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Looking ahead to the 2021 Division One National

We’re very much hoping the Division One National can still go ahead as planned on Saturday 14 August. We caught up with venue expert and canal fishing veteran Tommy Boyce to seek his opinion on how things might pan out on the big day. This year’s venue choice, the Grand Union from Castlethorpe north to Weedon, is seen by some as controversial.

Tommy Boyce

A man of experience

I first fished the Grand Union in 1973 aged 12, and I've fished on a canal most weeks since then. The Grand Union is my ‘local' and as a youngster I used to walk five miles to the Long Buckby Wharf section with my mates. Our early version of a match was known as the gudgeon race: the first to 10, 20, 30, etc, to keep everyone competitive.

I soon joined the Daventry Angling Club, where junior secretary Johnny Mack passed on many skills. I have good memories of plenty of gudgeon-dominated matches in times gone by. Many of these were run by Pat O'Connor. Dave Berrow and Simon Nickless were the two top masters of the art and the men to beat.

I'm confident that there will be next to no gudgeon captured by National competitors this year because of the problems this stretch has had with zander, which prey on gudgeon first. Any team targeting gudgeon will finish last.

A changing venue

The Grand Union catches in the 1970s were dominated by roach, gudgeon and ruffe, with relatively few skimmer bream. Boat traffic was lighter, especially in 1976 when the canal was closed in that hot summer. Blisworth Tunnel was closed for major engineering work in the early 1980s, which also impacted on boat numbers and the canal went clear. Back then, 2lb was a decent enough weight that would put you around the halfway mark in a section.

The 1980s saw the golden era of the rod and line and squatt approach. I can't see a team relying just on squatt and pinkie making the grade this time around, as there are unlikely to be many small roach weights recorded.

Arrival of zander

Zander had not reached the Buckby summit pound when Dr Phil Smith was undertaking his doctoral studies into the species in the 1990s. The first classic sign I noticed, more than a decade ago, was the disappearance of gudgeon over two or three seasons. Roach then virtually disappeared, except for isolated pockets of fish weighing between 3oz and 1lb plus. On a positive note, larger bream started to show.

Therefore, I think it will be the bream that dominate catches in the upcoming National. The skimmers average 12oz but there are plenty of bigger fish of up to 3lb. Individually, someone could land 30lbs plus, especially if it's a cloudy, windy day which encourages the bream to really have a go. On most pegs, patience will be the key, but the first 40 minutes will be vital because that's when you need to get a decent fish or two in the net.

Roach recovery?

The Canal & River Trust first started to tackle the zander issue on this year's National venue way back in 2015, with some financial support from the controlling clubs. There are now some signs that this investment is paying off, as last year small roach began to appear in catches in a few areas after a general absence of the best part of a decade. Has this National come a little too early for the out-and-out roach experts? The balance of probability is yes.

Tommy Boyce fishing

Hotspots and areas to avoid

I don't expect any blanks and I think the doomsters on social media who are predicting a disastrous National are being far too negative. I remember some really challenging Nationals with masses of blanks. The 1979 Division One on the Ouse and Cam, the 1981 Ancholme event, and more recently the 2018 Division Two on the North Bank of the Nene spring to mind.

The most challenging area of the match length will be at the Castlethorpe end, with individual-winning catches possible around Stoke Bruerne, where a bonus chub might feature for one or two anglers. Individually the National could also be won around Weedon, where bream will dominate.

You can discount bonus carp or eels, although if anyone does hook a ‘snig' (eel) it would be a real monster: 5lb plus. I think all but the Castlethorpe section will be won with a double figure weight.

My 13 teams to keep an eye on

One of the fascinations of narrow-canal Nationals is that the outstanding Barnsley team don't start as odds-on favourites. They've never won a narrow-canal National and I don't think they'll win gold in this one either. I might even be tempted to have a small wager on it. Having said that, I consider them the best club team in the world at present and they are still getting better.

Aside from my own team, Drennan Oxford, who I hope will be there or thereabouts, I've listed a baker's dozen of teams (in no specific order) that could grab a medal. If your team isn't listed, I hope you see this as an opportunity to prove me wrong when you triumphantly step up onto the podium.

  • Barnsley DAA
  • Blackmore Vale
  • Cadence
  • Colmic Northants
  • Devizes AA
  • Dorking
  • Drennan Borden
  • Leicester
  • Matrix Image
  • Preston Thatchers
  • Sensas Black Country
  • Starlets
  • Wigan Match Group

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Last Edited: 25 June 2021

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