Tales Of The Riverbank – Part Seven
Adapting, Adopting And Improving
I wouldn’t have missed my years in club match angling for the world because this was my training ground, my apprenticeship if you like. I was a bit keen mind…
I still have my diaries from the time and they make fascinating reading, full of analysis and ideas to try. Inside the front cover there are two slogans, ‘Those who fail to prepare should prepare to fail’ is the first. The other is my mantra, ‘Adopt – Adapt – Improve’.
Weirdly, and I’ve only ever written about that slogan once, a guy came up while I was filming the Lee Swords section for Barbel Days And Ways, Volume One, on the Trent and he said, “It’s Bob, isn’t it? Adopt, adapt, improve!”
The effort I put in back then was enormous but it paid off handsomely.
In order to master a particular method I would concentrate solely on that method for the biggest part of a season, adopting, adapting and improving.
In my search for answers I would sit behind good anglers and watch everything they did, I would interrogate tackle dealers with the zeal of a Gestapo agent, I wrote letters to editors and my circle of friends was dominated by anglers.
I read every book and magazine I could lay my hands on and my collection of videos extensive. Even to this day I have a file of articles culled from the press. Articles by Ivan Marks, Ian Heaps, Kevin Ashurst, John Dean, and from the flip side of the coin Jim Gibbinson and Rod Hutchinson.
Inspirational figures. If I was ever struggling I’d say to myself, “What would Kevin Ashurst do now?”
I also filed away a series of articles about the UK’s leading rivers. These were places that one day I might fish, for I dreamed of travelling to fish exotic venues like the Bure and the Stour.
I’d love to think that I’d begun my angling journey with some kind of a plan, but there never was one. I have simply done whatever I fancied, whenever the inspiration has grabbed me. And when I grew bored with something I’d seek out another challenge.
Only in my club match angling years was there anything remotely like a plan and that was because I wanted so badly to be able to fish a stick float well, then a waggler, a groundbait feeder, a blockend, the straight lead, flooded rivers, the balsa and so on.
I’m sure I achieved those goals yet I’m still learning every day. The key, as ever, is to listen to everyone, absorb the important details and then analyze everything. Never copy slavishly, just take a pinch of this and mix it with that. Combine the styles, the techniques and the theories. The answers are out there.
Adopt, adapt, improve.
Try it, you might be surprised.
Striving To Be The Best
The ultimate accolade for a club match angler hailing from South Yorkshire in the 1970’s and eighties was surely to win the Green Un Club Match Angler Championship. This was a 200 peg match organised by Colin Dyson through the local sports paper, the Green Un. To get into the match you had to submit your club’s results and the top 100 winning weights in summer plus the top 100 winter weights went through.
The match was heavily sponsored, usually by a brewery back then and the winner picked up a grand or so. Bearing in mind that we’re talking 20 years and more ago, a thousand pounds was a considerable sum of money.
Alas I never won it, but I did finish top ten and I was once two pegs from the winner who netted a couple of carp from a peg below Burton Joyce. I lost a carp that day that might have been enough to catch him.
Today I run the match. The 2009 final will be my thirteenth year in charge and I wonder sometimes where the time has gone. Thanks to record entries the individual winner now gets over £2,000 and the combined payouts for the final and semi final this season will total more than £8,000.
It takes at least a couple of hours or so of my time each week, plus I have to give up two whole days for the finals but it is worth every ounce of effort. In Tony Flint at Climax Tackle I have the best sponsor I could possibly hope for and in return I make sure he gets plenty of exposure through column inches and printing our joint logo, complete with his contact details.
The semi final and final matches each receive double page colour spreads in the paper and I’ve collected an impressive library of club match anglers’ headshots so I can compete with the football pages in the paper. When I report that Fred Bloggs has won the latest Fitters and Fluters match I want to be able to stick a picture of him alongside the text, just like you would expect in a football match report.
It frustrates the hell out of me when I see the pathetic coverage afforded to both the sport and the sponsors in rival papers. If you’re going to do something do it well. That goes for fishing, working, cooking, sex even. If someone says to me that he’s only a dustbin man I feel sad. He should be striving to be the BEST dustbin man. If everyone took more pride in being what they are this world would be a far better place.
Through The Open Door
It was inevitable that I would ultimately gravitate to the open match circuit. You can only reach a certain level in club match fishing before you stagnate or you become unpopular. You can’t keep winning money and still expect the regulars to turn up.
My first proper open match was a Burton Joyce open and I travelled down with Jess King and Keith Dowle who fished for Barnsley’s Smithies team at that time, a club I was later to join for a while. Arriving on the back of an impressive string of club match results on the Trent I was brimming with confidence. I drew a poor section but that didn’t faze me one jot, “I’ll just have to settle for winning the section then.” Was my brash retort.
When Jess turned up to pick me up after the match he said, “So, how did you get on then?”
“Won the section.” I boasted. “Didn’t I tell you I would?”
To some extent I was always in awe of the Trent open match circuit stars. It was a bit like the teams who turn up at Old Trafford and roll over without putting up a fight. Fulham did it the other week, ‘resting’ their best players. What a mockery! Beaten before they left home, which is what some anglers are when they turn up to fish open matches. Pools fodder.
Anglers and football teams alike should recognise that if they don’t honestly believe they can win, they are in the wrong league.
My first real determined effort to crack the premier league came when I decided to book in for the entire Notts Fed Saturday series. It was very much a who’s who of angling in those days. You certainly had to rub shoulders with and compete against the leading lights.
Once again I turned up feeling incredibly confident in my own abilities. You can measure success in these matches by winning a section. Just to do that you have to beat either 9 or 14 crack anglers. Win the best section and you’ll win the match.
In the first match of the series I won my section and finished second overall. It was with a degree of pride that I strode up to collect my winnings. I came second in the third match, too, before winning the fourth match.
There was a significant amount of head scratching going on as I collected the cash. I’d framed in the top two in three out of the first four Burton Joyce opens of the year.
You could almost hear them saying, “Who is this kid?”
What’s more, I’d used three different methods and deep down I knew I should really have won two matches, not one. I was on cloud nine.
For a week.
That’s when reality kicked in and I began to struggle. The draw bag was not exactly being kind to me and high level match fishing is all to do with confidence. If you ain’t got it you’re in trouble and a bad run at the draw can destroy you.
I went three months before I framed again and have never enjoyed my fishing less. I dreaded setting the alarm clock on Friday nights.
Time For A Break…
Match fishing can become addictive, all-consuming. I’ve known anglers who stopped fishing for pleasure, if it wasn’t a match then it held no interest for them. The only time I could get one friend to pleasure fish was if I could dress the day up as ‘practise’ session. Others get so wrapped up in their match fishing they are in danger of losing touch with reality.
Take the night I was out with an old mate and his wife. We’d kind of drifted apart as he got more heavily into the match scene so a night out with our wives was organised. He’d actually taken a Saturday off and in his words was ‘trying to break the habit of going through the motions and turning up.
As we caught up on recent events I asked, “How old are the kids now, Jess?”
“Err, Donna’s 12 and Andrew will be eight.”
“No he’s not, Jess,” Chipped in his wife, Viv, “He’s nine!”
“Is he? Bloomin heck, I didn’t realise!”
Perhaps that break was overdue.
Giving Up The Ghost
As the Trent went downhill the canals in South Yorkshire came back with a bang. The River Don was an open sewer during my youth. It was said that if you fell in you’d die of three different diseases before you drowned. The canals were no better.
And then they came back – with a bang.
With the Trent in decline the canals took over as flavour of the month. At anything between 18 and 30 metres wide and up to 10 feet deep in the boat channel we’re talking substantial canals. Stainforth and District ran 180 peg sell-outs each Sunday. Tactically I took to the canals like a duck to water. If you count section wins and section points I was up there with the best of them but I didn’t win half as many matches as I felt I deserved mainly through my being in the wrong section.
These canal matches were invariably won with bags of chub back then, today it might be bream, but to make a good bag of chub you had to be on features. I seemed destined to be drawn 50 yards away from the pegs that mattered and that might as well have been 50 miles.
And then came the squatt revolution. Bradford’s Richard Thorne had earned his spurs on the Grand Union Canal and he proved you could win matches consistently with roach, providing the chub didn’t go mad.
Richard regularly fed two pints of squats plus hemp and groundbait in a five-hour canal match to catch phenomenal nets of roach. It didn’t seem to matter where he drew, either. The man was a roach machine.
I had been doing well with quality roach on the short pole up to then. The key here was patience. I would drip feed casters down the near side and wait until the final hour before going for it. In the 300-plus peg Stainforth Team Championship I finished top six with a net of roach, the bulk of which came in the last half hour. I was absolutely bagging on clonking great roach when the whistle went and I’m sure I’d have won it if I’d had another half an hour to go at ‘em. But they never seemed to show until the death and going in too soon was the kiss of death.
But somehow this wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy canal fishing. I came home after one match and my wife asked, “How did you get on?”
“So what’s up then?”
“Dunno, I didn’t enjoy it.”
And I’ve not fished a match there since…
If you enjoyed this article more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank can be found here