Match fishing at 90: Saluting the Donald

For evidence of the positive impact that fishing and canals can have on health and longevity, we need look no further than the remarkable appearance of West Yorkshire angling legend, Donald Peirson at this year’s Division 2 national angling championships.

Donald Peirson, 90, at the Division 2 Nationals Donald Peirson, 90, at the Division 2 Nationals

Last weekend’s Division 2 National saw Crewe Match Group, Wigan Match Group and Browning Northants take the team medals. But in this video, John Ellis, our national fisheries and angling manager, caught up with Donald on his peg half way through the match.

2017 and 2019 Division Two Nationals

Donald lined up for Thornhill on the Aire & Calder Canal just shy of his 89th birthday. This made him almost certainly the oldest competitor to have ever fished the All England or the divisional national. With both Thornhill and Listerhills opting for national sabbatical until at least the 2020 division two event on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, Donald was signed up on a free transfer by the Canal & River Trust Coaches yellow team, the only northerner in a team of southern based Let’s Fish angling coaches.

As keen as ever, he went to practice on the venue on four occasions, recording three pounds plus on all but one occasion. For the record, he was 90 years and 363 days old on the actual day of the match, the first nonagenarian in national history.

Donald Peirson in action Donald Peirson in action

Early fishing career

Donald started fishing during the summer of 1962 when his son Graeme started to show an interest in the sport. This was after some friends of the family bought the young Graeme a toy fishing kit during a family holiday to Scarborough. Soon after this, father and son began to take fishing seriously on family holidays in the Lake District, catching trout and perch in lakes, rivers and becks.

#Back home in Yorkshire they both joined several angling clubs in the West Yorkshire area and regularly visited venues like the Wharfe at Addingham, Leeds-Liverpool canal at Gargrave and the Nidd at Kirk Hammerton as well as local waters like Longbottoms Dam at Birstall. Donald didn’t start match fishing until the early 1970s when he was asked to join the team for Old Bank Working Men’s Club in a regional CIU match on the Yorkshire Ouse when the team was a man short. He finished second in the match with two good bream and he hasn’t looked back since.

Favourite methods and favourite venues

Donald has fished matches all over England (and in Ireland) at various times in his career and has been moderately successful in a wide variety of venues, ranging from the chub-dominated matches on the River Aire above Keighley, to festivals on Irish lakes, canals in Yorkshire and Lancashire, the challenging Yorkshire Ouse and of course the Trent. It was here that he achieved his most memorable match fishing result finishing seventh in the National on the river in the Division 3 national in 1982. Nowadays though, his main passion is canal fishing and his trusty Daiwa pole his weapon of choice, bread-punch his favourite bait. He’s a regular (at least when he can get a lift!) on the Saturday matches on the Thornhill AC stretch of the Calder & Hebble Canal in Dewsbury.

National debut

Donald is not sure how many nationals he has fished. He was a relative latecomer to the national scene, never competing in the All England weight era. The current total is probably pushing 30 although he is a long way off the record of Frank Butler (53) and his nearest two challengers, Alan Round and Brian Preece. The middle-aged Donald made his debut fishing for Listerhills in the epic Nene National in 1975. What an incredible match that was.

Many people think that Leicester Likely lad John Essex won that match as he famously landed two river carp, an extraordinary feat in that era. But this was only good enough for third spot, being beaten by both Mike Hoad-Reddick (Rotherham) with over 63 lbs of bream and Tony Bielderman (Stockport) with a young Steve Gardener fishing for CALPAC in fourth spot. Birmingham Anglers took the team crown

Ongoing national career

Donald then joined Gomersal. He was selected to fish the 1977 national and he stayed put with the team until the early 1980s. He then transferred to Keighley who had started life in the fourth Division and eventually moved up to Division One. Donald lined up in the premier division on the Trent in 1987 His son Graeme fished that national too where he drew next to cigar smoking Cambridge FPAS legend Percy Anderson, winner of the 1974 division 1 national on the Welland.

It’s perhaps no coincidence after Graeme’s disappointing performance that Keighley were relegated. Not long after, the remaining Keighley squad members dispersed to other local teams. Donald started to fish nationals again with what was then Hanging Heaton AC, another West Yorkshire club. During the mid-90s Hanging Heaton also split and spawned the Thornhill Club which he is still with today. 

Most famous quote

John Ellis recalls ringing Donald one time when he was just a young whippersnapper, aged 86 to arrange a meeting to discuss Thornhill Angling club’s new agreement. He announced that the time had finally come to pack up angling administration and that he intended to tell them (the Thornhill membership) in no uncertain terms at the next AGM that the maximum length he intended to serve was just a further five years.

The club needed to start thinking about a succession plan and Donald believed that five years was ample time to achieve that. The fact that statistically, the odds of reaching 91 were perhaps less than 50% didn’t appear to have entered his head. I wonder if this sort of optimism combined with regular canal fishing trips helped with his impressive longevity.

Last date edited: 13 November 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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