Lessons from Ivan the bream master

The great matchman, Billy Makin, shares some of his memories with us. Here in part 1, he takes up the story of when Ivan Marks taught him a profound bream fishing lesson...

Billy Makin: matchman of the year report Billy Makin: matchman of the year report

When Billy Makin reflected recently on the ledgering lesson given to the wide-eyed schoolboy by the great Benny Ashurst, he pondered how much of his angling knowledge had been imparted by some rather special people and great anglers to boot. Ivan Marks was another such a person.

Tooney’s Attenborough Opens

I suppose that the time would be the late 1970s, the in-form venue in the Midlands was Attenborough Gravel Pits. The swim I drew that day was number 29, smack bang in the corner of Sandy bay. The match was run by Steve Toone known to his friends as ‘Rip Off’, to whom like the Coventry stalwart Peaty Pat O'Connor, is owed a great deal of gratitude for performing the unenviable job of organising matches. It can be a thankless job.

Too many fish, seriously!

Attenborough Gravel pits courtesy of Angling Times Attenborough Gravel Pits courtesy of Angling Times
Motty's Lancastrian bream

Now for anyone who has never experienced the following phenomena, it will be difficult to believe, but the peg that day simply had too many fish in it. The species in question were big, beautiful, slab sided bream. This was in the days before carp match fishing had been ‘invented’. Having been brought up on the Lancashire canals, any bream above 2lbs would have seen a television crew rushing to the venue to film the captor.

Ledgering ability

I was pretty adept in the ledgering field, or so I reckoned, having been taught the ‘secrets’ by Benny as outlined in another recent article. This situation was something completely new to me. I was way out of my depth. Every time my lead hit the water, the quiver tip went berserk. Almost two thirds the way through the match and I had managed a grand total of just three fish. In the process I had become a nervous wreck. Suddenly salvation arrived in the form of the master himself, the great Leicester Likely Lad, the one and only Ivan Marks

Fishing lesson

Ivan sat behind me, grinning, as he watched the pantomime unfold, until he couldn't take it any longer. "For God's sake Bill," he said, "do you want me to show you how to catch bream?" Nobody in their right mind could possibly refuse an offer like that from the world's finest bream angler, so I nodded. Although Ivan often fished with a size 20 hook for finicky bream on the Fens, this time he took out a packet of size 12s hooks and instructed me to tie one on. He also told me lengthen my hook length to a good five feet.

Patience, Billy

Now in Lancashire, size 12s hooks were for hanging slabs of beef on at the butchers, but this being Ivan, I wasn't going to question the judgement of my hero, so on it went, on went two worms and out into peg 29 went the lot. 

Immediately the bait settled, the quiver tip started to dance and as I made a grab for the rod, Ivan whacked me across the knuckles with a stick. "Strike when I tell you Bill," he said. "Now take your hands away from the rod and sit on them." I now had to endure five minutes of torture as the quiver went berserk. Every time I reached for the rod, down came Ivan's stick onto my knuckles. Eventually, the tip went round and the reel began to spin. "Lift now," Ivan said, "but don't strike."

Bream galore

A 4lb bream was soon in my net, followed by several more until at the final whistle, I had 60lb, instead of the 20lbs at best that I was heading for. The next day, I rang in work and booked a week's holiday. For the next five days, I travelled to Attenborough and fished peg 29, putting into practice a lifetime of Ivan's knowledge, which I had been blessed to receive in no more than two hours. What more could a matchman ever ask for in life? I had now been schooled in the art of ledgering by the two greatest anglers of their generation. I hadn't asked for it, on both occasions the help had been given voluntarily.

John Ellis’ final thoughts

1978-79 Billy Makin: Matchman of the Year courtesy of Anglers Mail

Moments like Billy has described, spent with the true greats of the sport are something to be savoured for up and coming anglers. Should you find yourself in such a situation, take every opportunity to learn all you can from such masters. I once had the pleasure of drawing next to Ivan, just before he had his heart transplant operation, so he was past his very peak as an angler but as you would expect, the character of that great man still shone through brightly. It’s perhaps no surprise that tutored by the greats, coupled with his own innovation, Billy went on to lift the 1978/79 Matchman of the Year. What will be more amazing to younger readers is the minimum size of match for points to count was 80 pegs. Will we ever see those days again?

Last date edited: 16 May 2019

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The fisheries & angling team

The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.

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