Competition angling really isn’t my cup of tea and after entering a few over the years I decided a while ago that they really aren’t for me. That said that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them per-se and I for one certainly enjoy reading the blogs and adventures of others who compete in them. My own experience of competition angling put me off due to feeling pressured to prove myself and the other things that happen in them such as people fishing venues before the actual competition with hook less lures for example so they would know where fish were before the actual event, the fact that fish welfare can fall by the wayside due to a desire to win etc. It can do strange things to people, angling that is, in general and at the best of times, however when there is money or prestige involved things can get even stranger. I’ve always preferred to subscribe to the theory that the only thing an angler should compete with are the puzzles of any given day those being location, technique, lure or bait type, weather and time of year for example. That said there are some exceptions and the Gunki tournament I went to last year in Rotterdam was certainly one of them. Of course having an all-expenses paid trip helped to convince me to participate and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t but I was genuinely impressed with the spirit of unity and fun of the whole experience and I’d go again tomorrow if I could, all expenses paid again of course though.
Another exception and one that really has won a small piece of my heart is the Anglers Paradise lure weekend down in Halwill, Devon.
If you haven’t heard of Anglers Paradise then where have you been? It is a complex of over thirty lakes that have been built up by dare I say the ever so slightly eccentric Zyg Gregorek and his family over the years. The family run the business but I can’t help but to feel that the word “business” is too harsh and the word “family” is a much more appropriate one that best describes the whole place and concept perfectly. It really is a family affair and the whole place really is a paradise for an angler as there are fish absolutely everywhere. Of course there are fish in the lakes but I’ll get to that later what I’m referring to is that from the moment you arrive you see fish. The very sign containing the name is a fish, the bar is a fish museum and absolutely covered in fishing related items from all over the world and even some of the lakes are shaped in, yes you guessed it, a fish. The accommodation or villas are simply stunning and again totally fish related from every single ornament, picture and split cane rods decorate the beams in the ceilings. It’s no wonder I absolutely love the place before even casting a line and I really have to hand it to the founder Zyg for having a dream and making it come true and of course for the legendary wine he produces, but tales of that are best kept for another day. So when I was asked to attend another lure weekend and Captain a team around four lakes over a cold and naturally wet weekend in February I didn’t even hesitate but bit their proverbial hands off and what follows is my experience of the aforementioned weekend.
I hope you like it, I know I did….
When asked by Joe and Zenia to attend another lure weekend I felt honoured. Having attended and Captained teams for the last two years it’s always lovely to be invited back somewhere and testimony to the fact that i must be doing something right. Plus it gave me another opportunity to have some more banter with rival team Captain Ben Humber which is always great fun and he has become a great friend who I love spending time with, don’t tell him that though as his head is big enough already. The night before I loaded up new reels with Fladen maxximus mono and prepared a new Maxximus Dropshot rod that I was dying to test out, packed jigs, lures and clothing ready for a road trip and a weekend away. Also I had to load the car with all the fantastic prizes that were very generously donated by Fladen Fishing who I was representing at the competition, believe me when I say they took up the whole back seat.
Then it was off to pick up my friend Chris who also loves these weekends and Anglers Paradise in general and we headed off early on Friday morning to do some fishing en route as well, as road trips often provide these opportunities. Due to the lack of still waters and canals containing predators locally we decided to have a go at some Perch fishing on one of the South Western Canals and as I’d recently received a couple of drop shot rods to test out from Fladen. Plus Chris had never really done it before so it would be a new technique for him to try out and an opportunity for me to laugh at him as he made the inevitable mistakes as one does when trying out a new technique and I wasn’t to be disappointed.
Arriving at a local tackle shop we picked up day tickets and dare I say made the mistake of asking for local information. We were directed to a part of the canal that we just instinctively knew wouldn’t be holding fish; it was just to clear and shallow. So a quick phone call to those in the know (Cheers Ben and Panto) saw us back in the car and after another five miles we were now on fish, apparently. Getting out of the car we could see that the information was bang on as we gazed down at a crystal clear canal that had fry, roach and perch easily visible to the eye and we could even see the odd pike dotted in amongst the weeds. Grabbing the drop shot rods we proceeded to have a go and it took us a while and several changes of rubber lures before we started to get a few. Once we got our eye in perch started to be caught and whilst there didn’t seem to be any specimen size fish it was good fun and the Fladen Vermz which are imitation worms certainly were accounting for most of the fish.
I also managed to pick up a nice pike to which was a bonus, but what can I say, I’m a magnet! We were joined by a friend Jonny Panto and his son and had a good chat before eventually we had ran out of time and it was time to hit the road and off to Paradise, it’s a tough life.
We finally arrived at Anglers Paradise at about 6pm and it was great to see our host Joe again. Chris went off to his villa and I settled quickly into mine beating Ben Humber to the four poster bed and Jacuzzi bath, yes the Villas are really that good. I met the other team Captains including Rob Williams from Quantum who has become a good friend over the years and a new captain from Drennan called David Drake who seemed pretty sound. It’s a great laugh staying with fellow team Captains as we get to pinch or swap tackle off each other and discuss tactics for each lake and whilst there’s some who believe that there is no such thing as a “friendly competition” believe me this lure weekend blows that theory out of the water. As for the contest itself well it’s really quite simple. There are four lakes, four team captains and four sessions. The team captains lead their team to each lake for each session and then after a break rotate so that each team gets one turn on each lake. Fish are measured not weighed and prizes are awarded for the biggest of certain species, the most species etc. As for the rules well with fish welfare paramount and due to the fact that there are multiple species of all kinds of fish in the lakes then the main two are no braided line and that every lure is only allowed one single hook and these must be barbless. I still baulk a little at these rules but in fairness I have to say that each year some fantastic fish are caught and banked so perhaps there is some longevity and some sound reasoning behind them after all fish welfare is never a bad thing.
Next it was over to the bar to do the team captain introductions and to find out who were in our teams and what lakes we were on first. This was done quickly and I was pleased that I drew the trout lake first but I was gutted that my last lake was to be the pike lake “Valhala” which meant by the time I got there it would have already seen the other three teams and pretty much every lure known to man and fish kind, although naturally I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve. The bar was a great laugh and I got to meet my team who were Tony, Andy, Tom, Tim, Rory, Mike and young Fergus. One last surprise after our introductions were done was that I was presented with a picture of myself to place on the legendary “wall of fame” of a good pike that I had caught at the venue during a lure weekend previously. For somebody such as myself this was a huge honour and a privilege as all of the names on that wall are real angling legends and I was about to join them. Having to sign the picture and chose a phrase was a nightmare for me, my signature is awful and not practised but I looked around the bar and saw all the anglers who weren’t even fishing but were swapping tales and having fun and the phrase I chose just seemed appropriate, “there’s more to fishing than catching fish”.
Quickly moving on we retired early to prepare for the 7am start at the tackle shop and the anticipation of things to come.
Lake 1 – The Trout Lake
Meeting at the tackle shop at 7am for bacon butties was a great idea and as captains we were on hand to give advice about tactics and lures for day ahead and then we set off for the lakes. Believe it or not we were in Devon and it wasn’t raining as I met my team at the Trout Lake.
The trout lake is the clearest of the lakes at Anglers Paradise and contains blue, tiger, rainbow and brown trout, some of which go up to nearly double figures in weight. At last we were fishing and almost immediately Andy was into a spirited rainbow which I netted for him. Once the fish was measured I cast out and caught a nice trout myself and Andy returned the favour and netted mine. I caught my fish on a lovely small 7-28g Maxximus dropshot rod that Fladen had given me to test and that was great fun on such a light rod. I was so relieved when that trout went in the net as it relived some of the pressure as a team captain. Fishing lakes in February that you aren’t used to with only lures can be hard enough but you chuck single barbless hooks into the mix and it certainly makes it challenging. After that initial flurry of activity the lake quietened down but a few others caught including young Fergus and Tim managed to land three including a brown, rainbow and blue which were some awesome skills. We had some misses to and poor Tony actually lost seven fish on differing lures and I had two follows of a very large brown trout that must have been all of eight pounds plus but it wasn’t to be. Still as a team we did well and at the finish we had banked ten trout in total between us.
After a short lunch break which consisted of strong coffee and some lovely cheese on toast, fried bacon and scrambled eggs cooked by Fox Rages Ben Humber (he’ll make someone a good wife) it was off in search of cat fish.
Lake 2 – Specimen Catfish Lake
Next up was the specimen cat fish lake and believe it or not it’s called that for a reason. The reason obviously being that there are lots of huge catfish in it. This I found out last year when at that lure weekend one proceeded to take me all around the lake and after a ten minute battle decided then to smash me up and I lost it. What followed was lots of banter all at my expense of course and I can’t blame people however this year I was hoping for some revenge and to set the record straight. After a quick team talk we proceeded to try and target the few pike and perch that also inhabit the lake after all who catches catfish on lures in the UK in February?? Last year I had a perch that was close to 3lb’s and a pike before losing the cat so they were our realistic targets. One of my team members Andy Payne who travelled down with his friend Angling Trust ambassador Tony King headed off to the right and then we pretty much all witnessed a swan spook off the surface like something had disturbed it. Andy cast to where it had happened and I was momentarily distracted by something else then I heard some fantastic words that I think will stay with me forever and are certainly logged in a memory file of magic moments that have happened to me when I’ve been out fishing. Those words were “I think I’ve hooked something big”. Looking over I saw Andy’s rod bent over and indeed he had and within a few seconds I was by his side as his clutch began to sing the magic sound and it continued to as the obvious catfish built up speed. With Andy being only on ten pound line and a single barbless hook the odds were certainly stacked against him especially as this fish was a good one and I was certainly praying that he wouldn’t lose it. For the next thirty minutes I watched an absolute master class in angling that just blew me away. Whilst I was shaking and doing all the worrying Andy remained absolutely cool and guided this big fish away from one obstacle and then stopped it from going behind an island. He calmly walked the length of one side of the lake whilst all the time applying consistent pressure to tire the fish, negotiated climbing over a platform and at that point my heart was in my mouth and when he even passed the rod around tree’s to get a better angle I nearly fainted. A few times I genuinely wondered to myself and out loud as to who was playing who but Andy was wearing it down all the time. The cat then took him back the way he came but was now beginning to tire and after about twenty minutes we saw the first boil of water as it came to the surface. I was broadcasting live on to face book as this was such a rare occasion that it just in my opinion had to be shared and I take my hat off to Andy as he didn’t put a foot wrong. I was on netting duties and whilst this big cat fish resisted a few times Andy skilfully turned it and steered it towards my awaiting net and as I eventually netted it we both breathed a huge sigh of relief. Absolutely fantastic skills from Andy and as I lifted the net out of the water I struggled to lift it. Having fifty pounds of fish in a net once before I recall this being very similar as I was only able to clear the ground by about an inch and I laid her down on a mat to be measured. Of course she was to long for the tape so we had to improvise but we settled with an accurate measurement of 174cm, simply awesome as I hope you agree. After some pictures including a great team one we took this awesome creature back to the lake and after letting it recover released it back to whence it came. I’m sure much more will be written about this great event and I know that some things already have been but lastly for the record Andy took this fish on a Shakespeare 10cm Devils Own Soft Bait which had an extra trick applied that being a good helping of Bio Edge Smelt Wand which is an attractant that you can apply to lures, baits and traces etc. I’ve personally never used it but after witnessing such an epic event I just might have to have a go.
Suffice to say after that anything else that happened pretty much paled into significance but thanks to Tom Wilson another member of my team all of us managed to catch wasp size perch to help with our species count.
That evening we had a lovely bangers and mash meal in the bar and swapped some fishy tales but whilst others were sampling Zyg’s legendary wine I had a reasonably early night as after the day’s excitement I was proper weighed in.
Lake 3 – El Dorado
Getting up even earlier we once again on hand to give advice in the tackle shop and eat bacon butties before heading off to the first lake of the day, that being El Dorado. This was the known “bogey lake” of the weekend for all teams and the hardest to catch a fish from. Whilst there are pike and perch as well as loads of smaller catfish everyone had struggled the day before and at previous lure competitions as well. We weren’t proved wrong either as after over two hours no fish had been caught at all. With only 15 minutes left I was drop shotting with one of the Fladen’s Vermz which is a fake earthworm in the margins when all of a sudden I had a bite but lost it and we saw it was a perch. Trying again and about five minutes later I actually then caught a small pike saving the day for the team on this lake and avoiding the dreaded blank. That’s all to say about this lake really we knew it was a test of endurance and it lived up to its form but that said it gave me my first pike of the weekend so I was happy!
A short break followed once again and I had my usual cooked by Ben again and then it was no rest for the wicked as the next lake was my favourite, the pike lake!
Lake 4 – Valhala
If I’m honest I couldn’t help to be a little disappointed to be arriving at the pike lake last. After all the other three teams had already been there and thrashed the water to a foam with every type of lure going so what chance did we have? That said I think about nine pike had been caught over the weekend but none of the bigger ones so we were in with a chance albeit slight. The weather had finally woken up which didn’t help with strong cold winds and the odd shower of rain which made the fishing difficult but also it requires a certain type of mental strength to keep going in those sort of conditions. Still we set to it and within about ten minutes Tom Wilson was into a fish nothing big but it certainly gave us all hope. Another soon followed and I had chosen one of the new soft Frogs made by Fladen and available on my website www.adventuresofariverpiker.co.uk
I selected the bright pike one as the water clarity was poor and because you can fish them weed less and with a very slow sink and draw technique which allows you to leave them in the strike zone for the maximum amount of time possible. Also it’s worth noting that it’s that time of the year when frogs and toads start to make up part of a pikes diet as they come to lakes to spawn. I didn’t have to wait long when I felt a very gentle take and I struck immediately and was into a fish. Not a monster but a very welcome pike which gave me a fish for every lake of the competition and I was more than happy with that.
Pushing my team all the way we kept going but we managed just the three before time was up and I lost another one. Then it was time to head off back to the bar for the prize presentation.
Back at the bar it was time for the winners to collect their prizes and whilst I recognise that “friendly competition” can be a sort of contradiction in terms my experience of these comps is it really is friendly. Prizes were well earnt and given out accordingly and huge congratulations to my team for winning the team event as they all fished incredibly well and hard and from what I saw it was thoroughly deserved.
Congratulations to my team member Tim who won the overall species count competition and of course huge congratulations to Andy Payne for winning a special prize for his catfish. Reflecting back now I think it’s safe to say that most people left with prizes and that really everybody was winners. I had a special couple of presents for young Zane and Zeejay who are Joe and Zenia’s children generously donated by Fladen fishing and it was my great honour and privilege to give them these and see their faces light up.
Finally I’d just like to say a huge thank you to Fladen for the eleven goodie bags which were stuffed full of prizes for competitors and for allowing me to represent them and to all at Anglers Paradise especially Joe and Zenia for once again putting on a great successful event. I heard a rumour that the next one will be in November and hopefully I’ll get an invite back to defend my title. Thanks again to everyone involved I loved every single minute and if you’ve read all this then well done to you to, I know it’s a bit of an essay but believe me I kept it as brief as I could but if there is one drawback of these weekends then it that there is so much fun, unity and fishing that it’s impossible to record and relay it all. However I certainly enjoyed trying…..