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From fear of maggots to championship medallist

Aged 13, Izzy Gibbins from Cheshire recorded the top female junior weight of 2020g in our recent annual celebration of young people and fishing. It’s something she would never have dreamed possible just 12 months ago, as Izzy explains.

Izzy Gibbins with junior championships trophy and certificate 2020
Izzy Gibbins holding the first fish she ever caught - a roach

Starting out

I started fishing when I was 10. The first fish I caught was a roach (that's me with the roach in the picture). I started off using a 3-metre pole at Sycamore Fisheries at Golborne and then I was hooked.

Initially I really didn't like touching the wriggly maggots, and I struggled getting the hook out at first.

The more I went fishing the easier I found it. I also eventually began to convince myself that maggots can't bite.

Trying to beat Dad

I first started fishing competitively with my dad, early in 2020. Even then, I still didn't like touching the maggots or even the slimy fish like bream. But once I realised the maggots were not going to crawl up my arm and the fish weren't going to bite me, I enjoyed the excitement of catching different types of fish. I also like being outside, seeing all the different birds and wildlife that are around whilst fishing.

My dad started showing me different ways of how to catch fish more effectively. Once I had improved my catch rate, me and my dad started to have little competitions to see who could catch the most fish. Quite often I won, however my dad often caught the larger fish and that's where it all began.

Izzy Gibbins netting a fish

Getting involved in competition

My uncle had asked me several times to join Newton-le-Willows Angler's Association so I could fish in the junior matches, which until then I had never thought about doing. So this year I decided to join the club, with my dad, and I entered my first junior match.

The matches are run by two prominent Let's Fish! coaches, Paul Lucas and Jackie Burns. At the first time of asking I came third, with a good catch of roach and chub on a whip. Each match after this I was also ‘placed' (coming in the top three).

Developing my fishing skills

I progressed on to pole fishing and caught fish on the method-feeder, but I have had most of my success pole fishing. By the end of the season I had finished runner-up overall in the Newton-le-Willows AA junior league, which I was overjoyed with. I decided to enter a few open matches. Even though I didn't win I used those matches to gain confidence and experience.

National celebration of young people and fishing

My dad suggested fishing the Canal & River Trust's junior championships, held as part of Let's Fish! to celebrate young people and fishing. Quite a few kids were taking part in a match for the first time ever and you could feel they were excited and nervous in equal measure.

I didn't know really how I would do. I didn't even know the water as I have never fished the Shropshire Union Canal before, so I went with an open mind. We arrived at the venue nice and early and set up on peg 46 on the Barn length, which had been drawn for me the day before.

Encouraging start

For the first hour I had to fish at a maximum distance of 4 metres, as per the rules. I think this rule was brought in to make it less daunting for kids who had never fished a match before and might feel intimidated trying to compete against older kids who might have lots of expensive gear, some of which you don't necessarily need.

I'd never really fished on a canal before and I was quite shocked at how fast the water flowed. I started feeding squatts and fishing one pinkie as bait on a size 20 hook on the bottom. Within five minutes I started catching small roach and gudgeon close in.

After the first hour, the horn sounded, which meant I could fish further out if I wanted to. One girl pegged near me spent the rest of the match just fishing close in and I think she weighed well over a kilo, which goes to show there are plenty of fish to be caught under your feet on this canal.

Landing some skimmers

I then decided to fish in the centre of the canal (down the track, as some anglers call it) and caught the odd small perch, but bites were few and far between. My next plan was to fish the full length of my pole across to the other side of the canal and I started feeding pinkies and casters. After five minutes my float went under and I hooked and landed my first skimmer bream of the day. I was buzzing. I caught several more skimmers throughout the remainder of the match, fishing with two red maggots on a size 18 hook.

Only 20 minutes before the all-out, I hooked into what seemed to be a considerably bigger fish. The elastic shot out as I started to ship my pole in. Unfortunately the hook pulled out and alas, I had lost the fish.

The weigh in was carried out with social distancing rules so there were no large crowds milling around, as you might get in a normal year. My weight was 2 kilos and 20 grams. Coming 5th overall out of 55 in such a large event has really boosted my confidence and I am very pleased with my performance.

Izzy Gibbins holding a chub

Looking forward

I'm really looking forward to next year's junior canal championships match. I found everybody we came into contact with to be very friendly and helpful. The atmosphere was fantastic and we were made to feel very welcome.

What I like about the event is that there are loads of coaches on hand to support anyone who is struggling. I later found out that the two technical coaches in my zone were Paul Murrin and Dave McCall, the canal pairs champions from 2019.

It's obvious that the organisers do want everyone to have an enjoyable day and go away having learnt a little bit more about fishing. I would have no hesitation in telling people it's a good event to get involved in.

Last Edited: 21 January 2021

photo of a location on the canals
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