In his list of the top 12 waggler heroes, Jim Baxter recalls a favourite memory of a Toone Open at Long Higgin, when drawn next to the great John Allerton.
Dave Thomas advises that match anglers should concentrate more on tackling their swims than competing against the anglers drawn beside them. He says outwitting the fish in the river or lake is the main challenge and that gives us more than enough to think about. But I tend to see my next peg neighbours as opponents. It is in my nature to wage battle and try to win peg-to-peg encounters even if this splits my concentration.
My dad, Colin, no champion himself, more an average club angler, had always drilled into me the maxim: "Don’t worry about what they might do to you. Let them wonder what you might do to them." I remember battles won and lost on many venues against the likes of:
And, despite a thrashing or two, they remain happy memories.
I’ll come on to a favourite memory of a Toone Open at Long Higgin shortly, when drawn next to the great John Allerton, sponsored by Tri-Cast and a former team mate when we won the Division 1 National as Barnsley Blacks way back in 1979. John was not only widely respected as a class act and master of many methods, he had an aura about him in the days of the big river matches. His relaxed and laid-back temperament coupled with a natural grace with rod in hand brought him many admirers. The late Jan Porter once described him as an alien for his Dr Spock-like coolness!
In 1973, aged 23, I managed to win a big Trent match with 8lb 10oz of chub and roach, ahead of some big names like Warren, Thomas, Stokes, and one John Allerton drawn seven pegs upstream (he finished 14th). The excitement this generated made me think I was a better angler than I really was.
I had fished the Trent a fair few times and made a few good catches but was still a ‘raw rookie’. The following summer confirmed it, when I was brought down to earth with a bang by John Dean in a next peg Witham encounter (5lb-odd to 1-9-0) and, whilst the experience took time to recover from, it made me analyse my waggler style and work more at it.
Over time I generally started moving the tell-tale shot further away from the hook, and this gave a slower fall to the bait that brought bonus fish. So by the age of 25 my confidence was back and I was starting to get more consistent results. I could catch small fish by fishing as small a hook and line as possible, but also got my share of net-sized roach. A hook to tell-tale shot gap of 17’’ became my mantra, but later on I learnt it could pay to give the fish an even longer shot-free drop.
Any time we can beat a star our confidence goes up a level, and so it was when I drew next to John on the Trent. This was in 1985. By then I was a more experienced and confident river angler, but he obviously had no inkling that he inspired me. Whenever I saw him at Burton Joyce and other Trent venues I always seemed to have a good match, even if he had caught more or figured higher. So John became a good luck charm in a way. If some anglers might have dreaded drawing next to him, I relished it.
As it turned out we both caught double figures of mainly roach and skimmers on stick float and maggot. The only difference was I managed to add three chub to boost my weight to a winning 21lb-plus. John hardly batted an eyelid at the finish and was able to offer a word of congratulation, no less than I expected of him.
At a time when the Pete Warren stick float with domed tip was all the rage, John developed his own aluminium-stemmed, shouldered version with streamlined tip, that many of today’s river anglers now use. He totally mastered the style and the river, while in the new millennium he has switched focus completely to commercial carp lakes and done equally well.
But his well-documented versatility aside, this series is about wagglers so let’s get back to the agenda. Apart from John’s star quality, I’d pick him in my team for two more reasons. First, talking about a long drop for roach takes me to a 1987 Eastern Region Winter League, Witham match, when my idea of a good gap from hook to first shot was well surpassed by John’s. The difference was he came second with 9lb of roach and the rest of us finished way back on 4lb or less.
On a cold river with the water level slightly up and coloured, the roach were not feeding that well. John tripped the bottom of his swim at 9’ deep, feeding maggots lightly. The wind was also an awkward downstreamer, forcing him to cast several yards downstream to keep as straight a line as possible to the float. His maggot feeding had to be careful. Only a quarter of a pint of bait was introduced in the first half of the match to take 3lb of fish, before a better response in the afternoon encouraged him to up the rate. By feeding twice per cast with up to 10 maggots, he fed a pint of bait in total. This produced enough fish, better quality roach to add a further 6lb to his net.
I only learnt these details because at that time I was reporting on the match for Angler’s Mail magazine. We all learn by asking questions, but it was something else that stood out for me as remarkable about John’s success on the day: his shotting pattern.
The state of the river had obviously told him to shot lightly at the business end. He placed only two no. 12 micro shot a foot apart in the bottom yard of line including the hooklength, below a no. 8 shot, then two feet above the 8 he added three no. 6 in a bunch. Of all the shotting adjustments I made that day I never got close to giving the fish such a lightly falling bait. It might have been an unusual pattern but was one for the diary as most patterns will repeat over time. And it was a lesson I would not forget, as someone who thought he knew all about ‘light down’ and the appeal of a slow-falling bait. Had I never got the chance to question John of course, I would never have known.
The second reason I'm including John is his all-round attitude to finesse and detail, and how he seems to think logically and laterally. He has talked to me about catching on the drop and on the ‘lift’ (when the shots have settled and the float is held back to lift the bait, and the slightest of lifts can bring a bite). He has never been shy of fishing the finest lines and often scales down to a 24 hook, running the gauntlet on an unexpected big fish perhaps, but playing the silver fish percentages by attracting more bites than others and more potential fish in the net.
This is not to mention his will to win, outstanding match record and professionalism. To conclude, no waggler team of mine would be complete without him.
Last date edited: 6 January 2021