England's first ever world angling champion, Coventry’s Billy Lane, was an easy choice for our series on the top ten greatest anglers.
At the end I had 17lb 4oz and that made me fourth individual in the match - a position not one of those people watching, nor even I, would have believed possible at the start.Billy Lane
Even at the age of 15 Billy was competing with top club anglers on the Grand Union, Coventry and Oxford Canals at venues like Stoke Hammond, Aynho, Marston Doles and Knapton. He won five matches with Cox Street Angling Society aged just 16 in the 1938-39 season. The canal roach pole had long since vanished in the Midlands and at the time most anglers fished a light 12-foot Spanish reed canal rod combined with a centrepin reel.
Billy Lane ‘Junior’
As recognition of his potential talent the 1939-40 Coventry & District Angling Association Members book dedicated several pages to Billy Lane ‘Junior’. He received his first cap for Coventry in the 1938 National Angling Championship on the Great Ouse at Harrold and was their youngest ever competitor, finishing fourth top weight in the team with 2-15-2.
It was no surprise that Billy would follow in the footsteps of his father Billy Lane Senior, who from 1936 ran a tackle shop in Much Park Street, Coventry. After serving with the RAF during the war, Billy Junior returned to the sport he loved. It soon became clear that he and the Coventry team were destined for success at the highest level.
A fine all-rounder, Billy graduated away from canals and fished nationwide on the finest match venues like the Witham, Welland, Nene, Trent and Great Ouse, achieving success on all of them. He won several silver Trentman badges in the Trent Angling Championships, plus a number of sought after Ouseman and Neneman badges.
Coventry National Championship career
In his Coventry National Championship career, Billy was individually placed third (1956), fourth (1957 and 1961), sixth (1954) and tenth (1962) with an incredible four section wins. Add to that the Coventry team successes when they had three team championship wins in 1956, 1958 and 1961. Coventry had five second places, a third, three fourth places plus a fifth and a sixth place in the space of 15 years.
The 1961 Trent National was a personal triumph for Billy. Suffice to say that he fished his famous 3AAA Trent trotter in a swim so shallow the stewards had to keep digging holes in the shingle for his keep net. As Billy said:
"It seemed unbelievable. At the end I had 17lb 4oz and that made me fourth individual in the match - a position not one of those people watching, nor even I, would have believed possible at the start."
There is a unique photograph in Billy Lane's 'Encyclopedia of Float Fishing' that shows him with only part of his trophy collection, a vast array of National Championship medals on display. The silverware was so valuable that the photo was taken at a Coventry police station. Incidentally this wonderful book, first published in 1971, has much to offer the modern angler on floats and shotting patterns.
The greatest match angler of his day
Billy became a national figure after he was crowned England’s first world angling champion on Luxembourg’s River Moselle in 1963. He fished a heavy porcupine quill on a 2.5lbs breaking strain reel line using a centrepin reel trotting for maggots for roach. His weight of 9lbs 6 ounces and 4570 points was easily enough for victory. Billy fished seven times for England from 1954 until 1963.
The giant Allcocks fishing tackle firm signed him up, bringing out the famous fibre glass Billy Lane Float rod. Perhaps his greatest tackle legacy was the all black narrow drum ‘Match Aerial’ centrepin, much adored by tackle collectors and reel enthusiasts.
Billy Lane floats
Unrivalled as an innovative float angler, Billy developed the famous sliding stop knot and designed the Billy Lane range of floats for the ‘Ultra’ collection covering canal floats, running water Avons and duckers to massive missiles taking four swan shot.
His greatest National adventures formed part of a series for Anglers' Mail in the late 1960s and he went on to feature as ‘Uncle Bill’ in articles aimed at young anglers for 'Coarse Angler'. This continued until his death after a long illness in 1980, at the early age of 58. Billy was arguably the greatest match angler of his day and an angling legend in his own lifetime.
Last date edited: 12 January 2021