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The Ladies National Championships: the early years

Amongst the Victorian aristocracy, fly fishing was a perfectly normal activity for the well-to-do ladies of that generation. But amongst the workers in that era, we find relatively few recorded examples of female anglers.

Pat Hanson from Lincoln

We know that girls can't fish!

In 1928 the Dundee Courier reported on the All England national as follows: ‘No woman took part in the contest, for girls cannot fish because they talk too much. They will wriggle lines to attract the attention of fish and are too impatient.' That reporter has obviously not been to a Let's Fish! event or the National Celebration of Young People and Fishing.


A few pioneering women made their national debuts back in the 1930s, Mrs Bert Barnes the Newark landlady and CALPAC's Miss Carter leading the way in 1935. Mrs Poole became the first woman to fish back-to-back nationals, representing North Staffs in the 1937 Gloucester Canal National and again the following year on the Great Ouse. More about pioneering ladies of the national.

Birth of the Women's National Championships

After the war, interest in fishing amongst the fairer sex increased, and it was only a matter of time before a women's national championship was held. As with so many things fishing, there was controversy about venue choice and even who should organise the event.

It wasn't until 1974 that the event became formally incorporated into the National Federation of Anglers governing body fold. The first event was held in 1963 on the Warwickshire Avon in and around Pershore, won by Manchester's Mrs Harrison who recorded 3-9-8.

Unusual winning tactics

The 1969 ladies national title was awarded to Sheffield's Mrs Marjorie Gawthorne after an almighty post-match furore. She triumphed in circumstances which might be unique in match angling history. The only fish she landed did not take her bait.

It was a pike who grabbed her swingtip as it dangled in the water, and incredibly, the pike hung on long enough for the good lady to haul it onto dry land. Although the fish seemed not to have been landed by fair rod and line angling, the precise situation was not, in the opinion of the match officials, covered by the rules. It also happened too out of the season for pike locally at that time.

But the officials let the result stand. The 1968 match winner, Leicester's Iris Saunders was not best pleased for she would have had the honour of the first woman to have taken the title twice. We certainly think if social media had been around back then, a good few eyebrows would have been raised.

Challenging venues

Those early years saw few high weights recorded. The 1967 event on the Trent & Mersey was more noteworthy for a husband of one of the competitors being knocked into the water by a horse-drawn barge, rather than for the winning weight of 1lb 4 ounces. Luckily, he emerged with nothing more than hurt pride. At least all the participants, and typically these numbered up to 100 strong in those early years, were all just one fish away from national glory.

The 1971 event on the Warks Avon was no better. Just shy of 100 lined up and six ounces eight drams was good enough for joint tenth spot was most anglers blanking. The winner, Lincoln's Pat Hanson who worked in her local tackle shop landed just one bream of 1lb 13oz, but it was enough to comfortably beating Gladys Edwards (Chesterfield) who recorded 15oz 8 drams for the runner-up spot.

The tenth event was held on a series of stillwaters, Woburn Abbey lakes. The winner this time with three decent tench was Alice Smith. Alice christened the angling granny by the press at the time who pipped another angling granny, Stoke-on-Trent's Carol Hand to the title.

Pat's bream

Winners’ list

Do you know anyone that fished in these early championships? If you do, drop us an email at [email protected]. We would love to hear from them!

Last Edited: 03 July 2023

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