Last Sunday I was invited to fish, along with 20 current and future international anglers, the England 'talent' day on the Gloucester Canal at Rea Bridge.
The day before the under 23s held their trials on the stretch between Simms and Rea bridges. It was a difficult day for the lads, a few roach and an odd bream, caught late, made the team selection a difficult job for the management, although the lads who made the effort to practice, in general, were rewarded for their efforts.
Sundays 'talent' day was going to be an equally difficult day. The cold northerly wind, a sharp minus 2 on the morning, bright sunshine and a heavily coloured canal that pulled hard for long periods meant that even some of the best anglers in the world were going to find things 'tough'
This event was organised by the England management to 'showcase' the angling talent we've got, to the angling development board, to help with any grant the angling trust may apply for in the future.
For the anglers it was an opportunity to show the England management team of Mark Downes, Mark Addy, Dick Clegg and Steve Sanders what they could catch, against possibly the best 20 anglers in the country, so everybody was taking it extremely seriously.
Des Shipp and I only live 40 mins from the canal, but we never fish it, I have only fished one CIPS match on it in the last 6 years. It is the type of venue you can always have a nice days pleasure fishing on, but under match conditions it usually means sitting and waiting for the odd pull round from bream averaging 4-5lb, and the end pegs are 'golden', not the type of venue that excites me.
Recently an Angling Trust semi final and a Sensas final on the venue meant that some of the anglers had already spent an awful lot of time on the canal and I felt I needed to put in some practice to catch up, so every opportunity I had in the previous 2 weeks I either fished the venue or walked it to try and get in 'tune' with what is a very unpredictable piece of water.
My practice sessions were very up and down, one day I caught 10 big bream and the next a few pounds of roach, so I quickly learnt the changeable nature of the canal. As always feeding and presentation were the most important factors,a couple of practice sessions with Will Raison meant my confidence was 'high'.
The match was split into 2 smaller matches, the 10 oldest anglers and the 10 youngest anglers fished against each other, 2 of the England under 23s were used as stoppers on each end, and they did a great job. The ages worked out at fourty being the dividing line, this meant that Will was fishing with the young ones and all the rest of the full internationals were fishing against each other in the older match.
The match was split into 2 as one end of the match length is a lot better than the other, and as in a world championship a section of 20 would be split into 2 sections of 10 to make the sharing of points fairer. The fishing was 11 to 3, 4 hours with a 10 minute pre-baiting spell. The basic plan for most competitors was to catch roach short, early and hope for a bream long, late.
When the whistle went to start the 10 minute pre-baiting it was a fairly subdued bombardment at the start, by continental standards, in fact some anglers never threw any bait at all, choosing to cup everything. Steve Gardner was one cupped everything and it took him 15 minutes to place all his balls, 5 minutes after the start he was still shipping his balls of leam.
As I had expected it was a slow start for everybody, except Alan Scothorne who caught a 2lb hybrid almost straight away. In practice I found that 9ft was the best depth for the roach on the near slope, and that is where I put my early efforts, after about 10 minutes I got my first bite and after half an hour I had 6 dumpy roach in the net and I was starting to pull away from the anglers around me.
Two and a half hours into the match I had about 30 dumpy roach and things were looking good, no bream had showed, the hard frost and bright sunshine meant that few bream were likely to get caught, the last hour and a half of my match was very slow, I spent it swapping between a long pole, where I never had a bite, and a short pole getting the occasional roach.
At the whistle I had 30 odd roach, I knew I had beaten the anglers around me, so I was happy with what I had done. When the scales arrived I weighed 1kg 600, a tough but rewarding day, I finished second in my match, beaten only by the 'master' Will Raison who had 2kg 500, a brilliant catch from where he was. Des Shipp won the 'old uns' with 3kg 600, a good day for me and my team mates.
The Gloucester Canal is a very unpredictable piece of water, with very changeable water conditions due to regular pumpimg, the fishing can be brilliant one day and cr*p the next and understanding its moods is very hard, after the match there was a few moans and groans about the venue, but I have seen some world championship and european venues a lot worst. Any international angler needs to be able to 'scratch' a low weight and bag up when its necessary. Commercial baggin venues are great for teaching anglers how to catch fish and the challenges that go with competing against anglers in close proximity, but international anglers need to be able to do the 'dirty' jobs as well, when ounces are needed in bad sections, team matches are won and lost on the bad draws, this is something that is lost from a lot of anglers 'armoury'.
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