This month has been extremely busy. So much so, that I ran out of time to write my monthly blog just before heading out to Spain with a small group from the Shuttleworth and Sparsholt Colleges, to help marshall the World Catfish Classic 2012. So there are two blogs below as there was so much to write about.
Two Sundays ago I had a very hectic day. After dropping my Dad off to fish in a flyfishing match called the Airflo World Bank Masters Final in the morning at Elinor Trout fishery, and watching for a couple of hours, my Mum then gave me a lift to College where 6 of us met before getting a minibus to Stansted and flying to Zaragoza later that afternoon. Once we arrived, Steve Waters, our teacher, and Rob Nunn, a head marshall, had hire cars ready to drive us the 1 hour journey to the quaint village of Chiprana. When we arrived we had tea in the sports hall that would be the central focal point of the World Catfish Classic, before finally arriving on the banks of the mighty River Ebro at around 1am and setting up camp. It seemed weird that only a few hours earlier I was watching one World Championship in England and was now about to watch another in Spain!
The first two days involved the Shuttleworth boys (Richard Allen, Jason Mackie, Matt Bedding, Joel Scrivener, Brandon Sharp and myself) and some Sparsholt students decorating the presentation hall with banners and flags, pegging swims and giving boat checks to arriving anglers and their teams, making sure all their equipment was safe.
Much of our work was also spent picking up litter and tidying up the river banks around the A, B and C sections where it was pegged. The amount of rubbish left by some visitors was astonishing - and apparently the litter we removed this year wasn't half as much as the year before! Last year, a whopping 25 tonnes of rubbish was collected by the Friends of the Ebro charity. I even picked up an empty beer can and a snake slithered out, as well as finding massive Centipedes and Praying Mantis in amongst the rubbish.
By the Tuesday evening, everything was ready to rock and roll. Flags from the nationalities of all the anglers and event organisers were paraded from the ancient church at the top of the hill in Chiprana, right down to the hall where the opening ceremony would take place. It was an amazing atmosphere, with the beating of the drums and all the locals from this sleepy Spanish village cheering and getting involved in the parade too. Later on that evening, anglers drew their peg scheme at the opening ceremony and returned to their bases before they were allowed to visit their swims at 7am the following morning, ready for the 9am start. The link to the parade is here.
I arrived at Section A, the area I was marshalling, early the next morning. This 2 mile stretch was meant to be notoriously hard for catfishing. With temperatures exceeding 41°C over the three days, it was quite challenging for everybody! As the first day progressed, Section A was living up to it's reputation, as the anglers struggled for bites. This area of the Ebro, a few miles downstream of sections B and C, is renowned for its Carp fishing and last year it held the Spanish Carp qualifier. There were literally hundreds of Carp on the surface all day, and swimming so close in the margins I even managed to stroke one!
In this section I was lucky enough to be marshalling the Spanish Carp fishing champion, Barry Wilson, in the same swim that he won it in, only this time he had to catch Catfish! It was his team-mate, Steve Howard of England that finally broke the deadlock right at the end of the day with a 55kg fish - his first over 100lbs. Shortly after the match ended I was given half an hour to fish using their tackle and I landed a cat of 47kg (104lbs). I was well chuffed!
They were the only two cats caught in Section A that day, but B and C had fished their socks off, with loads of cats landed and tagged, the biggest being 71kg! Luckily for the anglers in Section A, they were to rotate to Section B for the following day, where their chances of landing fish would be much greater. I was still to marshal Section A with the anglers who had previously fished Section C.
Just half an hour after playing that cat I was drafted down to play in a friendly football match. Our team, the WCC All Stars, were to play Chiprana FC's Youth academy. To put it simply, we got absolutely thrashed, the final score - 9 -1. Despite their average age of around 15 I've never played against such a good team!
The second day was another challenging one, with only two fish caught again on Section A. Both were from the same swim by the same angler, Gary Sheridan, of team USA who had one of 23.5kg and another fish at the last minute of 11kg. Daniel Tomi also caught a 12kg Common Carp in the swim next door - caught on Squid! Unfortunately, carp don't count though, neither did a cat of around 30kg that was within reaching distance of one angler before it threw the hook.
The 3rd and final day of the match was very tense. I was again marshalling Section A, but this time it was the turn of last year's winners Arnout, Ron and Lee to fish this area. At this point they were in the lead with a weight of 594.90kg. Ahead of Alexander Knittel, Huber Andreas and Florian Riedl of Germany, who were two swims along with a weight of 307.25kg. Only one fish was caught from Section A on the day, by Paul Fagan of England at 14kg, and all other teams blanked, but after having a bumper catch from Section B on the first day, that was enough to take Ron, Arnout and Lee to a 2nd WCC title. As I blew the final whistle, bottles of champagne were opened and sprayed in celebration and the Dutch flag was flown proudly high.
The presentation back at the sports hall took place after a fantastic Paella cooked by the Chiprana locals. All the anglers in my section that caught over the 3 days secured a top 10 finish. The Dutch team (Ron Beugelink, Arnout Terlouw and Lee Carpenter) came first with 594.90kg - a fantastic achievement. Germany's team of Alexander Knittel, Huber Andreas and Florian Riedl came 2nd with 307.25kg. Steve Howard, Alina Padurean and Tracey Lewis Wilson's England team came 3rd with 268.50kg and Beverley Clifford and Jason Ingley, another England Team came 4th with 261.70kg. The biggest fish caught during the match went to Sebastien Francois from France with an 82kg whopper!
After a long night of celebrations, Saturday morning was spent clearing up and by lunchtime we were done. The marshalls were then given time to do what they wanted, and there was only one thing on our minds... fishing!
A couple of us got a lift down to a tackle shop in Caspe and I bought a cheap spinning rod and reel loaded with 10lb line for 11 euros (as we weren't allowed to bring any tackle out with us). I also picked up a collection of shads and curltails, as well as jig heads, before we began fishing at the bridge at Chiprana and headed downriver. At 42°C the fishing was very tough with a bright sun glaring onto the water. We were based far away from the top areas for lure fishing for Zander, Perch and Largemouth Bass on the Ebro, which I heard was from the Dam at Caspe down to Mequinenza.
I fished until about 5pm as the river became busy with Carp and Catfish anglers. I hadn't caught anything, however, I had located some decent shoals of bleak in some areas and thought if the other anglers weren't fishing the whole night, I could get up early and fish these spots when there were less lines in the water.
Whilst everyone was asleep after another celebratory dinner that went on well in to the night, I had just 4 hours sleep before waking up at 5.30am. With jig rod in hand, climbing down the cliffs to the areas where I'd found the bleak shoals, I went fishing! The bleak were already being chased by some type of predator and were jumping out of the water - a very encouraging sign. It only took me about 20 minutes to bank my first Ebro Perch, all 8oz of it! I caught, and lost, a few more too, before it was time to head back for breakfast. All the fish were around the same size - nothing big, but good fun, especially on a light 11euro rod!
That was the last time I was able to fish before we set off on our journey home the same day. I wasn't sure what to expect when heading out to Spain but what a fantastic experience the World Catfish Classic turned out to be. It was a great laugh being with the lads from Shuttleworth College and meeting the guys from Sparsholt too. Some of the anglers in the match were fantastic company and I certainly learned a great deal from them when it comes to targeting Ebro Cats. I can only thank Steve and Chris at Shuttleworth College, Ross Honey and his fantastic team of organisers for inviting me to take part in an awesome match. All in all - an amazing experience!