I think Tom Pickering recently expressed a view that the top six feeder anglers in the country fish for England at the moment… and they would all be on the bank for this event. It was going to be a tall order to tackle them in this teams of five match and win, whatever the venue, home advantage or otherwise.
One thing that did surprise me was the degree of difficulty in getting teams to enter this event. The end of September date was an issue as it clashed with some Irish festivals, with ‘Thames month’ and with RiverFests in full swing, so we were unable to get the numbers of teams entered that I would have liked, but the teams that did enter were the best at this game – no doubt.
For those of you who haven’t fished to these international feeder rules then the simple principles are: minimum hooklength needs to be 50 centimetres from bottom of feeder to hook; feeders totally free running; all bait must be fed only via the feeder. After that the bait limits, match times and arrangements are about the same as all the other international rules.
Given that the venue is local we decided we would not practise during the three days before the actual event, preferring to watch and learn from others in that period rather than give anything away. So I organised two practice matches in the weeks before the event to give us all a chance to get used to the rules.
The first match was a real bream fest for many with all the pegs in the 40s – the famous Hempsted Bend – recording double figures, with the winner weighing 42lb, and second place 41lb. The pegs in the 60s though showed the other side of the venue with a very close result, three anglers having between 4lb 14oz and 5lb 2oz, with the latter weight taking the section.
We were already on a sharp learning curve… the need for proper bait-up feeders, the need to use a clock to time the changes of line so you kept them fed and alive, and perhaps most important of all the significance of the last half-hour and the bream moving to the 13m line to feed! Personally I was on Peg 61, two eels on the 5m line, with a bream at 13 metres with an hour to go gave me 4lb 14oz and an “almost” section win.
In the week before the first match and between the first and second practice match we started to see some teams practising. It’s fair to say that a lot of fish were being caught, both bream and roach, although Phil Ringer did suggest it was “a man’s venue!” after his session in the 60s. It certainly isn’t a place for the faint-hearted; it can show an amazing head of fish one day, only to kick you in the teeth with hardly a bite the next.
For the second practice match we used the Hempsted Straight. Again we saw some good weights, the winner Andy Jane from local side Sensas Lobby’s tackle catching 23lb off the end peg next to the rowing club, with Daiwa Gordon League men Shaun Bryan catching 16lb from the middle of the match length and Nigel Evans catching a similar weight from the other end Peg 40.
For many though, it was hard as the influence of colour and cold water entering the canal from high tides on the river becoming evident with some anglers recording few bites. Four of the Ringers Baits team had fished it the Tuesday before the match, all catching well. Some of our anglers were actually doing well catching roach on liquidised bread feeder and pinkie during the week. In the match itself though, Phil struggled for just one skimmer. As I said, it is a fickle place.
My match was very straightforward, blank for four-and-a-half hours, one bite at 13 metres for one bream of 3lb and about halfway in the section.
We use social media to do a lot of our tactical discussions and a pattern was beginning to become clear. The colour was affecting the fishing – the roach weren’t feeding and the bream seemed to want to be up the shelves in the shallower water. The 12/13m line was the exception here, where bream would show late – the benefit of this line is you could spod bait here in much the same way as you would “ball it” on the pole line and when you caught here they were generally “proper” bream.
The bream were responding to fishmeal, not fishmeal mixed with anything, just fishmeal with Sweet F1, perhaps with some Ringers Sweet Feeder added being the number-one mix. Hook bait was redworm all the way.
An unfortunate consequence of the colour though, was that liquidised bread for bags of roach – it really is unbeatable – was not effective or worthwhile, even though we had caught fish on it during practice. So we agreed to watch the canal’s condition in the final week and study what the other teams were doing to see if we had missed anything.
On both the Friday and the Thursday before the match there were a lot of anglers on the venue; nearly all the teams in fact, and one thing you can say about the Gloucester is that it can take the angling pressure. The pattern we observed was the same both days, with pockets of fish in odd areas and on odd pegs, with the rest struggling to catch skimmers, eels or anything. The canal is used to pump river water from the Severn to Bristol for drinking – that cold coloured water was taking a toll on the fishing.
On the morning of the match, if anything the colour was thicker, so the team talk was easy: Don’t take bread, with the cold coloured water we would need to catch quality fish. Also, don’t be tempted to scale down bait or tackle as the bigger bream would be spread out in the coloured water – they could be caught from any peg – and also would be less affected by the cold. Finally, we expected the bream to be caught up the far shelf and possibly at five metres, but the 12/13m line would work late, so don’t neglect it during the five hours as any bites at all would be from “proper” bream.
The key message was don’t stop trying because this could be won and lost in the last 30 minutes. In terms of feed, chopped worm was vital (there was a half-kilo limit though), squatts vital, joker allowed so you just need to put it in, don’t you, you get the picture, and perhaps most vital of all redworms for hook bait – movement and smell are vital for the fish to find your bait in that soup!
The other thing we had realised is that big fish need a lot of feed to hold them up, so don’t reduce the feed if it’s hard. A 20-minute cycle between the three lines of five, 13 and 40 metres seemed to give you the best chance of intercepting a bream.
There were only five teams in the event but they were the crème de la crème of feeder fishing, so the sections ran: 25 to 29, 30 to 35 (32 lost to a boat), 36 to 40, 41 to 45 and 46 to 50. It’s hard to say there was a good or bad draw in this lot, the distribution of anglers was random, the end pegs presented some advantage but not a lot in the colour – but what I do know is that it doesn’t help morale when your non-fishing team-mates start telling you how bad your draw is. A quick remark soon stopped that nonsense!
If I take you through my match – which I would best describe as a stressful affair – I spodded in four big ones (non fishmeal) at five metres, eight big ones at 13 metres and six smaller ones at 40 metres. This took me across to a shallower ledge where we thought the bream would be, given the conditions. Starting on the long line I soon started to lose kit. That was fixed by swapping from a cage feeder to a plastic feeder, frustrating and stressful. I was able to get slight indications on all my lines, but three hours in I hadn’t turned these into a fish. Neither had the rest of the section until James Dent, fishing for Barnsley on my right, spoilt it by catching two small skimmers in quick succession.
It’s easy to say “stay calm”; believe me it’s difficult to do in practice. I stuck at it though, and then had a real bite on my 40m line, in about eight feet of water and a skimmer about a pound was landed. Relief! Then the end Peg 25 caught his first and another in quick succession – but they looked smaller than mine. Ninety minutes to go and a swap to the 13m line brought a bite straightaway. It felt foul hooked but in any case came off on the way back in. Next chuck and another bite, this time a 4lb bream was landed! It’s still stressful though, because I am now leading the section – but that could change with the next bite recorded in the section!
Messages down the bank were that everyone had caught and it was very tight, with the runners actually unable to call how things stood because of the way sections were changing regularly through the last hour. I stuck at the 20-minute rotation then with about 30 minutes to go another bite on 13 metres and another skimmer of about 1½lb. Still stressful, but decided that I would stay on that line; alas one more touch but no real bites, and that was it, all over.
Although we felt that the shallower ledges would be where the bream were it was clear that cold overnight temperatures meant this was not the case, with the 13m line being by far the best.
I weighed 6lb 6oz for a clear section win. Ruben Guerra in the next section – he was the first of our team to catch during the five hours, actually on the 5m line, a line we had to ourselves – weighed 3lb dead for a section third. Next was Phil Bendal. Phil’s section had been a topsy-turvy one but he had caught three bream on the 12m line in the last hour for 11lb and another section win for us. The next section saw us with an iffy draw, Pegs 41 to 45 was the section, with the higher pegs definitely the better ones and with Steve Ringer on 45 and a local guest for Trentmen, Andy Richins, on 44 we would struggle to get good points here. Andy actually took the battle with Steve, 31lb to 22lb. For us Shaun Bryan had fourth with 9lb, exactly what I would have expected from that peg – beating those to his left but not his right, but he made a fight of it for sure.
Finally, to the last section the famous Hempsted Bend, where we had Nigel Evans on Peg 48. The rumours were he had been badly beaten up by Lee Kerry on 46 and the Derby Railway angler on 47. The weigh in told a different story though, with five bream for Nigel in the last 45 minutes on that magic 13m line turning the section on its head. It’s true that every time on the canal in these international matches that 13m line gets stronger and stronger the more the venue is practised. Nigel’s late burst gave him 22lb and a section second.
That was it, we had won; 11 penalty points with Trentmen and Ringers on 12, Trentmen edging it by virtue of Andy Richens winning the head-to-head with Steve Ringer.
The Gloucester Canal is a very technical venue. It’s Marmite, you either love it or hate it, but it always delivers a close, tense competition, and so it was for this event. What I found very special was that every member of the Barnsley team came back and shook our hands and congratulated us. Glen Lawrence was very quick to say how much they like the challenge of the canal – and that’s true of many that visit.
I would like to thank all those teams that entered and we are very much looking forward to Portugal and getting help from all those who have been before! Overall, the pegging, the parking, the trusty Gordon League headquarters, the tactics and the win – it all went very well. Daiwa Gordon League’s excellent season continues!