It wasn't easy.
The Street League was an addition to this year's British Lure Angling Championships. Eight of the most urban BLAC qualifiers counted towards an ongoing league table of points. The higher you ranked in each, the more points you obtained. The bigger the turnout, the more points on offer.
Coming into a new season it was a big commitment upfront. Eight 'fishing tokens' spent before the year had even begun! But it felt right up my... err... street.
I'm an advocate of fishing for what's in front of you. In this busy world we live in, regrettably a lot of us can no longer plan extensive trips tracking down elusive specimens. Consequently I've adapted my fishing to catch what I can, wherever I find myself with an hour or two to spare. What better way then to test this approach than a series spread around the country on venues I've never seen before, never mind fished.
Or at least that was the romantic notion.
And then Salford Quays happened.
If ever there was an anticlimax, it was Salford. A six-hour slog in deepest, darkest February, chasing imaginary fish. The single highlight of that day was meeting Ian Whittaker - my partner in grime for the day. Ian's interest in the lighter side of luring kept us nattering away - although it would have been nice to prove the concept with a fish!
The day got worse for all but one. That man again. A man who could single-handedly out compete the Cormorant race with his appetite for catching fish. Mr Stephen Collett.
Steve found a single Perch, saving an awkward result for BLAC and claiming all the points for the Street League. Credit where credit is due. This was not a fluke and Steve demonstrated once again why he is the 'winningest' of all anglers. But it left a mountain to climb for the rest of the Street competitors and it felt like the game had been lost in the opening minutes. It was a long drive home from Manchester...
Such was my misaligned confidence, I had committed to the first four Street events. But they all had a genuine attraction and of course I still needed to qualify for the final at Chew.
Next up was Exeter, a venue that will always remain a fond memory after my first win there, back at the very start of BLAC. Unfortunately I went to that match a bit under the weather with a bug. The fish turned out to be localised and the podium positions all came from a single spot. If I had stood still for six hours on that cold day, I think I would have died of pneumonia. Luckily my partner for the day, Chris Lambert was up for a mooch and we kept busy, looking for Perch in the undergrowth. Think I ended up in 8th place. I did learn a few things about Perch behaviour and 'jungle warfare' though. Chris - sorry for being a bit under the weather that day mate!
I've always listed being lucky as my key talent and so that proved to be the case once more with the third round, as the planned Basingstoke match got relocated to my local stretch of the Kennet and Avon at Hungerford. To give you an idea of just how lucky, this is a stretch of canal I have plotted over 500 Perch captures. I learned my craft here.
Having already written off the league after a lacklustre start, I went to Hungerford with the aim of enjoying myself and hopefully qualifying with my old mukka, Dan. It was an awesome day, surrounded by friends, in familiar surroundings. I fished my socks off against stiff opposition and took the win. Dan came through in 3rd and our training partner, John Cheyne took 4th. Definitely one of the highlights of my year.
There wasn't any time to celebrate. The very next day was round four. On the Grand Union near London.
The planets must have been aligned that weekend as much luck continued. I drew Mike McGuire - a man with a plan - and a clear UL-junkie, like myself. We had a blast! Fishing side by side, Mike gave me a right battle from start to finish. Our friendly competition took us all the way to the top, with Mike taking the win and myself taking 2nd. I really enjoyed that day. I owe ya Mike!
When Jules updated the Street League points on Facebook, it was a huge shock to see I was right back in there. With big turnouts at Hungerford and then London I'd amassed a large sum of points.
It was a curse as much as a blessing. In went the subs for the next four rounds, all-in with the remaining 4 'fishing tokens' and began the grovelling process with the better-half. "Fancy a weekend in Leicester, darling? Darling??" :0S
Round 5 saw another venue change with the LACC stepping in last-minute to swap dates with the Fazeley round - saving the day. Having fished the Canal Club stretch before, but never really succeeding with the notorious gloop, I went in with a fair amount of trepidation. A decision to not head straight to the Zander hotspots and fish as I would in any canal paid off, with a string of nice Perch before the first boats came through and 'turned the milk chocolatey'. A 2nd position between two Zander anglers felt good and broke the spell on this bogey water.
Some BLAC qualifiers look good on paper. Like the Camden round from the previous year, Bristol Docks felt like it could be an eye-opener. Typically I made it hard for myself by squeezing in some rockfishing the day before, way down in Dorset. It was late by the time I rolled into town. After another car-sleep, I was noticeably hanging for the draw. Yet again, fate looked favourably toward my wretched state and drew me alongside Tony 'the tank' Chesworth. Tony is another angler that has clearly and openly been bitten by this modern lure fishing bug. Tony's enthusiasm carried me along all day and I was ecstatic to see him take 2nd position, qualifying for the final. I was more than happy to play rear-gunner to Tony, taking 3rd.
Ahead of the summer break I was sitting pretty with a string of four podium positions.
As predominantly a sea angler, the summer was again the pinnacle of my angling year. As boat traffic increases on the inland waterways, algae blooms in the sunshine and water clarity generally declines, the polar opposite is occurring around our coast. Crystal clear water and an endless stream of saltwater species greet any modern lure angler, willing to transfer his or her skills from freshwater. I love it, love it, LOVE IT.
It's been an insanely good year. Summer was full of highlights. Mileage went up big-time. Every weekend it seemed like I was off chasing something or other. The saltwater comps came and went, and all of a sudden it was the one we'd been waiting for - a week-long trip to Ireland with the Sea Angler crew. I'm sorry to have been so secretive about that one. Obvious reasons. But it will all come out in the end. #Immense
So by the time round 7 came knocking on the door in early September, it was a bit of a shock. I honestly don't believe I'd seen a (British) Perch since the last round in Bristol, back in June. Fazeley was a bit of a shock to the system, and to be honest, not an awful lot of fun for me. Even the ever happy Lee Garner couldn't cheer me up that day. Soz geez.
Although I'd achieved what I set out to do - to earn points - it was another long drive home on my tod.
The Matt Boast 'problem'. Whichever competitions you fish, Matt will be there. Normally laughing or making people laugh, or both. Dedicated to the cause. The man's work-rate is immense. A fishing machine. Worse (for me and other competitors), but not a surprise given the amount of angling he's doing, his results are getting better and better and better. Aware of this form, I was feeling the pressure. With Matt just a few points behind me, I knew he would capitalise on any slip-ups. I had to fish the last round on the Soar, and I had to catch. Sounds fairly easy now, but all the while I had that memory of Salford nagging at me. Time to dig deep.
With this in mind I did manage to convince the missus that we should have a weekend in Leicester. In fact, I think Estelle had already read the situation and the pressure I'd put myself under. Realistically, it was actually Estelle that was convincing me that we should head up on the Saturday, sharing the driving and giving me the opportunity to walk the course. Thanks babes! Couldn't have done it without you :0D
Round 8 then. The final Street League competition. Fishing the navigable Soar, south of Leicester. It looked good. The water clarity was perfect. I'd already made the decision to fish the canal section as I'd seen Perch there the day before. Thankfully Shimano's Dan Brackley, my partner for the day, agreed.
The challenge with the Soar was the weed. The bottom was covered with that stringy stuff that covers even the sleekest of jigheads. Typically for me, I had a slow start. Matt had made the same, left-hand turn out the car park and headed straight to the obvious structure - the road bridge marking the end of the zone. He'd made the right choices, using Dropshot to keep his lure above the weed and maximizing fishing time. I on the other hand was being stubborn and sticking with my preferred Jighead. I was struggling to the point that at least one competitor offered to lend me some gear. I know what face I must have been pulling!
That wasn't the point. I had DS in reserve, but I really enjoy fishing Jighead. On-the-drop is my off-the-top. The Jighead technique has given me everything. Nearly all my podium positions. It would be a mistake to think Dropshot wins all the time. However, DS was winning that day.
I enjoy making things happen. Dan (Sissons) talks about making fish 'have it'. That day I needed, no wanted, to make Jighead work. Slowly but surely it started to happen. A change in timing. An exaggerated lift. A cushioned descent. The fish were starting to come.
Dan Brackley and I had split from the over-crowded bridge and were systematically covering every likely spot in the straight section of canal. I was finally starting to enjoy myself, but was having to work hard for my fish. Then we hit a huge 'nest', in the middle of absolute nowhere. Not a feature to be seen.
By this time Dan had joined me with a light Jighead setup and we absolutely teamed 'em! I sniped at one side of the shoal while Dan pinned them down on the other side. #Massacre
I know 'wasps' aren't everyone's cup of tea, but when you get a good run on them like that, there's not a lot better :0)
After we finally lost the shoal, we continued back along the towpath, finding the odd fish here and there. One Perch, quite possibly the biggest of the day at 20cm, remains memorable. But not for its size. I kid you not. I caught it in a puddle! You know when the bank slightly breaks and you get a cutaway - normally where dogs go in and out? In there. It was half out the water when it appeared out of nowhere, like Mr Ben. I think my mouth was wide open when I instinctively struck. It was on the bloody towpath!!
I finished the day in a respectable 4th. It was no surprise to see Matt ahead of me once more, in 3rd. It felt like the right result. The icing on the cake was seeing Lee Garner (1st) and Vidar qualify for the final at Chew. Never any doubt gentlemen!
I'd done it.
British Street Fishing Champion.
A win for LRF. A win for Jighead. A win for effort and luck. Never give in.
Massive, massive thanks to everyone I've had the pleasure of partnering with this year. It's been a total blast. Thanks again to Jules for creating this event and putting in all the legwork. Although with all you've seen over the last two years, I'm slightly worried by the fact you're soon becoming a competitor! Thanks to my better half, Estelle for not freaking out (too much) when I changed our plans AGAIN. I really don't know why you put up with it, but THANK YOU.