In his series on the top 12 waggler heroes, Jim Baxter remembers meeting Pete Palmer at a time when the waggler float was rapidly gaining in popularity.
I first met Pete Palmer back in the early 1970s when the waggler float was starting to make an impact as a winning river float, and there was a clamour for information about this new rival to the stick float method.
Suddenly there emerged a new group of anglers who had the means to tackle an average River Trent swim further out from the bank than with the stick float, particularly in an unfavourable wind at venues like Burton Joyce, or BJ as it became known.
My first visit to one of the popular Burton Joyce Saturday Opens was not long after Trentman John Rolfe had enjoyed his stand-out season when he won 10 big open matches on a peacock waggler. And it was a couple of John’s team mates who organised these matches on the famous ‘Golden Mile’ stretch of the river, Pete Palmer and Roy Toulson.
It is now a cliché to say it, but to win one of these matches was very special, such was the high standard of competition among the best river anglers of the day. They regularly made a beeline to BJ from Yorkshire, Lancashire and several Midlands counties, even at times including some long distant southern visitors. Pete was more the quiet man of the two organisers, but both were respected for running a good match, and both were consistent performers.
I learnt about Roy Toulson’s potential in one match when I’d caught double figures on stick float to win the Nelson Field section, only for Roy to push me into second overall with a winning 14lb-odd waggler haul from the Road stretch. I never ever drew near to Pete but for a time he enjoyed a winning run wherever he fished on the Trent and had a bigger reputation than his team-mate.
I got the chance to watch Pete in action in the 1977 Gladding Masters fished on Walt Bowers’ stretch at North Muskham, below Winthorpe on the Trent’s left bank. Bowers was the man who invented the unusual stick float called the ‘Newark Needle’. The Gladding was a showpiece invitation event of the period that ran for a few years on different rivers, and this particular year it was fished in a downstream gale. Pete Palmer drew in the middle of the length, a peg upstream of London star Ray Mumford.
North versus south
The potential north versus south battle between these two big name anglers might have attracted many early spectators but it never materialised. I was very impressed by Palmer’s performance on the waggler, less so about that of Mumford.
He, the man I’d admired from Angling Times articles and who was famous for his immaculately neat tackle box, fished a short whip all day long and caught gudgeon. But he simply gave away the waggler line or ‘outfield’ to his upstream neighbour without seeming to even look upstream to check what was happening. Palmer was effectively able to draw fish up from Mumford’s swim to add to his own!
The idiosyncratic Mumford
I was confused. Here was a legend of the southern match circuit seemingly with no back-up plan at all. Ray had won this same event a few seasons prior with a superb catch of bleak on the River Nene, yet here he was stubbornly refusing to change to a method further out, like he was fishing with blinkers on. He must have known he was getting a beating, but why he didn’t change was baffling and I never found out the reason.
Pete appeared to consistently take fish from a point almost directly out from Mumford’s sitting position, en route to coolly plundering 7lb of roach to win the match easily. He’d stop for the occasional smoke and it was the most laid-back winning performance anyone could hope to see.
This is what Mark Wintle, author of the book ‘Ivan Marks and the Likely Lads’, had to say about Peter Palmer, having also been a spectator at the match.
"Living in Dorset has meant that my exposure to the match fishing stars has generally meant a lot of travelling. Back in 1977 I fished my first National championship which was on the Trent. In the weeks before the match I desperately sought to improve my waggler skills and when a mate suggested watching the Gladding Masters on the Trent at North Muskham I jumped at the chance. The fishing was desperately hard that day on a gale-swept and moody river but I was impressed by Pete Palmer’s relaxed and skilful waggler approach. Other anglers who impressed me that day included Kevin Ashurst and Ivan Marks; I realised that day that waggler fishing was simple yet deadly and have never looked back."
Pete was a member of the legendary 1980 National which Notts Fed won with a record 883 points. Mark Wintle was there that day too and recalls the following.
"I had another chance to watch Pete Palmer in the 1980 Trent National when he fished about 50 pegs above Gunthorpe Bridge. There was a nasty skimming downstream wind yet it didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest. He caught small roach steadily whilst those around him struggled. It was a masterclass in beating the wind; Palmer retained enough line control to be able to hit the bites yet not so much that the float was pulled off course or to adversely affect bait presentation."
Last date edited: 8 January 2021