It's The Muppet Show

By Steve Cox

Those of us that have fished a few nationals know all about the nerves and the less fortunate among us know about the disappointments the big day can bring. This is a tale of a day when everything went right for an 'average match angler'.

The Build Up.

Turn off the alarm and try not to wake the wife. Oops! Too late! It feels like I only got to bed about three hours ago. Oh yes! Tying pole rigs till half past midnight meant I did only get to bed three hours ago. Never mind, this is the day we've all been waiting for. Saturday 20th July 1991, 5th Division National.

Washed and dressed and the kettle is on. Time to phone Pete to tell him I'm up. Engaged! I knew that would happen. Try again. "Hi, Pete, it's Steve Cox." "Oh! I've already crossed you off," he says, "someone phoned and said 'It's Animal' and I thought it was you." Thanks Pete! I leave him to sort it out. Get my bait out of the shed, make my flask and I'm ready. Go up and kiss the wife. "Good luck" she whispers. I'll need it!

Pull into the King's Arms' car park. Good the coach is here. Booking it was my job. "Good morning" all round and load the gear.

We're off! Some sleep, others, me included, go over the team plan again. We went up to watch the 6th Division National two weeks earlier and some of them had fished on the Sunday. Based on those hours of practice we decided to do what most of the successful teams had done and fish two short pole lines and a long one with bloodworm.

Arrive at Tuffley. The driver wants to get away but we won't let him until after the draw. I buy him breakfast to try to cheer him up. It doesn't work!

After breakfast Roger calls me over to meet an old friend from his Team Delta days, Dick Lewis. He has moved to Gloucester and his new club have pegged the canal for the match. His friend Chris tells us he's worried about our pole only approach. He doesn't think we should ignore the feeder and we must try big maggot for the better fish and loose feed hemp and maggot on the far pole line. "Who is going to win it?" I ask. "Mohmar or Ossett" he replies. "Probably Ossett." He had been coaching Ossett and their practice weights had been impressive.

Go and get my money on with Billy Knott. Make a fateful decision to have only £5 each way on myself. Look at Ossett's odds. 10/1 crossed out and 4/1 written up. Take it anyway, £10 each way.

Pete and Steve are off to the draw and everyone else is moaning about their bloodworm. Doddy says he's never even seen a bloodworm before, but he knows our bait is crap! Why have we got a team plan based on bloodworm when some of the team have never used it before? Why do you think we are called the Twyford Muppets?

Anyway, experienced bloodworm anglers or not, we could see that half the worms were dead. I take mine back to the supplier, demand my money back and get it, then a quick dash up to the guy with the decent bait and shell out £25 for two more pints.

Pete and Steve return. Peg 35. Means nothing to us and when I am told I am in Section E it means even less. A quick look in the Angling Times write-up and it seems I need to be near the wood pile. Get the tackle together, wish everyone good luck and off the coaches.

I am first on the coach but it soon fills with lots of sombre faced fishermen. Why is it that whichever coach you get on in a national you get the impression that you have drawn a cesspit? The fellow across the aisle sounds like Frazer from "Dad's Army". "We're doomed!" We have to wait for a spare steward and then we are on our way.

The weather is hot and muggy and we arrive at Parkend Bridge to be told that we can't get to the middle access and have a long walk in front of us. Perfick! At least it is a firm towpath and I have a trolley. We pass the guest house and the wood pile so I have missed the fliers and looking down the canal it looks as if far bank cover is pretty scarce too.

Arrive at peg 35. It looks OK and there are fish topping, but then they are all along the canal. One and a half hours to go and only two poles and a feeder to set up, but I bet I need every minute. Mix the groundbait. One bowl to go in at the start, the other for feeding throughout the match. Mix and sieve three times as per team plan. It's mixed heavy for a slow breakdown. The feeder was not in the plan, but what Chris had said earlier has me worried.

I plumb the far line first, trying to find the bottom of the shelf, but run out of pole before I do. I settle for eight metres for ease of fishing and find about 16 feet. At four metres I have 11 feet and the inside line at on metre is about 8 feet deep. For the far line I set up a one and a half gramme rig and for the inside a one gramme, both with size 20 Gamakatsu 6315s to 1.4lb Concept 2000. With five minutes to go I mix a pint of bloodworm into the groundbait for the initial feeding. Re-check everything and I'm ready.

The Match

All in! Feed four orange sized balls packed with bloodworm at eight metres, two tangarines at four metres, two down the wall either side and three across, Start on the feeder. No bites!

Come inside on the one metre line. Feed a marble sized ball every chuck and loose feed hemp and maggot at eight metres. I start on bloodworm and get tiny skimmers and roach. Change to maggot and catch slightly better fish, about an ounce each, but slower. The pegs either side started on the long pole but aren't catching. After half an hour inside I've got 15 to 20 fish for about 12oz.

First try at eight metres with maggot on the hook. Some boats have just passed and seeing the float is difficult. It goes under and then comes up again every time a wave goes over it. It didn't come back up that time. Strike! Eel about 6oz, can't get the hook out. Cut the line and tie on a Kamasan B520, still in a 20. Next chuck a skimmer of about 8oz on treble bloodworm. Try double pinkie next, bream like pinkies! Float's gone, elastic's out, good fish. Bream! Draw it away and unship two sections. Too soon! It goes berserk! Bream aren't supposed to fight. I should put the sections back on, but every time it runs I think it's the last time. It nearly goes under the ke
ep-net but I just hold it out. Finally, it's had enough and slides over the landing net. The bream goes at least two and a half pounds. Brilliant!

One hour gone and over four pounds in the net. Get out again on pinkie. Nothing. Try big maggot. Another 6oz eel and another lost hook. Try five bloodworm this time. Float's gone, elastic's out and another good bream on. Be careful with this one. Easy does it. Hook pulls out. Oh dear! Hope it hasn't scared them. Another five bloodworm and back out. Nothing. Try maggot. Nothing. Pinkie. Nothing. Have I blown it? Give it till half past. I can afford that. Nothing!

Give the far line a rest and come back inside. I don't know whether to put more bait out there. They said just loose feed after the initial feed. I start catching small fish again but not as quickly as before. The fellow from Chatteris on my left lands a skimmer and already has some eels. The Ampthill lad on my right lands a skimmer too and I think I've blown it.

Small fish have given me another quarter pound or so, but I don't want to fish the near line to death, I might need it later. Try eight metres again. Nothing on bloodworm, but big maggot brings a small eel and another lost hook, swiftly followed by a better eel and another lost hook. Out again and a skimmer then nothing for twenty minutes.

I still don't want to put more groundbait over but I keep the loose feed going in and try four metres for the first time. This is even slower than the inside line and the fish are just as small, but at least I get a few more.

The chap on my right is catching small skimmers and roach on his far pole line and is feeding groundbait every chuck. I've got to try it. There are some more boats on the way so I mix two more big balls filled with bloodworm and throw them in as the boats pass. Back inside while it settles. I have a few more but it's dying.

Back out to eight metres praying the fish would be there. Another eel then nothing.

All or nothing time! I've already done enough for good section points and the Newport lad three to my right is netting fish every time I look round. Mix the last half pint of bloodworm into three more big balls of groundbait and do the same boat trick, then go to four metres while it settles. Three small fish and we're into the last hour.

This is it! Are they going to be there? Start with big maggot, eels will do. First chuck, the float goes and it's a good roach of half a pound, swiftly followed by another 8oz eel and, "Thank you God", it's hooked in the lip. Back out with red maggot, reach down for the loose feed and where is the float? Strike, fish on, a good skimmer, maybe a pound, followed by another eel, but can't get the hook back this time. Three pegs down is netting another, looks like he's flying, but so am I. Back out and more boats make it difficult to see. I'm feeding caster now, quite heavily. Was that a bite? Yes, another good skimmer, 12oz. Next three chucks produce three good skimmers of eight to 12oz all to big maggot.

Into the last ten minutes and I reckon I've got close to double figures, but still think the guy from Newport is beating me. After those three in a row it's gone quiet and I'm praying for just one more. And there goes the float and out comes the elastic and I'm into another proper bream. Play it carefully, it's probably the last. Do they really fight this hard or is it just because it's the National? At last it's up on it's side and in the net and it must go two pounds. I'm elated. I go out again, but there are only two minutes left and I get no more.

The Results

All out! Pack up quickly and wait for the scales. First a drink, though. Thanks to leaving my flask on the coach I've been gasping all afternoon and, to make matters worse, the lad on my right has a big bottle of Coke and every time he took a drink from it the top opened with a hiss. I walk down and ask him for a drink and he kindly offers me the bottle. Cheers mate! He says he's done OK, but reckons it's between me and Newport.

The scales don't take long. One of the lads from the earlier pegs, I think City of Bristol, said that the chub pegs in the low numbers had not produced and top weight so far was 3kg. I was beginning to feel good. As I pull my net out it sounds like a very reasonable bag of fish indeed. Not so impressive when it goes on the scales, but a nice bag and enough to take the needle all the way round and struggle towards the 6kg mark. It doesn't quite make it and we settle for 5.900kg, about 13lb 4oz. Even more than I'd hoped for and the consensus of opinion is that it will win the section. I am not so confident. Ampthill has 2.31kg for good section points and then there is a 1.29kg before peg 38 from Newport gets his net out. As soon as I see it I know I've done him. I really did think he was catching well, but at 2.89kg he's well short. I continue to follow the scales down and, apart a major scare when the ARC representative weighs 4.56kg. I beat everyone on my coach. Only the top 25 pegs to worry about now. They have already weighed in so I will have to wait.

Arrive back at the bridge just in time to stop the high numbers coach and ask the driver what the top weight is. He says 3kg odd, so I'm home and dry.

After a very pleasant return journey we arrive back at Tuffley and I go looking for our coach. What a nice change to be met by smiling team mates. Doddy rushes over and asks how many points I've got. I ask how many you get for winning your section and the smiles broaden. Only half the team are back, but we've all done well. Pete has done a captain's job and estimates top five in his section. He was in fact fourth. Roger has done even better and finished 2nd in his with 9lb 8oz. Doddy has never fished bloodworm before but beats over fifty people in his section and Steve Dunbar does his usual reliable job and finishes seventh in his. The rest of the team arrive back in ones and twos and have more good news. Colin, Vic and Joe finish in the top twenty, Vic having murdered all the pegs around him and Chris, in his first national, finishes halfway. John, Alan and Ernie contribute good points too and team wise it's looking very good. I know I've got section money coming so it's drinks on me in the bar.

We reckon Roger and I could be in the top twelve individuals and we will soon find out because the results are ready. They call out the individuals first and in twelfth place is Kenny Collings with 4.48kg. Good news for me , bad for Roger. As each subsequent individual is called out my position gets better. They get to sixth and it's still not me so I know I can pick up from the bookies. I'm not fifth either, then we hear "In fourth place from peg E 35...". I can't hear the rest above the cheering Muppets, thanks
lads! I fight my way to the stage to collect my medal and it's like I'm dreaming as I step off to be greeted by the Anglers' Mail reporter. We wait for third placed Ian Spriggs of City of Bristol to join us. We congratulate each other, then I find out he's beaten me by four ounces. I could have scratched his eyes out! By the time we've told our stories they have announced the incredible tie for first place between Vince Camilleri and Neil Grant., both on 7.63kg, and are calling my name again. Seconds later I'm back on stage to collect my section winner's medal.

Back to the lads and it's handshakes all round. I show off my medals then they start to announce the team results. We know our local rivals Newtown have done well and when we hear their name called out in fifteenth place we think we have missed out. However, a minute later the PA system announces "In eleventh place, from peg 35, Twyford and District". The Muppets are up and the next few minutes is a blur of back slaps and handshakes. The Newtown lads come over and congratulate us and there are a lot of happy Berkshire faces about in Gloucester.

The announcements continue and I suddenly remember my bet on Ossett. I try to make myself heard above the happy din and ask how they got on. Doddy wants to know who the hell Ossett are and Vic wants to know why I'm interested. I tell them about the bet and then we all look dumbfounded as they announce "The Fifth Division Champions for 1991, Ossett Anglers". I think I'll probably wake up in a minute and some of the lads obviously think I've had enough luck for one national and are less than generous in their congratulations.

I leave Doddy the money for the next round while I race over to Billy Knott before someone realises there's been a mistake. This sort of day's fishing doesn't happen to me. Sixty eight pounds back for Ossett and £355 for my fourth place. Billy shakes my hand and says well done, a nice touch. Then back to the bar for more celebrations.

We decide to go back to Twyford for a drink and climb aboard the coach full of life and good spirits. I suggest a game of cards, but get things thrown at me and instead they all fall asleep. It's been a long day but I can't sleep and spend the journey going over the day's events.

Arrive back at the King's Arms. I want to carry on drinking but half the team have had enough and the rest of us have a quick couple then say our goodbyes.

I'm still pumping adrenalin when I get home. Teresa's not too keen on me being a match fisherman because it takes up the whole day. She asks how I did. I say "Not too good" and she frowns. I take the medals and the money out of my pockets. "But not too bad either". There is nothing quite like the sight of £400 in used 'Nelsons' to make my wife smile and when I tell her about the pools money to come I have the perfect end to the perfect day!

Steve Cox - 2003