As I walked into the Crown club match headquarters in Erdington a couple of Saturdays ago, it was wonderful to see the gaggle of colourfully clad participants pondering their prospects whilst gleefully tucking into a proper English breakfast.
Few if any appeared deterred by the latest World Health Organisation submission on the potential mutagenic impacts that consumption of bacon and sausage might possibly cause. Would it fish or would it not? That was the question.
The draw was, as ever, expertly organised by Bob Dyer and Brian Hull. What would we do without those two stalwarts? For David Kent and myself this was the day we had worked towards for the past year or more; truly the culmination of an awful lot of unseen work behind the scenes.
The current championship is not the first such event that I have been involved in. Back in 1993, British Waterways held a teams of four event to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the enabling acts of literally dozens of canals.
Before a new canal could be built, the approval of parliament was needed and 1793 was the peak year for such applications. The host club back in 1993 were Massey Ferguson AC. At that time they rented fishing rights on the Grand Union in the Rowington area. Seventy seven teams of four turned out that year and, without the aid of a computer, it took Alan Gibb and I absolutely ages to calculate the results.I am not sure my brain would be up to it these days.
Following that inaugural event, the Canals 200 championships actually ran for more than a decade. Looking back on it we had some fantastic entries back then, 121 teams on the Oxford Canal at Banbury in 1996 being the highest I can recall. The match organiser that day was Coventry’s Pat O’Connor. I rather doubt that I will ever see a 500 plus peg canal match ever again but would love to be proved wrong.
I have said it before, and will no doubt say it again, the change from British Waterways to Canal & River Trust has been positive for angling prospects on the canal network. With the general move away from the traditional river and canal venues, participation on the canal match circuit has been on a slowly downward trend for probably twenty years or more. Having spent a great deal of my early angling career fishing matches on the west midlands and northern canals, I have something of a personal interest in making sure that we can reverse this trend and put canals firmly back at the heart of match fishing.
I have a dream that the wonderful tradition of canal match fishing will carry on for at least another 200 years; after which time I hope to be properly retired or at least getting closer to it. We needed a high profile event to catch the imagination of both existing anglers on the circuit as well as potential newcomers, not forgetting those who have forsaken their local cut for commercial stillwater fisheries.
We also needed local Trust managers to see angling as an integral part of the scene on their local waterway. So that is why David and I came up with a competition which has a qualifying heat in each of our eleven local waterway units, with the top pairs then qualifying for a national final with a significant cash prize as an additional attraction.
The fishing on the finals day wasn’t brilliant with a winning weight of just over 4 kgs (just shy of 10 lb in old money), but on the other hand everyone caught fish and the results were close. In many ways, that is the great attraction of canals such as the Birmingham & Fazeley as match venues. Success is based on skilfully winkling out a few more fish than your rivals. And if you find yourself off the pace, a change of tactics leading to a bonus fish or two can transform your fortunes in no time at all.
The Trust actually did some restocking of the venue leading up to the match, but the new skimmers and tench were somewhat conspicuous by their absence. Such is life; no doubt they will feed like crazy on the next match Dams & Lock hold on the venue.
It was good to see an increase in the number of juniors taking part compared to last year, many of whom had travelled a significant distance. Congratulations to young Tom Clarke who, having journeyed up from Sussex, triumphed with a help of a bonus bream. The relief on Tom’s face as he slid his landing net under that fish was a sight to behold.
What was also great is that all 23 juniors caught fish. Mark Wilton, a very old friend of mine from Stafford, came down and helped Becca and I run the junior section. Mark rightly noted that some of the younger anglers did lack the finesse to get the very best from their pegs, perhaps influenced by fishing commercials on a regular basis. Few of the juniors came armed with squats, which in my eyes were the number one canal bait 40 years ago and remain so to this day.
Whilst not all of the heats sold out, I am pleased with our collective efforts in this the first full year. Next year, along with the elven Trust waterway heats, we will be holding a qualifying heat on any non Trust-owned canal (the Basingstoke), a Welsh canal, (the Llangollen) and a Scottish Canal (the Forth & Clyde or Union). Geoff Quinn and I are currently discussing Irish options, all of which means a bigger final next year. Keep an eye out for some further announcements very soon.
I do hope to see you all at the next year’s final which will be held on Saturday 29th October 2016.
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