Since you moved over her many years ago, how has the fishing changed?
Up on the Erne system, there has always been legal commercial fishng, where they issue licences. For a number of years I was a commercial eel fisherman myself, most of my match angling friends know this. They still issue licences for pike on the Erne though the eel fishery has stopped. As far as poaching is concerned, it has always been a problem since even back then.
I’ve also seen the introduction of invasive species such as the zebra mussell, and that has hugely impacted the fishing. The fish no longer seem as confident to feed during the daylight hours as the water clarity has improved so much.
Here in Enniskillen at this time of year the fish are moving up into the town stretch and I find the fishing to be just as good as 1981. Back then most matches were won with a bag of bream but they have got to be much harder come-by nowadays, and the majority of matches are now won with weights of roach and hybrids.
Another major change has been the advent of commercial fisheries over here which we didn’t have back then.
You have become one of Ireland’s most prolific match fishing men, how did the match fishing begin for you over here?
It started when I seen that some of the big festivals were being held around Enniskillen. I watched some of the top anglers and how they went about things so I sat there learning as much as I could, and I really liked what I saw.
I felt I would like the competitive angling so I joined a local club called the Lakeland anglers who had about forty members and I started fishing leagues with the club. I fished a couple of the big comps around Enniskillen, the Waterways Ireland Classic was probably one of the very first I fished. I ended up finishing in fourth and that gave me the confidence to realise that as long as I spent a lot of time looking and learning what other anglers were doing, I could practice it, and with the right attitude you could do well.
I started travelling aroud the country to different festivals and was able to compete. It’s a steep learning curve and I went to a few places that I was completely out of my depth for a while, but as long as your prepared to learn then each one was not a wasted experience.
Then when your fishing fifteen to twenty festivals a year you will be much more tuned in to what you should be doing. You get to learn to read the water because your out so much. You’re not always right but the big thing is to be able to change your plan half way through if necessary .
What advice would you give to someone just starting off in match fishing?
First and foremost would be to enjoy it. It can be very expensive so if you feel the need of a win to justify the expense then forget about it, It will become a chore and you will fish less effectively. Never be afraid to ask, most of the top match anglers will tell you everything if your friendly so ask for advice.
Spend plenty of your time on preparation. My preparation is dreadful, I go to matches and manage to just get away with it, so my advice to a youngster would be to prepare well and have everything to hand, you will enjoy your match much more.
Do your homework on the venue, get to know as much information as possible before the match, and lastly be ready to try something different if all else is failing.
Tony what has been your favourite catch over the years?
I’m afraid it wasn’t in Ireland but in France. It was a 44lb 12oz carp, and although maybe not huge by French standards it was my biggest ever fish. We fished a carp fishery way out in the French countryside and it was a magical experience. I was completely flabbergasted when it came to the surface and I slid the net under it. That was one of my happiest fishing memories.
What session would you most like to relive?
Well everyday you get to go fishing is a special day, but if I had to pick one it might be the World championships in Cork last year.
I weighed in my second days catch and it won the section. I’m lucky enough to have won most of the major Irish festivals, though the King of clubs eludes me though I’ve come second and third.
So to get a section win in the World championships in match fishing was a very special occasion. When we got back to the carpark and realised we had won the first team medal for Ireland, it was just magic. That was the highlight of my match angling and to share the moment with the team.
What are your ambitions for the fishing future?
I think it’s just having the health to be able to go out and enjoy each days fishing as it comes along. I no longer have any ambitions to win any medals in festivals, so for me it’s just to keep enthusiastic and have fun that’s my ambition.
Well Tony thanks for your time
No problem Paddy anytime.