Jim Baxter adds Dave Thomas to his list of the top 12 waggler heroes, as an angler he's willing to bet his life on.
If I had to pick an angler to catch a fish quickly to save my life, Dave Thomas of Leeds, at his peak, would be right up there. On either a stick float or waggler, especially in the period 1975-81, Dave or John Dean would have been my angler of choice.
Watching and learning
It was a winter's day in the late 1970s. I wanted to fish the regular Burton Joyce Saturday match, but at the last minute, feeling unwell, I decided to walk the bank instead. The ‘BJ' stretch, or ‘golden mile' as it was often called, was a match mecca, attracting the cream of Northern and Midlands match anglers at the time. Having heard of Dave's reputation, I took the chance to watch him in action. He fished a stick float on an average peg at best, deep water near Stone Bridge in the Nelson Field. He caught 6lb-plus to finish third. My day was not wasted.
Wag and mag
A week later however, I was still not fully fit and decided to spectate again. This time Dave had drawn better on the famous ‘Road stretch'. Fishing the ‘wag and mag' he not only won the match with over 20lb of roach, he put over 15lb more than the anglers either side of him on the scales. His work rate in feeding two separate areas with the catapult was high, he looked confident and efficient, and he simply had the fish queuing up to be caught for over two hours. He would go on to win many other Burton Joyce opens, including more with over 20lb.
Regal Windows success
This was the shape of things to come, and I was fortunate enough to befriend Dave in the mid-1980s when I'd become more established on the open match scene. I have Dave to thank for getting me into a River Weaver match. We also travelled down south together to fish the Sussex River Rother at Rye, near Hastings. Both these rivers suited me, especially the Weaver where I caught 8lb of fish and won £400 for a second spot on my debut. Dave also won his section that day in the Regal Windows invitation match.
But to further illustrate Dave's skill, prior to these matches I drew beside him in 1984 on the Warks Avon over the August Bank Holiday Evesham Festival. I was newly married (to Lynne) and she sat behind me on the Wychavon Champs and counted my fish, all 166 of them. Now, gudgeon aside, 166 fish in five hours was exceptional for me, but Dave beat me by 10oz to win the section with 7lb+ to 6lb+! We both fished waggler and maggot. The one difference in our approaches that I knew of was that Dave fished three no. 10 shots down his line while I fished three no. 8 shots, though I recently learnt that we weren't as they say ‘on the same page' at all.
Bites you just don't see
In researching this article and reminding Dave of our battle, he was kind enough to say I gave him a bit of a scare that day, and nobody had ever come that close to beating him off the next peg at Evesham. But Dave was way in front of me tactically.
He had spread his feed maggots over a wide area and had devised a way of making a series of short strikes until he hooked a fish. He would count a second or two then strike without a bite being registered on the float, believing that the bigger dace and chub could feel resistance and spit the bait out before a bite could be hit. As for me, I was relying on the float to register bites as normal. And so it was that Dave caught fewer fish in the match than myself but of a slightly better quality. Dave also used a smaller 3BB float than my 3AAA job.
World championship 1981
As far as Trent anglers go, Dave Thomas and arch rival John Dean were for me the best of the best in the golden era of the big open matches. Dave was in brilliant form in the weeks leading up to that championship on the Avon at Luddington. Three weeks prior he dominated the Evesham Festival, with a win and two seconds over the three days showing remarkable consistency. He was also the most consistent angler in the team practices leading up to Worlds, so his confidence was sky high. Dave's crowning glory came when he took the World Championships individual title.
Talk about seizing the moment, he tamed the rising river by winning the team match with 10lb of chub on day one and then won the individual event 24 hours later in flood conditions. One of the organisers that day was a young Harry Lodge.
No chance to defend the title
Sadly, Dave, by then aged 38, never got the chance to defend his title after failing to make the England team in 1982. This was a pole and bloodworm match on the Irish Newry Canal and not Dave's strongest suit to be fair. Still, Kevin Ashurst, son of the great Benny Ashurst, stepped up to take the crown ahead of 'Captain America', the young handsome Micky Thill, who has now sadly passed away.
Unlike big Kev, who is still competing, Dave, now in his early seventies, has long left the match scene behind. He can often be found pleasure fishing on his local Aire and Calder Canal.