The 1955 Angling National.

It was 1954 Ray Parrett who was instrumental in the organising of the 1948 Angling National on the river Huntspill received a querry from the National Federation of Anglers about the possibility of using the river Huntspill once again for the 1955 national. The reason being was that the water that was scheduled for the event would not be ready.

This request posed a problem that needed thinking out. But this plea to use the water would be a great opportunity to make amends for the venues poor performance 7 years previous. Meetings were set up to look in to mechanics of putting together the event. But there were one great snag, it was forecast that the entry had increased by 25%. The number of teams in 1948 was 72 but 1955 the turnout would increase to 99. The number of anglers would be 1,188. A formidable challenge confronted the organising committee enhanced by the fact that only one bank of the Huntspill was to be used, a ruling stipulated by the N.F.A. To stage the match there was only one way it could be done and that was to bring in the use of the the river Cripps and the King Sedgemoor Drain. This would would provide the necessary length to accommodate the requirements. This suggestion was put forward to the N.F.A and it was duly approved.

Part of the match programme.

This acceptance caused a plan of action which began in October 1954 not quite a year before hand. A match this size requires immense preparation and obtaining enough scales believe or not is one of the main problems. Scales were borrowed from clubs as far away as Coventry and Sheffield. Recruitment of a 100 stewards was needed to look after the competitors and to weigh in at the end.

A coach was run over all the routes and everything was timed to such an extent as to take in to account the time needed to load and unload all the anglers and of course their equipment. Military precision was order of the day.

Which water would produce the top weight even with the knowledge of the locals there was a lot of different opinions. Some picked the Huntspill, others opted for the King Sedgemoor Drain. The latter had a mixture of expectation and guesswork. Small matches had been fished at this venue from time to time but it had been kept mainly for the use of the pleasure fisherman. No big match match had ever been held on the Drain so there was no real pointer of how on the big day this water would react especially with some 8 miles of bank being pegged.

A lot of the local organisers were dubious and the thought of hundred of anglers trampling up the banks and scaring fish would contribute to poor weights. A special notice was put in the match programme pleading anglers to keep away from the waters edge. Unfortunately in the main this was not heeded. The general after the match opinion was that competitors going upwards from Bradney and down from Greylake had the effect of driving the fish in to the middle reaches of the venue in the vicinity of the Westonzoyland, the D section of the match. One of the main organisers Ray Perrett was only slightly convinced of this prognosis and his opinion why the winning weight was produced on section D was in effect more or less virgin water, very rarely fished.

Conditions for the match were very favourable indeed unlike 1948. The weather was mild and just enough wind to create a reasonable ripple for the Huntspill.

The Match exceeded all expectations to the relief and joy of the organisers. The outcome wiped out all the bad memories of 1948..

The total weight for 1948 was 539 lb 07oz

The total weight for 1955 was 4036 lb

The top 11 anglers.
The top 4 teams on the day.

The overall winner was one Mr Jack Carr from Sheffield Amalgamated which happened to be the top team. Jack was pegged at D93 on the Westonzoyland stretch. This was the section that was a total unknown and put the clock forward 10 years to the 1965 national and this remote section would once again produce. (see post on 1965 national).

A smiling Jack Carr (right) receiving his well earned trophy.

Jacks story was, he set of determined to catch anything that was going, using a crow quill float (ha yes remember them) taking a weight of 2 AA and a size 18 hook. He laid a path of maggots right across the drain and about 15 minutes in hooked a small roach, then another and followed with one of ten ounces. The next bite he hooked and the rod bent double but alas the fish slipped the hook. His next fish was a handy size bream of a pound and a half. It was at this time he decided to change to a size 14 hook. This proved to be successful, for soon after he was landing bream from two and a half pounds to three and half pounds. Only one fish was lost after the hook change and that was owing to the line snapping due to a shot being nipped to tightly. A few lumps of ground bait and some maggots kept the fish interested while he tackled up once more.

The match was from 11am until 4 pm and by 3.45 pm he was confident he had beaten his previous best weight of 47 lb. and still the fish kept coming. He netted another, by this time his net was solid with fish and the bream’s tail protruded out of the water. Another fish was landed and tail number two was clearly visible. Could the net possibly hold any more fish? His watch said 3.53 p.m. and there was still time. But the fish had the final say and his float did not move again and the whistle sounded.

The winner.

At the weigh in he prayed that his keep net would stand the strain of the weight of fish. In Jacks own words, he seized the top and, on hands and knees reached down reached down into the water with his landing net in an attempt to bring it under the bottom of his keep net. But it couldn’t be done for the latter was so bulging with fish it would not go through the rim of his landing net.

Discarding his landing net he got hold of the bottom and tried to lift it horizontally to distribute the weight as evenly as possible, but it was far to heavy and it got stuck half way. A steward came to his aid and helping arms went around his waist and out came the net. Owing to the limitation of the then standard weighing scales, ten weigh- ins were needed before the stewards announced his weight to be sixty eight pounds and two and a quater ounces, This was almost double the previous record figure for the national which had stood for nineteen years.

Part of the programme showing the sections.

The Westonzoyland stretch or the D section posed a massive problem for the stewards, for there had never been a section in the history of the nationals that had produce such figures, for that day 33 anglers in D section weighed in between them over 1100 lbs an average of over 33 lb each. Bear in mind the capacity of the scales and that the match ended at 4 pm. Well at 6.45 pm a urgent message was received at head quarters for more scales to be sent to D section owing to the fact that the stewards were unable to cope with the tremendous catches. The head quarters for the 1955 National was at the now defunct Prince of Wales pub in Woolavington. This pub closed in 2015 and has now been converted into a convenience store run by the co op. But to get a message from the remote D section on the Kings Sedgemoor Drain to Woolavington is no easy task as us locals will tell you. And do remember this was 1955 and no mobile phones.

The Prince of Wales pub in Woolavington the head quarters in 1955 which is now a Co-op convenience store.

Ray Perrett who walked the banks during the match and watched a great number of anglers came to the conclusion that a lot of the anglers employed the wrong approach. To quote Ray “undoubtedly quite a number of competitors were not used to our type of water and did not make the best of their opportunities. Mistakes were made of plenty and some incapable of profiting from them. For anglers of any experience at all to go on using ultra fine tackle , 18 hooks to nylon after being repeatedly broken by big fish passes my comprehension”.

According to Ray Sheffield Amalgamated were fortunate to win the match, not through any bad fishing on their part, but simply because one angler, of another team, fishing on the Kings Sedgemoor Drain threw away the match. His team finished well up the list, actually only twenty pounds or so behind the winners. They should have been top had he taken his chances given to him.

Ray goes on to say “In the short space of time I watched him, I saw him lose fish after fish, bringing bream of around the two pound mark up to the surface and then losing them. Stewards in the section told me that he had been doing this all day and it was disheartening to watch such an angler being given such an opportunity and letting it slip right away.

The man himself Mr Raymond Perrett.

One of the stewards could not stick it any longer, and after seeing this go on for some time , went outside his province, as it were, and offered him some useful advice. It was to discard very small hooks and change over to a no 12 or 14. Actually this was invaluable advice, coming as it did from a good local angler who knew the water. But it was not taken in the right spirit, and the reply was, “you seem to know all about it, perhaps you could do better.?” The answer from the steward came with out hesitation. It was “give us your rod chum!”

This angler ended up with a only a moderate weight when he should of been well up amongst the top notchers. He completely threw away his chances, for he continued to lose fish up to the final whistle, an opportunity just fritted away. His team could have been champions for the first time had he played his part as he should have done.

One last point to note about this match was owing to the sheer number of anglers and the geography and distances involved, which caused the administration of the match to be no easy task. The winner wasn’t announced until 8:45 pm and indeed some of the weighing in of D section took place in the dark.

Once again I would like to thank John Essex for providing a lot of the material for this article.

Thanks John.

Watchet Angling update.

Notes for the Watchet Angling as you should know by now that both Watchet teams, Black and Red were drawn against Cwmbran Nobblers in the Bait Tech cup. The venue has been decided and thus Avalon Fisheries at Shapwick has been chosen. The date of the match is Saturday the 29th of May. The club match on April the 24th at Landsend is now on the match lake instead of the specimen lake.

Just remains to say to the Watchet mob that our next match is at Sellicks at Summerhayes this Saturday coming April the 3rd.

Tight lines.

Pete C

The 1948 National Angling Championships on the River Huntspill.

World war two had ended three years previous it was now 1948 and the horrors of war still remained fresh in the memories. The population were getting used to being without their loved ones, relatives and the ones who simply did not return. Austerity was the norm, bomb sites were still in attendance throughout the country and rationing went on. The country was exhausted. The spirit of the people which was impossible to subdue or defeat pumped life in to a new beginning. The masses pulled together and laboured back normality. The life of the once was, was slowly being reinstated.

Within the masses was a subset of society we all know well, that of the angler. The desire to get back on the bank never went away. The competitiveness of competition still burned in many and the match scene became vibrant once again. The national angling championships continued again straight after the war in 1945. Okay but the 1948 angling championships on the river Huntspill was different for a number of reasons.

This was far of Somerset, of the beaten track, an unknown to many of the match angling brethren.

The Huntspill was a unique venue at the time. It did not show up on any ordnance survey maps. For officially it did not exist. One thinks of the word river and think of a natural feature. An artifact created by Mother Nature herself. Well the Huntspill is totally artificial, it is man made. The creation of this waterway started back in 1939. The reason for it’s construction was to supply a nearby ammunition factory with 4.5 million gallons of water a day. The project was completed in February 1943. It was a giant undertaking, for its length is roughly 4.9 miles. At the rivers beginning, Gold Corner its width is 160 feet which gradually tappers down to a 120 foot at the outfall where it joins the River Parrett. Both banks has a 1 in 4 slope which extends out to 26ft foot where it then levels of to a depth of 6ft.

The characteristic of the Huntspill.

The venue was put forward by Bridgwater A.A. owing to the fact that the matches fished on venue by the club had been producing very good weights. The National Federation of Anglers (N.F.A.) president, one T. A. Woodhouse O.B.E was sent down to view the venue by his aptly named General Purposes Committee. His mission was to see if there was a suitable length to fish the match. Mr Waterhouse had a good look around, pondered and was convinced. The Huntspill it was.

This is a cutting from the Fishing Gazette about the forth coming event.

Now one can only imagine what the typical northern match angler would of said on hearing about the venue chosen in far of Somerset. To most this was match fishing’s terra incognita, an outpost of match angling.

“The river Huntspill where’s bloody river Huntspill never bloody eard of it.”

“In bloody Somerset bloody ell lad they don’t match fish down there do they, if they do it be with string and bent pin”.

So the scene was set, now this was remember 1948 petrol rationing was still in existence and this was the pre motorway age. But undeterred folks as far away as York and Hull got their angling gear together loaded it on the charabanc said goodbye to their loved ones and of there went to an angling unknown. Now for people who have never heard of a charabanc well it’s a coach from the first part of the 20th.

Charabanc pronounced shar uh bang. This is from French which roughly translated means carriage with wooden benches. There you go you learn something new every day.

The above 2 images are pages from the publication Midland Angler which is a preview of the match.

However no matter how much effort was put in to make this a delightful and agreeable event, Mother Nature had the last say, for the early part of the week running up to the occasion there were 3 hard frosts, a thing that is very rare in Somerset during the month of September. That was bad enough but on the day there was lack of wind and the Huntspill was dead calm. The locals knew conditions were far from ideal. To fish well the Huntspill needs a bit of a chop on the water. For the oganisers it was a big disappointment and they knew what was coming.

The match was fished and the weights were indeed low. The total catch was 539 lb 7oz.

In total there were 72 teams of 12 anglers which equated to 864 anglers fishing.

The final individual placings.
Billy Thompson the overall winner. “Eee I’ve given thee lot a right good kicking”

The overall winner was one Mr William (Billy) Thompson of the Leeds and District team. An angler through and through. A defiant figure indeed, wounded in the great war an action which resulted him being invalided out. Whilst in his local hospital the doctors told him his fishing days could soon be over. Well one could well imagine on what was said by this tough old nut “Eee lad thee may be ready for thy bloody wooden box but I aint” Absconding from his hospital bed he went home got his fishing gear together and joined a match on his local water. Still feeling very ill he just stretched out on the bank and watched the other competitors and eventually giving out advice to the angler on the next peg. In due course he managed to set up and began fishing himself. Catching Roach and Dace he managed to eek out the winning weight of 4 lb. Billy was far from being a one of. Having won his first match in 1913 he continued to cut great swathes in the angling world and ended up with a toll of over 300 match victories. Billy admitted that fishing was the thing that kept him going and alive. The granite block from which he was chiseled has long been out of stock. People of his generation have long since passed away. There is an old adage that goes “they don’t make them like that any more”. In Billy’s case they certainly don’t and the angling world is much poorer for it.

The top 16 teams. Note Bridgwater finished 11th.

The Match in general was a great disapointment, a great many dry netted and after the match feelings were intense. Remember a lot of teams had travelled far for little or no reward. Even in the Leeds and District team which won, out of 12 anglers 3 blanked. To quote from the book The Huntspill River by local angler Ray Perrett who incidentally was captain of the Bridgwater team that day.

“The anglers who took part were naturally disappointed, some to the extent of expressing their feelings quite strongly. It was with a grin That I remember a certain member of the York team saying “well if this is your secret river it’s a great pity you did not still keep it a secret””

The match report from the fishing Gazette. Note on the bottom line where its says Bolton were the runners up, well in fact it was Boston.
The match report from the publication The Midland Angler. Part one,
Part 2
Setting up before the match and not a method feeder in sight.
The Match in progress, note there is only a slight breeze which proved detrimental to the match weights.

The match which shall we say could of been a lot better and a lot of anglers understandably went home frustrated and annoyed. Wind the clock forward to 1954 and the N.F.A approached Bridgwater A.A. to see of the possibility of using Huntspill again for the 1955 Angling National. This would be an opportunity for the river to make amends. But that’s another story.

John Essex

I would like to pay much thanks to one John Essex who provided much of the material for this blog. John is one of the foremost angling historians in the country, not only that he has achieved much success in the match fishing world as well. One of his many honours was to be invited by one of the greatest match anglers ever, Ivan Marks to join his team the Leicester Likely Lads , one of the most formidable teams of the 1970’s. John has picked up 5  Division 1 National team medals and has won numerous top class matches. A back problem caused him to give up the match fishing circuit a situation which made him decide to concentrate on coaching the Leicester junior team and with his skills lead the team to win 5 N.F.A junior national championships. This gentleman is also the author of a book titled The National Angling Championships. A truly authoritative book which traces the full history of the National Angling Championships from its beginning in 1906 right up to 2018. The book is just over 450 pages long and is very well researched and trust me it’s well worth the money

Well worth a read and highly recommended.

The draw has been made for the Bait Tech Supercup and is pictured below. As it stands the matches are to be fished on the weekend of April 24th/25th. However because of Covid 19 these dates could be flexible owing to the problem that Cwmbran might be restricted by different lockdown rules in Wales and might not be allowed to travel to England. Alan Bland the captain of Watchet Black will soon contact the captain of Cwmbran and hopefully the situation may be made clearer.

The date for the next Watchet match has now been changed to April 3rd from March 27th but it’s still at Sumerhayes on Sellicks lake.

So it just remains for me to say thanks for reading and tight lines.

Pete C.