I spend most of my spare time sea fishing, but I have never fished a competition. After chatting with a lot of people on the beaches over the last 12 months, I was surprised to find out how many other fisherman had never fished an organised match.
I was a little unsure of where to start, but looking on Facebook one cold December evening, I came across a post about a match over in Eastbourne, East Sussex called, The Big One - Tony's Tackle and Excalibur Charters Beach Open. There was £1000 for the winner, it was only an hours drive from Worthing, where I live these days and it was on Sunday 21st of January, so that gave me 1 month to try and work out what the hell I was doing.
Now I’ve been fishing most of my life and I always seem to do ok. Last year alone caught 14 double figure Undulate Rays, with the biggest being 15 lb 2 oz. I also had my best year of Smooth-hound fishing, with over 20 double figure fish. But I do most of my fishing on my own. The thought of going fishing with 100 other people, competing to try and win money, just seems a bit weird to me. I always go fishing to get away from stress, but this all sounded a bit stressful for my liking, but it is something I have always wanted to do, so I called Tony’s Tackle, paid my £20 and that was it, I was in!
I had 4 weeks of thinking how I was going to spend this £1000 I was going to win at the competition, but then I realised, I really had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know the rules of the competition, or even when I caught a fish, how do I weigh it in? How does the draw work, do you get your own peg? I think it was a one rod rule, but what rig to use? My favorite pulley pennel rig with 3/0 hooks, or would it be best to use a 2 hook flapper with smaller 1/0 hooks?
It was now 1 week before the event and due to me having no idea of what I was doing, it was time to call in help from former England international and local match ace, Tony Kerridge of Tony's Tackle in Eastbourne. As he was organising the match, and has a lifetime of experience, I thought he could be the man to help me win the £1000.
I hadn't met Tony before, and he couldn't have been any nicer. He explained to me that there would be 3 zones and that I have to turn up to to Eastbourne Angling Association from 7:30am - 8:30am on the day of the event for the draw, so I could find out what zone I was in. Then the match would run from 9:30am to 2:30pm. I found out that there was a one rod and 3 hook rule. So the next thing I needed to know was what rig to use. I brought along a 2 hook flapper rig I had made to see if I was on the right track. He explained to me that the 1/0 hooks were going to be far to big for the job. He said the cod have not turned up this year and the best chance of getting anywhere was to downsize to size 1 or 2 hooks to target the whiting, as this is what will probably win the match. He said years ago you could use bigger hooks and target the bigger fish, but unfortunately these days have now gone in Eastbourne at this time of year.
Bait wise, he said that in Eastbourne in January, it is all about lugworm. He said if I was using a 3 hook rig then I would need a least 50 and that fresh would always be better than frozen. So I ordered 50 fresh lug off him to pick up on the day of the match.
Tony told me that it was a catch and release match, which means when you catch a fish that is sizeable, you measure it with your ruler, then go to the man fishing next to you and he has to sign a bit of paper that says it's the correct length and then you release the fish back safe and sound. You get points based on the size of the fish and all of this is explained on a sheet of paper you get when you sign on in the morning. He said that in some competitions undersized fish do count, but not in this particular match.
The best news is that there could actually be a lot more than £1,000 in prize money. Excalibur Charters have put in £500, Tony's Tackles £250 and Eastbourne Angling Club have put in £100 in sponsorship. There were already 100 people signed up for the event with a week to go who have all paid £20 each, so the top 10 in each zone would get prize money.
It was now Saturday, the day before the match and I thought it was time to sit in the garage and make up some rigs. I found out that Eastbourne is not a particularly snaggy place to fish, so had guessed that with the 1 rod rule, 4 rigs should be ok. The 1st problem I had was, I didn't have any hooks under 1/0. About a year ago I switched over to Sakuma 545 Manta Extra Hooks. I'm not sponsored by them in any way but I must say that these are the strongest and sharpest hooks I've ever used. The problem is, they only go down to a size 1/0, so I was going to have to buy something different. So I went out and got 25 Sakuma 560 Stinger Hooks in a size 2 (£4.70). I had never used these before but they have the classic aberdeen look and are finished in anti-corrosive black nickel. The long shank makes baiting easy and also aids in the removal of the hook from fish, which could be important for the match as Tony did say you'll have to be quick when the Whiting are biting, as this could win you the match.
For my rig, I went with a 3 hook flapper, 2 up, 1 down. For the rig body I was using 60lb Ultima Powerflex. For my snoods I went with Ultima Memor-X in 20lb. My flapper rigs don’t clip down, but after chatting with Tony, he said most of the top guys all use clip down rigs, making them very aerodynamic, so they get good distance on every cast. This is something I need to look into, but I wanted to stick with something I have confidence in, for now.
I was going to take plenty of 5oz and 6oz weights with me, unless it's really windy, this should be plenty to hold the bottom. Rod wise I was going to use my new 14ft Sonik SKS Black. I’m also going to use a 10000 Shimano Baitrunner ST-RB (can you tell I started life as a carp fisherman?). I'm also using a 60lb Ultima Powerflex shock leader, with 15lb Ultima F1 black main line.
The day was here, Sunday the 21st of January 2018, and my alarms going off at 5:30am. I've made my sandwiches the night before, I make a quick flask of coffee and off I go for a 50 min drive to Eastbourne, to pick up my bait from Tony’s Tackle. I told Tony to make me up a bundle of worm for me, whatever he thought was best for the day. I ended up with fresh blow lug, black lug and a few rag worms. In total this came to £18. I had also brought some dirty squid with me to tip the baits off.
Next up was a short drive to Eastbourne Angling Centre, where I had to draw to find out where I was fishing for the day. I got 34 A. As I didn't know the area, I had no idea if this was good or not. I also had no Idea on how to get there; but I was in luck, the organisers could not have been more helpful. I got my phone out and by using Google Maps they showed me where the peg was and where to park.
It was a 10 minute drive to Zone A, where I managed to park up with a lot of other hopeful and excited anglers. I had a chat with a few friendly chaps and then had a short walk to my peg. The 1st thing I noticed was, looking to my right and then to my left, all you could see were fisherman, which I have never seen before. It made me feel that I was part of something; we were all here with the same passion, love and enthusiasm for the same thing.
I was all set up and ready to go at 8:30am, but I could not cast out until 9:30am, so I had a few practice casts, got some spare rigs ready and had a chat with the guy fishing next to me. His name was Richard and he had traveled from Chesil Beach. I wanted to make contact with him as he was the guy that was going to have to sign my card for the sizeable fish that I was hopefully going to catch.
The weather forecast was bad for today, very heavy rain and 19 mph winds, but as I casted out to start the match at 9:30am, there was no rain, it was calm, and all rather pleasant for January. With in 10 minutes that all changed. It started to rain lightly, which was ok, I could handle that. As I looked around me, I could that see every other fisherman had set up beach shelters, apart from me, as I don’t own one.
It was my 2nd cast and I had a knock on the rod tip. I definitely had a fish on, but left it a few minutes because if the fish were in the area, I wanted 2 or 3 a cast. I reeled in and had 1 flounder on that had taken a ragworm on my top hook. I took the fish off, put it in my bucket of water and clipped on my 2nd rig that was already baited up and hanging from my tripod, and then casted back out. Match fishing is all about speed and you will never catch anything with your hooks out of the water. I learnt this within seconds of watching the more experienced guys around me.
Then my attention turned back to Mr flounder in my bucket; was it sizelbal, have I got some points in the 1st 20 minutes of my 1st ever competition? I measured it and it was 27cm, so I had a look at my bit of paper with the size limits on and a flounder had to be 25cm. Yes, I had done it, I had got 21 points on my 2nd cast of my 1st ever match!
Having a look around me, I saw a few people catching undersized Whiting, but nothing bigger. 30 minutes in and the rain got worse, the wind got worse, and things started getting harder. By the time we got to 12pm, the light rain had turned to ice cold torrential rain . Every fisherman I could see had retired to the comfort of their shelters. By 12:30pm, I could no longer feel my hands, which was making baiting up very hard work.
4 hours in and I hadn’t seen a fish caught for 3 hours. I was the coldest and wettest I had ever been, 3 fisherman had come up to me and asked if I was mad, coming fishing without any sort of shelter, and at times I did think about packing up, but as I couldn't see any other fish being caught, so I thought if I fished hard for the last hour, I could still be in with a chance.
Unfortunately, I didn't have another bite after my 1st fish, but I fished my heart out for 5 hours and don’t feel I could have finished any better. I packed up, got back to my car and I don’t think I have ever been so relieved to get back in to the dry.
I drove back to the club house where I had to hand my card in. I had 21 points, and wondered if it was worth handing in, but after not seeing much else caught, you never know. I was at the bar getting a drink and I saw some guys with England international hoodies on, I later found out that one of them was 2017 Southern Sea Angling League winner and current England team member, Darren Newland. As I was chatting with some of the other guys, I realised I had been fishing with British and European champions. Did I ever stand a chance? Probably not! When I overheard some of them talking about how many points they had got, they were talking of numbers like: 190 and 210. This is the point when I felt like my 21 points were not going to cut it. They did all tell me that I had absolutely no chance in Zone A, it was the worse possible draw I could have got. I’m glad I didn't know this beforehand, or I probably would not have lasted the 5 hours in the cold and rain.
A big well done to Darren Bond from Worthing, West Sussex for winning the competition and getting the big £1000 in prize money.
So, would I do all this madness again? Well I’ve just entered the European Open Beach Championships in Tunstall, East Yorkshire, the biggest beach fishing event in the world with £35,000 in prize money. I thought this would be a good 2nd match for a novice like myself. As I write this, I have 2 weeks to get ready. Wish me luck, I think I may need it!