A year of steady growth
It was a record-sized final, but we were nine pairs light due to the coronavirus pandemic, so it could have been even bigger. Some early qualifying heats had to be cancelled. The two Grand Union Canal heats in July were inevitably reduced in size, due to the cancellation of the Division One National (read Tommy's Boyce's thoughts on who might win the next National). Despite all that, it's now a competition that is finally picking up speed. Tom Scholey and England international Matt Godfrey will be trying their luck in a qualifying heat next year.
Slowly but surely, the old myth that the Angling Trust make a profit on the competition is fading away. For the avoidance of doubt, of the £20 entry fee paid by each angler to enter a qualifying heat, £5 goes to the organising club, £2 to the winning pair on the day, £11 to the grand final pot and £2 to the Angling Trust to cover administration. And this year's competition certainly required a substantial amount of administration.
Holding the final of any nationally significant angling competition during a global pandemic was never going to be a walk in the park. The usual precautions were put in place, including an online draw, where the banter between Tom Scholey and I apparently raised a chuckle or two on the night.
The socially distanced weigh in went smoothly enough and only the high framers returned to the headquarters for a rainy, outdoor, socially distanced prize presentation. In some respects, none of these things were ideal, but it was far better to have been able to go ahead than to have had to postpone the final until spring 2021.
Great team of stewards
It takes a whole team of people to run a successful event, and Neil Latham and Tony Swindells (now there is a character and a half) proved well up to the task. They recruited a small army of competent stewards who ended up soaked to the skin in the line of duty.
It was nice to finally have a chat with Lewis Kenyon, who is still recovering from an operation and hopes to be back in fishing action soon. It was good to see Alex Clegg and his pairs partner, Kaythan Shillitto, who unluckily missed out on qualifying on at least three occasions.
I have been working with John Wilkes at Hot Fishin to tweak the software to make our results compilation straightforward. I am pleased to report that the system worked. What I love about John is that he takes onboard the idiosyncrasies of event formats and works on the solutions. The programme even converts kilograms to good old pounds and ounces. I do not intend to go back to longhand results any time soon.
Spreading the cash
Whether it's the final of the Fish‘O'Mania, Riverfest or the Winter League, in any big competition there will be good and less good areas. That is the nature of match fishing. Let's face it, if the same few anglers won every match, the sport would be dead before the year was out.
In the canal pairs final, we've now moved to five-peg mini sections, which means competitors have something to fish for even when the draw has done them no favours. In the optional pools alone, 44 out of the 158 anglers won money. We also decided to spread the pay-out, with the top eight picking up money. This came as a pleasant surprise to a couple of teams who had not realised the change.