Like many youngsters growing up in Shropshire, I spent too much of my youth dreaming of somehow becoming a top match angler and not (as Mum still occasionally reminds me) enough time focusing on becoming a successful student.
One of my most cherished childhood memories was the day my brother and I talked Dad into taking us the first division national on the Upper Trent. There were 80 teams of 12 on the bank that day and the three of us wanted to watch the great Ivan Marks in action. Alas, it was with much disappointment that we learnt Ivan had drawn in a section where no spectators were allowed.
However, a kindly steward took pity on us and allowed us to sneak under the 'strictly no entry' barrier some two hours into the match. When we got to Ivan’s peg, there were already a couple of hundred spectators in position behind the great man! Needless to say, Ivan proceeded to empty the river whilst entertaining the admiring gallery with his fishing ability and legendary wit.
I couldn’t have imagined that more than 30 years later I would be accompanying the Trust's new chief executive, Richard Parry, at what remains angling's premier event, held this year on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. Richard is a leader who likes to get out and about. What better opportunity than the 100th running of the Angling Trust Division 1 National for his initiation into the world of competitive match fishing?
Volunteers play a vital role in the day to day functioning of both our Trust and the Angling Trust (AT) so we began by meeting up with AT volunteer Bob Dyer whose computer programme calculates the team result in seconds. Richard couldn’t make the draw, but great team work from volunteers Andre & Janet Grandjean, Dick Clegg, Mike Storey, Mick Turner, Terry Fell and David & Ann Kent resulted in all 44 teams having drawn their pegs in around 20 minutes, almost certainly a national record.
Whilst I am never going to fish for England (or Wales, my ancestral homeland) I could certainly worry for these great nations of ours. I even worry whilst asleep. Bizarrely, I had dreamt the night before the match that Richard had stepped on (and broken) Alan Scotthorne’s pole, thus costing Barnsley the national title. The angling press headlines would not have made comfortable reading. But I need not have worried as Richard never put a foot out of place the whole day.
Choosing which part of the match length would throw up some good weights was always going to be a guessing game. Whilst the majority recommended the safe option of Hempstead, I went with my gut instinct and headed for G section at Fretherne Bridge. This was not far away from the famous milk factory swim where the winners of both the 1937 and 1963 G & S nationals had been pegged. As it turned out, it wasn’t a bad call with Richard witnessing three of the top ten individuals landing quality bream on both pole and feeder techniques.
We also saw plenty of eels weighed in which was most encouraging. I was immensely impressed with the volunteer stewards who, with anglers’ safety in mind on this gloriously sunny day, were offering bottles of water to every competitor who needed it. Mark Treasure, the local organiser and Kevin Fortey deserve a special mention too. Recruiting stewards, strimming hundreds of pegs, arranging headquarters and car parking facilities doesn’t just mysteriously happen and these things only ever hit the headlines when something goes wrong.
After the weigh in, we headed back to HQ. Competitors were returning in their droves, some elated having scored high points, others clearly disappointed, feeling they had let their team mates down. Whilst waiting for the results, there was time for Richard to meet and chat to numerous club officials and angling stars. There was barely an issue raised which we have not identified one way or another in our waterway fisheries and angling action plans, (a topic for one of my future blogs, no doubt).
With the results ready to be announced, Richard made a rousing speech emphasising his vision of the canal network as a place to hold more local and national angling events. Congratulations to Daiwa Dorking who romped to victory ahead of Maver Image, Drennan Barnsley, Kamasan Starlets and Shakespeare Superteam with my tip, Mirfield AC, managing a place in the top third.
Next year's Division 2 national will, subject to final confirmation, be held on another Trust canal, this time the Birmingham & Fazeley on 10th September. So work will begin soon to ensure that the venue is in good order. Sadly, too many clubs have stopped fishing these great historic championships in recent years. So I will end my first blog with both an appeal and a promise. For those who wish to see nationals continue for the next hundred years; do give serious thought to entering a team in 2016. And the promise, I will buy a pint for the captain of every Trust canal customer club whose club fishes on the day.
National fisheries & angling manager
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