For his vast experience alone, Kevin (no surname required) was an automatic pick for Jim Baxter in his series on the top 12 waggler heroes.
‘Big Kev’ has always been at the forefront of winning methods, from stick to waggler, even ledger when required, to pole in all its applications.
I’d have loved to have seen Kevin floatfish with rod and reel more than I did, but almost before I had the chance, he was concentrating on the pole in the matches where our paths crossed. But I knew of his mighty reputation, two Trent weight records and all the rest. Below is how Colin Dyson described him in his 1977 book ‘World Class Match Fishing’ when referring to an England vs France friendly match he’d witnessed on the Trent.
“Throughout the match his waggler float described the same graceful trajectory to the same yard of water. The French official Bernard Crassat spent the whole match filming the technique and muttering ‘magnifique’, and the great Billy Lane was also nodding his approval.
"A fish would swing to hand and almost instantly drop into the net. After a split second for re-baiting the rod would describe a lazy, one-handed swing and despatch the float like a wire-guided missing through the same arc it had taken since the match began. But even as it went the rod was being switched to the left hand and the body was turning for a right hand dip into the groundbait bowl. Conditions dictated a ball practically every cast. The groundbait was thrown while the float, incredibly, was just splashing down, and it went out with the same frightening accuracy. The float would hit a yard past the baiting line and a little downstream of it, then be drawn back into line with the bait, thus trimming up the tackle for the strike. The bites seemed to come a mere instant after Kevin transferred his attention to the float for the first time since it dipped to register the previous bite.”
Son of the legendary Benny Ashurst, Kevin began his match fishing career when still at junior school, probably in short trousers though I can’t really imagine him wearing them. When Benny had an accident that forced his retirement from coal mining, he became a maggot breeder, one of several in the Leigh area at a time when commercial maggots were not readily available. Competition fishing was Benny’s life, his maggot farm helped, and Kevin followed suit and became a top angler in his own right when still in his teens.
Kevin travelled with his father and other top Lancashire anglers, initially winning matches on the canals and lakes around their Leigh home, thereafter the River Weaver and further afield to hunting grounds like Welbeck Lakes, the Trent, Witham and the Severn. It was on the Trent that Benny honed his stick float and caster method to a fine art. But as early as 1964 Kevin won the winter league final in Ireland on a bottom-only attached peacock quill float that would soon be christened the ‘waggler’. Benny describes such a float in his 1968 book on match fishing that he’d first used on the canals but which had also scored on lakes and rivers. So as a chip off the old block, Kevin was advanced on the waggler method in the 1960s when most UK anglers hardly knew it existed.
By 1970, when Kevin made his England debut in Holland, he had gained the confidence that would eventually lead to an individual world title in 1982. Twelve months later proved a landmark year for the waggler’s fast-growing popularity when Johnny Rolfe enjoyed a spectacular run of success with the float, catching roach at range to win 10 Trent opens and some club matches for good measure. In that same year Benny won the Trent Championship on waggler with 18lb 3oz of roach.
In the aforementioned friendly clash between England and France at Holme Marsh, John Toulson won it on the waggler feeding groundbait and caster, while Kevin took second in the same manner, leaving the French team open mouthed in admiration at the best they’d seen of the method ‘Anglais’. The French at that time were the world’s finest at catching small fish on the pole, but this time were outclassed by the rod and reel style of taking quality roach well out. As described, the fish fed at a range way beyond reach of the French’ longest poles and longest lines.
When Trent ace Toulson and Kevin practised together as Birmingham team colleagues for the 1972 National, Kevin taught John how to fish a sliding waggler on the deep Bristol Avon. This led to John finishing fourth in the match from a field of over 1,000, but Kevin told him how he also fished slider-style with mini wagglers on his local canals, an innovative method in just four feet of water.
What made Kevin Ashurst so great? Well for one, 1985 world champion and fellow Lancastrian Dave Roper described his confidence and demeanour as a bit scary. A man of few words, Kevin fished any peg as if he owned it and had a fearless quality. A well-built guy with a brusque manner, who said in the book "he feared no man with a fishing rod" in hand, and claimed to have nerves of steel, Kevin could indeed be intimidating to most drawn beside him. Add in his powers of concentration and obvious natural ability and you have a winning machine.
Ivan Marks, Kevin’s only true rival for the tag of the UK’s top matchman for at least a decade, called him his "big brother". They obviously enjoyed the challenge of trying to upstage each other when at their peaks as England team-mates. But Kevin’s record in the World Championships was better than Ivan’s. From 23 appearances he was unlucky to only win one world title, as his consistency in the years he was capped was second to none. Three times he had the consolation of individual silver, in 1987, 1990 and 1991, two of those losing out to fellow countryman and class act, Bob Nudd.
Not only would Kevin’s wealth of experience be invaluable in any team, I’m told his skills included being able to throw a ball of groundbait to the same distant spot just as accurately with his left hand as his right. Now that’s a touch of the Ronnie O’Sullivan, a rare gift that can’t be taught.
Kevin Ashurst is now retired but spends half his year fishing matches in Ireland, where he’s still a regular winner. Every autumn sees the big man, albeit with a few aches and pains, line up on midweek matches on the Weaver and still gives the youngsters a run for their money.
Last date edited: 8 January 2021