Reflections on the Division 2 National by Dennis Hunt
About a year ago there was an idea put forward that I should captain a team of Trust ‘Lets Fish' coaches and bravely enter the Division 2 National. This is an account of my experience.
Method in the madness
Thinking back, it was probably John Ellis' idea. He does get a tad irritated when he hears folk slating the angling ability of Let's Fish coaches. Part of his plan is that by us fishing against better anglers it will help raise the technical coaching standards within Let's Fish. This will hopefully pay back by improving further our collective coaching performance at events and ultimately seeing a greater proportion of Let's Fish participants eventually take up the sport.
National debut decision
Having stewarded at national and indeed international events several times in the past but never having fished a real big event I pondered John's offer for a little while and then accepted the challenge. Little did I know at the time how much I would enjoy the experience.
Record breaker in the team
The first job was to try to put a team together and get it registered in good time with Angling Trust. We managed to field a team of nine active coaches including two ladies, (Nuala and Alison).
Plus the man that John Essex believes is 99.99% certain to be the oldest competitor to have ever to fish a national, Don Peirson. We would be a team of record breakers one way or another. While some team members had previous national experience, a lot hadn't. The important thing was we were all up for having a go and taking part in the true spirit of the national competition.
Big match excitement
The weekend of the event raced towards us and the team travelled up on Friday to be near the venue so that we could all meet up in good time at the draw on the Saturday morning. On match day, I was up at 6am like an excited kid fishing their first big match. I had a shower and a quick cup of coffee in the hotel, met some of the other team members in the lobby at 6.30am and took the brief drive across a cold and misty Staffordshire countryside before crossing the border into Shropshire near Market Drayton. The thermometer had fallen to 4C on route. Would that impact on the fishing later in the day?
Having registered the team at the desk and met some old friends including fellow NAAG attendee David Kent, John Ellis, Angling Trust's James Lewis, Simon Mottram and others, I stood expectantly in line with the other team captains for the draw at 8.00am. Thankfully team members provided me with bacon rolls and coffee while awaiting the draw. I must admit to feeling slightly nervous surrounded by so many excellent anglers, but the atmosphere was exciting and electric. My turn to draw came and I drew peg set 18. I nervously collected the envelope with the random peg set and was given directions to the sections for the team. I then went to meet them to give out the peg numbers ensuring everybody knew where to go.
I drew peg K43 at Coole Pilate, the very end peg at the northern end of the match length. Phil Speakman would have been proud of me. Thanks to the excellent directions and hardworking marshals from Wybunbury Anglers, I located the section without incident and the access quite quickly. I now faced what I was told was the longest walk on the match! Having arrived at the peg it looked very good and my spirits rose. The whistle for the off sounded at 11.00am. I fed some liquidised bread and ran a float down the edge baited with punch to see the float dip, and I missed the first bite. The second run through I had a roach in the net and at least I hadn't blanked. Five hours later when the final whistle went, I weighed 1kg 100 grams. Whilst not a match winning performance it was quite respectable and earned me 12 points. It was then back to the HQ to see how the others fared.
We all met back at the HQ at Market Drayton, discussed the day and our results, and waited expectantly. There were several decent performances. Top of the tree was Nuala Gray, one of our lady anglers deserving of a special mention for recording over 1kg 700 for a top half in section performance.
Others less used to match fishing at big events understandably struggled a little and the team came a disappointing 43rd. The mighty Trust Red and Orange coaches' teams had both triumphed over us, finishing in 37th and 41st places respectively. We will show them what's what in 2020. One or two team members were disappointed with their catches, but fishing is a funny old game. Look at the Sensas Black Country captain Mark Hardman. Many good judges predicted victory or at least a medal for his team but unlucky Mark recorded less than 300g on the big day. It can happen to the very best of anglers.
Well done to winning team Crewe Match Group captained by another of the Let's Fish coaches Simon Mottram who co-incidentally did his level one and level 2 coaching qualification at the same time as me. I can still teach Motty a few things about Let's Fish paperwork. Chris Harvey another Let's Fish coach was also part of the winning team. Congratulations as well to the other nine teams that gained promotion. It will be interesting to see how our local Grand Union Canal performs on the big day in 2020. Well done to everyone else that took part in a fantastic match. There were no dry nets which is the sign of a fair and even match.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the day and learnt a lot by competing. The event was well run and the local organisation excellent. The atmosphere throughout was brilliant, both at the draw and at the results ceremony afterwards. Our lady team members had great help from other anglers and stewards getting to their pegs. They had great encouragement from all others for taking part and received brilliant comments like ‘we wish there were more ladies taking part' and ‘great to see you here'. There was some great banter between the different teams and a friendly atmosphere throughout between organisers, stewards and competitors.
Give nationals a go
We aren't deterred by our lowly results and we have already started some preparation for next year's event on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. We are determined to be back to compete next year and improve our standing. I'd encourage any club or team that has never competed in a national in recent years to get a team together and ‘have a go'. It really was great fun, something to tell the grandkids about and whilst I think on, don't forget to include a lady or two in your team line up.