WELCOME TO the Tuesday blog. Tuesdays mean Steve Collett, the boss of leading online tackle retailers Harris Sportsmail.
Steve’s blogs focus mainly on match fishing but also delve into his styles of pleasure fishing and specialist angling. He also appears regularly in Angler’s Mail magazine.
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HAS THE NATIONAL LOST ITS MAGIC?
I AM definitely noticing the big match calendar becoming more congested by the year, and there should be none bigger than this weekend’s event.
The ultimate event in team fishing, numero uno, the blue ribboned event of European team fishing, the Division One National.
There used to be a time when every angler knew this match was going on. Barbel anglers, carp anglers, whatever your discipline, you knew this was the big ‘un. Nowadays I’m afraid it’s not so popular, a real shame.
Despite this, the National is always the one for me, ever since I was knee high to Andy Kinder. The nostalgia, the coaches, the draw, and the finale at the HQ, the not knowing who was going to win… the Division One is the ultimate event in my book.
But. and it’s a big but, I can see it slowly losing its grip on a few of my mates, and hundreds of others. There is no doubt numbers are down, and this year the anglers were down! Now don’t take this blog the wrong way, it’s not a swipe at any organisation as such, it’s a plea, a cry for help on behalf of team fishing in England.
Even before the day of the race this weekend, there were a lot of miserable faces (nothing new there, we are all miserable, it’s a pre requisite of becoming a matchman), but the excitement level was hovering around minus 1, as the venue had been hammered.
And I mean hammered, 100-plus anglers on some sections 16 weeks up to the match, every weekend, and an Individual National the week before? (That one baffles me.)
And anyone worth his salt, who catches hundreds of squatt fish each week will tell you, little fishes do not respond well to being caught, retained and weighed, they just don’t like it. And with squatt fish being targeted during practice, I could see the catches diminish the closer we got to the actual National, and so could the anglers taking part. You could say, the chances of a great day’s fishing after parting with a few quid were minimal.
Despite the doom and gloom, I was still very much looking forward to fishing the National,.I always feel it’s an honour, to get picked for a squad, and as excited as ever, I made my way to the draw HQ. And what a venue that was, the superb St .Georges Park in Burton…we had to park in Bilston, and walk 23 miles….
It was still a nice venue, yet I didn’t get that “national” feel, it all felt a little corporate, too clinical for me. So after going through the pre match ritual of a bacon butty, the team draw was made, and again I failed to see any happy faces. If an outsider looked in on this day, I am sure they would be convinced that we were all going into that sports hall to be executed, not involving ourselves in a hobby.
So armed with modern technology and not a coach in sight, the postcodes and co-ordinates were punched into our sat-navs and off we went, for a day’s fishing. And the expressions on faces and moods got. . . . . worse.
I tried my usual P@#S taking. Much to amazement of my fellow anglers pegged to my left, I got my joke pellet waggler rod out – but this wasn’t working, this was a no humour zone. I had to resort to talking to boaters, about boaty things and dog walkers, about dog walkie things. In fact the whole experience left me looking forward to a funeral.
I had a nice day’s fishing anyway, a hundred or so fish for 1050gr and a respectable 45 points, a sub section win.
I wish I had took a full length mirror and watched myself throughout the match…. I was that awesome! Lots of people along the stretch thought I was Alan Scotthorne, and a large crowd gathered behind me to see how good I was. Well that’s what I thought…. it was actually a main road and a local football team playing.
Coming away from the HQ after the prize giving, I felt a little disappointed for our, team the (Matrix and Dynamite sponsored) Trentmen, just missing out on qualifying for the World Club Champs fish-off. But I couldn’t help feeling that the National has lost its magic, not for me, but for most.
Lots of anglers were telling me it was going to be their last – very sad to hear. Some very familiar faces, Angler’s Mail’s very own Tony Keeling, the second richest man in angling, and the thinking woman’s bit of crumpet – Alan Urrity. Some great faces and some not so great. Everywhere you look you could see familiar teams, old legends, and if you looked hard you could even spot Team Browning, the smallest and only team in the world that can all fit in a pint bait tub!
It will be sorry to see this magic lost. As I explained earlier, it’s not a criticism of anyone, or any organisation, I feel a major shake-up is required of this prestigious event, and team fishing as a whole, before it dwindles away into the history books.
It was nice to see the flood of texts again this weekend with possible nominations for this week’s award, but this week I would like to give my little bit of recognition to a great man who is sadly no longer with us.
A man who unselfishly gave up his time to pioneer matches on the “curly wurly” in the West Midlands, ran winter leagues, teams, and was the godfather of the canal scene where I grew up.
Nothing was ever too much trouble for this man, and it’s a great loss to the angling fraternity. I wish I was giving this award to Bill Ash for winning a match this weekend, instead I hope I can jog a few happy memories of this great bloke; his big smile will be missed along the towpath. Bill Ash – a great man.
STEVE COLLETT RETURNS NEXT TUESDAY (SEPTEMBER 17).
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