In the short term the solution to me is obvious. The date of either the Division One National or the Winter League Final must be moved. This will allow teams to put the necessary time into each event.
In the longer term, more radical change is needed to ensure a positive future for team fishing. Over previous years, the size of the AT affiliated winter leagues up and down the country has decreased, and for good reason. The format of the competition has obviously become impractical and unappealing for the modern match angler.
For a start, I believe team sizes are to big. Finding ten anglers to fish a match is no mean feat for a team captain. If you look at the team matches up and down the country that are doing well, they are almost all team of four or team of six events.
I will propose cutting the team sizes down to six for the Winter League, with teams being limited to a total squad size of ten. This will have three big advantages in my eyes.
Firstly, it will mean that captains who have previously struggled to find enough anglers for a ten man team will be able to enter a smaller squad into their respective leagues.
Secondly, it will make most of the bigger teams that we have at the moment (Barnsley, Dorking, Starlets, Trentmen etc) field two teams, so that all their anglers will get to fish. At the moment, most of the bigger teams have 20 anglers on their team sheets, which means that at the most 50% of their anglers are being fielded at any given time.
Breaking up these bigger (and generally better) teams should also increase the competition in the leagues themselves. As oppose to having one all conquering team that wins every round, you would have two strong teams, that would pinch points off each other. The strength of the smaller teams in these leagues would also be greater over six anglers than it would over ten, as they would be fielding six anglers who want to fish (as oppose to ten, made up of six who want to fish and four who have been roped in to make numbers up.), This could only be good for the competition as a whole.
Providing the format of the overall winter league is appealing enough to them, reducing the squad size to teams of six may also encourage some of the six man leagues that are running around the country to affiliate themselves with the main winter league, thus causing it to grow even further.
When it comes to semi finals and finals, many squads feel that they can’t compete with certain teams at the moment as they cannot put in enough time on the bank. In my eyes, they are justified in saying this. How can a small team of working class men with families compete with a ‘Super Team’ of semi-professional anglers such as Dorking who can all put in a weeks practice on a venue? They can’t.
I believe the fairest way around this would be to close the venue to those competing a fortnight before the event, but allow anglers to fish two official practice matches on the weekend before the match.
As this years fiasco has proved, the other important consideration when it comes to booking semi finals and finals is timing. In my eyes, they must be booked so that they don’t clash with any of the major White Acres Festivals or school holidays. By my reckoning, even with all these avoided you would still have 35 weekends of the year to choose from so with enough forward planning it shouldn’t be difficult.
Another thing that I am looking forward to discussing with the Trust is the financial side of their competitions. I have heard rumours that there are plans afoot to make anglers pay £25 to join the Angling Trust if they want to fish this years Winter League (if it even goes ahead). If these rumours are true, then many leagues will choose not to affiliate.
Being subscribed to the Trust's press release database through my job, I am more aware than most of the good work that the Angling Trust does. They cover all disciplines of angling, managing all of our international teams and fighting court cases on issues ranging from our cormorant infestation, to the lack of water in many of our rivers, to the over fishing of the North Sea.
But what do they actually do that would make your average match angler want to reach in their pocket and pay the £25 joining fee? Very little of their work has any actual bearing on the life of Joe Bloggs who fishes his local water every weekend.
I certainly believe that if the Trust want match anglers to pay the joining fee and fish their leagues as affiliated members then they will have to give us some kind of carrot.
Say, for example that the trust were to put £10 of the £25 that anglers pay to join into the prize money of the final, and suddenly the prospect would sound a lot more appealing. I don’t know how many anglers enter the Winter League in total at the minute, but it is safe to say it is in excess of 1,000. All of a sudden, there is an extra £10,000 to pay out come the end of the competition. Add to this the standard £100 entry fee per team, and the payout would look more like £17,000. Securing a sponsor for the event could see the prize fund raise even further. And these (admittedly very loose) figures are based only on the teams that fish the winter leagues at the minute. If leagues start to grow as a consequence of these changes, then the prize fund would rise (provided of course, that anglers buy into my suggestions).
I believe it would be advantageous if every team in the final was paid out. By their nature, team anglers aren’t bounty hunters. They only want to cover there costs and at best, win a bit of money. Speaking to older anglers who hark back to the ‘glory days’ when every team in the final was paid out, it sounded a very popular policy, and certainly makes the final more prestigious.
I’m not sure how many (if any) of these ideas the Angling Trust will be interested in implementing, but I’m certainly looking forward to hearing what they have to say.