Jimmy Randell's widow Barbara got in touch with the Canal & River Trust following the sad death of Micky Thill in 2018. After a quick phone call to Barbara, whom I have known for a number of years, she agreed we could write a resume of Jimmy's match fishing career.
For those that do not know Jimmy, he was probably the first of the Southern aces to hit the match fishing headlines during the 1960's. Back them it was largely northern or midlands based anglers who dominated major events such as National championships. It was in the era of the late Ivan Marks and Ray Mumford when open match attendances averaged 300 and the big opens sometimes exceeded 1000 participants. Time and again co-incidences and events linked Jimmy with Ivan and Ray.
Jimmy started fishing at the age of five on the Cam and at 14 joined the Ilford & Wanstead AC, a club affiliated to the London Anglers Association (LAA). Each weekend they travelled to the Thames by coach, fishing to strict size limits imposed by the LAA. All allowed fish species were measured on a fish scale (ruler) and if they did not meet the minimum length had to be immediately returned to the water. Jimmy recalled 'a few young anglers in the area were getting fed up with the LAA’s dictatorial attitude and we formed Roding Valley. We started going to the Ouse and Cam where every fish we caught could be weighed in.'
Jimmy won the 1964 prestige People angling Championship on the Avon at Pershore, an event sponsored by the People Newspaper. He won a silver challenge trophy and replica, a silver badge and a cheque for £100, equivalent to almost £2000 today. The following year he won the area final but couldn't quite make it two titles in a row.
Bill Howes, the Anglers Mail Southern correspondent, reported Jimmy's September 1966 Saturday wedding to Barbara. Jimmy cleverly delayed his Paris honeymoon in order to fish an Essex County 1967 National Championship qualifier on the Sunday. He was also fishing for Essex County in the Witham National on the following Saturday. Barbara quipped 'Jims fought hard for these angling honours and I wouldn't dream of asking him to cancel. I'm the best catch he ever likely to make.'
The paths of the three protagonists crossed many times so it was not surprising to find Jimmy, Ray and Ivan fishing and finishing in the prize list in the same match. The 1969 Halls Angling Scheme three-day event at Wraysbury, near London was a typical example. It was usual practice for the Southern based anglers to compete outside London and the Southeast to get away from the size limit matches imposed along the Thames by the LAA.
The Headline read ' Marks Slays the Southern Aces'. However, he didn't quite get it all his own way. Day one saw Ray land 500 bleak for a top weight of 14 lbs 10 ounces beating Ivan into second place. On day two Ivan and Ray both failed but Jimmy grabbed third spot. Monday's match came and Ivan powered away with a winning weight of 17 1/2 lbs off Wraysbury Number Two Lake with Jimmy again finishing in third spot. Ivan won the overall with Jimmy in third and Ray in fourth.
Jimmy and Ivan had met long before this. Jimmy recalls 'I first met Ivan at Offord Cluny on the River Ouse. At the presentation in the pub afterwards the secretary said 'And the winner is …..'. Ivan walked up to get the trophy and had a look of horror when I was declared the winner. I beat him with a catch of bleak. From then on, we became great friends and he used to come down to Essex with Linda and stay with Barbara and I.' Years later, Barbara and Jimmy still made the long trek from Norfolk to Leicester each May for Ivan's memorial match on the Glebe to meet up with Linda, Ivan's widow.
Famous for his chequered cloth cap, Jimmy had many wins on the Lee, Medway and Thames plus Coombe Abbey Lakes, Coventry and the Grand Union Canal. Able to catch over 200 bleak an hour Jimmy won the Lee Championships and in the 450 peg match became Broads Open Champion with 20lb of roach from the River Bure. He won more riverside road matches on the Wensum than any other match angler. In 1971 he drew the famous 'Greens' once again to record his seventh win in eleven matches with 17 lbs of prime Wensum roach.
Like all the great match-men, Jimmy has an enviable record in the National Championships. His first major success came when finishing seventh overall, from a field of 1368 competitors, in the challenging 1969 Trent National with a weight of 7-9-3. Benny Ashurst led the Stoke City team to victory that year.
Unfortunately, Jimmy hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in the 1974 River Welland National Angling Championship. He missed the competitor's section coach. With only official transport allowed there was no option for it but shanks pony. It took him took two hours to walk the seven miles from the draw to his allotted swim arriving half an hour late to fish and catch - absolutely nothing.
Throughout the 1970's qualification for the Woodbine Final, later renamed the Embassy, was every match anglers ambition. To win the Final was a dream come true. Jimmy came close by finishing third with 66lb of roach in the first 1971 Woodbine Final fished on the River Guden in Denmark.
Jimmy, Ivan and Ray all featured in the 1972 Angling Times extra magazine 'Where the Money Is', a special feature spilling the secrets of the top UK match anglers. Jimmy was portrayed as 'quiet, unassuming and confident', Ivan the gambler, joker and 'Master of Kidology' and Ray the 'Tackle Perfectionist'.
The 1973 Angling Times 'Money Spinning Matchmen' winners list saw four Likely Lads make the top 16 money winners with 1972 Division One National Champion Phil Coles topping the chart with more than £2,000. Ray Mumford was third with £1,500 in winnings from 11 match wins and 21 top 3 finishes. Not far behind in fifth was Jimmy Randell with £1,100 and Ivan followed in 18th place just short of £800 having won both the Great Ouse and Welland Championships that season.
Jimmy used the new 1971 England team selection method to his advantage. Jimmy recalled - 'I went to the River Severn at Stourport for the first time on 95 peg match midweek. I won with 20 lbs odd of dace. I had two other wins that year on the same venue which got me noticed by Stan Smith, the England manager, and I was picked for the England team to fish in Czechoslovakia in the World Championships. The team came second. I was eighth in my section. I fished with Ivan and we shared the same room on a houseboat. I used to go to bed at 2am and get up at 6am. I never saw Ivan in bed once in the whole week we were there!''
At long last Jimmy secured a team winner's medal fishing for Essex County when they won the Division One National Team Championships on the Ancholme in 1981. In that team was close friend Micky Thill. 'Captain America' as he was often called later finished second and third individual in the World Angling Championships and was part of the winning Essex team in the 1982 world club championships.
Jimmy then finished second overall in the 1997 Second Division National Championships on the Great Ouse and Cam. He recalled 'The day I came second in the Division Two National was the ‘worst’ day of my fishing life. I caught 53 lb of bream and rudd on the waggler on the Cam and beat more than 900 other anglers, only to find that my teammate Rodney Finch had 67 lbs of bream on the Ouse.
He won £8,000, I won £2,000. He often reminds me of this when I see him every week as he sponsors my bait.' Checking the 1997 match report Jimmy felt at the time that his second place was one of his greatest match-fishing achievements. How our memories change over time! Fishing for Suffolk County, Jimmy's team walked away with the Division Two Team Championship. He followed up in 2001 with a tenth place individual finish, once again on the Ouse and Cam.
Jimmy enjoyed specimen fishing on local rivers and compiled an enviable list of specimens. In 2014 he landed four chub in one hour on the River Wensum with the following weights of 6lb 12oz, 6lb 15oz, 7lb and the best at 7lb 2oz. That's some chub catch. Add to that a Wensum dace of 1lb 2oz just three ounces of so shy of the British record and a Wensum bream of 9lb 15oz.
Sadly Jimmy, a retired technical illustrator, passed away in 2016. Up to his death, he still fished three or four times a week, often in matches. After more than 50 years at the top he finished in seventh place in the 2015 Angling Trust Veterans National at Makin's Fishery with a weight of 69 lbs.
I felt privileged to attend Jimmy's funeral in Norfolk along with Linda and Chris Marks and many notaries from the match-fishing world. At the reception, the pub was filled with many photographs of Jimmy's match fishing career and many of the fine specimen fish he took whilst pleasure fishing. A fitting tribute to a great angler.
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.See more blogs from this author