So first of all I have to say I'm no top angler, but my fishing has improved a lot this year, and I've caught lots more. I only fish local club waters, I'm just an average working guy, and £30 a day, or hundreds and thousands for syndicates just aren't possible.
I no longer turn up, do a pub chuck, then sit in the bivvy playing on my phone. (that didn't work too well!)
The difference this year? Time and effort. I always look at the water now,, searching for signs of fish before casting. I'll do laps of the lake. I keep a note of when and where I see them. I use a marker rod to lead about, finding out what the bottom is like and the depths. I'll pick a rig that's likely to work on that bottom if I can't find a "spot". On that note I'm not the greatest caster, but I've made the effort to practise that as well. I'll move swims if I'm not feeling ti too, and try different things to see what works (and what doesn't). What works on one water, won't on another, so each lake has to be learned too.
I also started making my own boilies this year. I buy the best ingredients I can, then turn up and bait the lakes regularly, so the fish get used to them. That also seems to be working well. As with tactics, bait seems to differ on different waters, and colours can make a difference as well. So even when not on the bank the effort is still there. I'm not baiting with a bag of boilies from my tackle shop. All the bait is fresh and hand rolled.
I've also spent hours and hours on carp forums like this, learning all I can to improve my fishing. There are so many great tips here, and countless pearls of wisdom. For that I thank everyone who posts and shares their knowledge and wealth of experience. It really does help guys like me to catch more fish.
So yeah, going back to the original question, time and effort. I suspect a lot of "top" people in anything find this true. Time + effort = reward.
As a result I'm enjoying my fishing a lot more, and feel I'm getting more out of it. I turn up now expecting a catch, and my confidence is much improved. I will also say it is a journey, a marathon, not a sprint. it takes time and practise to improve in anything. Stay focused, spend time on the water. Try new things. And keep trying.
My results haven't been worthy of Carpology or anything, but I've had a couple of dozen fish this year, mainly on short day sessions. I've caught some twenties. Caught fish from club lakes where I've never caught before, and caught on new waters, fished for the first time (twice within an hour of casting). I've caught from high pressure small lakes to mid stock 20 acres. All in all, it's been a belter of a year so far. And that from more time and effort.
Most of all - enjoy it! (If you don't you'll chuck it in soon enough). Tight lines!