Simon Willsmore reports back on the 2014 RiverFest Final which was contested on the mighty River Wye at the weekend.
The Angling Trust RiverFest Final was a match that I had been looking forward to since I qualified on the River Thames at Medley in October with a nice 12lb net of perch and roach. The River Wye at Hereford is a great river, but for the anglers who do not fish there regularly the amount of tackle let alone bait you need is mind blowing. The fact that the venue is a spate river fed by a series of mountain tributaries means the level changes dramatically and 80cm up is a sort of normal level.
I had managed to visit the venue twice prior to the match; once for a walk along a match and subsequently for a practice session with my Dorking team mate Lee Edwards who knows the venue very well. I was hoping my general river experience and Lee’s advice on the phone prior to the match would see me through and in any case it was impossible to practice all the methods that could potentially be used.
The day before the weekend event I got to the venue at midday and the river was really well up at 2.2m high and was tanking through. It was obviously going to be patchy and to me it looked like it was going to be a barbel and bleak match, so I spent the afternoon setting up a few whips with different size floats on and also a couple of feeder rods and running line rods.
Waiting for the draw with the other 59 anglers on Saturday it was clear that there were a lot of small fish in the end Peg 65 just above the rowing club and it did cross my mind more than once that drawing there would suit me down to the ground. So I couldn’t believe it when I drew it! To cut a long story short I caught 19lb 7oz of dace and bleak on a 4.5m whip fishing 4ft deep with a 1.5g pencil float; around 450 fish I would guess although I didn’t count them. I prefer concentrating on my rhythm rather than count the fish and they were coming in short bursts for the first three hours before really moving in for the last two. It is a style of fishing that I did a lot of when I lived in Italy in the 90s and I really enjoyed the day.
I was happy with my 19lb 7oz weight as it won the section and was 2nd in my 30-peg zone, putting me 5th in the match after Day One. Steve Sadler won the day from Peg 53 with four barbel for 30lb 11oz, giving him a 7lb 2oz lead over Micky Vials, who also had four barbel for 23lb 9oz from Peg 38. Sean Rampling had a barbel catch of 22lb 5oz from Peg 93, while Sean Ashby had a barbel and 700 bleak for 4th with 21lb 10oz from Peg 40.
The next day I drew Peg 53, the peg where Steve Sadler had won the match the day before with 30lb of barbel. It is also a good roach peg, so this left me with some big decisions to make! The river had dropped and was running clearer, so it gave me the option to fish for roach as they could feed, but to be honest being 10lb behind Steve I felt I had to start for barbel as they had shown early the day before and a lump or two would put me right up there. I gave it an hour but with no bites or liners forthcoming and bank walkers saying that not many barbel had been caught aIong the match length I switched to my pole line where I had balled it at the start.
Initially I struggled but after refeeding I started to catch a few perch and the odd roach. I was fishing a 10g flat float overdepth, edging it through. The peg shallowed up about 25cm over the 4ft I was working, which was great as it meant my feed would be collecting on this slope and not washing away as quickly as it would on a flat-bottomed peg. The down side was that as I edged my hook bait down the swim I was going more and more overdepth, which meant I was seeing the bites a bit late and losing an odd roach as they were deep hooked. Shallowing up slowed my catch rate as did putting on a bigger hook so in these early stages this was a very frustrating part of the match.
Feeding regularly with groundbait and loose feeding hemp and caster kept the peg going and as it got stronger I upped my hook to a size 14 Kamasan B560 which did give me a few less bites but I didn’t lose many fish. As the light faded I finished well with a big roach and two perch for 2lb in the last 10 minutes. I ended up with 21lb exactly, once again coming 2nd in the 30-peg zone. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to win but gave me a decent shout of a frame place.
My total of 40lb 7oz gave me 4th place overall, which I had to be happy with as the weights were very tight. I had drawn two great pegs and had two fantastic days fishing with plenty of bites on two very diverse methods. I also have more experience and a feel for the venue now, which will hopefully serve me well in my choice of tactics if I qualify again – which I will be trying hard to do next year!
Congratulations to Steve Sadler on winning the event. RiverFest has certainly given river match fishing a boost and that’s not something many people could have envisaged before its inception, so the Angling Trust and everyone involved, especially Dave Harrell, have to be thanked.
I have had a very enjoyable last three months on the rivers and this RiverFest result comes on the back of a 3rd at Evesham on the Saturday match and 4th overall in both the Thames Festival and the Trent Festival, plus a few frame-ups on the Thames circuit with some cracking nets of fish up to 38lb, all on float tactics.
It’s brilliant that these events are being run and I think the rivers will fish well again next year as there are loads of small fish about, especially dace. Hopefully we will get some good weather again, which definitely helps. Tight lines!
1st Steve Sadler (WB Clarke) 49lb 5oz
2nd Sean Ashby (Sensas) 45lb 7oz
3rd Paul Bick (Shakespeare) 42lb 12oz
4th Simon Willsmore (Drennan) 40lb 7oz
5th Sam Merry (Bait-Tech) 38lb 12oz
6th Steve Hemingray (Drennan) 38lb 2oz