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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.