Hats off to Maver for listening to popular opinion and making important changes to their unique Match This event. For those that don't know, this is only the second year of the Maver Match This competition where last year's champion, Andy Power, walked off a whopping £50,000 richer. Despite all the hard work and effort in qualifying and getting to the prestigious final, though, second placed Grant Albutt won precisely nothing, zilch, nada… and neither did the other 22 finalists that had practiced so hard and earned their rightful place in the inaugural final at Larford Lakes.
This is actually quite a common situation. Pretty much the same thing happens in the £30,000 Fish 'O' Mania Final and the £25,000 Parkdean Masters Final. It obviously all adds to the kudos and lucrative nature of the events – but I don't personally think a winner-takes-all philosophy is absolutely necessary or the 'big draw' that many organisers seem to believe it is. In fact, I think one winner is in many cases counterproductive and puts people off. This is something that cannot be ignored in these tougher financial times where match attendances are without doubt dropping.
People aren't match fishing as much as they used to; or at least they aren't travelling as much as they used to. They are being much more careful with their money, picking and choosing events that they deem worthwhile; matches that offer the best chance of a return for all their hard-earned time, money and effort. Big-money winner-takes-all events are therefore a very interesting prospect but anglers are now starting to weigh up whether they are actually worth entering. Add up the cost of entry, mileage and bait costs – possibly also membership fees, accommodation and food – and entering a qualifier for something like Fisho or Match This suddenly turns into quite an expensive outlay. Weigh up all the pros and cons and you suddenly see why some people simply don't bother and fish a local knock-up instead.
I have never personally felt I have had to justify the costs of fishing a match. That's why I have no problems driving to each end of the country to fish a big event. Half the fun for me is fishing new venues but I am sadly in the minority with this outlook. I cannot blame them when times are so tough and every penny counts. I always argue that it's actually one of the few sports/hobbies where you can potentially get some sort of a return afterwards. Compare the cost of a day's fishing to watching a load of overpaid footballers kicking a bit of leather about for 90 minutes and I know what I'd rather do!
Of course the big dangly 'carrot' for a big-event like Match This is the chance of walking off with a title and thousands of pounds. Every year, though, Mr Average has to accept that IF you make it to the final (after a 70-130 peg qualifier) , you will then undoubtedly have a few BIG names to fish against. Last year's Fish 'O' Mania included the likes of Kieron Rich, Nathan Watson, Andy Neal and venue expert and full-time angler Andy May. Last year's Match This read even more like a who's who of angling: Des Shipp, Grant Albutt, Lee Kerry, Adam Wakelin, Jamie Hughes, Andy Kinder… in fact, the vast majority of them were really big names!
For anyone dreaming of winning these events there is always these massive obstacles to overcome. Why would anyone want to waste valuable time and money practicing when they have full-time and sponsored anglers to overhaul? Yes there are always giant-killing moments and Shane Atkin in last year's Fisho is the perfect example, but weigh up the odds and many people will vote with their feet. Add a smaller 'carrot' for second, third and further down the list and suddenly those odds are a bit more attractive, though. Most people are not so bold to expect to win a match but many will fancy their chances of a top-three or four finish.
I have been lucky enough to fish three Fish 'O' Manias, I've covered the last four Parkdean Masters finals and I was in the Match This Runners-Up Final, too. As someone who has regularly been there fishing and watched others competing I can vouch for the overriding sense of excitement and anticipation before the match. I can also vouch for the massive deflation and anticlimax you get once you realise you simply haven't got a chance of winning! On the Fisho final in particular, with it's half-hourly weigh ins, you know who is winning and you soon know whether you have a chance of winning yourself. So what do you do if you realise you haven't got a cat in hell's chance? You can easily just try to do the best you can to save face while savouring and enjoying the day. You could equally try and take a massive gamble tactically to try and make something happen. I've tried both! In the Fisho final, I suppose you have a heaviest fish trophy to fish for, too – albeit one that is now shared with the ladies event – but I know from experience that it's all too easy to sit there and wish it would all just hurry up and be over so you can pack up and go home!
Take the Parkdean Masters at White Acres in Cornwall, as another example. Every year it quickly becomes apparent who the top four or five anglers are. After a couple of hours the rest of the field are normally so experienced at this game that they know if they have any chance of winning. What do they do? The sporting thing is to fish on and try to do your best. You only have to go to the post-match presentation afterwards, though, to realise that most of the 24 finalists have gone as soon as they are allowed and only a few stay around to applaud the winner. You cannot really blame them as they have just fished a gruelling week's festival, followed by a tense final and then have to pack away, check out of their accommodation and prepare for a long drive home from Cornwall.
The blunt fact of the matter is that without anything other than a first prize on offer there is nothing else for anyone to fish for other than pride. Throw in section prizes and/or runners-up spots and you suddenly get a better competition. Not only are people more likely to enter because of the better chance of a return but, from a spectator's point of view, you will be more likely to see EVERYONE trying their hardest and fishing to the best of their ability. I've seen the best anglers in the world give up and look bored stiff because they stood no chance of winning. That isn't exactly great for spectators to see is it?
Now that Maver has taken the big decision to spread the money about a bit more I really hope that other big-money events will follow. I'm sure some will be too proud, stubborn or perhaps even ignorant to accept that this is the way forward. It is only my opinion, of course, but one that I know countless people share. As far as I am concerned, this is the only way that modern, big-money match fishing will grow, so hats off to Maver for taking such a bold step forward! Time to start buying some tickets…
Jon Arthur, Editor, Pole Fishing
Follow Jon on Twitter: @JonnyboyArthur