This is the story of my first junior national championship. I was born and grew up in the village of Whixall, not far from Whitchurch on the Shropshire/Welsh border. Luckily for me, the Llangollen Canal was nearby.
I first tried to fish here without much success when I was around seven years old.
I first heard about Grindley Brook angling club in the summer of 1989. They were the only club at the time that had a junior coaching policy in the area.
One summer's evening, Mum arranged for me to have a coaching session with John Ellis and his younger brother Andrew on the canal at Grindley Brook. I didn’t know it at the time but John had not long been appointed as Fisheries Manager for British Waterways, a post he still holds nearly 30 years later.
I was taught to plumb the depth, shot the float down properly, feed very sparingly and the importance of small hooks (22s and 24s) and the fine line had started to be drilled into me. Armed with a 2.5 metre whip, I caught around 25 fish on that first evening, mainly small roach and gudgeon with the odd daddy ruffe for good measure. I loved to see the float go under and in minutes I was hooked on canal fishing.
I did not need any encouragement to start fishing the clubs’ weekly junior matches. Mum kept some of the press cuttings. I must have felt proud when I first topped the pound barrier in a match armed with my new three metre whip back in November 1989.
Notice the weights back then, they are so much lower than those we take for granted nowadays. It’s fair to say, at least in the West Midlands, canal anglers don’t appreciate how much better the canal fishing is now than back then.
John Ellis always tries to claim credit for these improved canal fish stocks, on the grounds that he and Carl Nicholls also get the blame if catches get worse. I can sort of understand that logic.
Some of the older lads in the club were by now good canal anglers and John was keen for them to move to the next level in match fishing. Grindley Brook didn’t have quite enough juniors at the time to make up a team of 12 for the junior national. So John approached John Morris, the Wyche Anglers juniors' manager. It was agreed the two clubs would get together, selecting the best dozen from junior members of both clubs.
Around ten kids from each club were selected to fish the first matches at Marsh Lane, Nantwich on the Shroppie, with the top twelve in the points after the two trial matches to be picked and coached regularly leading up to the big day.
I was the youngest there but as confident as any ten year old could be that, somehow, I would make the team. Alas, the reality was I was a bit out of my depth up against kids four or five years older.
They were better anglers than me and I totally blew out, catching precisely nothing on a tough venue with the winner scoring less than a pound. I sobbed my heart out when I got home as I realised that having blanked, it was all but mathematically impossible for me to qualify. I didn’t want to hear the kind words about being a promising youngster etc., but just wanted to be in the team. I did a lot better in the second qualifier but it was never going to be enough to get selected.
One of the original team, I think it was Darren Hollins, dropped out. As a result the name of Simon Mottram, aged 10, appeared on the Wyche Anglers team sheet to make his debut in the 1990 NFA Junior National Championships. The big match, organised by Ken Ball, was to take place on the Grand Union at Milton Keynes, with an entry of 47 teams of 12.
I couldn’t sleep the night before the match; a mixture of worry and excitement. I drew peg B45 at Wolverton. The whistle went at 11am and almost immediately disaster struck. I somehow lost my balance and my seat box ended up in the cut. I knew canals were shallow and so I stood up and hauled myself and box back onto dry land. It was a roasting hot day, well over 30°C, and it must have been 15 minutes into the match before I could start fishing properly.
Despite the plunge, I caught a few fish under my feet. Once both myself and the 3 metre line had dried up, I switched to the long pole line and a few squatt roach found their way into my keepnet. I was holding my own and growing in confidence – that dry net at Marsh Lane a distant memory.
In the end, I weighed in 720g for 11th in the 47 point section. As a team, Wyche ended up in tenth spot which was amazing as it was our first ever national. Here is the full results sheet, courtesy of Angling Times. We were to go on to even greater things in the 1993 junior national on the Staffs & Worcester, when we finished runners up to the home team Stafford Izaak Walton.
Newsworthy events can be thin on the ground in North Shropshire. There was no internet or Facebook in those days but news of my plunge was picked up by the local newspapers. I wonder if John Ellis was responsible for leaking the story?
One of the reporters even drove out to interview me on the banks of the Llangollen Canal. It was another few years before I had another intimate encounter with water, this time with almost catastrophic consequences, but that’s a story for another day.
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 The fisheries & angling team