Getting into fishing: Charlie’s first big competition

In September 2020, 43 angling cadets lined the Shropshire Union Canal towpath for our friendly competition celebrating the involvement of young people in canal fishing. Sara describes how events unfolded that day for her 10 year-old son, Charlie.

A boat passes Charlie taking part in the 2020 junior canal fishing championships A boat passes Charlie taking part in the 2020 junior canal fishing championships

Getting started

We go to Looe in Cornwall every summer holiday and have always done a lot of crab fishing, as well as venturing out on a mackerel trip.  I think that's where Charlie's interest in fishing came from. I was talking to a friend and she mentioned her son was going on a 'learn to fish' course. I said Charlie had always wanted to fish, so we went along too.

Charlie started attending coaching lessons at Aldercar Lane Fishery run by Ian Wilks. He then attended coaching events run by Steve Clamp at Woodrow’s Pond, just outside Derby, through the Earl of Harrington Angling Club. Both Ian and Steve are qualified, licensed coaches who are actively engaged with the Let’s Fish! programme. Charlie progressed and was awarded his Level 2 Cast Award with the Angling Trust in June 2019.

First matches

After the first lockdown in 2020, Charlie and his best friends started fishing at a local pond, gaining more experience. His grandad also took him fishing at the pond behind our house. He entered three competitions at Aldercar Lane Fishery, catching silver fish, with his best total weight being 2lb 8oz.

I talked to Charlie about entering the Junior, cadet and youth canal angling championships to celebrate young people and fishing. He signed up for the cadet category, for those aged between 7 and 10 years. This was to be his first major national event and we were both excited.

Steady start

Unfortunately, on the day of the competition we got lost en route and arrived at the venue with less than half an hour to spare. We carried Charlie’s equipment to his peg, number 43. Two amazing Let’s Fish! volunteer coaches, Chris and Jason, helped Charlie set up, the horn sounded at noon and then he was off.

Charlie with a perch at the junior canal fishing championships 2020

Charlie caught around six fish in the first 30 minutes, including perch (pictured), roach and gudgeon. Those early fish settled his nerves. He used a short 3-metre pole with maggots and pinkies as hookbait and squatts for feed. He missed only a couple of bites in that first period as he got into a steady rhythm. He carried on fishing close to the towpath bank throughout the afternoon.

At one point a big fish snapped the rig and swam off with the rig and the elastic, so he had to use the spare short pole for the remainder of the day. Charlie caught one perch that needed a disgorger to get the hook out and the coach, Jason, did the honours with that fish.

Fantastic location

It was a beautiful, sunny day along the canal bank with canal boats occasionally driving by. I was sitting in my chair just enjoying the day. Now and then volunteers checked on Charlie’s progress, passing on local knowledge, tips and advice while not interfering in any way with his fishing. Three hours had flown by and the horn sounded for the all-out.

We packed our stuff away and waited for the weigh in. I had no real idea what weight of fish Charlie had caught. What mattered to me was that he had taken part, thoroughly enjoyed himself and his float had gone under steadily all day.

Too close to call

When the weighing team arrived, the commentator broadcast that Lilly May Kirk who had fished at peg one, was still the one to beat. She had weighed in 950g, with Travis Couch just ten grams behind at peg 2 and Oliver Moseley at peg 11 in third spot with 910g. So far 41 cadets had been weighed in and there were only two left to go. It was our turn.

Coaches judging Charlie's weigh in at the junior canal fishing championships 2020

Simon Mottram took Charlie’s keepnet out and emptied his catch carefully into the weigh sling. “Going to be close, this is,” I heard him say to the commentator. The needle on the Reuben Heaton scales bounced and hovered. After much tension and what seemed like an eternity, it was finally announced that Charlie had caught 960 grams. He had taken the lead.

(Pictured: Mark Wilton from the Angling Trust weighs Charlie's catch, watched by coach Simon Mottram)

One more still to weigh

The weighing in team and cameraman then proceeded along the towpath to weigh the very last peg where Izaac Bagley was pegged. Charlie just couldn’t contain himself and went down to watch from a safe distance. It was very tense. Then I saw him put his thumb up. Izaac had weighed in 840 grams. I ran down to find out Charlie had won! The commentator uttered something witty about it perhaps being the fastest I had run for some considerable time. He was probably right.

Charlie was about to be interviewed. I was so excited I could have cried and Charlie was so shocked he couldn’t speak. He had won by the tiniest possible margin. We were absolutely overwhelmed.

Prize presentation

We packed up and went back to the big field where the prize tent had been erected for the socially distanced prize giving ceremony. Eventually Charlie’s name was announced. He went up and received a wonderful trophy, medal, Angling Direct voucher, certificate and an amazing Guru fishing tub full of various goodies.

I rang coach Steve Clamp, who was on holiday in Wales to tell him how Charlie had done. He was very pleased. Steve has organised many fishing events over the years for juniors. I rang all the family from the canal bank and everybody was very proud, but we didn't tell Charlie’s dad and brother until we got home.

Charlie with his prizes from the junior canal fishing championships 2020

Surprise for Dad

When we arrived home his dad came to the door and could hardly believe it when he found out that Charlie had won. This event was one of the best days of our lives and we will always remember how well Charlie did, as well as what an amazingly well organised, welcoming event it was. The sun shone most of the day and we met many amazing competitors, parents and volunteers. Despite being a socially distanced event, everyone made the most of it.

First carp

Charlie with his six-pound carp

Charlie has carried on fishing since then. During the autumn half-term he caught his first carp, 2lb, and then another one of 6lb 6oz (pictured) at Aldercar Lane Fishery. He’s also been to a Let’s Fish! event held at Beeston Canal. I think it’s useful to fish at a variety of different venues requiring different techniques, rather than just sticking to one place or method all the time.

News of Charlie’s fame has already spread and he was featured in his school newsletter. He is one to watch for the future. We are already looking forward to the 2021 celebration of young people and fishing in September. To anyone thinking about taking part, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Last date edited: 9 November 2021

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The fisheries & angling team

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.

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