A Close Campaign
Reflecting on my 2016 UK Champs quest, which this year saw 80 top anglers competing at Lindholme Lakes, The Glebe, Boddington Reservoir and Barston Lakes.
Statistically I knew I was up against it trying to defend the UK Champs title I won last year. However, I had a back-to-back victory once before, so nothing was impossible. More realistically I knew time was against me this year, so I tried to participate with a more relaxed attitude. The main aim was to do well enough on Round 1 to keep my reputation intact and then try and get a top-10 finish. Everyone enters this event hoping for that magical top-10 placing. Anything above that feat would be fantastic!
Round One – Lindholme Lakes
I pulled out Peg 52 on Laurels and, to be honest, I didn’t really fancy it. I was up the narrower end of the lake and stuck in a corner in one of the smallest bays. With a big tree blocking any chance of fishing my right-hand margin, my options were really limited. The wind was also hacking down the other end of the lake, so I fully expected those pegs to do best, but thankfully it also meant there was some wind blowing into my area. I also had a proper ‘section of death’ in the shape of Darren Cox immediately opposite, plus Rob Wootton and Steve Ringer amongst others!
It was a slow start for everyone but I managed a couple of fish on pellets short before switching to casters further out on two lines; one down the edge and another as diagonally away from the bank as I could comfortably fish. I ended up catching shallow on both spots, between 12 inches and 15 inches deep. I had lots of F1s and although they weren’t too big I still had plenty of them.
I felt I had fished a decent match and couldn’t have done much more. I had comfortably beaten everyone up my end of the lake with 52kg but was knocked into second in section by venue expert Dale Shepherd on 57kg. He was at the opposite end of the lake on one of the point swims and had some massive F1s late down both edges.
We actually ended up second and third overall in the match, too, behind Andy Power on Strip Lake, so not a bad start. Deep down, though, I was still a bit gutted I hadn’t come away with a section win and wished they had pegged the top and bottom of the lake as sections instead. To me that would have been much fairer. A little twist to proceedings this year was that the winner of each round would score zero points, with section winners getting one point as normal. It was a shock announcement and we all had a feeling it could prove decisive at the end of it all…
Round Two – The Glebe
This was a new venue for the UK Champs and I found myself off the complex on Foundation Lake. It was great fun us all being told there was strictly no gardening and then finding our pegs 4ft high with nettles and brambles! I spent some time flattening two areas so I could at least see down the edge as I knew it can be a vital target area on this lake. The fish definitely behave a little strange at this venue and don’t behave like most carp on commercials. It is common to start down the edge here and then work your way out and that’s exactly what I did. I managed a dozen carp immediately on corn over hemp and groundbait for a decent start. I also suffered with several hook pulls and lost fish. The carp in this place have tiny mouths so it’s something you have to accept.
Later on I switched to a groundbait feeder and snared some better samples. The fourth hour was pretty useless and a caster shallow swim I was priming was also no good. It was only when I swapped to pellets towards a large bush that I managed to catch again in the last hour.
I ended up with about 50 carp for 61kg, second in the section and second on the lake. Chris Barley to my right had a similar number of fish for 66kg to take the win. Like me, he also lost a number of fish but he also managed to mug several good carp in the last hour which swung things his way. Chris is a master at the art of mugging fish and it was a tough lesson learnt, as I had given up trying to mug any cruisers after the first hour when they didn’t seem very responsive to it.
It was good fun getting back to the main Glebe complex and seeing Rob Hughes’ face as his TV camera crew hadn’t got any footage whatsoever from our lake and someone told him I’d got well over 90kg! As it happened, my good friend Dave Brown won the match from Lake 7 with 94kg, so well done to him. I think the cameras somehow missed him too!
Interestingly, a number of anglers had blown out at The Glebe so the championship was already looking wide open…
Round Three – Boddington Reservoir
This is a great venue quite local to me and a lovely place to fish for big carp. Sadly I, like almost everyone I spoke to, didn’t think it was quite suitable for a UK Champs round as the pegs are only six metres apart and we would all be tightly pegged like sardines. It’s great for up to 50 anglers but with 70+ you’re asking for trouble. It’s mostly long-range Method feeder work and after casting all that way and getting your rig ‘set’ it’s easy to get wiped out by a neighbour playing a double-figure carp! It happened three times to me and was a common sight all over the lake.
To get to grips with the tactics I managed one short evening session on the place after work and I also tagged alongside a weekend club match just a few days earlier, which really helped. I clicked that a few carp fed early and then mostly switched off til about 3pm. I therefore factored in that I might just be able to catch enough roach in the quiet middle hour to equal one carp.
I ended up with six carp and 5kg of roach for 25kg, being sheared off twice and losing a great big beastie right at the net. I was beaten by the same amount of carp and no roach for 28kg and also soundly beaten by the two pegs to my right, so I ended up fourth in section. Not a complete disaster but I know I got a few things wrong.
I should have ignored the roach and gambled on getting two or three carp at long range instead. I also couldn’t get a bite on the pellet waggler while others around me had one or two, plus the bomb fished underneath was a waste of time. I also wrongly expected the fish to eventually turn up in numbers on my closer 45-50m swim going into the last 90 minutes. I kept plugging away here when I should have just gave it the big heave and hurled it 70m+.
Although it probably sounds like a chuck-it-and-chance-it venue, I think it’s actually quite a technical and enjoyable way of fishing – but it can also be really cruel when so many people catch just three or four fish and it’s just their size that makes the difference.
Looking back, my fourth place wasn’t a disaster but it should have been at least a place higher if I had made better decisions. As I suspected, this round upset the form book again. That meant I was still somehow third overall going into the final round!
Round Four – Barston Lakes
Going into the final round, Andy Power was leading with 6 points, Dale Shepherd was second on 7 points and I was clinging on to third with 8 points. I knew I had a chance of making it a record fourth title, but I also knew anything can happen at Barston.
Work commitments meant I had no time to practice, so my one and only visit was two weeks prior on the Matrix Commercial Champs. Thankfully I managed to come second overall off peg 117 for a little confidence booster. With a half decent draw I was confident. No such luck as I dipped my hand in the bag and pulled out Peg 48. Oh dear! Meanwhile Andy had drawn 118 and Dale had drawn end peg 124, so it was still game on for them.
I was still in a positive frame of mind as I barrowed my gear to my peg but deep down I knew I had a real uphill struggle on my hands. Peg 48 is stuck in a bay with no form and as I was the first peg in the section I had all the noted pegs in the 50s to contend with, plus the end peg. With fishing times from 1pm to 6pm I feared they’d all catch carp late on and so it proved.
With one skimmer on a long chuck and just a few fish on a little Method feeder over my bomb line, most of my 19kg weight consisted of skimmers on the pole. I managed to almost double the anglers either side of me and was probably second or third in the section until the last 45 minutes, before they all caught carp down their edges.
With a much less attractive margin swim I was counting on the bigger bream turning up in the last hour, instead. This normally happens at Barston, but they evaded me this time around! An awkward headwind also made presentation really difficult so I found myself waiting slightly too long for each bite and lost several foul-hooked skimmers. Any one of those fish would have given me another point as the end peg only just pipped me. I needed 32kg to win the section but, with an elusive bonus carp, a second or third was certainly not out of reach on the day.
I slowly packed up and limped back to the car feeling a little sorry for myself. I wasn’t too disappointed with my tactics, I never gave up and I fished ok, but I was always up against it. One practice session might have helped but time wasn’t on my side. Maybe I should have fished a PVA bag instead of the Method? Perhaps my accuracy on the pole wasn’t quite good enough in the windy conditions? I don’t normally think it’s necessary but a bank runner would also have helped me know what was going on in that pivotal last hour.
After an anti-climatic finish I still ended up in 8th place in the league table with 13 points. It was a really tight top-10 and just one more point would have rocketed me up several places.
Well done to Andy Power on yet another big win. No one can doubt this man’s talent and he’s easily one of the very best out there. I must also say a really big hard luck to Dale Shepherd, who tied on points but came second overall on weight count back. Any other year the championship would have been his, but the new zero-point rule was the ultimate decider. I suppose you could argue that he had a brilliant chance of getting zero points himself from peg 124, so there are two ways to look at it!
I must end by thanking all the venues and fishery staff, Rob Hughes and his team for filming it so well for BT Sports, Old Ghost for sponsoring it and of course Nigel Harrhy for all his time and dedication spent running it all. This year wasn’t my finest effort but I’ll be raring to go again next year!