September the 8th and 9th, 21 fished.
Tony Corbett’s Somerset Bonanza takes place in the second weekend of September, it is a mini-festival of fishing which is now in its sixth season, this year’s event would be held over the following venues: two matches at Shiplate Farm, one at Landsend Fishery, then finally back to Shiplate Farm.
Twenty-one Brummies (okay, we invite a few of our Black Country cousins, so almost Brummies) make the 110 mile journey down the M5 for four fantastic days of bagging up, drinking and general pissaboutery.
Lots of fun is had and many pints are sank, but at the end of the festival we would all be hoping to take home this object of undeniable beauty…
Not one to make the planning of such matters undemanding, Tony decided that for this year’s event he would split us into 4 groups determined by both angling ability and previous fishing results in Somerset. I had been placed in group B, but anybody could be promoted (with a top-of-the-group finish) or relegated (with a bottom-of-the-group finish.) Sections would be drawn completely at random, so it would be possible to find yourself placed in a section with 4 anglers from ‘A’ group, or equally as likely 4 from ‘D’, but the most probable scenario would be that you would end up in a section made up of a combination of anglers from any of the given ‘gradings’. Whichever section you found yourself placed in, you would be fishing against anglers from your own group – A, B, C or D – based on weight, wherever they may be on the fishery (are you with me?)
To make things more punishing for himself, Tony also decided he would run a separate team event, the members of each side would be made up of an angler drawn from each group, but, as we had an extra man in group A, he would be awarded to the team with the lowest points total at the end of the first day’s fishing (quite complicated isn’t it?) Also, to prevent an angler from drawing on the same pool at Shiplate Farm 3 times, any angler who drew on Main Lake the first day would then swap over to one of the canal pools the following day, and vice versa; the last day’s contest would be drawn using the popular ‘rover’ format.
To add a little spice to this year’s proceedings, Tony decided to introduce the use of a ‘wildcard’: basically, any angler wearing red underpants can claim double points that day, but is permitted to wear them for just one contest and must declare it pre-draw (okay, I made that bit up.)
I may jest, but I can only admire Tony’s organizational skills, aside from booking the caravans and the venues, arranging eating places for breakfast and dinner, he tallies-up the points and figures-out each possible permutation fishing-wise – all of this with a gallon of Thatcher’s Haze inside him!
At 6am travelling partner Joe arrived in his van and we loaded it up with a ridiculous amount of gear. The bait alone weighed an absolute ton, we had with us: 30 pints of 6mm pellets, 15 pints of 8mm pellets, 10 pints of 2mm pellets, 6 pints of 4mm pellets, 12 tins of meat, 12 tins of corn, 5 large bags of groundbait and ten pints of dead maggots – oh, and we also had some socks and deodorant and stuff.
Driving down the M5 it was clear the weather forecasters had got it right for once, with a prediction of rain, gales and a possibility of electrical storms come the afternoon. Also, this was the outlook for the entire weekend – perfect fishing conditions then!
At 8am we met at Ollie’s cafe in Highbridge for a bite to eat, before heading off to Shiplate farm where we all hoped to draw a good peg to get our festival off to a flying start.
Queueing up to draw I decided to wait towards the back of the line, in the hope that most of the bad pegs would be taken – conversely all of the good pegs could be out of the hat by the time I got a pick. Ollie Corbett was obviously following a similar line of thinking to mine as he insisted he get the last remaining ticket. Once it was my turn, I asked Gary Butler to have a dip for me: he reached in, looked me in the eye and said “okay son, but don’t blame me if it’s bad.”
Well, it couldn’t have been any worse: peg 6 on Main Lake. An area that has been very poor in previous festivals; so poor in fact, that Tony walked around the fishery pre-match to see if there was another peg he could use to replace it.
To make matters worse, the other peg that had been left in the hat was the infamous peg 1 on Main Lake, and having drawn it Ollie Corbett was spinning around and yapping like a puppy with a new squeaky toy (not that I’m jealous or anything.)
I refuse to wholeheartedly blame Gary Butler for getting my festival off to a bad start, but I did feel a bit like this…
Once I’d had a lovely little cry in the car park, I made the short walk to my peg and vowed to give it a go. I planned on fishing a steady “damage limitation” match and hopefully one or two anglers in my group would suffer a poor day. Looking at the positive aspects of my draw, I did have plenty of room, with nobody on my right all the way down to peg 2 and nobody left until peg 8. I also had an island chuck, but for some reason this tactic rarely produces at Shiplate Farm.
I set up a bomb, pellet feeder (my thinking: they see an awful lot of method feeders and it might offer a different presentation) and waggler, all for fishing out towards the island. For the pole I set up a rig for fishing pellets on the deck in 5 feet of water, two shallow rigs for over the same line and finally, a rig for fishing down to my right on the only flat-spot I could find in my margins – my left hand edge was full of boulders.
At 11am the all-in was called; I fed a small amount of pellets onto my long pole line, then threw a straight lead with an orange wafter and PVA bag over to the island. A biteless 20 minutes on this left me reaching for the pellet feeder, which I cast slightly off the island, this also failed to produce. One last fruitless chuck on the bomb and it was time to come in and try the pole line, which I had been feeding with 6mm pellets by catapult since the match began.
I started on the deck and instantly had indications, this gave me a little much-needed confidence. The problem was, the 3 fish I hooked in the next half an hour were hooked somewhere other than the mouth, and inevitably I lost every one.
A half hour stint shallow on the long pole line produced more foul-hooked fish, so I entered the two hour period of the contest with nothing in the net – I was however, beginning to amass quite a collection of scales on my side tray, some of which were mighty.
I won’t bore you too much with the finer details of the last three hours of my match… as there aren’t any. I finally hooked some fish, eight in total, by throwing a bomb just beyond my long pole line. I got six of the eight out; one came off inexplicably on the way back, the other I lost due to bad angling.
My six fish were small by Main Lake standards, taking the scales round to 37lb. Although I was a little disappointed with how my match had panned-out, it could have been a lot worse – and at least I found a few in the end.
My decision to fish a cautious match also proved the right one to some extent, as it left me mid-place in section. It was already unlikely I would win the festival, but at least I’d avoided a complete blow-out and relegation into division C.
Following the scales around it became evident it hadn’t fished brilliantly by Shiplate standards, but there were still some excellent weights, the best of which was taken by Ollie Corbett on peg 1 with 136lb of edge-caught munters. A great draw but you’ve still got to catch them, well done.
Although the venue hadn’t fished, we were all left surprised by Jim Smith’s return of 14lb 12oz. See, our portly Chinese friend won last year’s festival with a perfect score of 4 points and was tipped to go close again this time – but that’s angling!
There were some notable first day performances: Joe Wood on West peg 2 with 87lb; Peter Holtham on unfancied Main peg 8 with 61lb, all caught in the last half an hour down the edge at 3 pieces (that’s right ‘pieces’! They’re not called pole ‘sections’ anymore then, Pete?). But day one’s Man of the Match award goes to Tony Corbett, with 127lb from peg 4 West, making it a father-and-son one-two in the process.
After a heavy night out in Burnham-on-Sea I woke with a roaring hangover, and it appeared that everybody in the caravan was in a similair state. As we lay on the sofa attempting a little last-minute shut-eye before it was time to leave, Papa Timms whispered to me “see last night, I think I was spiked.”
Well, I spent much of the evening with Val Timms and can confirm that his suspicions are well-founded, as I witnessed him ‘spiking himself’ with a good 15 double vodkas – and several sour shots between rounds.
Arriving at the fishery it was clear that everybody was suffering – some more than others, but Gary Butler was surprisingly chipper after a lively evening in the Somerset and Dorset, where he struck-up a peculiar new friendship with a fire extinguisher…
After his uneventful contest on day one of the festival, it was decided a contingency plan ought to be put in place in case Jim Smith suffered a similar lack of action, so Graham Greene very generously purchased a colouring book and presented it to Jim pre-match.
After a draw on the Main lake yesterday, I would be on one of the two canals for this contest. I enjoy snake-lake fishing, pushing rigs into little rat-holes on the far bank, firing a few pellets over, lifting and dropping – and occasionally, when they’re really ‘having it’, the pole tip is dragged into the water.
Into the hat and I pulled out number 2 on Hawthorn, another huge disappointment and possibly 2nd worst of the 21 pegs being used in the festival – yesterday’s being the worst. I’m not generally one to complain about draws, I have as many good ones as the next angler, but surely my luck had to change soon. On the previous day’s contest Nelly Palmer drew the same peg and weighed in 18lb, hopefully I’d have a better day.
For company today I had this fine gentleman, Tony Taylor…
Having fished Hawthorn in last year’s festival, albeit in a much stronger area towards the middle of the pool, I remembered that fishing hard pellet across was the way to go. I also remembered that edge fishing was almost impossible on many pegs as there were nearside reeds with around 5ft of water tight to them – far too deep for this time of year. So I based my match around fishing two spots to the far bank, although a couple of short pole rigs were assembled, just in case.
At 11.30 the all-in was called. Not ready to suffer a hangover just yet, I cracked open a can of Thatcher’s Gold, then I popped a pellet into a lasso and shipped out 14m to the far bank. The first hour went along nicely, I probably just bettered Nelly’s first day weight in this period, with seven small carp. The second hour of the contest continued in much the same manner, pushing a .1 Hillbilly Grizzly tight into the far bank and catching the odd fish in 10 inches of water. It was only as we entered the third hour that I began to struggle, the hangover really kicked-in and I lost my way: catching rigs in the far bank foliage, firing pellets with no accuracy, losing fish at the net – an absolute shambles.
Rather than sit, take a deep breath (or sip of cider) and get my act together, I tried various methods that I just knew wouldn’t work. I even tried slapping a pellet around in a torrential downpour, but the rig made less noise on the water’s surface than the raindrops – the like of which I’ve never seen before.
I added very little to my total in the third hour of the contest, but come the fourth hour I had a serious word with myself and finally caught some fish back across. By feeding one line whilst fishing the other, giving my swims a little time to rest, I steadily put fish into the net right up to the whistle.
Bar my hangover-induced meltdown mid-contest, I felt I’d fished a pretty tidy match, and believed I had 60lb plus to show for my efforts. I didn’t for one minute think I could compete with the pegs at the far end of the pool, but you can only fish the peg you draw, and I was reasonably pleased with how things had gone.
As I packed away, I was joined by this red-faced fowl (a Muscovy Duck?) who had taken a liking to my pellets. I’m not sure if it was the doomer existential hangover gripping me, but I was truly shit-scared of the thing…
Once I had escaped the duck, I followed the scales around; it was clear the venue had fished far better than it had on day one. Team mate Graham Green won West Pool with 95lb, caught on meat short down to his right. We then made our way around the high numbers of Main Lake and this had produced some reasonable weights too. Next up it was Hawthorn, where there had been an incredibly close next peg battle between Ollie Corbett and Jim Smith; Ollie just edging it 122lb 9oz to 121lb 12oz. Next it was down to our end of the pool and Tony Taylor tipped a hard-earned 55lb on to the scales, before my two nets took the dial round to 79lb.
Finally, we had the last two anglers to weigh: on peg 2 Main Lake Val Timms tipped 7lb 4oz onto the scales (perhaps he was spiked!) Next up though was Joe Wood on yesterday’s winning peg 1 who managed a fantastic weight of 138lb to win the match outright and achieve his second promotion in as many days, taking him from group C to A. Well done that man!
Day two’s Man of the Match award goes to Paul Timms with 77lb from peg 14 West Pool, a great weight from an average-at-best area. Well done, mate.
After two days and two poor draws, I had already resigned myself to mid-table mediocrity. At the top of the table though, things were getting very interesting, with Joe and Ollie tied on a perfect two point score and plenty still to play for.
Until next time…