Tales of a pike angler at the 2021 Division Two National
As a member of the Canal & River Trust fisheries and angling team I was well aware of the Division 2 National Championships. I am by no stretch of the imagination a canal match angler, in fact the last time I competed in a match of any sort was on the River Trent around 35 years ago! Back then I fished with rod and reel in the traditional Nottingham style and it is only very recently that I picked up a pole for the first time.
Let's Fish! coaching
My forced conversion to using a pole is mainly due to my completing a Level 1 angling coaching certificate and helping out coaching at several Lets Fish events this year. At these events ,we typically start anglers off on their fishing journey by coaching them to use short take apart poles. We find that this offers the best bait presentation thus leading to better catch rates. As it turned out, it was only in the week prior to the national that I first used a pole at a full 10 metres. Putting it mildly, I was very inexperienced. My first outing with a full length pole quickly made me realise why many match anglers utilise a pole support bar connected to their boxes. Recognising a rod rest just wouldn't cut it, I decided to fashion my own pole support bar. This used a sturdy screw in type rod rest with an old alarm buzz bar with some pipe lagging cable tied to it.
A very select national team
For some reason, I was invited by my colleagues to fish the division two national held on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. I am not sure if this was down to my angling prowess or the fact the team were short? Some would say very short indeed, maybe possibly even shorter than John Ellis himself. The day of the competition arrived. I left home at 4.45 am to travel to Gloucester. I arrived in good time at the pub where we had arranged to meet for breakfast. After a hearty full English, we headed off to our respective sections.
Fifteen minutes later, I pulled up at the canal in the pretty little village of Purton and was invited to park by the friendly Angling Trust volunteer stewards. The steward asked my peg number, cheerfully he mentioned that the good news was that I didn't have far to walk but unfortunately he did predict that I would struggle as it wasn't known to be a great peg.
I was right next to Purton upper swing bridge, which turned out to be very busy frequently opening and closing for boats, with the accompanying alarm signalling that the road barrier was coming down. It turned out there was also a paddleboard hire centre on the other side of the bridge. Lots of cheery paddle boarders came past, all of whom were courteous and stayed near the far bank. Fortunately, the only person who fell in off their board kindly waited until the final whistle had blown before plunging into my peg!
Settling in at my peg, I actually quite liked the look of it as it had marginal vegetation on either side on the towpath bank. I had a couple of hours to set up so plumbed up a couple of marks and also set up a feeder rod to fish the far bank. The ‘all in' shout came at 11am. I busily got some bait in the water to the three marks I had decided to fish. I figured I would try the near margin first, against the emergent vegetation. My float went under first chuck, a tiny rudd was on my line. It was a small fish, but hey, I hadn't blanked I thought as I popped it in the keepnet. I caught a couple more similar sized rudd and roach which helped settle the nerves further.
I then had a sail away bite and lifted into a better fish. This is more like it I thought. I shipped my pole back and noticed it was a skimmer of about 4oz. All of a sudden, a pike of around 4lb grabbed the fish and swam off with it. I had it on for about 20 seconds before I was snapped off. Disaster! I quickly re-rigged and fished the other marks. I hooked another better fish from the middle line on the pole. Shipping in, still not seeing what I had hooked, a pike cleared the water and took my fish, snapping me off instantly. Needless to say, the bites in my peg were few and far between by now. By the time the ‘all out' call came, I had been snapped off by the pike once again. That was the third decent fish I had lost to the toothy critter!
I started to pack up and waited for the weigh in. Speaking to the guys weighing in, they said that J had been a tough section with some anglers not troubling the scalesmen at all. Although I wasn't exactly chuffed with my massive haul of 180g, I wasn't quite humiliated, as I wasn't last in my section. News from other team colleagues was not especially encouraging.
Captain Carl Nicholls, who finished runner up in the 2017 event and who is normally a banker for decent points, had struggled in A section as had a number of other colleagues. There were to be no team medals, visit to the winners rostrum or even an unexpected promotion to Division One for us.
It turned out to be the Canal & River Trust lowest team finish since we began entering these championships back in 2016. Our fiercest battle was with the Angling Trust staff team who finished four places above us this year and thus have the bragging rights for the next 12 months. Perhaps the only consolation is that if the bottom 10 teams had all been relegated, as they are in Division One, then we could have resumed the friendly rivalry again in 2022.
So, what did I make of my first Angling Trust Division Two National? Well, I thought it was well organised and a friendly event with great camaraderie and atmosphere amongst the participants and stewards alike. I enjoyed the challenge of the venue, despite not catching much! I can now better appreciate why people say that a team will never win a national on this canal by being lucky or to just having one plan of attack. I certainly had a plan of how I was going to fish the venue and executed that on the day to the best of my ability but I guess it is debatable as to whether it was a good plan or not.
I can speculate all I like on how a top class match angler might have performed on my peg but the truth is we will never know for sure. As a predator angler first and foremost, the irony of being tormented by a pike for the duration of the match wasn't lost on me. I can't say I wasn't a little annoyed about it, but I did see the funny side! Would I fish it again? Well the answer is yes, but I guess this is dependant as to whether I get selected.
Last Edited: 09 November 2021
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