WALES – CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE AT COARSE ANGLING
The Welsh Senior Coarse Angling Team have won Gold at the European Championships on the Lage Vaart Canal in Almere, Holland. This victory is only the second time Wales have won a major international competition in 63 years – the last occasion being the World Championships in Bulgaria in 1989 when the event was competed on a single day rather than the modern 2-day format. To win the European Gold is considered as much of a challenge as winning the World Championships as the top 38 FIPSEd world ranked nations are European! The 2016 European Championships saw 26 Countries assemble in Almere in mid-July to prepare to give of their best in the competition days 23 and 24 July. Official practise commenced on 18 July and cased on 22 July. The Welsh team had arrived on 15 July to ensure 2 days unofficial practise away from the match length that was closed prior to practise week. Arriving at the venue approximately 750 metres from the match length for extra practise to try and get a head start, the team were greeted by the England squad already practising as they had done the previous day! However, we were already clued up as Ian leach had taken a 5 day trip to Almere with his wife in June during which he was able to fish on the venue and get a feel for what could be caught and how. Also, Ben Roberts had flown out to Amsterdam and taken the short drive to Almere just to watch a team completion held on the event about 3 weeks before we travelled. These are two examples of the commitment of the Welsh team that allowed us to hit the ground running. During our 2 days unofficial practise on 16-17 July, we caught plenty of fish and were already beginning to formulate an early tactical plan. On 16 July, the team members practising averaged over 25lb each, with plenty of big bream caught.
Our accommodation was 20 minutes from the venue in a pretty harbour in the town of Huizen. The team manager, Andy Johnstone OBE, had searched and booked this hotel back in December 2015 – it was in a peaceful location and with plenty of options for evening meals. The team enjoyed the location and, surprisingly, we were the only team in Huizen (pays to book early). There was even the occasional opportunity early in the trip to catch some predators in the harbour drop shotting with lures!
Early on 18 July, the team manager drew the training boxes for the week and official practise began. We put into practise what had been learned in the days previous and as the week progressed it was clear that we were doing well in practise catching enough small fish (perch and roach) but always catching some elusive large bream (they averaged around 5lb). Other countries were starting to comment on our ability to catch bream while they could not catch more than the odd fish. The night before our last practise session we were able to identify 2 tactical approaches that had caught us bream throughout the week but not enough to be categorical about which was best. Our last training box was adjacent to a bridge and we had noticed that most bream were caught near the bridges or at the end of each of the 5 match sections. If we were fortunate, we would catch enough bream to be able to settle on a plan for the match days. Three anglers fished for bream at 13m by feeding neat joker tacked up with grey leam and the other 3 anglers feed joker and a small amount of bloodworm in a soil mix. The soil mix had been first used by Ian leach (nickname Wiggy) and became known as a closely guarded secret – ‘wiggy mix’. After the 4 hours practise on the final session, the 6 anglers had caught 25 bream between them (the most caught by a country at any time throughout the practise week. More importantly, the ‘wiggy mix’ had been proven to be deadly! The mix was local molehill soil, terre de riviere, black leam and some grey leam to bind. The molehill soil was taken and riddled literally from within 6-8 feet from the canal and proved to be a significant constituent of our soil feed mix. This coupled with the fact that we had perfect bait gave us much confidence going into the 2-day championships. The team manager had decided to look beyond the official bait supplier for bait – Andy had fished the World Championships at the same venue in 2009 (along with Darren Frost and Lee Edwards) and remembered that the bait provided was of poor quality. This time, Andy sourced a bloodworm and joker supplier some 75 miles from Almere. A 3 hour round trip, the bait was collected every other day and was perfect quality. It also allowed the team to have both Russian joker and livelier local Dutch joker plus Polish bloodworm.
Talk of our success on the last practise session was rife along the bank! When the team manager (a military man) was quizzed about the Welsh team’s tactics, he could reply only with his ‘rank, name and number’! Teams (eg England) were even asking friends of the team back home how we had caught so well in practise but all the team including our runners (Matthew Powell and Chris Jones) were sworn to secrecy by the Welsh manager. We also had to catch the smaller fish well as there was no guarantee that every Welsh anglers would net a bream. We settled on a couple of lines and elected not to throw in our feed on this near line. We were also very precise using cupping pots for our bream line at 13m. We had found through the practise week that we caught less bream when we ‘balled it on either line. Our near line mix for the ‘silvers’ was mostly soil but with a small amount of gros gardons fine groundbait (sieved through a joker riddle before mixing). Quantities of feed (joker mostly with some blood worm and a sprinkling of casters) was determined by the section drawn – as some sections had a bigger head of fish. The bream line would be fed sparingly with caster catapulted out and topped up with the wiggy mix when appropriate. If an angler had landed a couple of bream, some finely chopped worm was also introduced into the top up feed mix.
Now the difficult part for the manager, he would have to select 5 anglers for Day 1 of the Championships and tell one unfortunate angler that he would be helping run the bank. The decision was far from clear cut but the team selected was: Lee Edwards, Darren Frost, John Harvey, Ian leach and Ben Roberts. It was Nigel Evans who had narrowly missed the cut; indeed, John Harvey’s bream 3 minutes from the end of the last practise session just edged Nigel out!
Having picked the team for Day1, the manager was off to the all-important draw for pegs for Saturday. The 5 pegs out of the bag seemed to be reasonable. The tactics worked a treat and every anglers fished a blinder – with 4 of the 5 anglers managing to catch a bream. As the fish were weighed and points earned, it was clear that Wales had had a very good start to the two-day campaign. As the results were finalised, Wales had won the day with 16 points – 1 point ahead of England. Individually, both John Harvey (who had the best weight in the match on the day) and Lee Edwards won their sections with Ian Leach 2nd in his and Ben Roberts and Darren Frost both 6th. Understandably, the team remained unchanged going into Day 2 as leaders of the competition. Some thought that we may struggle with the pressure of being front runners but not one bit – our tactics, bait, tackle preparation, bank runners etc was all top drawer. We just had to follow the plan, be courageous when waiting for a bream and make sure that any bream hooked were landed safely.
The bank runners (Nigel Evans, Matthew Powell and Chris Jones) had a critical role to play in informing the team manager about how each anglers was fairing as the match progressed. Andy was literally running 2 sections as he got regular updates from the other 3 sections. Sunday fished harder than the first day and as the first hour passed, we were competing well for points in 4 sections but Darren Frost was last in his with no fish caught. We had plenty of time but Darren needed a bream! Ben Roberts had a slow start on small fish but no bream were caught in his section in the first 2 hours (and only 2 pegs had caught bream there the day before – one of which helped Ian Leach to second). John Harvey was catching the silvers but odd bream were being caught in his section too. It was a similar story in Lee Edwards section. The best news was that Ian Leach had caught a bream early on and was looking like leading his section. The manager was tallying the points and reckoned that wales were just about in a medal position after 2 hours – the mid-point of the match. Every time a bream was caught along the match length medal positions were potentiality being won and lost. News came in that Darren had caught a small fish but was still last. Desperate times call for action – Darren was told to feed again but this time to introduce a little chopped worm. Ten minutes later, the manager was told that Darren had netted a bream – he would now be at least 4th in his section! Im told as Darren played that bream he could be seen physically shaking such was its importance. More good news followed: Ian had caught another bream; Ben was catching silvers well and only one bream had been caught in his section; John was well up in his section with just small fish – although a few anglers had caught a couple of bream each; Lee was also doing well with small fish but no bonus.
Going into the last hour, the manager reckoned his team had around 21 points – surely this would be enough to retain a medal position? Andy had made his way up from Ben (who was now catching roach consistently while other anglers in his section sat motionless). Ben’s mum and cousin had flown from North Wales for the weekend and Ben’s mum acted as a very useful runner! As I arrived up with Lee, I was told he had recently landed a 4lb hybrid. As I sat with Lee, it began to sink in that we would surely finish in the top 3 nations. There was 20 minutes to go and I wanted the match to stop! Ten minutes to go and my phone rings yet again – what now, has another team landed a bream? Excellent news – Ian leach has netted a third bream and is definitely winning his section!
The match was over. I ran down to see Ben Roberts weigh in and to find out how may point he’d scored – a brilliant 3rd place with 2lb of small fish. The run back to Lee Edwards to witness him finish 4th in his section. Impatiently I awaited news from the other sections: Ian Leach is 1st; John Harvey 5th and after an eternity I’m told Darren is 3rd. I count up the points and unbelievably we score 16 points as we did the day before. Surely this is enough. England are beaten I know but Hungary are having an outstanding day but, from memory of the results, they were back with 30 something points on day 1. Other people are beginning to congratulate me and the other team members and runners across the match length. Everyone is saying we’ve won the Gold! Wales have won.
Gold Wales 32 points
Silver England 36 points
Bronze Hungary 46 points
As we gather back at the official area to await the final results, it becomes clear to me that we cannot be caught – we are the Champions of Europe! The record books will show that Wales were European Champions in 2016 – a little piece of angling history.
Individually, our anglers finished as follows from 140 competitors, with Ian Leach narrowly missing individual bronze medal:
4th Ian Leach 3 points
8th Lee Edwards 5 points
11th John Harvey 6 points
29th Darren Frost 9 points
34th Ben Roberts 9 points
The whole Welsh team on the bank were truly awesome! I thank every one of them from the bottom of my heart. The scenes of celebration will live for ever – what an achievement. I must also thank our supporters back home: Tri-Cast, Weston Pools Fishery, Sensas, Sport Wales, the Welsh Federation of Coarse Anglers and our friends and, last but not least, families. Most of the team assembled in Holland this year have being trying to achieve this for 20 years or more – at last, the dedication, effort, funding, self-belief and courage to keep trying has paid off handsomely!
Proudly reported by:
Andy Johnstone OBE
Team Manager Wales