This is the story brought to you by John Essex, about the only man thus far to have participated in more than 50 national championships. It’s a record that is potentially beatable, but we only know three other living anglers, Alan Round, Brian Preece and Peter Laughton who have so far topped the 40 mark.
First open victory
With tutoring from Tom and Franks Sails after the untimely death of his first mentor Jack Nessling, Lincoln's Frank Butler picked up his first Open win in the 450 peg 1952 Worksop Open on the Witham. Drawn between Thorpe Tilney Lane end and the White House he weighed 15-8-0 but lost a fair number of bream on a submerged weed bed. His tackle then comprised of a Spanish Reed rod with a split cane top and Rapidex centrepin reel loaded with Bell 2 1/4 lbs breaking strain nylon carrying a cork ducker float, one of Billy Lane's favourites.
National glory on Lincoln debut
Captained by Tom Sails, Lincoln took national team honours on the River Nene in 1953, from peg 66 for the fifth time with a total weight of 72-5-0 ahead of second placed Grimsby who recorded 57-9-0. Half of their weight came from Lincoln's three top men, spearheaded by Bill White in sixth place with 12-15-8, then Les Smith in 11th and Percy Smith in 12th who between them added a further 22lbs.
Thanks to the pleadings of his team captain, RAF National Service man Frank Butler acquired a pass to fish the match. Twenty-one-year-old Franks 5lbs contribution secured him a team gold in his very first National.
Oh, what might have been
Moving on to the Witham in 1956, the Lincoln captain Percy Smith, drew peg 4 which they regarded as too near to bridges and ferries to ensure a team victory. And so it proved though Lincoln did provide the champion in the shape of newcomer Roy Lusby.
He drew L4, a noted bream area, just upstream of the Bain mouth. Small roach gave way to bream. Roy switched to double maggot on a size 16 finishing up with 25-8-0. It took five separate weighs from the scalesmen before the NFA declared Roy's catch as a new Witham National Championship record. For some reason the Lincoln selectors had overlooked Frank. Had he been picked Frank would have fished at Roy Lusby's peg. Lincoln were narrowly beaten in the team title race by Coventry.
England call up
Following Lincoln's fourth place in the 1960 National, Frank received the highest honour by being nominated for the 1961 World Angling Championship team, made up back then of anglers nominated from the teams in the top five in the National. Billy Lane (Coventry) also fished plus Don Rowley (Leicester), Eric Broad (Kings Lynn) and Lew Barber (Peterborough). Fished at Merseburg in East Germany, Frank described the whole saga as something of an experience.
England finished in third place with 70 points. It's strange but in all the reports I have read there is no mention of a reserve! Usually, the sixth team in the National nominated an angler for the reserve spot.
By now a Lincoln veteran, Frank captained the side in what was to be their last great win of the single match weight Nationals on the River Welland 1962. Owing to a massive one million pounds river improvement scheme the NFA switched the match at short notice from the Witham to the Welland.
Despite the success of Jack Clayton's sensational swingtip in the late fifties, most teams opted for float tactics on a very patchy river. Angling Times dubbed this 'The Antennae National' with Coventry, Birmingham and Leicester opting for long slim bodied floats fished with a sunken line.
From a poor draw at peg 44 in the middle of the section, and without a man in the top 20, Lincoln fished close in targeting small fish, in the process skilfully scratching their way to victory, just topping 56 lbs for the team.
Every ounce counted
Some years later, Frank wrote: 'In 1962 I was pleased to be captain of the Lincoln team that fished the Welland National. We had been able to get in some practice for this match, the team members had all enjoyed good results, and we were confident of doing well. When we totted up the results, we knew it was a close thing between Lincoln and Coventry but we were delighted to learn that we had just done enough to beat Coventry by 13 ounces and win the title.'
However, there was a disappointment to come for me and the team who were in the bar celebrating. Spalding did a first class job and got the results out in record time but the PA system in the bar had broken down and I and other team members never heard the announcement that the prize giving was taking place. So, there were only three of our team members on stage to receive the trophy and as captain I was never presented with the cup which was great pity.' Frank had some compensation when he was presented with the championship trophy at a civic reception given by the Mayor of Lincoln.
In the team photo that we can see Frank Butler holding the team trophy. On his right Albert Garfoot holding the Bryant Trophy and between them the Mayor of Lincoln, Councillor Mrs H M Kerry. On Saturday 10 November 1962 Lincoln AA held a Dinner and Dance at the Moor Lodge Hotel, Bramston to celebrate their fantastic win. Dancing carried on until midnight to the Tommy Worth Quartet.
I don't have a full record of Franks wins on the Open circuit but one of his best was his win in the mammoth 1100 peg 1974 Tetley Gala fished on the River Welland with 22-5-0 weight of bream and roach taken in the last hour of the match. He won enough to pay for a house deposit.
National appearances record holder
To the best of my knowledge, Lincoln's long standing captain Frank takes the record of fishing most 'Nationals' having fished 53 National Championships since 1953 with 51 of these consecutive. As we know he first appeared for Lincoln in their 1953 Championship year on the Nene, missed the next one as he was in the RAF, fished in 1955, was reserve in 1956 and from that point became a Lincoln and District stalwart through to and beyond the new Millennium. During this time, he amassed no less than nine National Championship medals. He had also overtaken the record of 42 national appearances by the great Bob Fuller in the process.
Frank, who passed away in 2008, was the Chairman of the Lincoln & District Angling Association for many years and had written his weekly Fish & Tips column in the Lincolnshire Echo since 1967.
Last Edited: 09 March 2022
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