June the 17th, 56 fished.
Something completely different today: a teams of eight match at Packington Somers fishery in Warwickshire. The Lucas National is an annual competition that began its life in 1991; that year thirteen teams contested a match on the river Trent at Bass Island, with Bill Hawkes of Marston Green organising the event.
This year there would be seven sides competing, and our team, Shaftmoor Lane, volunteered to host the event – just the second time we have done so in its twenty-six year history. A pretty poor show, really.
When I volunteered to run this year’s contest, I looked no further than Packington Somers: the fishing is fair and the scenery is incredibly beautiful. Also, I trusted fishery manager John Burchell to make the day a success – he is helpful, polite and treats his customers with respect.
The venue had been fishing very well leading up to the contest, the pool record for Molands Mere had been broken twice in as many weeks, and the fish seemed to be feeding confidently on all pools post-spawning.
On the Monday leading up to the match we had a team practice/knock-up on Little Geary’s. I was concerned that fishing what is arguably the best pool on the complex might give us a false-impression of the fishery as a whole. Yet, I also felt it would give everybody some much-needed confidence going into the National. To get an idea of which methods might serve us best, we decided on a half rod/half pole match. I drew peg 15 and spent the first half of the knock-up chucking a pellet feeder to the far bank – this resulted in around a dozen f1s. While fishing the tip I regularly fed balls of sloppy groundbait at 7m, within minutes fish were swirling and flashing through the slop. It was frustrating watching hundreds of f1s feeding on my freebies whilst my tip, for the most part, stayed motionless. When the whistle was blown to signify the start of the second half of the match, I threw in a ball of slop, shipped-out to 7m, laid my rig in and watched yards of elastic stream from my pole tip. This is how it continued for the final two and a half hours; I added around 115lb/120lb to my first half weight, giving me a total of 144lb.
Needless to say, I hoped to draw Little Geary’s come the big day. Not in pursuit of any personal glory, but because I felt I could earn good sections points for the team from this pool.
The weather forecast for the weekend was for extreme high temperatures and little in the way of a breeze – not ideal angling conditions. In fact, as I drove to the fishery in the morning, the temperature gauge on my dashboard read 22 degrees – at 6.45am! Fortunately, I arrived prepared, with plenty of sun cream and 3 litres of cold water.
I arrived at the fishery at 7am and was surprised to see a few anglers already there. I got chatting to a couple of friendly chaps from the Pitstone team; they both seemed quite excited at the day’s fishing ahead.
I set myself up on a table in the corner of the cafe and sorted out the paperwork for the day. I have no previous experience of running a large event of any kind, so in the weeks leading up to the match I made sure all of my preparations were done: printing off weigh sheets, sorting the payout into envelopes, pegging-out the sections. People had travelled from all over the country to fish, so it only seemed right to get things in order our end.
Pre-contest favourites to win the event were Gloucester; they always put out a strong side. Joint second favourites were Marston Green and Fordhouses. Marston Green had a few venue regulars in their side, and are based close enough to the fishery to put in some practice sessions. Fordhouses have some tidy anglers and would definitely be dangerous too.
Our side, Shaftmoor Lane, would be happy with a top-half finish. We had a couple of good anglers absent this year, and some less experienced fishermen filled-in. These lads are excellent if you consider how long they have been fishing, but might find it tough competing with people who have match fished for many years.
Anyway, what we lack in angling ability, we make up for in other ways, as we were clearly the best looking team on the day – which is saying something (see below).
At 9am we made our way outside to claim our pegs. This would involve drawing random sections first, then anglers would draw pegs in their allotted section. This would prevent teams placing anglers on pools which might suit their favoured fishing techniques, which would go against the spirit of the event. The draw ran smoothly, and for myself I pulled out Molands 6.
I hadn’t had time to give my own match any thought, so I asked John Burchell for some direction and decided I’d go with whatever he had to offer. He advised that I fish to the far bank, method feeder and waggler, and long pole shallow. This would suit me as they are methods I enjoy. John also told me that I wasn’t on a great peg, but it wasn’t an awful peg either, so I’d give it a good go.
I set up 3 rods for chucking to the island: a waggler, a method/hybrid, and a straight lead. I also set up several shallow rigs for lassoed pellets, banded casters and a mugging rig, in the hope that some big cruisers might come within pole range. Lastly, I threw together an edge rig, just in case I saw somebody plundering their margins.
This is a sad day for lovers of fine detail – all you shotting pattern anoraks. I’m sorry to say I’m not entering the full details of today’s rigs, because the workings of them soon became, for the most part, inconsequential. More of this later though…
With twenty minutes to spare before the all in I went for a wander, to chat to some of my fellow competitors, and to take in the scenery.
At 11am I blew the whistle for the all in. I then fired some 8mm pellets over to a little cut-out on the far bank and chucked my waggler tight over. I repeated this for 20 minutes, with just one sharp dip on my float to show for my efforts. Then I threw a method feeder over the same line, ten minutes later an f1 of around 2.5lb found itself in my keepnet.
No fish followed this one for the next two and a half hours, I tried all variations of shallow rigs, the lead, a candle, the bomb, a look down the edge – nothing worked. It seemed the fish were happy cruising around, basking in the heat, unwilling to feed. As they were out of pole-range, I tried casting a waggler to dark shapes in the water, but this proved fruitless. Some fish appeared to be pairing-up, ready for another go at spawning.
A quick call to team mate Matt Deakin on the three hour mark confirmed that it was fishing hard for everybody, so I just kept at it. I entered the final 20 minutes of my match with four f1s and a few tiny silvers for around 9lb. The angler to my left had only managed a couple of silvers, so barring him landing a late lump, I wouldn’t be last in section. With ten minutes to go I threw the candle over to the Norfolk Reeds, the water erupted and a proper one was hooked. I can’t remember ever playing a fish so gingerly, I didn’t want to lose this one on such a hot, sticky, tough day. I took my time, and a beautiful carp of around 8-9lb was my reward.
A couple of minutes later, the all-out was called. I sombrely packed my kit away, believing that all of my efforts had been for nothing. When the scales arrived this proved true, my 5 fish and a few bits went 17lb 10oz.
Once my gear was loaded into my car, I made my way up to the clubhouse and waited for John to return with the weigh-sheets. There were tales of woe everywhere, many people had caught just a couple of fish, weighing in low single figure nets. I got talking to an angler from the Gloucester side who had fared slightly better, he’d managed 16lb 8oz.
“… and I got 2nd in section with that”, he told me.
“Where were you drawn?” I asked.
“Bloody hell, that’s my section, which makes me first in section!”
As I set to the task of tallying up the points, it became clear that we’d had a tough day as a team. This was unsurprising in such harsh conditions, and we all gave it our best shot.
Results at the top of the table were incredibly tight, with just a point separating the top two sides.
Once the sheets were checked and double-checked, we went outside and I announced the results in ascending order:
“7th, with 42 points, Pitstone…
6th, with 40 points, Shaftmoor lane…
5th, with 39 points, Lucas Coventry…
4th, with 32 points, Marston Green…
3rd, with 28 points, Great King Street…
2nd, with 22 points, Gloucester…
In first place, with 21 points, this year’s winners, FORDHOUSES!”
The fishing certainly wasn’t good today, but the company made up for it. A lovely match fished with a great bunch of blokes – long may it continue. Marston Green have volunteered take up the reins in 2018, so well done them!
Before I finish I’d like to thank Steve Wheeler, John Burchell and Bill Hawkes for their help organising the event. I’d also like to thank my team mates for all their hard work on the day.
Well done to everybody who fished today – I hope you all went home, applied some aftersun, and enjoyed a few well-deserved beers.
Finally, a special well done to 2017 Lucas National champions, Fordhouses.
Until next time…