Running our junior, cadet and youth canal angling championships this year certainly brought new challenges. However, glorious weather, a very strong field and a few surprises made it all worthwhile, as national fisheries and angling manager, John Ellis, reflects.
Time has flown by since we held our annual national celebration of young people and fishing in September on the Shropshire Union Canal. Despite the pandemic, with more than 20 people who planned to take part regrettably unable to attend, we still broke the 2019 attendance record with 107 participants, up from 91.
The weekend's objectives combined an element of friendly competition with learning opportunities for those who have recently joined the Let's Fish! family. It was also a chance for coaches and families to have a socially distanced meet up.
We've always prided ourselves on the event being open for everyone, from elite fishermen right through to those new to the sport.
In the youth section (ages 16 to 20), two of the top three finishers were England internationals. But runner-up Charlie Law will have brought his name to the selectors' attention, and 2017 junior champion Liam Murphy was just a few grams from taking the bronze medal.
Pictured: junior winner, Daniel Chalk
At the younger end of the scale were the cadet competitors (ages 7 to 10). The vast majority had never fished in a group event before. Some had never fished outside of attending a small number of Let's Fish! sessions. One such example was young Oliver Moseley. Putting into practice what he had gleaned from the Let's Fish! coaches, Oliver demonstrated his abundant natural talent as he proceeded to land the fourth highest cadet catch with 910g.
I believe it's only a matter of time before we see a girl taking the individual crown in one of the age categories. This year 23 girls were involved, which made up 20% of the total number of participants.
Holly Marchant was the highest female finisher in the youth section. In the junior section, fifth place overall went to young Izzy Gibbins, a name that had not come to my attention before. With some bonus hand-sized skimmer bream to accompany gudgeon, roach and perch, she made a remarkable impression, and after falling behind proceeded to overtake the equally impressive Lottie Wootton in their exciting peg-to-peg battle.
Twelve-year-old Gabrielle Marshall (pictured) finished 40 grams adrift of Izzy in sixth spot with a net of typical canal fish, close to 100 in total. That's roughly a fish landed every 2 minutes. Who said there are no bites to be had on canals? That's class angling in anyone's book and would have scored decent points in any canal National.
Ruby Biddulph (Dawley's Angels) is another consistent performer who had another lovely net of small fish. Just one bonus fish and she would have been in the medals. Catching a kilogram of fish on a canal can always be considered a successful day and Lauren Stevens, Morgan Dowman, Amelia Wright and Molly Davies all smashed that barrier.
Tightest possible finish
In the cadet competition, Samantha Sim and her family drove up to Staffordshire from Sussex, setting off at 4am. Billy Kirk has been a regular at the event and is a former champion. It was, however, his sister Lilly May's first-ever match. Could she catch the most fish at the first time of asking? Matt Godfrey had drawn young Lilly May on peg one in the draw, which was streamed live on Facebook. An end peg is never a bad thing.
First to weigh in, Lilly May recorded an impressive 950 grams, just 10 more than Travis Couch, the young Welsh wizard whose fishing spot was next to her. Defending champion Alfie Portman, along with Oliver Moseley, William Johnson, Blake Preece, Izaak Bagley, Paighton Doodson and Josh Jones, the latter six all taking part for the first time, all went mighty close to overhauling Lilly May's catch. But with just two left to weigh in, it seemed the young lady was set to win.
What none of us realised was that Charlie Beetham Grainger had been catching plenty of small fish steadily right under his feet on his pole top kit. The needle on the Reuben Heaton dial scales settled at 960 grams. The young lad, to the disbelief of his shocked mum, had taken the title by the narrowest possible margin. It's a day they will remember forever, as I believe will everyone who took part, as the atmosphere was brilliant, despite the challenges presented by social distancing.
Behind the scenes
A huge amount of planning went into making the two-day event an overwhelming success. There were more than 20 Let's Fish! volunteers present on each day and we salute them all. Some were doing the unseen and unglamorous but important work, such as marshalling the car park and even cleaning toilets.
We had a record number of top technical coaches on site to support and advise the young anglers. These included 2019 Dynamite Baits Canal Pairs Champions, Paul Murrin and Dave McCall, plus Neil Turner, Jason Cunningham, Mark Wilton, Paul Hughes and Chris Harvey. Simon Mottram and Dave Watkins pegged out on day two.
To represent your country and win a world championship is a dream of anglers across the globe. Few ever achieve it, or even come close to international selection. You have to be a special human being with massive dedication and persistence to make it. Just one man in the whole history of fishing has achieved the feat of becoming world champion five times. It's hard to argue that Alan Scotthorne is not the greatest angler in history.
Alan graced the towpath at Little Soudley for the 2017 National Championships and as chance would have it, he drew just a few yards away from where young Dylan Gilbert fished during the junior competition this year, on peg 1. It's on the Oak Tree length adjacent to bridge 50. Locals anglers have christened the location ‘Scotthorne's Bridge' to honour the great man's presence in rural Shropshire that day.
It's a unique sport
Representing the famous Barnsley team, Alan Scotthorne recorded 790 grams in that five-hour National match. In the junior competition Dylan Gilbert recorded 1kg 620 in 3.5 hours. No fewer than 34 juniors weighed in more than 800g. What does that tell us? Are most of the junior participants already better anglers than a five-time world champion?
Of course not, for you measure fishing greatness in long-term consistency and the ability to compete over a wide range of fishing venues using many different fishing techniques.
But it does prove that in fishing everyone, young or mature, can have their day, and with a combination of dedication, skill and a little slice of luck you can even catch more than a multiple world champion. In what other sport could that possibly happen?
Pictured: the winning junior team, the Gudgeon Gatherers (Daniel Chalk, Billy Pitman and Jake Checketts)
Getting involved in 2021
If you, or someone you know, would like to get involved in the country's largest celebration of fishing and young people next year, then do get in touch with us.
Entries will be open from February 2021, and the competition will be held on the weekend of Saturday 18 September (cadet and youth age categories) and Sunday 19 September (junior). The venue will again be the Shropshire Union Canal in the Midlands, with the exact stretches to be confirmed nearer the time. Details will appear on our junior, cadet and youth canal angling championships page.
During 2021 we'll be offering development opportunities for up to 100 first-time participants in the event or in any fishing match. This includes a free two-hour individual coaching session with a Let's Fish! coach on a canal venue, as well as the chance to take part in smaller, local practice events to build confidence before the big day. To register your interest, please email me.