Well it had been a long wait this year as with July being winter in South Africa the feeder world champs on Bloemhof dam were to take place in November, the 23rd and 24th to be precise. Having gone out in advance to acclimatize to conditions we felt we had done all we could as a team. Practice had gone well and we felt we had worked a few things out, however until you sit in amongst anglers from other countries you can never be quite sure whether this is the case. So time would tell on this one.
Come the draw we knew some areas were better than others but to be honest on a personal level I just wanted to avoid drawing where there were snags. Practice had shown us that in B section there was an area of about six or seven pegs where they could be a problem so I was keen to avoid this.
A quick word on practice in that as a team we had been very consistent in terms of our catches. As a result of this we felt if we caught ten to twelve carp a man that would give us 20-25 kilos and mega points in the 16 peg sections. So it was important to make every carp count which brings me onto my next point as in hook pulls. The carp in Bloemhof dam seemed to have incredibly soft mouths so hook pulls could be a nightmare, consequently every fish had to be played carefully to make sure it ended up in the net! Pull too hard and they invariably came off so it was all about taking your time and keeping your nerve.
Anyway back to the draw and with manager Tommy Pickering fishing coach Glenn Lawrence was trusted to get us off to a good start at the draw bag. Now if Glenn played poker he would be brilliant as it’s impossible to read his face so on his return until he handed out the numbers we had no idea if he was pleased or not! It soon became apparent though that our draw was pretty mixed and with myself on B7 I knew there was every chance snags could be a real problem. Anyway there was a job to do and after wishing the rest of the team good luck it was off to our respective swims to wait for the hooter to enter the zones.
Approach wise it had been a difficult venue to work out so although we had a plan it was also up to the individual to use his own initiative to get the best from the swim. For me though it was relatively simple, I set up 5 rods all to fish at forty-five metres out. Forty-five metres was a line we had caught a lot of fish at in practice and it also gave us the ability to go further should the need arise. On the rod front I set up three Daiwa 13’ tournament distance feeder rods, these were teamed up with Basia QD reels loaded with 6lb sensor clear mainline and 10lb Tournament ST shock leaders. This might seem quite heavy for the distance involved but I was going to be casting a big feeder and the wind on the dam had a tendency to spring up from nowhere to gale force. In case the wind didn’t get up I also set up two 12-13 Tournaments at 12’, these were teamed with TDR 4012 reels loaded with 8lb Tournament ST mainline. Moving onto feeders my plan was to start off on a large 28 gram cage feeder with two 5 gram add on weights to take it to 38 gram. This was then fished running on the 10lb ST shock leader. In case you are wondering why such a heavy feeder whilst the dam is a still water it towed unbelievably hard at times and it was impossible to hold bottom with anything less when this happened. Hooklength wise I used 50cm of 0.22 Guru N-gauge and a size 10 wide gape hook. As with the rods my end set up might seem a bit over the top to some but bear in mind the carp in the dam are wild and have rarely if ever come across hooks and line in the past. Also with corn being the hookbait of choice and the no hair-rigging rule I wanted to make sure that when the hookbait was on I still had plenty of hook showing.
Lastly on the bait front we as a team had been incredibly fortunate to have been helped by a close friend of Tommy's who put us right on this score. So as a result we used his mix plus flavorings. In layman’s terms just to give you an idea they don’t have the range of different ingredients we have in England so the mix was made up largely of ground up maize, pop corn and a couple of other bits and pieces.
On top of this we also had corn and hemp. In practice we found that hemp seemed to help hold the fish in the swim so this was an important part of our approach. We did have the option of maggots as well but this was without doubt going to be an out and out carp match and they loved corn so we didn’t see the need.
Now in the world feeder championships whilst we fish for five hours we also have a ten-minute prebaiting period. So when the first hooter went I put two big cage feeders in packed with corn and hemp. This might not seem like much but again we had found in practice that the carp were quite wary at the start so it was best to feel your way in and attack the peg later on if you felt it would take it. The ten-minute prebaiting period was soon over and when the next hooter sounded it was all in. The first cast is always the worst and in a world championship this is particularly true. My first cast though was a good one and the feeder landed spot on and after taking the clip off and slackening the drag it was a case of waiting for a bite. A quick point here in that although I fished clipped up for accuracy I also marked the line with a line marker pen which allowed me once the feeder was in the water to take the clip off so that when I got a bite I didn’t have to worry about anything other than playing the fish. Then once the fish was landed I could use the mark on the line to get clipped back up to the correct spot. The bites from the carp in South Africa were nothing short of explosive hence slackening the drag and taking the clip off as in practice we had seen several anglers have their rods pulled in!
Back to the match and the plan was to cast every fifteen minutes to start with, it seemed in practice that ten to fifteen minutes was the optimum bite time so this was done to take this into account. Sure enough just as I was starting to think about a second cast the tip twitched and dropped back. Upon picking up it was clear the culprit wasn’t a carp and a very welcome yellow fish was soon in the net and the nerves were settled! Next cast and right on the nine-minute mark the rod tip headed for the water and the culprit was definitely no yellow fish. After a lengthy battle carp number one was soon in the net and at around 3 kilo I was up and running.
My dad was my runner and early word on the bank suggested there were a few fish coming out so it was a case of heads down for the first hour at the end of which I had eight carp, one yellow fish plus a grass carp of around 3lb. The only downside to this was that whilst in practice the smallest carp we had seen was around a kilo, of my eight, six of them were less than a pound! When you consider the size of the dam this was amazing and to honest a bit unexpected that having spent five full days on the match length these fish had chosen match day to arrive!
Hour 2 was best described as steady, I was up to 18 fish although mostly small and word on the bank was that I was lying second in the section behind the Czech who had made a lightening start with some proper carp. The word on the rest of the team was also good although it seemed South Africa as the home nation had started brilliantly. Tactics wise I was alternating between dropping right on top of my bait and fishing just past it. When it went quiet we as a team had found that a quick chuck five metres past the bait would pick up a bonus fish. It was then a case of dropping back on the bait to pick up a couple more as if you kept casting past eventually you just pushed the carp further and further out.
It was hour three for me where the match started to take a turn for the worse. Up until this point the dam had been towing hard almost like a river, but on the two-hour mark it just stopped. At the time this didn’t worry me too much as it had happened a lot in practice. The downside though quickly became apparent as the next fish I hooked snagged me solid and was lost. In fact to cut a long story short my peg turned into a nightmare as my next ten fish were all lost in snags. I can only think that when the dam was towing the snags were kept pinned to the bottom by the tow. As soon as it stopped though they rose up and became a big problem. It didn’t seem to matter what I tried either as I couldn’t get a fish back and with just ninety minutes of the match now left I was running out of time. My section second was now looking like a fifth or sixth and whilst I was hooking carp on a regular basis I just wasn’t putting anything in the net. It was at this point though I had a bit of luck if you can call it that as the next time the tip went round whilst the fish snagged me upon pulling for a break something started to move. Eventually after a lot of pulling a load of line and feeders came to the surface and one big pull saw the line break and the whole lot dropped to the bottom. Had I finally cleared the snag? Next cast saw no bite so with time running out I put two quick feeders in loaded with hemp and corn and dropped my feeder right on top. Within seconds of putting the rod down the tip flew round and a decent carp was on and soon in the net with no sign of any snags. The only question now though was could I catch up?
The last hour for me was brilliant, I got into a rhythm of putting a big feeder in, then casting straight on top of it which would see an immediate bite. The carp were really homing in on the bait and looking around no one seemed to be catching and I was moving back up the section fast. The only downside came with forty five seconds to go, the tip arched round and with the rules stating that any hooked fish has to be in the net and clear of the water I knew I had no option but to pull. The carp which felt decent started to come and then just as I started to gain some line the hook pulled out. The hooter to finish soon followed it and my Dad quickly informed I was looking at 3rd in section behind the Czech angler plus the South African.
When the scales arrived the Czechs 26 kilo 200g was winning the section and when I pulled my net out I really thought I had that. Sadly though I didn’t and had to settle for 25 kilo 850g and the knowledge that just one of the lost fish in the snags would have put me in front. On a brighter note though as the scales progressed I managed to hang onto second place in the section. Better still as the results started to filter in from other sections it became apparent we had done well as a team. Adam Wakelin was second in A section, I was second in B, my brother Phil was 4th in C, and then Mick vials put another 4th on the board in D with Tommy matching that in E. A sixteen-point total looked decent, but rumour had it South Africa had won 3 sections plus had a second in one of the others! Fortunately though there last result was a ninth so at the halfway point South Africa led the way with fifteen points but we were only a point adrift on sixteen with Hungary two points further back on eighteen. It was very much all to play for on day two!