Wednesday 23 November 2016

Back with a Whimper

A whole year without blogging, what's that all about? Well last year my confidence was shaken, I have to admit it. Pike fishing is going in directions I don't like, the secrecy leads on to aggression, bullying and backstabbing and while I've tried hard to ignore it all, it got to me in the end. I was most upset by the actions of one individual who, while pretending to be my friend, was actually causing me trouble behind my back. He even drove a wedge between me and a friend of thirty years by telling him outright lies. We sorted it out ok, true friendships always endure, but it was an unpleasant time and it left me drained. That so-called friend will now drift into obscurity and I will ignore him.

Team England

Things have moved on. Much has happened in the past year, some of it good, some of it bad and some of it truly dreadful but I'm still here, still fishing and still catching plenty. Indeed in terms of personal success, I'm doing better than I have for years, but it isn't all about me, is it?
I'm going to leave the catch reports for now and concentrate instead on the ninth Fips World Championship, Predator fishing with Lures from Boats.

Team Selection

There has been so much controversy over the selection of the team that in truth, it has overshadowed everything else, even our poor performance. The selection was due to take place at Llangorse Lake - that's the first mistake! Loads of keyboard warriors declared it an unfit venue, nothing like the World Championship venue, too small, too shallow, not the right species mix etc. etc. Of course those same critics couldn't actually come up with a more suitable water, that wasn't their remit, they were only there to criticise. Llangorse is actually a pretty good test, it has a surface area just under 400 acres, has depths down to 25ft and has big stocks of pike up to thirty pounds plus and perch to ver four pounds. It isn't exactly like the World Championship venue, Lough Ree, but then there is nowhere in England, Scotland or Wales that is, and to hold the qualifier in Ireland would be prohibitively expensive for all concerned.

Some people did their best to make out that the selection process was rigged, that the team manager was going to pick the team he wanted and that it was a waste of time people bothering to enter. A clamour built up around this and sadly, people believed it. The end result was that only a handful of people entered the qualifying event and, let's face it, if the best anglers don't enter, then the best anglers won't get through, it isn't rocket science. Had I been displaced by a better angler, I would have been pleased and my support for the team would have been strong but in the end I was not replaced, I came third in the qualifier and so I made the team. Here's the thing though, only myself and Wayne Fletcher made the team from the previous years' team, Dan Brackley, Jamie Potts, Pete Hanney and Alex Haddow were all newcomers and the latter three were not known by the managers at all. How can it be nepotism if the people who get in are unknown to you? Well it obviously was not rigged at all, it was all a case of sour grapes!


This will be a short paragraph, there was no funding. Oh I raised a bit with my speaking engagements and we got some personal donations from generous individuals, for which we were very grateful, but the team had to make do with the remains of the money raised by the raffling of goods that were generously donated by Mark Kitson of Sovereign Superbaits last year, and there wasn't much of that left. Vass gave us a good deal on their waterproofs and Currock Engineering helped out with the balance on that but there was not a lot else.

Practice Trip

With Ireland just a ferry boat away we just had to have a good practice or pre-fish as some of the teams call it and three of us elected to take ourselves, two cars and two boats to Lough Ree for a week. I must say, I enjoyed this trip very much. Myself, Dan and Jamie rented a cottage for a week at Newtown Cashel which is quite close to a superb slipway called Barley Harbour. The cottage was, as it happens, owned by Martin Casserley who is chairman of the local angling club and Martin was hugely helpful in putting us on fish. There was a local pub within easy walking distance and the cottage was very well equipped so we were able to cook a meal each evening and retire to the pub to discuss the day's events.

The one big issue we had on the practice trip was that we did not know the extent of the competition area. I had asked various people to help on this but no-one had been able to come up with the goods and the best description that we had was that the competition area ended some nine kilometres down the lough from the slipway at Lanesborough. We based our whole trip on this but it was wrong, the area was actually nine MILES down the lough and so we did not fish the most southerly area, a huge mistake as it happened.

We learned much on the trip, we learned mostly that many thousands of acres of water were unproductive with the fish concentrated in just a few spots. It was often windy while we were there and indeed we lost two days fishing on the lough because the wind was so strong it would be unsafe to venture out. On those days we fished in the river Shannon, also a part of the competition area, and we discovered that the Shannon held huge shoals of bream but little in the way of predatory fish.

Two red-hot areas were found, one held a huge shoal of perch while the other held lots of pike and these two areas were quite close together in the north of the competition area. Jamie and I fished the perch shoal for around two hours and picked out around fifty perch but it took a bit of work to find out how to catch the bigger ones. Small shads fished on the bottom took the smaller perch but crankbaits fished fast through the midwater attracted significantly larger specimens. We must have had around fifty perch in that time with around half of them over the 25cm size limit imposed on the event. That's big points, enough points to win without a doubt. The pike spot nearby was equally good. I fished it on my own and caught six good pike in less than thirty minutes. The competition was going to be won from this general area that was for sure!

The latter part of the week was dogged by interference from others, particularly the Polish team. The Poles were there to practice at the same time as we were and I had one day on which I was constantly shadowed by a Polish boat and it caused me real problems. Information received from local anglers led me to a number of spots but each time I got there I was followed and so I did not fish because I did not want to draw attention to the area, that was another mistake in the end.

The practice trip cost each of the three of us around six hundred pounds. I didn't mind paying that, it was a fishing trip after all and it was a holiday of sorts but money is money and no-one helped us out with the cost.

The Competition

The FIPS competition always has the same format, two days of "training" followed by two days of competition, there were six of us to fish on the training days with four of those chosen by the manager to fish in the competition. On the first day, a Thursday, I fished in my boat with Alex Haddow and with Ron Dalton, team manager along for the ride. We had a good day, taking a number of nice pike topped by an upper double-figure fish which I had on a shad. This fish came from a place called the Hind River Bay, a spot that the locals had let us in on and the short period we had in that bay indicated that it was very good indeed. In just twenty minutes Alex and I had two double figure pike, two smaller pike and two lost fish - this was a banker swim! We had other action in an area we had found on the September trip and we came in at the end of the day full of hope. The other boats had found good fishing too, despite the very rough weather which, on such a large body of water, resulted in waves up to four feet high!

Day two of training saw me paired with Pete Hanney. This was a much tougher day in which we concentrated on unknown areas trying to pick out new fish. Pete had the best fish of the day, a small pike, but we eliminated several areas. It was rough again, even rougher than the first day, and we ended the day in the river where there was at least some shelter, though few fish.

We had a big meeting at the end of the second training day and we made our plans for the competition proper. The Hind River Bay was a huge attraction, big pike make big points and so we opted to put both boats into that area at the start of the day. I was to be paired with Jamie while Dan was paired with Wayne for this one day.

The Event

The excitement of setting out to fish for your country is really hard to describe. Everyone is hyper, everyone wants to do well and while the camaraderie remains, the intensity of the competition overshadows it. Boats are loaded, hooks are sharpened, stewards are introduced and welcomed aboard, there's a lot going on in that hour before we set out. The appointed hour arrived and at 10am we set out behind the lead boat which was there to ensure fairness. No-one can overtake the lead boat and so the fast boats with their huge engines (up to 225hp) did not have such an advantage. We, however, had a problem I did not envisage. With a burley boat partner, a very large Hungarian steward and too much tackle, we were overloaded and so I could not get the boat on the plane. I watched in anguish as the lead boat receded into the distance with its entourage of fishing boats, knowing that we could not catch up with them.

It took us more than thirty minutes to reach the bay and when we got there we found that Dan and Wayne were already fishing, although they had only been there for five minutes or so. We saw something else though, something that troubled me greatly, something that ruined our competition. There was another boat in the bay with three anglers in it, all fishing lures for pike. One of these anglers was playing a fish, it was a big fish a pike of around 19lbs and worth 10,000 points to us. We killed the outboard and coasted in on the bow-mount electric. As we got close to the three anglers I became more and more confused, they were clearly speaking a foreign language, it sounded Polish, and so I thought at first that they might be the Polish team but with three of them fishing in the baot, that would be against the rules. "They're not in the competition" Jamie commented, and he was right, these three guys were out for a days fishing and what's more they had already been there for several hours catching pike. The bay was ruined, we expected five or six big fish from this bay but we had only two, our first choice swim had become corrupted!

Both boats moved on to other spots we had found during practice but there was a problem. All of the practicing we had done had been in quite windy weather with big waves on the water but on this day, the water was flat calm, not a ripple n it. We worked the areas hard but struggled to find any fish willing to feed. I picked up one more pike and our other boat had a couple of perch but that was it. We moved out to deep water for the last hour and I picked up another perch which I measured at exactly 25cm but which our steward measured differently and wouldn't allow.

We ended the day dejected. My boat was 25th out of 34 and our other boat was 28th out of 34 giving an overall team placing of 15th out of 17. Romania were well out in front on day one but we didn't know where they had caught their fish.

Day Two

I was paired with Alex Haddow for day two and since we could not possibly get a placing from the position we were in the instruction was just to go out and catch what you can. We decided to head once more for the Hind River bay, hoping that it would be free from Polish locals this time but as we chugged out at 10mph behind the lead boat I suggested to Alex that we stop off on the way and have ten minutes fishing. We could easily catch up at speed later so we turned to the West and stopped the boat at a spot where I had found a few pike on our practice trip the previous month. The result was spectacular, Alex took a pike of 75cm on his very first cast, which was also his first cast in international competition as it happens! Within minutes we were joined by two other boats, the Romanians, so we had discovered the place they had caught on day one! All thoughts of the Hind River bay were now extinguished, we had to fish this area thoroughly.
86cm pike

In the end, that was not a good decision. We fished the area for three hours during which Alex had another pike and in which he lost a double-figure fish when the Savage Gear lure he was using broke internally, leaving a hook in the fish. We noticed too that the Romanians were not catching fish. Either the pike had moved on from the area or they had been just too efficient on day one and had taken the majority of the fish that were there to be caught. After three hours, the halfway point of the day, I called time and we moved away to the deeper water where I knew we had a good chance of taking some decent perch and small pike. The sounder told a favourable story, indicating the presence of plenty of fish in the area close to the bottom and so I opted to fish a 4cm curltail mounted on a 6.5g jighead, hopping it along on the bottom. It worked, I had a 29cm perch second cast and quickly followed it with a 76cm pike. I caught steadily for the rest of the day taking mostly fish over the size limit with a few under but surprisingly, Alex had no more fish despite using exactly the same tackle and tactics, sometimes you really have to tune into a method to make the most of it. I was particularly pleased with one of the perch I caught, at 42cm it was the biggest perch caught in the entire competition.
42cm, the biggest perch caught over the two days.

Alex and I had finished 10th boat on the day, that's out of 34, but our other boat had done badly, concentrating on perch they had caught many fish but the vast majority had been undersized specimens and didn't count. Only seven of their perch had been big enough and so they came in 32nd place.

The team finished 14th out of 7, our worst ever performance, but what was to follow was much worse when a complaint was lodged against out team manager, a complaint that led to his suspension and subsequent resignation. Ukraine came top for the second time in three years with Belarus second and Lithuania third, well done to all.

Ukraine took first place.

Will team England survive? Only time will tell.

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