Dennis Hunt tells us about his experience as a Let's Fish coach stewarding for our Junior National Canal Angling Championships 2019.
I had agreed to help at the junior canal angling championships on the day following competing in the Division 2 National match, so instead of returning home I stayed in Staffordshire to help John Ellis, Peter Herery, Simon Mottram and the other volunteers run the event. I was up at 6.30am on this Sunday morning, and following a quick breakfast drove the short distance from Stafford on a beautiful morning to the ‘Royal Oak' in Church Eaton, where the headquarters for the day were located.
On arrival at the pub I was pleased to see several old friends already there, some of whom I hadn't seen for some time. Our first job was to help in setting up the HQ in the car park, the ‘pegging out' having been done much earlier by Simon Mottram and John Ellis. As we finished setting up the HQ the first competitors began to arrive for the draw, and their cars had to be marshalled to the car parking area just outside the village to avoid the nuisance of blocked roads for the residents.
We then had stewards meeting, and I was asked to look after the sections to the south of the match length, from peg 82 to 103, and weigh in after the final whistle, so it was back to the cars for us to find out where we were located. After a short drive we found the location with no trouble, set up our banners to ensure we were visible to arriving competitors, and identified the available parking.
We then went to look at our section of the Shropshire Union Canal, about 20m down a track and totally invisible from the road. We found a stunningly picturesque location, either side of bridge 23 in a deep, heavily wooded cutting. While walking the bank checking our pegs, we saw fish topping throughout. It was stunningly quiet apart from the birdsong. After taking a few pictures we returned to the cars to await the arrival of our competitors following the draw.
When our competitors started to arrive, we decided to split duties, Jonathan marshalling the parking and myself in position on Bridge 23 directing the competitors to the pegs, which seemed to work quite well. The excitement among the arriving competitors both boys and girls who had come from far and wide, was tangible and electric, and it was obvious they were all fired up and enjoying the experience.
We managed to get everyone in the correct peg and set up by 12 o'clock, ready for the off. There were of course some incidents, like the dad who accidentally dropped the bait, but I fortunately had my bait from the day before in the car so was able to replace it, disaster averted! Having ensure everyone was happy and made them aware of the start and stop signal. I retreated to Bridge 23
As 12 o'clock came I positioned myself on the top of the bridge and gave a single long blast, we were underway at last.
Following the starting signal my stewarding partner had to leave, and I spent the next few hours walking the bank, offering help and advice and providing suitably sized hooks to some of those taking part. It was going well; the youngsters were obviously enjoying it and everyone was catching fish. We had a few boats through, all of which behaved in an exemplary manner causing little disturbance. It was soon time to return to my vantage point on the bridge to blow the whistle to stop.
The weigh in
As my stewarding partner, Johnathan, had left early, Liam Byrne's (a previous champion and qualified coach) dad generously agreed to help me with the weigh in. We set up the tripod, net and scales and began weighing at peg 103, on the youth section working back towards bridge 23. At the bridge we met up with the ‘Facebook Live' crew who broadcast the weigh in through to peg 7. We had no less than Stu Conroy following us down the bank observing the results. Following completion of the weighing in the results sheets were returned to the HQ, and I supervised the packing up on the bank, ensuring that no litter was left on the towpath.
On returning to the headquarters there was a large crowd of very exited people awaiting the presentation ceremony, with the award of the Angling Direct ‘Goody Bags' assembled earlier by Peter Henery. The presentation done by John Ellis in such style was attended by Richard Parry, the Canal & River Trust, chief executive.
All of the 91 competitors had caught fish, and everyone agreed that they had had a memorable day.
Clearing up, goodbyes and thoughts for the future
After a day like this when all the competitors have left there is still of course the clearing up to do. The remaining stewards set to work in the gloom of the Staffordshire evening, turning the match HQ back into a pub car park, packing up the gazebo and other equipment and saying their goodbyes after the completion of a long day.
Although tired it was immensely satisfying to have played a small part in running an event so obviously enjoyed by all those who took part in it. I'd like to thank John Ellis and Peter Henery who did the bulk of the organising and the rest of the stewarding team on an extremely well run and organised day.
There are always things that can be improved, but part of the process of running an event like this is listening to the feedback and noting the ‘lessons learned' to see what went well and what could be improved, and I know this is already being done.
I see no reason why this event can't quickly grow to be a true celebration of young people's fishing, with people from all backgrounds and cultures enjoying their canal fishing. Let's get the multitude of youth groups, angling clubs and other organisations backed up by Trust coaches working to make next year's event even bigger, better and more inclusive. It's up to us to encourage junior angling if our sport is to prosper.
We'd love to tell you more
Our newsletter is packed full of exciting updates and stories of how our charity keeps canals alive.