Brian Preece: My lifetime in angling
John Ellis competed against Brian back in the 1970s in the Shropshire Star summer knockout. It’s taken him nigh on 40 years to catch up with Brian again. In the meantime, he’s notched up 40 plus national appearances putting him in an elite band of anglers. This is Brian’s story.
I’ve lived on the banks of the middle Severn most of my life and started fishing at around nine or ten years of age. My parents were happy for me to do that, for they always knew my whereabouts. Back then I would fish for bullheads, stone loach, minnows etc with a child’s bamboo cane with a landing net head attached. I did this along with the other local kids and numerous youngsters from the Black Country who would often visit Bridgnorth.
First proper fishing tackle
My nan purchased my first ever rod and reel, a 12ft glass fibre and a Mitchell cap reel. There were strict rules back around joining local clubs where those of up to 14 years of age would have to be accompanied by an adult. I soon joined Bridgnorth Angling Society (BAS). and a couple of other local clubs. I will never forget winning my first BAS. match when I was 15 with three winter chub for 16 14ozs. It was a typically cold Shropshire winters day, but the match fishing bug had hit me, and I toughed it out.
Barbel and other species
In the 1968/68 I caught my first ever barbel although they had been introduced to the River Severn a few years earlier. I have no idea how many I have caught since, it’s a lot though. Barbel aside, our normal catches back then comprised mainly roach, dace, chub, perch and eels with best results obtained on very light match gear.
Severn match career
I don’t really know how many match wins, section places I have scored over the years, but it’s been a healthy haul. I have fished an awful lot of opens on most if not all of the middle Severn which I class between Monkmoor at Shrewsbury downstream to just below Bewdley.
The swim feeder explosion came. I won’t get into arguments over it for that will not change history. Basically, it was and remains just another method although it did cause angst for the float purists. Some matchmen packed in fishing altogether, others carried on. BAS. member and former president Ron Lewis was famed for his float fishing with bread flake methods back then.
The great Ivan Marks said it was a joy to watch him back then on the bread. In a 1971 All England national practice open held here at Bridgnorth in July, Ron was, best I know, the first angler to try the feeder. He promptly won the contest 48lbs and feeder fishing started to take off after then although in a John Essex article he mentions the first use of the method was in the early 1950s.
Big matches, great anglers
I enjoyed Birmingham Anglers Association matches and various team events at Quatford downstream (with some very big turnouts) competing against the likes of Cofton Hackett, Coleshill, AFS, Starlets, Shakespeare, Storey’s Match Group etc. Anglers such as Clive Smith, Ken Giles, Kevin Ashurst and the Downes brothers stand out and whenever you fished against them getting a section win was no mean feat. Along with these great names there is Dave Harrell, Paul Newell, the Farmer Brothers and Max Winters, the list goes on, but all brilliant at the river game.
I joined the famed Wolverhampton West End A.C. and again this club had the likes of legends Joe Brennan, Ron Baker, England international Bob Tromans and Paul Turner to mention just a few on their books. Over the years I have had some respectable results in the Angling Times winter league (Shropshire Division) where I even won a couple of these 144 peg matches fishing for LMS. on the Shroppie Canal using bloodworm and joker as bait. I have also fished loads of Drennan Super-leagues, county and national knockout competitions etc.
First and last All England
My National Championships debut was in 1971 on the Severn. The NFA pegged from Quatford down toward Worcester (East Bank) and all the way back up the (West Bank) to Bridgnorth. There were 116 teams each comprising 12 anglers. It was the last of the All England’s prior to the formation of two divisions. Ivan Marks Leicester team triumphed over the mighty Birmingham Anglers that day.
More National memories
I’ve fished a fair few nationals since then representing teams such as Shropshire Federation, Menwall Tackle, LMS, Provincial A.A, Provincial Rod & Gun, Wolverhampton and but mostly for Bridgnorth Angling Society on a variety of rivers and canals; you name it, I’ve probably fished it. My best results in my 40 plus national appearances was second in section on the Stainforth & Keadby Canal in 1999 and another second in the section in the following year pegged on the River Nene at Milton Ferry. I took a bronze medal in the 2010 Individual National, ironically on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal with 20lbs 12 ozs of roach. What a great days fishing that was. I wonder if there will ever be another national held here? This year I will be fishing for Bridgnorth on the Shropshire Union Division 2 event once again aiming for promotion for the team back to the first division. Fingers crossed.
I have had some great seasons chasing this title but in 2015 framed on three different rivers aiming to qualify for the Angling Trust Riverfest Final.
- Weaver 4th Ind (2nd in zone) at Northwich
- Severn 5th Ind (2nd in zone) at Lower Lode)
- Bristol. Avon 4th Ind (3rd in zone) at Bristol
In 2016 I eventually qualified for the final on the River Thames. It was a day to remember with England superstar Will Raison finishing second to me overall.
River Severn match record holder
My memory isn’t quite what it once was, but not many people know that I once held the Severn Match record, probably for the shortest time ever. I won a match on a Sunday with 92lbs but Pete Boden (Alrewas) broke it again at on the Bewdley Wednesday open held just three days later with a weight of 114lbs I think. Am I the shortest ever holder of a river match record?
At the age of 14, I once decided to get on the bus to watch a Shrewsbury open held on the Quarry. My sole purpose was to go and watch the great Kevin Ashurst. On arrival, I walked through the Quarry Park gates and the first angler I got to was Kev’s dad, Benny. What an angler he was. He let me sit by him and I was in awe of the great man. I left after 90 minutes, bought a portion of chips and then made my way back home on the bus because it was very cold, and I wasn’t really dressed for the occasion.
Competing with the big boys
On one of my first quarry opens I drew in between Kevin and Ian Heaps. I was a bag of nerves, but amazingly we all framed. I took second due to a 3lb chub which helped my cause. Ian won it, Kev’s face was a picture. It was a great craic though with them at the weigh in.
There are some brilliant anglers out there today, but for me the best of the best must be Kevin Ashurst, Clive Smith, Ken Giles, Ivan Marks and later Dave Harrell, Paul Newell, Gary Farmer.
These anglers just stick out for me and some of them are still on top of their game today.
I would have liked to have done even more fishing wise but being chairman of two local clubs for donkey years, assisting my long-suffering partner Rosa in running club and open events for the past 25 years and not spending lots of time with my two lads, I have some regrets, but it’s been an obsession.
When I chatted to Canal & River Trust guru John Ellis, he gave me a problem solver to ‘name my top ten Shropshire born anglers over the years It was what is known as a big headache. A big headache for there has been lots of quality anglers in Shropshire, especially on the Severn. A lot of match-men have split their time between river, canals, natural still-waters and later commercials so I took that into account overall.
I wanted to originating select Ian “Speedy” Ward and former Shrewsbury based tackle dealer Jim Evans but with Ian from the Powys area and Jim from Lancashire that was not allowed. So, in no particular order, except for the first name on list, here goes:
- Mike Williams (Shrewsbury)
- Pete Simmonds (Shrewsbury)
- Ray “Tweedy” Harris (Shrewsbury)
- Barry Cooper (Whitchurch)
- Phil Williams (Telford)
- Duncan Biddle (Telford)
- Richard Weaver (Ludlow)
- Ted Biddulph (Telford)
- Richard Duke (Bridgnorth)
- Brian Preece (Bridgnorth)
My reserve list comprises the following anglers:
- Watty Harris (Shrewsbury)
- Dave Matson (Telford)
- Roger Yeomans (Shrewsbury)
- Roger Carswell (Shrewsbury)
- John Gill (Bridgnorth)
- Roy Biddulph (Telford)
An uncertain future
I don’t know how long I will continue with my angling obsession, but it’s been an enjoyable ride most of the time. The damp winters we seem to get regularly now are not so enjoyable. I have spent countless years bank clearing our four plus miles of Severn, getting it in some sort of order for our many members far and wide to enjoy. I do hope they have appreciated it. I will certainly be slowing down, and I hope others will step up to take over and volunteer for this relentless chore, otherwise like many natural venues, the future for clubs and participation might be bleak.
I have recently noticed the work that the Trust are doing with young people and while personally the jury is still out on whether the drop in participation can be reversed, they are starting to get some serious players involved which ought to mean the Let’s Fish! campaign have some chance of meeting its objectives. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will.
Last date edited: 27 May 2019
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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