A record-breaking canal pairs grand final
The Trent & Mersey Canal in the Sandbach area was the venue that saw 79 pairs of elite English match anglers strive to crown themselves the 2020 canal pairs champions in October. National fisheries and angling manager John Ellis reports on the day.
A year of steady growth
It was a record-sized final, but we were nine pairs light due to the coronavirus pandemic, so it could have been even bigger. Some early qualifying heats had to be cancelled. The two Grand Union Canal heats in July were inevitably reduced in size, due to the cancellation of the Division One National (read Tommy’s Boyce’s thoughts on who might win the next National). Despite all that, it’s now a competition that is finally picking up speed. Tom Scholey and England international Matt Godfrey will be trying their luck in a qualifying heat next year.
Slowly but surely, the old myth that the Angling Trust make a profit on the competition is fading away. For the avoidance of doubt, of the £20 entry fee paid by each angler to enter a qualifying heat, £5 goes to the organising club, £2 to the winning pair on the day, £11 to the grand final pot and £2 to the Angling Trust to cover administration. And this year’s competition certainly required a substantial amount of administration.
Holding the final of any nationally significant angling competition during a global pandemic was never going to be a walk in the park. The usual precautions were put in place, including an online draw, where the banter between Tom Scholey and I apparently raised a chuckle or two on the night.
The socially distanced weigh in went smoothly enough and only the high framers returned to the headquarters for a rainy, outdoor, socially distanced prize presentation. In some respects, none of these things were ideal, but it was far better to have been able to go ahead than to have had to postpone the final until spring 2021.
Great team of stewards
It takes a whole team of people to run a successful event, and Neil Latham and Tony Swindells (now there is a character and a half) proved well up to the task. They recruited a small army of competent stewards who ended up soaked to the skin in the line of duty.
It was nice to finally have a chat with Lewis Kenyon, who is still recovering from an operation and hopes to be back in fishing action soon. It was good to see Alex Clegg and his pairs partner, Kaythan Shillitto, who unluckily missed out on qualifying on at least three occasions.
I have been working with John Wilkes at Hot Fishin to tweak the software to make our results compilation straightforward. I am pleased to report that the system worked. What I love about John is that he takes onboard the idiosyncrasies of event formats and works on the solutions. The programme even converts kilograms to good old pounds and ounces. I do not intend to go back to longhand results any time soon.
Spreading the cash
Whether it’s the final of the Fish‘O’Mania, Riverfest or the Winter League, in any big competition there will be good and less good areas. That is the nature of match fishing. Let’s face it, if the same few anglers won every match, the sport would be dead before the year was out.
In the canal pairs final, we’ve now moved to five-peg mini sections, which means competitors have something to fish for even when the draw has done them no favours. In the optional pools alone, 44 out of the 158 anglers won money. We also decided to spread the pay-out, with the top eight picking up money. This came as a pleasant surprise to a couple of teams who had not realised the change.
Runaway individual winner
Put a top-class angler on a top-class peg and you’ve got a combination that is hard to beat. Luke Capewell, who has helped out at our national celebration of young people and fishing, drew the noted swim, peg B50.
Cannock resident Luke, aged 30, fished like a veteran in a smooth and unhurried style to land over 26 pounds of roach (pictured).
I watched him for an hour: he was efficient, fed consistently and accurately, and, to my relatively uneducated eye, did not make any mistakes aside from hooking a bramble once.
The peg is a photographer’s dream. We could even take photos standing just a yard from the water’s edge on the far bank and the fish still kept feeding. Some anglers would not have been at all keen on that, but Luke remained calm, at least externally. Then suddenly the roach just switched off, only to return to the feed once a boat had passed through.
I felt great pity for Sean Wharton on peg B49. Those roach were not for moving. I must confess I would’ve loved to have seen my old friend Terry Nutt draw that peg. Could even he have won from B50? I am tempted to think he probably would have done so, had fate placed him there.
It’s healthy for the competition when the winners are not local venue specialists. But don’t tell the joint bookies’ favourites, Simon Mottram and Simon Preece, who again made the top five. That’s the fourth time in seven years that they’ve managed that feat. What consistency, and perhaps it’s no wonder more than a dozen people picked them to win in our Facebook competition held in the lead up to the match.
The other highly fancied pair were Steve Ashworth and Gareth Charnock. It just never happened for them on the day, but they will be back, I’m sure.
Thoroughly deserved winners were Richard Chave and Ian Trevitt, with the latter drawing his favourite B1 peg and fireman Richard performing heroics on the squatt on a challenging peg in A section. You can listen to their post-match interview. They become the seventh pair to take the title and are already looking forward to defending their crown next year by qualifying on their local Kennet & Avon Canal at Pewsey or Hungerford.
Plans for the future
The most common criticism of the competition is that the final is held slightly too late in the year. In 2021 the final will be brought forward a week and held on Saturday 16 October. To accommodate this change there will probably not be a practice match ahead of the big day. That will please some and annoy others. I just hope people do not moan too much at me.
In 2022 we will look to move the final to the second Saturday of October, instead of the third, hopefully putting the odds in the competitors’ favour. Check the list of qualifying heats for next year’s championships. If you’ve never been part of this competition before, do consider having a go next year. I hope to see you all in the 2021 grand final.
Last date edited: 6 November 2020
About this blog
Our team undertake a diverse range of work, looking after £40m worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people take up angling on the canals. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.See more blogs from this author