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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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
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.