This article is one of our 'long reads' - but well worth it...
When the history of canal fishing is written, special praise needs to be heaped upon a lonely gudgeon that just happened to be resident in five-year old Paul Turner’s peg at his first ever match on what remains Pauls favourite Staffordshire & Worcester Canal.
Most of the kids taking part in that event, held near Teddesley Lock, blanked that day. A few weighed in a tiny stickleback or two, but Paul shot up towards the top of the leader-board when the float dipped and he landed that solitary leviathan. Pride flowing from having trounced all those pegged around him, most of whom had dry netted, the short haired young Paul, weighing in just shy of an ounce, was well and truly hooked on fishing. Now, more than half a century later, that enthusiasm for the sport is as strong as ever as I found out recently when I caught up with him after yet another open match victory on his beloved local canal network.
Paul and younger brother Neil were born into a fishing family. Father William (Bill) himself a well-respected angler was for many years match secretary of Whitmore Reans Angling Association, that later emerged as Wolverhampton Angling Association. Both Turner brothers were members of both West End Angling Club and Goldthorne Social Angling Club. By his mid-teens, Paul was competing regularly in local Whitmore Reans open matches. It was there that he started to serve his apprenticeship and mix with top local anglers from the hard school of Black Country canal fishing. Paul learnt a lot from the likes of Bert Simmill Ron Baker, Joe Brennan and Peter Plant (Snr).
Like many sportsmen, being a team player was important to Paul in his early years. He first represented Essington Working Mens’ club followed by Steve Davies Tackle and Ron Haines Tackle. His big break came in the 1980s when he was approached by captain Ken Giles and offered £1,000 per year to join the Shakespeare Superteam, a very useful sum indeed in those days. By the 1980s, canal venues were being used much more frequently to host big match events such as the 1985 Division One National. As well as Paul, Dave Berrow and Peter Hargreaves,) who went on to take the individual crown in the 1991 Division One National), were recruited to the Shakespeare fold for their canal fishing expertise.
Formed in the 1970s by Ken Aske, the West Midlands based Starlets were and remain in the top half dozen or so match teams in the UK. Back then, the Starlets were sponsored by major German tackle manufacturer DAM, a company founded back in 1875. Paul joined a team littered with star names such as Mark and Paul Downes, Tony Troth, Peter Plant and John Chambers with whom Paul often travelled. Another Starlet’s angler from that era who is still performing on the open circuit is young Alan Round who is this year’s organiser for the final of the Dynamite Baits canal pairs championship. Later, Paul had a successful spell at Tipton Fosters, the team moving from Division 5 through to Division One in NFA nationals during the 1990s. Paul has a very respectable haul of nine national medals and doubtless before long he will be adding to that score.
Simon Mottram, one of the Canal & Rivers Trust’s leading Let’s Fish coaches, rates Paul at the very top of the canal fishing tree for his ability to read a canal peg and adapt his tactics accordingly. Whether its head down for a pound or two of squatt fish from a tough peg or searching out larger specimens on the caster, usually Paul will make the right choices.
One senses he perhaps regrets sticking out for a bonus fish in the 2017 Division One National when just four more ounces of small fish would have clinched national glory for the Maver Midlands team rather than a very creditable silver medal. As Paul would say ‘that’s fishing, move on’, for one of Paul’s great strengths is knowing that you can’t win them all, although he will keep trying to prove himself wrong. Since his recent retirement, Paul reckons his fishing is improving as he has more time to dedicate to it, not exactly good news for rival competitors.
Unless you know differently, Paul holds the UK record for the heaviest weight recorded on a five-hour canal match. Knowing there were probably carp lurking on peg seven at Pendeford on the Shropshire Union, Paul set his stall out to put a decent net together. And what a haul it turned out to be: 107 lbs which would have taken a little while to weigh in with the standard beam scales that are still traditionally used on the Midlands and northern canal circuits. Pegged next door, the runner up that day managed a tad over four pounds, a weight that would have won loads of canal matches back in the day. Paul must be the only man who has won a UK canal match by over 100 pounds.
Where would the match circuit be without willing volunteers to run competitions on the waterway network? For a good many clubs, peg fees from matches make a useful dent in the annual rent bill. Match organisation’s a labour of love. As every match organiser worth his salt knows, most mishaps that befalls competitors are always at least partly the organisers fault. Match attendances at events runs by Paul are a testament to his ability to get things right. Best I can tell, he pleases most of the competitors most of the time which is as much as you can hope for with some of the more finicky matchmen. When he competes in his own match, he always takes the last peg in the hat. Pauls father was running matches more than 40 year ago and Paul has carried on, organising them now for at least 20 years and hopefully for another 20 or 30 years to come.
Paul has calculated he has competed in 5,200 matches to date, taking first place in around 500 of them. Allowing an hour for setting up, and hour to pack away and get back to the HQ plus the five hours match duration time, that works out at 36,400 hours on the bank. That works out at more than 4 years of Paul’s life. That’s without taking into account any time pegging out for matches, bait, interviews at big matches (LINK) and tackle preparation not to mention developing relationships with local hostelries. In that time Paul has represented five different teams in national championships, Provincial AA, Starlets, Tipton, Liverpool and Maver Midlands.
When you meet Paul, or even if you just follow his highly acclaimed weekly Facebook column, it’s obvious that the social side of fishing is important to him. For getting on 20 years, Paul travelled with Stan Ward and was devastated when his pal passed away in 2017. They would discuss tactics at length and Stan would often act as a bank runner in later years, bringing back vital snippets on the catch rates of rival competitors. I think it’s fair to say that Paul’s made a steady contribution to the financially viability of a good few canal-side hostelries over the years. Joking aside, the contribution that anglers make to local canal-side economies is an important and sometimes overlooked benefit of fishing activity on our waterways.
Paul’s appreciation of fellow members of the top performers club shines through. To make a tough task slightly easier, we did allow Paul the luxury of two bites of the cherry, tasking him with naming both a top ten anglers legends from the past from match-men he had competed against as well as a modern-day canal dream team. His final choices are listed below:
Our conversation turned to the current state of the canal fishing circuit and the need to attract new young anglers into the sport. It was then I remembered that Neil Turner had played such a pivotal role in fine tuning the 1994 Wyche junior squad that I had first helped put together back in the late 1980s.
To cut a long conversation short, we are about to recruit Neil as a Let’s Fish coach to help keep him busy during his upcoming retirement. If any young or returning angler is reading this, book yourself on a Let’s Fish Event where Neil is in attendance. You will learn so much for Neil too is a top canal angler. Indeed, one or two good judges reckon that Paul isn’t even the best angler in the Turner family. Together they make an awesome team, finishing fourth in the 2017 Canal Pairs final. I for one would not bet against them winning that event sometime soon.
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